Friday, August 17, 2012

That Conference

I have been actively seeking public speaking opportunities, which led me to places that I'll never visit otherwise. For instance, I was just in Wisconsin Dells, the venue of the inaugural That Conference.

Getting there

Since it was the first year, there wasn't much guideline for talk submission. The topic was "Web, Cloud and Mobile", so anything goes. I submitted a few Android talks, and got accepted. But since the conference has so many speakers, they don't have funds to cover the travel expense of the speakers. As an independent consultant, time is literally money, since I only bill the hours I work for my clients. To travel out-of-town and be at a conference is already quite expensive in terms of time, and I just couldn't get myself to pay for the flights and hotels as well.

I was going to withdraw from the speaker roster, then realized that I am probably not alone. I have been working hard to convince more women to step up and give tech talks, and I wonder how many of them hesitate because of travel costs. This is a problem money can solve, and a very concrete thing companies can do to support women in technology.

With that in mind, I started emailing various companies. I got worse than "no" for an answer, for they simply ignored me. Well, at least I tried, I told myself. Two months later, I got a response from Etsy Hacker Grants, saying that they would love to send women to speak at tech conferences! I was very pleasantly surprised.

At this point I have already given away my speaker slot at That Conference, but they are running Open Space sessions at the conference, and suggested that I came to present my Android talk there. Sure, I said, but I also asked them to put me on the backup speaker list in case there were cancellations. And sure enough, somebody cancelled, and I was back as a camp counselor aka official speaker.

The crowd

Given that the topics were "Web, Cloud and Mobile", I was really surprised that this turns out to be a very Microsoft heavy conference. I don't really get much exposure to Windows technologies in the Bay Area, so I took advantage of the situation and went to a session on building Metro applications. But as the day went on, I had this guilt feeling that I wasn't learning enough to justify taking time off to come to the conference.

That all changed in the evening. I went to dinner with a bunch of people, one of whom works on both iOS and Android. We discussed image caching on Android, geolocation on iOS, and just talked shop in general. And that was so much fun.

The next day I went to an Open Space session on Android game programming. I wanted to attend the session because of Android, but also because the guy who proposed the session shares a last name with a very good friend of mine back in the Bay Area. Turns out he is his brother!

I felt quite lonely as an Android developer in the sea of Windows folks, so this session was really cool. It brought the 8 of us together in this 600-person conference, and we had a great time exchanging tips on Android programming. Yay Open Space!

My talk was on the last day, and around 15 to 20 people attended, some from the Open Space session. I gave the same talk in Chicago already, but each crowd is different, and we drilled down to different parts of the talk. Overall it went really well.


That Conference was held in a waterpark, and it was reserved for the attendees on Tuesday night from 10:30pm to 1:30am. There was a long break from dinner until the waterpark party, so we went back to the Open Space room and played Race for the Galaxy.

It is a pretty hefty game to learn, but I had confidence in my fellow conference attendees, and I think everyone enjoyed the game.

10:30pm rolled along, and off to the waterpark we went. I haven't been to a waterpark for such a long time! I tried all the slides, and went on the vertical drop 3 times. It was tons of fun. I brought my diving camera and filmed one of the rides:


Overall I had a pretty good time at That Conference. The official sessions were not very appealing to me, but the people made up for it. I know I will be keeping in touch with a few of them, and that is what I call meaningful connections.

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