Want to get your next tech conference talk proposal accepted? Pachi Parra, Tracy P Holmes, and the Forem team might be able to help.
In this episode we talk with Tracy P Holmes, technical community advocate at Isovalent and Pachi Parra, developer advocate at Github about getting a conference talk proposal accepted. Get some tips and advice from their own personal experiences and a glimpse at this year's Codeland 2022, since both of them will be speaking at this year's conference.
Ben Halpern is co-founder and webmaster of DEV/Forem.
Abigail (Abby) Phoenix is a longtime conference planner and the Special Projects Manager at Forem, passionate about bringing communities together in thoughtful, meaningful ways.
A "jackie of all trades" (and mistress of being herself), Tracy is a Developer Advocate focusing on all things community, Anxiety Driven Development, and making sense of GitOps. When she isn't leveling up her programming skills or learning all she can about the next "Something-OPS", Tracy is active in the open source community and is a strong believer that open source is like gardening - pay attention to your conditions, and water only when needed.
Pachi Carlson is a Developer Advocate for Github and is a Co-founder of Feministech.
[00:00:00] TH: Make sure you’re asking the right questions and you’re addressing the right audience. Don’t jump all over the place saying that you have a basic talk and then it ends up being like very, very low level and technical, which is not what you were going for.
[00:00:23] BH: Welcome to DevDiscuss, the show where we cover the burning topics that impact all of our lives as developers. I’m Ben Halpern, a co-founder of Forem.
[00:00:31] AP: And I’m Abby Phoenix, Special Projects Manager at Forem. And today, we’re talking about getting a talk proposal accepted through the lens of CodeLand with Pachi Parra, Developer Advocate at GitHub, and Tracy P. Holmes, Developer Advocate at Isovalent. Both of our guests will be speaking at this year’s CodeLand Conference 2022, taking place June 16th and 17th, all virtual. Log onto CodeLandConf.com for more info. Pachi and Tracy, thank you both so much for being here.
[00:01:02] PP: Thanks so much for inviting me. I'm excited.
[00:01:05] TH: What she said.
[00:01:07] BH: So I have a lot of fun when we get into a show which uncovers the literal stuff that we’re working on and we sort of have to describe it as it is and not how sometimes these things are in the abstract. I think this is going to be a lot of fun. As we’re recording, we’re in the run-up to CodeLand itself. So a lot of conference brain going on here. But before we get into all of that, we have two awesome guests. We want to get to know both of you two. So Pachi, can you start with your background?
[00:01:39] PP: I was a nanny for eight years before I worked as a developer. I was a front-end dev for nine months before I got to DevRel. I was in the US for nine years. I just moved back to Brazil in January. And GitHub was like, “Hey, we want DevRel in Brazil.” I’m like, “Yeah, I like Brazil. I like DevRel.”
[00:01:56] AP: Tracy, since you are at least on paper have the same title, I would actually love to hear if you came to it from a different place as well.
[00:02:05] TH: Yeah. My talk kind of hits on that. So whoever sees the talk, you’re going to get the history. Also, I actually graduated with a degree in marketing, hated it, and then fully pivoted to tech. And so I’ve been in tech for like a jillion years. And while I was in engineering at a previous company, I did an internal talk. I was like, “Oh, okay. I kind of like that.” And then I got a talk accepted, like my first big conference talk, and found out that I had the bug and the DevRel manager just kind of looked at me and went, “Hi-hi-hi-hi-hi.” So then after that, I switched and I fell in love with it. I have a really weird brain, but I’m a lightbulb person. And so DevRel kind of works with me because I get to see that little “blink” in people’s eyes when they’re like, “Oh, I get that.” That’s how I got here, some versions of tech over across like 15 years or so, but this is the one that combined all of that weird back history that I have and kind of worked out for me.
[00:03:00] AP: I love that. I want to say, I’m sure it’s not true across the board, but I feel like most developer relations people I’ve met have really interesting ways that they’ve arrived at that. And a lot of them just seem to have really been delighted to discover that this role, which is an amalgamation of all these things that they have done in their past careers exist. I think that translates into a lot of the enthusiasm that I hear from DevRel people about it.
[00:03:27] TH: Yeah. You don’t get a chance to be bored in DevRel.
[00:03:30] PP: No, and never.
