My Preparation and Experience of Shift Conference in Croatia
Posted on: June 7, 2018
One morning in late February this year, I received an invitation to present at Shift Conference which is the largest developer conference in Southeast Europe. I discussed with my manager, and within few hours I was committing giving a 45 minutes talk. Netflix is excellent in this regard by encouraging its engineers not only to attempt but also to give presentations.
The adventure was just about to start. I needed to create an outline of the subject I wanted to talk, build the code that I presented and finally create the slides. The theme was easy to choose: TypeScript. I have been writing and vouching for the language for a while, and it is always easier to talk about a subject that you believe, and master. The next step was to decide what to talk about TypeScript. The subject can go in many directions and I decided to provide a lot of different features with the goal that any one or two aspects presented would trigger some curiosity among the attendees to have them try TypeScript.
The composition of the outline was carefully done with a primary text for each slide. The writing is required for me since I am not fluent in English like in French. It helped me to have a better idea how to structure my thoughts. I did this step in parallel with the code, and I added to each slide the code file name. The link between the outline's lines and the code allowed me to go back and forth in change and still be clear when it was the time to build the slide to add the right code with the correct text. The creation took me about two months which I estimate to about 50 hours of time for 60ish slides. I added, modified and removed slides. In the last few weeks, I removed about six slides on topics that were too advanced or harder to grasp for people that never developed with TypeScript. My philosophy was not to confuse but rather to inform. Learning the slides by heart took me about one month. It is easier when you build them to memorize the content. My slides contained almost only code and a title, so it was easy to forget the primary goal or example. In the end, I knew all the slide and could visualize them along with the text. Few days before the event, I had spent about 80 hours. The time includes all the rehearsal which are quite long on a speech of 45 minutes. I was able to split in two the speeches and often practiced only the first half. I also did several rehearsals in my car while driving to and from Netflix -- optimizing my time!
I left in the last week of May, two days before the conference. I had to take three planes: San Jose to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to London and then to Split (Croatia). The whole trip is 14 hours inside the aircraft, but with the connections, it is about 18 hours overall. The time doesn't count the 9 hours of timezone change. It is rough and even more since I was staying only three days before moving back because I was working the next Monday. Even if I had this great opportunity, my primary job at Netflix remains my priority, and I have code to ship for a release soon. No time to do the tourist too much.
Shift organizers did a great job by booking all the planes, taking care of the hotel and the transports. I had nothing to think else than the presentation. I arrived at Split, Croatia, Wednesday evening very late. I barely visited, just enough to grab something to eat and sleep. The next day, my presentation was in the afternoon. I was very tired, slept and went to see the two presentations before me. I went backstage and got briefed rapidly. I went on stage about 20 minutes earlier because of a shorter speech, but it didn't bother me. I went on stage and I was able to perform my whole presentation in time with two minutes remaining. I forgot some explanations, few examples and looked slightly too much on the screen but overall, I am satisfied with my performance. For some reason, I forgot few slides in my head. I could find many excuses but that wouldn't change a thing. What I take from this experience is that a lot of preparation is needed for 45 minutes. I would do it again in the future but this is definitely many months of work with always something to tweak.
I had the time to visit Split which is terrific. The city has a lot of historical point of views. People were fascinating to talk, and I had a fun time. I was able to watch about 70% of other presenters speeches too.
It also gave me the opportunity to discuss with other presenters. Many dinners and side events were organized. I was able to talk with Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP; Luca Cipriani, the CIO of Arduino; Devaris Brown, from Heroku; Eric Schabell from Redhat; John Feminella from Pivotal; Michal Sanger from Kiwi.com; Ivan Burazin from CodeAnywhere (and organizer of the event) and see Hakon Wium Lie, the creator of CSS. It was quite exciting and significant to be able to share with all these people. I also enjoyed having people from the audiences talking about their project and how they were interested in using TypeScript.
To conclude, it was a perfect opportunity, and I am glad I did not hesitate. Even if preparing a speech is time-consuming and require a good investment of days in travel, it worth it. A curious fact is that I got stressed the first few minutes of the presentation, as you can see in the following graph as well as a few days before.
I had started my Fitbit few minutes before entering the stage. Since the person before me finished about 20 minutes earlier, I do not have as many "rest" data point. Normally, I am between 55-65 beats per minute. Right before entering on stage, I was already at 80 bps. My peak during the presentation was 140 bps! Once I get the video, I'll be able to point with more accuracy what caused the downs and ups of this graph.