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November 15, 2013

4 signs it’s time to start speaking at conferences

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Wherever you are at in your career, you might ask yourself “should I speak at conferences?” If you listen to PyCon’s call for proposals (known as a CFP), you’ll see “You. Your friends. Your friends’ friends.” under “Who Should Submit a Proposal.”

If you’re looking for more evidence or a shove to say “it’s time to go give a talk,” here are four signs that you should consider submitting proposals.

1. You’ve written a library that you want others to use

A ginormous red flag that you need to get yourself in gear.

This is a great reason to speak at a conference, and many of the technologies that are now household names (well, if your household is the engineering floor) are presented at conferences before they gain widespread adoption. Earlier this year, I was excited to hear about d3.chart when it was launched at FluentConf.

If you’ve written something cool, please share it! And secondly, if you write something cool, and you really think it’d be useful for others, it’d be quite helpful for you to tell people about it!

2. You accomplished something you’re very proud of (or you’re going to accomplish it)

Not all of us want to become maintainers of FOSS libraries now and forever, and that’s very okay. But nearly all of us are writing software, and hopefully we’re proud of what we do. As for me, I keep a running list (I call it my “bullets”) of things I’ve accomplished. It comes in handy at performance review time, and it can also be useful to explore conference topics.

Here’s a couple examples of items that might end up on your “bullets”:

  • Migrating a legacy system to a new technology
  • Implementing a new feature and conquering unexpected roadblocks
  • You and your team changed from one methodology to another, with great results

And so on. And remember that it’s okay to submit a proposal for something you’re still working on, if you plan to have it finished by conference time. Just be careful what you promise.

3. You’ve noticed that you found a new perspective on an old topic

Someone pointed something interesting out to me about fashion magazines some time ago. If you check out a month’s issue of a magazine year over year, you’ll notice that the same topics come up — April is always transitioning to summer, January is resolutions, and so on. A similar thing occurs when looking at conference programs; there seem to be some topics that come up again and again.

The truth is that not everything in software is, or needs to be, new. Every conference can use someone talking about testing. Someone talking about memory management. Most software developers work on teams, so talking about team management is a popular topic. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What you should do is share your particular perspective, particularly if you have some numbers or success stories to back it up.

Some possible examples:

  • How did you increase test coverage in your application?
  • Did you start a mentoring program, and what were the results?
  • How did you improve your deployment process?

4. You notice some people ask for your advice often

I like to think of this as “the latent expert.” You can find this out two ways: one, observe when people ask you for advice, are they often asking about the same thing? The other way is more direct; ask your friends and teammates what they think of you as an expert at. You might be surprised by their answers.

If you find the answers interesting, look into what other people have spoken about in that space (and if you don’t like the answers, the phrase “be careful what you’re good at” comes to mind), and see if you might be able to give another perspective.

It’s also worth saying that sometimes you don’t need to give a new perspective — something I learned from seeing n number of “Intro to HTML5” presentations that were popular the last few years at various sundry events is that audience matters. If your audience hasn’t heard it before, it’s new to them!

It’s my hope that you see yourself in these four points, because I quite agree with PyCon — chances are if you’re thinking about speaking at a conference, you have something to offer. Speaking at conferences is a great way to get more involved while you’re attending a conference and it can certainly be a boon to your career. Have questions about speaking at conferences? Is it right for you? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

is a web developer based in Philadelphia, PA. She speaks publicly anywhere from local user groups to international conferences on development topics including HTML/CSS, Ruby, Python, and JavaScript, and she also teaches web development and JavaScript, and can be reached via her blog at or on Twitter @pamasaur.