[00:03:31] TH: And that’s what I need.
[00:03:32] PP: Sometimes I want to.
[00:03:33] TH: Right.
[00:03:36] BH: So you two are both talking at CodeLand this year. Pachi, your accepted talk is called “Women and Tech: Why Representation Matters”. And Tracy, yours is called “Refining Your Programming Purpose”. Can we talk about the impetus for choosing these topics?
[00:03:53] PP: My first tech conference was CodeLand 2019. And I had just started to code like six months and I was very excited. I had no friends and [INAUDIBLE 00:04:02], but it was so great. In that conference, Ali Spittel, she gave a talk about why you should start blogging. And that was just so impactful for me because that woman on the stage talking about all of the struggles that she had, why should I blog too? And I started blogging on that. And that was like the first step to get into DevRel. I didn’t know that back then. So I started blogging back then. So that’s a nice example [INAUDIBLE 00:04:30] why representation matters, especially for women, because if you don’t see somebody like you, like, “Hey, can I be here?” Like you spoke to like a thousand white men, “Can I really be here?” Right? But once you see people like you, “Okay, then maybe I can.” That’s why I became a very public person, even if I’m introvert, because I want more people to speak to a Latina woman with green hair talking about work stuff in tech.
[00:04:57] AP: This is a podcast and no one can see you. I will just confirm that your green hair looks amazing.
[00:05:02] PP: Thank you.
[00:05:03] AP: And I just want to make a quick note that I was one of the organizers of CodeLand 2019 and it just gives me such delight to hear that it had an impact on you. A lot of times we have these events and we don’t really think about much once the event is over about that tale of influence, and hearing that just makes me so happy.
[00:05:24] PP: I talk about it all of the time to everybody.
[00:05:27] AP: It’s fantastic.
[00:05:28] PP: That event was like forever in my heart.
[00:05:30] AP: So Tracy, I would love to hear. You’ve touched on already that you have, this might overlap a little with the topic of your talk, but without getting too deep into the topic, because I very much encourage everyone to come and see it at CodeLand. Yeah. We’d love to hear a little more about what inspired you to submit this proposal.
[00:05:51] TH: Funnily enough, a previous podcast, I was on Full Stack Journey and we were going back and forth and it was one of those things where we were doing career advice. We were talking about job hopping and how it looks in the great resignation, if I’m not mistaken. And one of the things you said was another thing is about adjacency. And I was like, “Yeah, definitely adjacency, because there are a lot of people out there that are unhappy that haven’t looked to the right or the left, realizing that the perfect job is like literally in this exact same space, but one step over.” And then I looked at my background and I realized, “Oh, I’m one of those people.” And so that’s where the talk came from. It’s a little bit of that. And then funnily enough, Pachi, about your blog posts, kudos, because I cannot make myself blog. I’ve got drafts from three years ago, still sitting out there. And so the other thing is I’m trying to get better about blogging about that journey, but also now that I’m a member of the ops community, I’ve got to try to do the little blog post challenge that they have on there to force myself to talk about technical things. As much as I’m an introvert, also conferences usually wear me out. I disappear. There are people that know that I’m going to just disappear all of a sudden. I don’t always feel as technical as people tell me I am. And so I was kind of glad that they have that challenge going on because it’s going to force me to blog about more technical topics. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but we’ll see.
[00:07:08] BH: Why did you two choose CodeLand as a place to give these talks?
[00:07:13] PP: After now, [INAUDIBLE 00:07:13] I can give a talk someday. So after that one conference, which is so great, so memorable for me, I was like, “I'm going to apply every year into this one meeting.” Every year, I get in, so yay! Never give up!
[00:07:26] TH: I actually applied again because I got denied before and it was on my list.
[00:07:31] AP: It was revenge is what you're saying.
[00:07:33] TH: Yes, it was a revenge CFP and I was just like, “I'm going to make it this time.” Because the first one I think I submitted was like a joint talk. The reason I applied though is because literally outside of OS101, there are not a lot of beginner-friendly, not-tech-specific conferences out there. And I used to be as much as I could in the weekly Twitter chats, like I’m one of those CodeNewbie people and I’m always like FOSS and DEV.to. I even tried to make a provider for it. So people need to know everything’s not perfect, but they also need to know messing up is okay. And I feel like this is one of those welcoming type conferences that lets beginners know or even career changers know it’s okay, you’re not the only one, put yourself out there. So that’s why I did this one and I always try to do OS101.
