Making the Case for the Cutting Edge at LambdaConf 2015

Posted by Matt Farmer on May 24, 2015 · 5 mins read

Ed Node (2020-10-02): Since I wrote this post Lambda Conf was involved in a pretty public debate about whether or not to deplatform someone who alledgedly professed views sympathetic to white supremicy. That occurred in 2016. While I have no plans to attend Lambda Conf again because of the bad taste that left in my mouth, the 2015 conference was my first ever conference talk and was significant. I’m leaving this post up, with this note, in acknowledgement of that.

Yesterday, May 23rd, I gave my first talk ever to a conference at Lambda Conf 2015. This was a surreal experience, to be honest, and I’m immensely thankful to John and everyone else on the Lambda Conf team for giving me the opportunity to talk about our experience at Elemica with choosing Scala and Clojure as our primary tech stack.

In in interest of transparency I’ll note that I honestly left the talk feeling that it didn’t go so well. I want to share this because I know a lot of people who have recently got into speaking too, and maybe your first experiences were awesome. But, if you felt like it was a bit rougher than you expected then you should know you’re not alone. Even with the level of preparation I put into it – which is more than I put into any of the talks I’d given at user groups before – I think my nerves got me a little bit. After the talk I had a few people come up and give me some encouraging feedback. One of which was Mike Kelland of BoldRadius, to whom I owe a public and huge thanks. I was a lot less bummed after our conversation.

But, all said, I don’t think flubbed anything. I said what I came there to say, and was heard. And that’s a big deal, especially for someone who primarily prefers to communicate in writing given the choice. A few parting thoughts from this experience:

  • I’m probably going to give talks for the first time at user groups in the future. Something that I’m learning through the process of starting to speak publicly is that I don’t quite get an idea of how things are going to play until I give a talk to a live audience. Mostly because how I deliver something and how the audience responds becomes this cascading feedback loop. Rehearsing to myself doesn’t have that quality and just doesn’t give me the same amount of information with which to revise the talk in the future. So, I’m probably going to make a point to give a talk to a local user group before delivering it to a conference.  
  • Soft talks can be oddballs at programming conferences. LambdaConf was a very concrete conference – in the sense that most of the talks were about concrete ideas or concepts that you could sink your teeth into at a engineering level. My talk, in contrast, was focused more on soft concepts – talking about some of the human things around the choice to pursue Scala and Clojure. In the future I’m going to try and be more contentious of that as I’m sending in proposals.  
  • I, once again, have a new respect for speaking. The conference context kind of upped the ante on my respect for people who get up in front of an audience and deliver a talk. I’m going to try and be more actively encouraging to people who do that in the future, and you should too. It takes a lot out of you. Not joking. I crashed at 9pm last night. My body tried to crash at 6:30. Oof.

It was an incredibly challenging, but worthwhile, experience. This won’t be the last conference talk I give. Like everything else it’s an iterative process and I’m my biggest critic. And if you’re interested in what I was talking about — click here to check out my slides. They’re also available on the Speaking page of this site.

Finally, I enjoyed attending and meeting a bunch of other folks who are also passionate about functional programming. I got to hear a lot of great talks and meet some top-notch quality people. I got exposed to the idea of a virtual filesystem, learned a bit of Haskell and Erlang, and got to experience the beautiful – if rainy – Boulder. Looking forward to coming back next year – maybe as a speaker again if I have something to speak on and John and the team will have me. ?

Onward and upward!