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Why I don’t feel like presenting at conferences any more

I’ve delivered a handful of talks over the course of my career and my experience tells me that there are better ways of getting the message out there. Ways that require much less time and can reach bigger audiences.

Here’s how I believe that the different mediums compare to each other with regards to effectiveness, in ascending order:

  1. Books
  2. Face-to-face discussions
  3. Conference talks
  4. Podcasts
  5. Conference talks that are recorded and available online
  6. Conference workshops
  7. Lightning talks at local meet-ups
  8. Blog posts (hi!)

A poor return on investment

I like my presentations to be of a very high quality, so I tend to work hard to make them be visually and structurally good and delivered in an interesting. This process is enormously time-consuming: I reckon I spend 20-30 hours preparing a 60 minute talk.

I can’t point to how I’ve benefitted from this other than that I’ve gotten better at giving presentations and gotten a few pats on the back. I haven’t made a dollar from speaking (barring the free conference ticket). I’ve not made any lasting and deep contacts with interesting people as a direct result from speaking. I’ve never gotten a job offer based on a presentation I’ve made.

I write blog posts every now and then and some of them are read by thousands of people. One hour spent on a piece of text that can reach a potentially large audience makes a lot more sense than working for days on a talk that maybe a few hundred people will see.

I’ll stick to writing, thank you very much

I’d have to have a very good reason to ever sign up for speaking at a conference again. I’ll write my blog posts and use the time that I don’t spend on rehearsing a talk to help the poor or whatever.

Ps. Please note that I’ve only presented at a very small number of conferences, and most of the times I’ve delivered lightning talks. As far as speakers go, I have very little experience and therefore your mileage may vary. Ds.

Local and global

The opposite of “local” is “global”. Many lean and kanban enthusiasts, myself included, look down on individuals and teams trying to improve their efficiency, calling it “local optima”. The answer is to instead look at optimising the whole, but that whole tends to be at a company or organisation level. Even if the organisation is a huge multinational one, it’s not global. Just because you’re taking a few steps back doesn’t mean you’re seeing the whole picture.

As far as I understand (and I don’t understand much) systems thinking seems to be confined within the system of producing and manufacturing. It doesn’t take into account the environment, the poverty and suffering of millions of people, or what the world will look like three generations from now. To me it seems like it’s not “systems thinking” as much as it is “a system thinking”.

These are things we rarely discuss in the tech community, but I think we should. We live in the golden age of IT. We can create enormous value out of ideas, a bit of electricity and a few thousand keyboard strokes.

Problem solving can never be morally neutral. What did you disregard to solve problems today?

Philosophy for the software engineer

The weekend is here. You now have the time to sit back and think about what you are doing with your life. How much of your time is spent pondering this important question?

“The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected.”

– Bertrand Russell, The Value of Philosophy

The reason why I’m asking is because you have this remarkable skill that nearly everyone wants to put to use in their organisations. But so much of our potential is wasted on work that, in my mind, doesn’t make the world a better place.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads”

Jeff Hammerbacher

“To be true to yourself, in this problem-resolving business, you must consider moral questions before you get close to a solution, or even a definition, and thereby begin to lose your sensibility”

– Gerald M Weinberg and Donald C. Gause, Are Your Lights On?

As a software engineer, you have a unique possibility of creating something out of pure thought. Of going almost anywhere and doing almost anything you want. Are you?