🥐 Giving my first tech talk while still learning to code
December 21, 2021 • 5 min read
Disclaimer: you never stop learning to code.
TL;DR: Sharing my experience of submitting a talk proposal, getting accepted, preparing the talk and flying to Paris to deliver it.
It wasn’t a walk in the park.
If you prefer to just watch the talk I gave about the importance of having a community when transitioning to tech, you can find it at the end of this article or on YouTube.
Am I even eligible to give a talk?
Not so long ago I was getting ready to fly to Paris to give my very first talk at a tech meetup in Paris. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up other than I felt I had something to share that might help others which gave me the impulse to DM QueerJS on Twitter and ask them if I’d be eligible to give a talk as a non-developer. After telling them what I wanted to share plus the fact that I wasn’t yet working as a developer, they said YES! and offered to fly me to Paris ✨.
Hello fear 👋
A few days later panic kicked in. As an introvert, who doesn’t feel comfortable talking in public, I started to doubt that I could actually pull it off.
Instead of starting to work on it, as I usually would, way ahead of the deadline, I procrastinated. Secretly, I was hoping the event would get canceled and I wouldn’t have to give the talk. Not having yet my flights and hotel booked was the perfect excuse to do nothing and hope it will go away. It didn’t and I had to face it and start preparing my talk.
Sharing my first draft
I put together a draft and then reached out to people in my community. Days later, in a co-working space, I gave the first version of my talk to a friend and her husband. They gave me lots of valuable feedback and I went on re-writing. Once I had an improved version I presented it to the girls in my coding school. I forgot parts of what I wanted to share but their feedback helped me improve. Finally I called one of my close friends, a storytelling guru and after an hour long call I knew what I had to tweak and started putting together the slides. It felt like my message was coming through.
Practicing the talk
Now it was time to practice my talk and figure out how I would pull it off without freezing.
My flatmate happens to be someone who gives tons of talks, is on TV, radio and whatnot so I asked her for advice. Because she doesn’t speak English I couldn’t present it to her.
Now that I had it all, it was time to practice. I think I went through the talk at least 20 times, timed it every single attempt. Once I felt more confident about my performance I called another friend to be in the audience. We did a few takes, adapting the draft with live feedback, and then I asked him to record it.
What if I chickened out or something happened? They were so nice and supportive. At least I could send them the video and they could play it. Right?
A few days before the event I looked at the list of speakers. There were other tech talks, one in particular was about something I didn’t know anything about, related to VR and gaming, from a person who’s giving talks all over the world, and is also an expert in the field. I wondered why this person was coming all the way from a different continent to speak at this meetup just to realize that the meetup was happening around a bigger tech conference.
So the meetup I was talking at was on the agenda of that main event. Suddenly I didn’t feel that eager to go to Paris. Not even the thought of eating delicious croissants and eclairs was convincing enough.
The day I had to fly to Paris the train was delayed. Usually I would immediately make a plan, either get a taxi or get out and go take the airport bus. All I was thinking instead was, I could email them my video talk.
Day of the talk
Arriving a day before to Paris gave me a full day to explore. I got to see my favourite Van Gogh painting, ate some croissants, and saw Paris from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica tower, beautiful!
Rapidly it was dark and I had to get dressed and go to the meetup location, where I were to meet some new people, to whom I have to talk, yay! Why wouldn’t I just give this in Barcelona, in front of people I know?
I’ve made my way and as I was talking to the organizer they asked me if I’d be ok to be the one speaking last. What? This was not good. Some of the advice I’ve received on the codebar’s Slack #helpdesk was to ask to be the first one giving the talk. I don’t remember specifically why however given the fact that I wanted to come across as confident and cool I said of course I can go last. No problem.
Probably because by now I got to watch two interesting, smart, perfectly delivered, fun tech talks and I was next with a non-tech talk, and, even more, of a person who wasn’t even a developer. Yet.
On top of everything else I had to hold a microphone, which meant I couldn’t hold my notes and look down in case I would freeze.
Nonetheless, I took the microphone, and gave my talk while focusing on a few people with whom I made eye contact which helped me deliver it.
People clapped at the end. I was in awe! Not sure if they were just nice and polite, but this was the best feeling, and later one of the reasons I choose to talk at a queer meetup.
Talk delivered, time to network
After the talks were over it was time network. I don’t know how speakers do it, I just wanted to run to the hotel and hide.
If I wouldn’t have stayed though I wouldn’t have had all these lovely people come over telling me how much they enjoyed my talk. One person I remember came over and said that she’s been through some of this and that she knew what I was talking about and where I came from. This was such a powerful statement, the kind that makes one feel less alone and all of the stress worth it.
Thank you QueerJS for giving me this opportunity ♥️.
My talk at QueerJS
Without further intro, if you are curious to also see the talk here it is:
PS. While I am currently working as a developer I am still actively part of some tech communities. As a recurse alumnus I’m part of the Recurse Center community, then codebar, Twitter, and some Discord channels. The ones I’m mostly active on are the one from Scrimba (free) and my favorite cassidoo’s patron-only Discord chat(paid).
If you are looking to get into tech I wrote a long detailed article 🦩 5 Free coding resources that helped me get my first frontend developer job where I go more into details around some amazing communities too.