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Nervous about Submitting Talks to Conferences? I Was Too

by Angela 28. February 2017 20:09

Note: If you’re itching to get right to the part where I offer ideas for improving your chances of being selected for conferences, skip past this right to the bottom. I promise I won’t be offended, mostly because I won’t know you did it Smile with tongue out

I say “was” like I got over it, but I really didn’t. I just found a great support system to help me muster the courage and confidence to get my thoughts together, pitch an idea, and do my best to deliver on it.  Not every talk I give is a home run, but I’m not a paid, professional speaker either. A lot of people have told me I make it look so easy, it’s not. I still get stomach flutters hitting submit on almost any talk I propose for a conference. I get excited and even MORE nervous the times I am selected. But I am also someone who is really passionate about what I do, who has had a lot of experiences both good and bad, and who truly believes that we can learn a TON from each other if only we’d all have the courage to show up and give it a go. And I rarely do it alone.

For me it is two-fold. I grew up with this core belief that to be enough, to be valued that I have to be perfect. That I have to know something expertly before having the “audacity” to speak on it at a conference. I think that is why I have gotten really comfortable speaking on Imposter Syndrome, because OH BOY do I do that well Smile

It’s a fairly common feeling, and one that seems even more pervasive among minorities in a given field. SO sure, this is not JUST about being a woman in a STEM field, but I am a woman in a STEM field and I can’t really speak with authority on what it’s like to be anything else. I also know there are never lines in my bathroom at conferences, because not many of us are attending, and even fewer of us are speaking. As a conference organizer, I can also state from experience that it’s not an issue of women not being selected to speak, women often are not submitting to begin with! Why? I don’t know for sure, I imagine it’s not only more complicated than any of us can posit from the safety of our office chairs, but it’s different for everyone. This post isn’t about deconstructing all that and solving the world, but it’s about things we CAN do to mitigate one of the factors contributing to this.

For me, personally, it’s partly a confidence problem. I’d see a call for speakers and get excited about the idea of sharing my experiences, I’d even brainstorm a few ideas, then immediately think a) “Who am *I* to tell anyone anything? I don’t know anything that anyone else doesn’t already know” and b) my abstract sucks and probably won’t get picked so why should I even bother submitting. Getting rejected is humiliating and I’d rather not submit at all.  That first thought, that’s a big one that I am not tackling in this post. so let’s focus on abstract quality and presentation experience.

First off, not being selected for a conference is not the same thing as being “rejected” (thanks to my friend Sharon, @scichelli on Twitter, for that reminder today!) For instance, I know for a fact that some conferences get as many as 10 submissions for every speaker slot. That means that even if selection was totally random, you could have as little as a 10% chance of being selected. Most conferences I have been involved in rely on “blind voting” for final topic selection, meaning personal information is stripped so that selection comes down to writing style, quality of your description, and honestly how “hot” your topic is given where the industry is at the time. I know, that’s a lot of pressure, because now not only do you need be passionate and know your stuff, you also have to make sure your topic is interesting and current, but that your abstract catches the eye of whomever is judging them over and above other abstracts on the same material! This is where you CAN get help though, you don’t have to write your abstracts in a vacuum.

You may not know this, but there are a lot of things you can do to make sure your speaker bios and abstracts are “up to snuff” as it were:

Send them to a friend that you trust, maybe even someone not in the same field as you.  They can often sanity check things for grammar, spelling, and general style since they are not caught up on technical jargon. Seriously, bad grammar and spelling can mean the different between being selected or not when looking at 2 similar talks…

  1. Send them to a coworker, so someone who can make a pass on non-technical aspects but can also make sure the technical content is something interesting and valuable
  2. Pitch them to a smaller venue first, like an internal lunch and learn, or a local user group. This adds a bonus opportunity to practice your content and pacing, and tweak your presentation based on initial audience feedback. Meetup.com is an awesome place to start if you don’t already know what groups meet in your area.
  3. Check out the conference site and see if they offer any guidance or personal assistance. For instance, I am an organizer of ThatConference and we have really detailed guidance on how abstracts are voted on as well as some tips on creating really compelling submissions. The guidance is applicable for ANY conference talk, so I highly recommend checking it out. ThatConference also setup a dedicated slack community channel for attendees and potential speakers to ask questions and collaborate, which could include asking for help/support with your abstracts. This is becoming pretty common at other conferences too. Take advantage if the conference you are submitting to offers these resources!
  4. Last but not least, reach out via social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Facebook. Many of us are willing tor review a bio and abstract, offer advice or tips on public speaking, or connect you with any support that you need if we cannot provide it. I made an offer on Twitter just the other day and a bunch of my Twitter comrades offered up their assistance too! Check it out:

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So next time you see a call for speakers, and you’re hesitating because you’re afraid your abstract isn’t good enough or that you don’t have anything to add to the collective pool of tech knowledge, hit up one of the resources above, including me! You have more to offer than you know, I promise!

