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coach

Conference presentations – behind the scene

A few months ago, I was delighted to be part of the amazing DDDnorth conference that took place in Bradford. This time, I was actually facing the attendees as I was taking the role of speaker for the first time.

It was a truly amazing experience, and I want to share my afterthought with you all, in the hope that I will be able to convince some of you to take this extra step in your career.

The hidden Iceberg – The preparation

Many website accept your talk from the abstract ( a few hundred words to explain the content of your talk), and many speaker actually do not prepare the actual talk until their talk has been submitted. I thought that was just my mistake, but it seem to be a big mistake from newbie that I am not going to repeat again.

The actual preparation that goes behind a conference session is immense. I have spent almost 25 hours changing and adapting the Powerpoint and another 20+ repeating it over and over until I got it just right. It would have been fine if you share this over an extensive period of time, but do it between being approved and the actual talk ( less than a month) was not a great idea, and I really suggest you all to learn from my mistake!

I have been lucky to keep an initial copy of my presentation, and I have been able to compare it with the final one. It is admirable how much it changed. I am not just talking at the actual design of the slide or the odd pictures, but the overall content and message that the presentation broadcast to the audience.

This is probably one of the main reason why sometimes the abstract can be quite different from the actual presentation.

A journey to self discovery

Writing an abstract to submit a Call for paper (CFP), is quite easy. We all have our “special” topic that we like to discuss, or a personal experience that we want to share, and this is usually good enough to draft down the bare bones of a presentation. But the real work needed to actually create enough content to present a whole session is a different story.

Spending time, trying to put your thought on paper is not easy, I actually felt the pain of all writers, that have something beautiful stuck in their head, and do no know the best way to share it with others. Luckily I was surrounded by great people, I would ask you all to ask and get people involved, because there is nothing better to actually share your thoughts to give you the energy and the power to continue and make a great presentation.

When I applied to be a speaker, I actually thought to know enough on the topic, and did not think that I needed to do any research, but I was completely wrong. You can never know too much! I have learned so much on my specific topic, and the feedback from other speaker was completely the same! Some people have even confessed, that the main reason why they speak at conference or write blog post is to “force” themselves to actually research and study specific topics in details.

The main event

There are no nice words that I can share, or special powder that will save you from the “Speaking anxiety”. Some people are affected more than others, and luckily I coped very well with it.

If Anxiety does hit, I can only suggest to remember that it is too late to back now, so do you best, if thing goes wrong, just work hard and try again! We are all humans after all!!

In my case, I felt amazingly energetic after I started my session. For the first time I really felt like all the preparation, all the hard work and all the hours talking by myself were finally worth it! Having lots of people staring at you can be scary, but remember that people are not there to judge you, but they have joined your session because they think you and your topic are worth the time!

The actual talk and questions time will fly! You will not believe how quick it will be before someone will warn you of the time!

The after event will be the best part of the conference for you, it is the time to try and get as many feedback as possible, because do not forget that the aim is always getting better and improve, so even if you did something wrong, you just need to focus and see what you can do to improve and not focus too much on the actual mistake!

Conclusion

I have personally loved it, and I cannot wait to do it again. The amount of work that goes behind it is incredible, so make sure you are really ready for it, and give 150% of yourself, but do not let this get you down because the personal satisfaction is the feeling of accomplishment that you receive at the end cannot be explained!

 

 

The power of mentoring

Intro

What a better way than start this post with this amazing quote from P. Collins. Teaching and mentoring is not sorely aimed at sharing your knowledge for others to learn, but it is the process in which you personally develop.

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” Phil Collins

It is well known that the IT industry is filled with many people suffering from “The imposter sindrome”, but in many instances these individuals are the best that the market is able to offer, and lean them toward a mentoring career, can be an eye opening experience.

What is mentoring

I have been looking for a nice definition for mentoring, and I finally found one that was short and concise on the oxforddictionaries.com

An experienced and trusted adviser.

I like this quote because it does not go in details, neither does it mention higher qualification or age or company position. It focuses on what really matter Experience and trust.

Experience and trust

Experience is of course a core required for mentorship, as a mentor is supposed to “guide” an individual toward an improvement of some sort. But this experience is not specific to one skill(more details below). During my last 4 years at Vizolution I have been able to be thought by some great mentors, each of which have inspired me in different ways, but what was really great was seeing employers coming in, learn, and share that knowledge with other people.

To mentor someone you need to have some skills to share. What this mean is that you could be very good in keeping notes, and therefore still be able to mentor and support a very disorganised Senior developer, or you could have adapted to scrum faster than your fellow colleagues and help them to get up to speed ( both true stories).

I really think that teaching and mentoring are completely two different way of sharing knowledge. When using the word mentoring, you are implying that you are taking “ownership” of an individual supporting him/her all the way, while teaching is just about knowledge transfer, and does not focus on how much the audience assimilate.

How to mentor

I personally love to mentor, but even more being mentored as I like to see how different people approach this subject and try to learn on the way.

To mentor people you do not need a bright star on your shirt, or a cool Job title on your name badge, what you really need is a state of mind, one that will put other people before any sort of priority, because as I said before you are taking ownership of someone skills and therefore have a duty to support them every step of the way.

I have always enjoyed teaching other people what I knew, but it has just been recently that I have been able to learn how to mentor people. I am currently supporting over 40 developers, and I try to build a specific road map for each of them to help them improve where they need it the most.

Lead the way

There are many different example that I could share, but the message is always the same, lead the way and make sure you are being followed (always make sure you are not talking by yourself, involve the person, test how much they are learning, let them take control).

If you are dealing with a junior developer, instead than just show the correct code to complete a task, you should first of all try to understand the thought that went behind his/her solution, and try to guide the programmer by showing  them the possible improvements and the different paths that could have been taken, so that the correct code becomes just a simple tool of a greater lesson.

Of course the mentoring tactic need to change depending from the individual. Some people want to be supported and helped and don’t really value themselves, but there could be other that are very confident and need a lighter support, they may not even know that you are mentoring them, but this is when mentoring really stands out.

Why do mentoring

It take time, energy, it is very difficult and sometime the person that you are mentoring may not even be aware of it, so why should you even bother.

Personally I think that a great mentor, is a great leader. Mentoring is the best way to learn your strength and your weakness. It help you with personal development and improves your existing skills.

I talked about “the imposter syndrome” above, because developers are well know for not being very social, and in many cases this is also accompanied by a sense of failure. Unfortunately, this developers, are usually the most skilled, but their knowledge is not shared. I have seen the great effect of mentoring on a specific individual, starting to share his personal skills made him realise how good it was, he improved his self esteem, and made him a key employed in the company. We usually focus too much on the core skills (in this case coding), and we forget that people may need help in different areas.

Who can mentor

It should be clear by now, that everyone should mentor. We may all do it differently, and some of us may not succeed at it at first time, but this does not mean that mentoring is not for you.

As mentioned above, I love to being mentored, I like to find the strength in people and let them teach me what their really know by sharing their love for something.  It is not important if they are junior, senior, or even if they do not work in my same sector, if someone has a specific skills that is worth sharing, it is important to accept your weakness and ask for support.

Conclusion

I am currently the technical lead, but this does not stop me going to admit that there are developers that are better than me in specific skills, and this is what mentoring did to me.

Mentoring and being mentored showed me my weakness, but it also showed that there is not harm in being open about them, because I also know to have many different strength. This state of mind is what helped me and there is no better or easier way to achieve it than by offering your help and open yourself to support others.