[00:08:20] AP: That’s great to hear. And I mean, it’s honestly overall a shame that there aren’t more beginner-friendly conferences, because I think that early on, your tech career is when you’re seeking that community, those connections. Of course, you can’t ignore the work networking connections, but even just the connections of knowing that it’s not just you and your laptop in a room somewhere, that there really is this amazing community out there. Whether it’s virtual or in-person, there’s nothing like a conference to really help somebody feel instantly plugged in. So I'm glad at least there are some out there that can provide that for you.
[00:08:57] BH: And for non-beginners who are attending a beginner-focused conference, it is extremely exhilarating and energizing to be around a lot of excited beginners, especially beginners who are primed in that environment to probably exude maximum confidence because it’s a space for kind of being confident. And even if you’re not always confident, being in that environment, whether in person or online, I think is really incredible. I’ve been at every CodeLand ever at this point well before I was officially, professionally involved in the project because DEV and CodeNewbie merged, but I went to the first ones in New York. We crossed paths, Pachi, and I’ve been to the virtual ones and it’s been really fun to see how that changes things, like the global component of what CodeLand is now means that it’s attended by people from every continent. It’s like a whole kind of different experience, but it has the same energy and being around a lot of people who feel like they’re at an inflection point in their careers and are pretty excited about the moment is really special. I just kind of want to confirm that from my perspective.
[00:10:05] AP: Totally agree. I’d love to hear. If you could jump a little into talking about what your process was, in this case talking about the CodeLand proposals. But if you have an overall process, what is your process look like for writing a talk proposal?
[00:10:19] TH: So I do have an overall process. But depending on where I’m working or what role you’re in, sometimes your employer only wants you to submit to certain kinds of stuff. And so funnily enough, this one was a back channel type of talk for me that wasn’t like an official work talk. For me, I have a yearly and my brain is usually all over the place. I have coping mechanisms for all of the way that my brain works. One of these things that actually works for me is using notion as a database. And so what I do is I have a list of conferences in the spreadsheet, when CFPs are due, that kind of thing, notes, whatever, and then connect it to that database, it goes to each talk CFP that I have. And CodeLand was one of the ones that I wanted to do. So there’s a whole CFP page where just I literally copy and paste what I find on whatever page that is, I fill it in there so I have a backup, and then I submit. And then if I get accepted, I go check off the box. And then right under that same exact CFP, I started doing the outline of my talk. And the reason I use Notion because I don’t use Notion for everything. I usually use Obsidian, but Notion is very good about being able to just pick up the block and move it, which means I don’t have to copy-paste everything. I can just drag it. And it’s great for arranging stuff the way that I’m currently arranging it in my brain. So that’s my normal proposal process, with the addition of… I have two people I trust that know how my brain works. The other thing I do is about 10 business days out. I ping a person that knows me and is very good about pulling things out of my brain and she helps me arrange it. And then about five business days before, she goes over what I’ve had. And then if I need to do a demo, I can run it by her so she can tell me how things are flowing. And then usually I hate to say it, two days before the recording or whatever it due is when I started doing slides, but that entire time I’ve had the talk going through my brain. It’s not out, but I have an idea of how I want things to flow, which is why I don’t feel as bad about waiting until the last minute. That way I’m not going back and second guessing myself and changing and deleting stuff at the last minute because I don’t trust myself sometimes. And so I will completely wipe things.
[00:12:17] PP: I believe in GitHub, we have a similar tool, Tracy uses Notion. So I have a repository with my video, with the talks that I have I kind of ready in Portuguese and in English. And I have a kind of to-do list where I write down every idea that I have. So when I open a piece of paper in a conference that I’m interested, first, I go to like the idea that I have something read. It’s like, “Doing this talk makes sense.” And any of the those two, I just send that. I review. I’d actually comprehend where I go to my idea bucket and read something from there. And if I don’t have it ready, I just have a title and a description until I get accepted. If I don’t get accepted, the talk is going to exist in that board forever. If I get accepted, then the talk can exist, but it’s very similar, which is a talk that I had already, like the slides are already there, I just like make it more conference-like. But if it’s a new talk, actually, Tracy, I had everything in my head and usually my slides are more bullet points so I can keep track of what I’m saying because I haven’t yet actually given a technical talk. I mean, my talks are more about community and verse topics. So I know what I’m going to say, even if like this talk about women and tech, like they gave that several times, but I always shared stuff. I always tell new facts. I always tell new jokes. So it always changes and that you really evolve and it lights you up. So yeah. I have ADHD. So I think it has its flow and if it’s the next slide to me, you cannot give me the lines. When my brain’s ready, I want to do everything in 10 minutes. That’s going to be great because that 10 minutes my brain is like, “Hey, let’s get it done.”