 

And one quick reminder of a few call for papers that is open right now:

ThatConference

CFP Opened TODAY and closes on March 15th

https://www.thatconference.com/

Chicago Code Camp

CFP Opened TODAY and closes on February 28th

https://www.chicagocodecamp.com/

Chicago Coder’s Conference

CFP is open and closes on March 3rd

chicagocoderconference.com

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public speaking

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Free Microsoft DevOps Strategy Event Coming to Cities Across the US

by Angela 27. February 2017 16:49

This looks like a really great event if your organization is still trying to wrap its head around what DevOps really means and how to get started, particularly if you’re already investing heavily in Microsoft technologies. Please note, this is going to focus on high level strategy and business focused DevOps discussions, if you’re looking for something more hands-on, stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more events soon.

If events like these get you excited about moving forward but you’re still not confident to go it alone, reach out to us! Polaris has helped a number of their clients to quickly jumpstart their DevOps initiatives through a combination of agile coaching and immersive adoption of modern tools and proven, leading practices!

Hope to see you there,

~Angela

 

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In support of your pursuit towards Digital Transformation and harnessing digital technology for organizational success, we invite you to learn how Microsoft’s platforms and tools can provide you efficiencies at scale while delivering application experiences that will truly delight your employees and customers.

Microsoft’s Cloud Application Development team is hosting a new event “The 360 on Innovative Applications” in 12 cities across the USA. We want you to be able to walk away with a 360 degree view of how you can architect and maintain applications with DevOps processes so that you can delight your customers and employees, provide an entirely new level of insights, and create a development environment that supports your LOB stakeholders in driving business agility.

 

WHO SHOULD ATTEND

Sr. Development, IT and Data Professionals who are interested in identifying how they can move their organization forward by implementing DevOps practices, tools and adoption of the newest application architecture and functionality that can differentiate their organization from their competitors.  We suggest that you forward this to your colleagues who would be working with you on implementing this transformation. Please note: This is ‘NOT’ a hands on lab boot camp!

We hope that you will take the time to register today, and ask that you please extend this invite to your peers!

 

Agenda:

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Locations:

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ALM | Application Lifecycle Management | DevOps | Visual Studio Team Services | Visual Studio | TFS | Team Foundation Server | Application Insights

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Fear, A Major Speed Bump on the Road to Quality

by Angela 3. February 2017 22:26

I warned you that I’d be blogging about the “messiness” of ALM and DevOps consulting. And this is a long one so grab a cup of coffee, tea, or cocktail of your choice (whatever I won’t judge). It’s actually based on something I wrote for the QAI Quest Magazine. If you haven’t checked out the CQAA (Chicago Quality Assurance Association) community or their upcoming QUEST conference in Chicago this April, I highly recommend it!

Anyway, here is the article:

A large part of my job as a scrum master and agile coach is focusing on quality. Quality of process, quality of teams, and quality of software. While all of these can be challenging to improve, one of the hardest to tackle is quality of the team. I’m not talking about individual’s skillsets, although that is important. I’m talking about the ability of the team to work together as a WHOLE. In my experience, teams that cannot accomplish this cannot produce a quality product. Missed requirements, sloppy handoffs, miscommunication of what is “done”, and a host of other issues arise when the team just can’t seem to come together in a truly open and collaborative environment. Causes for this failure are complex and will vary from team to team. But one that I run into time and time again is fear. Yes, fear!

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t purport to know all the answers, but I can speak from experience - both in terms of myself and what I see in others. I have seen fear manifest itself in the following situations:

· Underestimating feature delivery times to hide a lack of confidence, often leading to painful sprint reviews when committed features aren’t delivered on time, or not at all.

· Code being integrated too soon to avoid being late, resulting in bugs “leaking” into production.

· Misunderstood requirements being implemented without question, and promptly being rejected by QA or a frustrated product owner.

· Resentment when team members feel someone is not pulling their weight, when in reality that person is silently struggling.

· Failure by team members to ask for clarification because everyone else surely must “get it”.

The fear of being seen as not good enough or smart enough by our peers is real and pervasive in IT. Ironically, the end result of hiding our struggles is often working extra hours and even cutting corners to make the unrealistic deadlines that we set for ourselves. This inevitably leads to doing the very thing we are fearful of … letting people down.

Tying this back to quality:

· Imagine if the team was afraid to admit that a requirement was vague, that it would be extremely complex to develop, or almost impossible to adequately test.

· Imagine if they assumed they’d figure it out as they go and plowed ahead.

· Imagine if someone on the team rushed to complete a feature and skimped on testing to prevent blowing their estimates because of fear of retribution for being wrong.

