Thursday, April 12, 2012

WindyCityGo and Philly ETE

After my public speaking debut at Ignite Where 2012, I flew to Chicago to give my first public tech talk at WindyCityGo, with an onward ticket for Philadelphia to speak at Philly ETE.


The first day of WindyCityGo was quite heavy on iOS development. Some of the talks went right over my head, since they tried to alleviate the pain in certain tools for building iOS apps, and I was not similar with the tools themselves. I was worried that other people would feel the same way for my talk, if they did not have an Android background.

My talk was scheduled for 9:30am the next day. There was some technical problems with projecting from my computer. Fortunately my slides were online, so we just switched to the computer already attached to the screen.

Before jumping into the slides, I polled the audience. I wanted to know how many of them uses an Android phone, how many have written an Android app, and how many have written iOS apps. To my relief a third of them have already written Android apps, so I knew they would appreciate the technical details I already put in my slides. To make sure the other two thirds wouldn't get too lost, I spent a few extra minutes on the first few slides, explaining the basics.

WindyCityGo was single track, with 15 minutes between sessions for speakers to get ready. I really liked that format. Everyone was in the same room, so I went around and introduce myself to tons of people. The flip side was that I was so busy talking that I forgot to take photos of the conference. Oh well. I will just put a slide with a monkey here to break up the paragraphs.

I used a lot of screenshots in my talk, since it was about Android layouts and I needed to illustrate how I applied various design principles. When I practiced my talk, the screenshots did not project well. The contrast was too high to differentiate the details. I really dreaded adjusting the contrast of the images one by one, but then I realized that I had HTML5 slides, I could just adjust the opacity with a CSS class. That had the additional advantage that I could adjust it live for different screens. I ended up not adjusting anything because WindyCityGo used flat screen TVs instead of projectors, but I was glad that I was ready to deal with it.

Here are the slides for my talk: Fluid Android Layouts. If you are curious about the rest of the conference, here is an excellent summary.

Philly ETE

I hanged out with some friends in the Chicago suburbs for the weekend, and flew to Philadelphia on Monday for Philly ETE. The conference organizers gave me a room in the conference hotel, which was super convenient. On Tuesday I went down to the ballroom for the keynote, and was shocked to see the number of people. It was a huge conference!

To warm up the audience, I asked people to move to the front of the room. No one actually moved, so I joked that one of the slides had a really complicated flowchart, and they could not blame me of they could not see the details. I made fun of the back of the room a few more times during the talk, and people laughed, which was great! I love it when my audience react. A nod, a smile, anything to indicate that they were paying attention.

ETE stands for "emerging technologies for enterprise", so this is a much broader conference than WindyCityGo. As a result I tried to stay high level on my talk, aiming to provide a framework for thinking about mobile caching. This was all fine and good, except I could not talk high level principles for 45 minutes. To be frank I was panicking as the conference date drew close. I used Monkey Write as an example for applying to principles, so I thought, hey, I could just include more examples! It worked out really well, because the case studies demonstrated the nuisance in implementing the various caching tiers.


I had a great time giving these two talks! I always worried that people will be bored, but as long as a few people nod and smile, I know somebody is learning something, and that energizes me to no end.

Here is a summary of the things I learned while preparing and giving these talks:

  • Put your slides online.
  • Poll your audience to gauge background knowledge level. Adjust your introduction accordingly.
  • Provide concrete examples.
  • Be lighthearted. They won't laugh at all your jokes, but when they do, it's super rewarding.

I will be giving the mobile caching talk again at the Twitter Engineering Summit on April 17. Come and say hello if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area!

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