[00:14:03] TH: That’s it. That’s exactly it. And I do have the talk repo is just like put everything there after the fact, but I’ve got like my headshots, former talks, links to those and the slides. And so like you, I can kind of go back and go, “Ah, I’ve only given this once. Let me get another. Go out of this one and then we’ll retire it.” And then just point everyone to the updated recordings or whatnot. I like your process. Your process sounds a lot like mine. That 10 minutes is the most important 10 minutes of the entire process. I promise you.
[00:14:48] BH: So a great process is not going to do much good if you don’t have the right premise or the right idea of what a successful proposal is in the first place. So can we dive in on that a little bit? And once we get Tracy and Pachi to weigh in, Abby, I’d like you to give us the correct answer. You really, really know what it takes to be accepted. But Tracy, why don’t we start with you?
[00:15:17] AP: No pressure.
[00:15:20] TH: I’m horrible about catchy titles. And there are some of the most horrible, awkward ones, but they catch the eye. And so that’s what I normally go for, like a riff off of an acronym or something like that. I will say because I’ve had to submit to a lot of CNCF talks, I tend to know that I need to go very, very in depth with the abstract and I have to know what I’m writing it for and what benefits people are getting out of it. I encourage anyone that’s listening to this, go get a copy of Linux Foundation CFP template and save it because that is normally all of the exact information that you want. Make sure you don’t have misspellings. Make sure your title is in title case. It actually helps. Make sure you’re asking the right questions and you’re addressing the right audience. Don’t jump all over the place saying that you have a basic talk and then it ends up being very, very low level and technical, which is not what you were going for. Go back, review what you need and see if you need to change what audience you’re writing for, or if you need to change the format of your talk. Not all talks need to be 45 minutes. Lightning talks are perfectly fine and ignite talks will keep you on your toes with five minutes going. So I think a successful one is you’re reaching the audience that you want. Bullet points, you only need two or three bullet points. People either going to read everything you have on the slide and tune you out or they’re going to listen to you so much they never see what’s on this slide. So it’s a balance. Make sure you’re not too heavy on verbiage. I’m a rambler. I’m big on speaker notes. The premise of the talk, make sure you’re getting the right audience. You’re answering all the questions to the best of your ability. You’re not just throwing something out there just to see if you can get a CFE in. I don’t think people that have never been on a program committee realize that having to review 133 talks is not an easy process.
[00:17:02] AP: Tracy, you’ve been on a program committee?
[00:17:04] TH: This year I had to do the OS Summit. I had one of the micro and we literally had like 133 CFPs. And you could tell some people were just like copying and pasting.
[00:17:13] AP: How many did you have to pick out of that 133?
[00:17:15] TH: Oh, we just had to go through and rate.
[00:17:17] AP: Oh, I see.
[00:17:17] TH: Yeah. And so I think at the end, the head of this particular program committee looks and sees what the average is and then they select a specific number based off how we rated them. I think that’s the biggest thing though. People realize that when you’re doing CFPs and we wanted to get accepted, pay attention to what they’re asking you. Don’t just throw something out there and think that your popularity or your Twitter follower account is going to get you an accepted talk. And if it’s a community conference, especially those are probably more important than a lot of these technical ones that are out there.
[00:17:46] PP: Like I mentioned, I have some thoughts ready, but I think it’s very important. I don’t think that’s wrong, but I had really had to read the conference paper and adapt to make sure that it fits. And as I figure the lines, I had all stands and feelings about this conference paper that I asked, “Why are you the right person to give that talk?” And every time that I look at that question, your perspective is like, “Why am I the person?” And it’s not about synergy level or even like the experience. I'm like, “No, why am I talking about this?” And it helps me to make more sense. So I really like that.