You probably don’t have to imagine it. It’s likely happening on your team right now but no one is talking about it! So, what can you do once you’ve realized that fear is holding you or your team back? What I have learned on my own journey is that it’s not enough to recognize when I am acting from a place of fear; I also have to recognize it in others. And much like quality, it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to create a collaborative and supportive environment.

As a Scrum Master, here are some of the things that I ask myself in order to help address fear on my teams.

· Is someone new to the team, or to their role, and clearly feeling overwhelmed or struggling to fit in?

· Is someone is hesitating to speak up when they clearly have a strong opinion or idea?

· Are people afraid of being judged harshly or told their idea is “crazy” or “dumb” in a team setting?

 

Now, that’s a lot of stuff to keep an eye on. (Hey…no one ever said that being the Scrum Master was an easy job.) So, let’s say that you notice something. What do you do about it? How do you head-off fear and/or actually do something about it?

Well, if someone on the team shares a concern or asks for help, be sure to thank them for bringing it up and offer them support, or try to connect them with someone who can. If people are hesitant to speak up in a large group setting, approach them after the meeting, and discuss it in a more casual environment. If they need some encouragement or support, find a way to share their ideas with the team in a less intimidating way. Find ways to bring new team members on-board and make them feel connected quickly. Make sure no one is discouraging open and honest conversation by dominating conversations or by openly criticizing ideas or opinions, even jokingly. Joking, while good natured, can be misconstrued as criticism, and simply telling a teammate that they “just can’t take a joke” is a great way to alienate them and ensure their participation in future activities is limited. Besides, some of the biggest discoveries in history started with an original premise that was totally out there!

I’ve given talks on fear at a number of conferences, and every time people have approached me afterwards saying “I feel that way too. It’s so good to know I am not alone!” Research shows that around 70% of people struggle with these kinds of fears, and based on my experience, it is higher in IT! That means that in any given meeting you attend, MOST of the people in the room are afraid to share their thoughts for fear of negative consequences. Imagine all of the great ideas being squandered and land mines we are failing to avoid.

Hopefully you’re already thinking of ways to improve the quality of your team, and ultimately of the products you are delivering. Strive to be more vigilant, more supportive, more honest, and you will be well on your way to creating a high-quality and high-performing team!

 

If you’re attending quest, I also have a few sessions there that you may want to check out if this article spoke to you.

Getting Your Agile Team Unstuck! Tips and Tricks for Avoiding Common Agile Setbacks: http://qaiquest.org/2017/sessions/half-day-tutorial-getting-your-agile-team-unstuck-tips-and-tricks-for-avoiding-common-agile-setbacks/

Fear and (Self) Loathing in IT: A Healthy Discussion on Imposter Syndrome: http://qaiquest.org/2017/sessions/fear-and-self-loathing-in-it-a-healthy-discussion-on-imposter-syndrome/ 

And if you’re not attending Quest feel free to send me a message via this blog or on Twitter!

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Several Chicago-Area Tech Conferences Have Open CFPs

by Angela 1. February 2017 20:38

In case you missed any of the announcements, there are now at least 3, yes THREE, call for presentations (CFP) open right now in the Chicagoland area.  At least 3 that I know of, there are probably a lot more that I haven’t seen yet so feel free to submit any additional ones in the comments and I’ll try to keep this up to date!

Any technology, agile, or leadership based talk that you might want to give would likely be appropriate for any of them given they all have a number of tracks, so please take a look and join your experiences to the tech community collective. We want to hear your stories and learn from your experiences!

Below are the three conferences I am currently submitting to, how about you?

ThatConference

CFP Opened TODAY and closes on March 15th

Conference is in the Wisconsin Dells August 7th through 9th

https://www.thatconference.com/

More info:

That Conference is your "Summer Camp for Geeks". Held at the Kalahari Resort in the beautiful Wisconsin Dells, it's your last chance to get away before summer slips away. Spend three days with a thousand of your fellow campers and their families, geeking out on everything from writing some epic code to making paper airplanes.

Chicago Code Camp

CFP Opened TODAY and closes on February 28th

Conference is just south of downtown Chicago at IIT on April 29th

https://www.chicagocodecamp.com/

More info:

Chicago Code Camp is a daylong polyglot developer conference hosted for the local and regional developer community.

Chicago Coder’s Conference

CFP was just extended and now closes on March 31st

Conference is in downtown Chicago on June 27th

chicagocoderconference.com

More info:

The 2017 Chicago Coder Conference will be Monday June 26 and Tuesday June 27 at the Gleacher Center. While we are keeping to 11 Tracks this year, we've secured more classrooms with stadium seating. These rooms made for a better overall experience for the attendees and speakers and allow for more attendees (we're targeting a 20% increase to 800 attendees)! More information on the conference can be found at chicagocoderconference.com

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