[00:18:20] AP: You took my answer because that was actually a lot of what I was to say as well, except I will make a couple of notes. So one is I love, Tracy, what you said about when you’re talking about a specific conference and what they were looking for, because I do think that we’re providing tips about tech CFPs across the board, but necessarily a lot of conferences will have very specific things they’re looking for. The conferences where I have had any insight into the program selection and program committee are very specific as well and would not want a really long detailed abstract, whereas there are conferences for which that’s what they need to know. And so I would say that one of my tips is to get to the point, which I know can sound a little rude. But to your point, Tracy, most program committees are reviewing over 100, 200, 300. I have had conferences where there are over 400 proposals coming in. And while that is great, it’s a great sign for the overall health of the community, it’s a lot of work, and you’d like to think otherwise everybody on a program committee is human. If you’re reading 400 proposals and they are all meandering or long or have a lot of extra details, in general, you’re not going to necessarily be giving it your best evaluation. So I would say that in most cases, the best proposals answer two questions and answer them pretty directly. One, what topic is this talk going to cover? And then two, what would attendees learn or take away from it? And that first one sounds really obvious because of course you’re putting in your proposal, what your talk is going to be about, but clearly I’m speaking from experience and having seen plenty of proposals where it takes people a while, I would say, to get to just answering the question of what’s this talk going to be about. So that is the main tip that I would give is to ultimately get your proposal and abstract to put it at the beginning, if possible, to just say, “What is this talk going to be about?” And one quick note, I was going to say about titles, again, I’m only speaking for the conferences I’ve been involved with, but I would not sweat a clever title too much because towards that point about just being clear and direct, I have worked with plenty of CFPs where there’s a clever title attached to a great proposal and we have to ask the speaker to change the title to be more clear. Because, again, we want it to be eventually where it’s on a program or schedule, where attendees are deciding perhaps at a multitrack, which talk am I going to go to, to be able to see it in a glance and say, “I know what that talk’s going to be about.”
[00:21:11] TH: Well, no, to your point, I have gotten better about not being way too clever on my title because they used to be a little too clever. So I was like, “What is this even about?” But I do like that more conferences are adding that private section that no one else but the committee will see now because for someone like me where, okay, yeah, I’ve got the bullet points out, my brain is going, “I need to explain why,” and that fit that you all have in the CodeLand CFP was perfect for me because I can say this is why all of this is in that particular outline. What you’re not seeing is I’m not the youngest thing in the block anymore and I mentioned in tech years, like I will add that. I don’t want all of the conference goers to know that because they don’t need to know how old I am, but it’s good for you. It’s good for you all to see it. I really appreciate you all adding the fit because I don’t think that was there, if I’m not mistaken.
[00:22:01] AP: I think that, yeah, it may be something where over time it came to be because that information is so useful when it comes out in other fields. It is really helpful because it gives you a sense of how is this topic going to be delivered. And again, as Pachi’s point, answering, “Why are you the best person?” And that’s not a negative thing. That’s like, “Tell us about how you’re going to give this talk.” So you both mentioned submitting proposals to other conferences as well. I would love to hear a little bit about how has your process for submitting proposals evolved over time as perhaps you have gotten some rejections, as you have had certain talk proposals hit where other ones don’t. Has that really evolved how you submit your proposals?
[00:22:47] PP: I think that's what's changed, like I started tracking what happens after I send it off the paper because sometimes I send a couple of papers and months later I got an answer. And I want to know why you didn’t leave feedback. I can go to that proposal and say, “Hey, maybe that is why,” and you cannot say that. So now I have like more where I say, “Hey, this will stand. These were accepted and rejected,” so I can go back and look at that and say, “Hey, why was that rejected?” But I’ve been accepting a few.
[00:23:22] TH: I have more of a format for my outlines now, now that I’ve done this for a few years. IF nothing else, this is how this outline should be. Here’s the catchy part of it. Here’s why I’m doing it. And here are the three things the conference goers need to know. That’s now kind of my format for things, but also, yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of rejections, but I find that my stuff that’s more geared to beginners actually gets paid the more than all of these technical topics, because even like blog posts, you can see all of these technical blog posts that are going like really in depth and no one’s remembering that people don’t really know that they can just submit documentation. That’s the thing. What’s the best way to submit this for this person? My last two talks I have been, like lightning talks are like shorter talks, but they were also more thought leadership, like, “Hey, here’s how this new thing that you all are hearing about works for this popular tool.” I don’t care what company I’m working for. I’m really good about just not picking a side and going, “Come at me if you don’t agree.” And so those have been working though, and I can put more of my personality in there instead of just wrote demo, “Here’s what you’re going to learn next demo.” It’s a webinar. That doesn’t catch me. So I try to do the things that I would want to see. So yeah, I guess change wise, sticking to a format has been working for me more than panicking and writing an outline and then also just trying to stick with something that feels more me than nothing else has gotten me better success.
[00:24:49] AP: First off, I was going to say this earlier, we were talking a little more about rejection, but I just want to know that from, again, I’m never actually usually doing the reviews, but having overseen a lot of program committees and review committees, I will note that a lot of really great proposals get declined. And a lot of that is just based on numbers when you have hundreds of proposals coming in and you can only accept 15, 20, 60. That means there’s hundreds being turned down and a lot of times really great proposals that would get accepted if the winds had blown slightly differently just worked. Unfortunately, with those numbers, it is very difficult to give every single person the feedback as to exactly what happened. So it’s easy when you’re just getting that declined email to think, “Well, it must have been awful,” because we don’t have the capacity to tell people otherwise. But one thing that we have been able to implement in some of the committees and conferences that I’ve worked with is saying to people with their decline. If you do want more feedback from our committee, we’re not necessarily going to be able to get to it immediately. But if you do want more feedback, use this system to ask for feedback. And I’ve found that most of the committee members that I’ve worked with have been really, really great and really thoughtful about being able to explain further when somebody wants to know, not of course in an angry way, but in a way of just saying like, “I’d love to improve this proposal,” that they can give them some of that constructive feedback for when they submit it again. And sometimes even if the feedback is nothing could be better, it was great, we just happened to not be able to accept it. I really think it’s valuable to hear that. So that is something when we are able to give that, my sense is that it improves the overall quality of thought leadership and of speaking for the community overall. So I love when we’re able to do that. And it is unfortunate we’re not able to do that for everybody. But it’s not necessarily that it’s bad.
[00:26:53] BH: So Abby, given the fact that some people aren’t going to submit the type of talk that just doesn’t get accepted and someone can give them good constructive feedback, what is the type of thing you see that hurts people’s proposals for a talk that otherwise might’ve been just right?
[00:27:14] AP: For sure. And it’s funny because I feel like I just was talking about how it’s probably great, it’s probably just the circumstance, but I think that there are definitely certain things that could improve proposals across the board. And one of these touches on what I was saying before, which is that when talk proposals get to be too much to perhaps too clever, but too obscure, the one thing that it does too besides make the reviewer, who is reviewing hundreds of proposals in a week or two, start to glaze over, is that it also gives the impression that perhaps the speaker is going to do that in their talk. And so as much as possible to be able to say, “This is me clearly expressing my point and that’s what you’re going to get when you have me give this talk,” that’s always helpful. So be clear that this is not your first draft where you’re just talking about all these things. That’s really helpful. The second thing, of course, this doesn’t happen as much. But on the other end is if you don’t say enough. And we always get proposals where I almost consider them not real proposals, but where we have a person’s name, email, and one sentence. And the good thing about that from a reviewer’s perspective is it’s very easy to mark that low and just move on. But of course, I presume, there are real people who submitted that who really wanted to talk on that topic. In that case, you do have to at least address the main things. What are you going to talk about and what will the audience take away from this? And then in terms of other specifics, I just want to note that there is a really good series that Mercedes Bernard has out about conference speaking in general. And one of the pieces of that is how to write an abstract. And so I will definitely share that because she goes over a lot of good things, procedurally of how to do it, but touches on a lot of what we’re talking about here as well.
[00:29:17] TH: Quick question about the one-liners. Do you ever have it where you’re like, “Okay, I think this could have been an interesting talk, I wonder if they like hit in or by mistake or delete the part of it by mistake”? Do you all reach out to people sometimes to say, “Did you mean to just submit the one sentence? If you did, it’s okay”? But did you?
[00:29:33] AP: I think it depends.
[00:29:34] TH: Okay.
[00:29:35] AP: I think it depends. For one, it depends on how compelling that one sentence is. Right? Not to be harsh, but again, a lot of times you’re talking about people who are reviewing who don’t have a lot of time and who also are trying to put together the best program that they can, but know that there are going to be good talks that are not going to make it in. Is it worth it to pursue this person who we’re not sure if they just didn’t put that much effort in or if they accidentally clicked enter? Most CFP programs now, once you have submitted your proposal, you can see it. You can review it. You can revise it. And at some point, it is a little bit incumbent on the person who submitted if it was an accident to go back and take a look and be like, “Let me read this again now that I’ve submitted it.” A day later, “Does this read how I wanted it to look?” And if it’s one sentence, hopefully the answer is, “No, I need to add more.” So I would say ideally that would happen, but in reality, I think a lot of times that’s just the, “Okay, that one’s not getting in. So we’re going to move on.”
[00:31:01] BH: The first email exchange I ever had with you, Abby, was you helping me deal with a problem I’d had getting ready for a talk at RailsConf. My talk was accepted, but I didn’t follow through with the next thing and I missed your first email and I felt very grateful for a very helpful…
[00:31:18] AP: I write so many of those emails, Ben.
[00:31:21] BH: Yeah. I mean, I put myself in the shoes of like, “I’m probably not the only kind of person that missed an email.” But I was really excited about the talk and felt very good about getting a very helpful email from you out of the blue about a missed email, I didn’t even know I missed.
[00:31:38] AP: I don’t want to say that they’re well-known distinct emails, but you do know if you’ve gotten one of my emails. They have a lot of bullet points. I think, Tracy, you were talking about keeping your proposals to two or three bullet points. I was like, “I’ve written emails a hundred times that it feels like.” But I’m glad to hear it made an impact. We just try to be helpful.
[00:31:59] TH: Oh, no.
[00:32:00] PP: Yeah. Your email was like…
[00:32:02] TH: Your thoroughness is…
[00:32:04] PP: Right?
[00:32:05] TH: I love your emails. Oh, Lord. I turn them into a checklist. I’m just like, “Okay, Abby said this.”
[00:32:12] AP: You know what? I appreciate that. Thank you.
[00:32:15] PP: It is so helpful.
[00:32:16] BH: What would you say the most challenging part of the proposal writing process is? Whether you get it right or not in the end, what’s the hard part about just doing it?
[00:32:27] PP: I think the hard part is [INAUDIBLE 00:32:30]. Like in the beginning, I would just like be there for the proposal forever. And then at some point, you know what? I just want to write things and I’m going to send it because it’s not they’re going to lose the conference paper that way and the things that are in the stands. But we want to be respective, so we want to do our best, so they’ll just be there and do that thing again and again. We never really help with that. So I guess the biggest challenge is that we can understand.
[00:33:02] TH: Mine is the opposite. Mine is making sure that I haven’t gone too far off topic for a discovery talk. I do discovery talks to make myself learn things. But the problem is I try to learn too much, which is why I enlist that person 10 days out to go, “Yeah, you were fine until you hit here and then I don’t know how we ended up over here, but this has nothing to do with containers, Tracy.” So me, it’s making sure I haven’t gone too far into the weeds for my talks because then of course it still won’t get accepted. So yeah. The sin part, I’m ready for, but making sure that I haven’t messed up before that is my issue.
[00:33:37] AP: Just briefly, I have a friend who’s a writer who does a really extensive research and says it’s really hard sometimes some days to figure out where the line is between saying I’m still researching and where you’re just procrastinating because, hopefully, you’re very interested in the things you’re reading, but you’re like, “Is this going to make it into the article?” Probably not, but it’s really interesting. And then suddenly, you spend three days on some separate topics. Just saying, one might be.
[00:34:06] TH: You didn’t have to talk about me, Abby. That’s just rude.
[00:34:12] AP: It sounds like you’ve both had a lot of experience clearly getting proposals accepted, also not. And so now that you’re kind of at this place, I would love to hear any advice that you have for anyone who’s listening to this who either has never submitted a proposal and they’re considering it. They might be a little intimidated by all the CFPs that are out there. Any advice for anybody as they’re sort of approaching that?
[00:34:40] PP: Again, if you're starting, it helps [INAUDIBLE 00:34:42] comfortable with. I mean, we always take it out of our comfort zone when there’s something new, but it is scary already. So we will have to go talk about rejects, what do you expect, react, results. You start with that. So that’s why, like I say most of my topics, they are about social topics because I can talk about that. I can have a whole discussion about that. I cannot have a deep conversation with you about [INAUDIBLE 00:35:10]. I would love to, but I can’t. I’ve been trying to that for two years already. So I would love a good talk on that by the way. But it should be that you're comfortable with. I know some people that they have something that they want to learn, so they submit talks on that topic, so they will learn that. I mean, that is great. But if you’re starting, it’s your very first conference, play safe and go the thing that you’re going be… because even if you get accepted, you’re going to freak out. You may go, “I don’t know, I don’t know why I thought about it.” So you're going to have to talk anyway, [INAUDIBLE 00:35:45] is something that we can be comfortable to talk about.
[00:35:49] AP: So if you get your acceptance and you’re like, “Oh, no,” that’s maybe not a good sign.
[00:35:54] TH: See? So now Pachi, you’re talking about me and you didn’t have to talk about me like that. But I absolutely agree, if you’re starting out, don’t do the things that we just talked about. I will say if it was interesting enough to you to write a blog post about it, turn that blog post into a talk because I don’t do the opposite of that nearly as much as I probably could where I’ve already written the talk. So why wouldn’t I just add a blog post to it? The other thing is definitely be comfortable, but also don’t think about what somebody else has submitted. But if you want to go through looking at previous submissions and get an idea, do that, but then make it just different enough that someone can say, “I’ve seen 15 other talks about getting started with Kubernetes. I’ve seen 13 other talks about this, that, and the other.” Or do like Pachi said, write something that’s personal to you. So for that particular talk, you said you’re doing representation talk, right?
[00:36:52] PP: Yeah.
[00:36:52] TH: For me, I’m that weird person at conferences. And I promise I’m not turning this into a diversity conversation. But I’m that weird person at conferences that, one, appreciates that I don’t have to stand in a line for a bathroom, but also I will make someone else feel awkward and run across the floor and go, “Another me!” Because I rarely see me there. Your representation talk, I will be looking at it because that’s important to me. I’m very big on representation matters. So if you’re out there and you’re just like, “Hey, I started at this company, I’m a junior person or I’m an apprentice and I didn’t have a good experience,” write about it. Get it out because I promise you’re not the only person that has experienced it. And then turn that writing into a talk and submit it to these community-friendly conferences that we were talking about earlier.
[00:37:36] AP: I love that. I also love the image of you running across the conference floor.
[00:37:40] TH: I did, and she looked so uncomfortable and I felt so bad. I was like, “Hey, I just wanted to say hi and I’m glad that you were another me.” And she was like, “Oh, okay.”
[00:37:51] AP: And who are we?
[00:37:54] TH: What do you mean? And I was just like, “Never mind. Never mind.” So I don’t do that nearly as much as I used to.
[00:38:02] PP: Personal friends that I went back in Brazil was only was like all women, about 300 women. So with all of that, everybody is running… But it was like awesome. First of all, my friends were like, “Wow!” I got tired because I always do, but I was also like so excited because… I have so many people, I didn’t know if you have so much [INAUDIBLE 00:38:24].
[00:38:26] AP: That’s amazing.
[00:38:28] TH: But I mean, it’s a great thing because you feel better knowing that someone in the audience understands what you’re talking about. You’re not looking at a group of people that are like, “I mean, why is this a problem? I don’t understand.” There’s this other person in the audience going, “Oh, yes, I dealt with that yesterday.” And it makes you feel a little bit more relaxed and more confident. And unfortunately, they also become the person that you stare at while you’re giving your talk. It helps.
[00:38:53] AP: And maybe it’s not so helpful for getting to the bathroom quickly. So if everybody, that’s when you have to kind of, as the organizer, revisit the bathroom situation.
[00:39:06] BH: And Abby, for those attending CodeLand this year, who are some of the other presenters that stand out to you and what can people look forward to in general?
[00:39:15] AP: I’m going to try to make this quick, because there’s so much. I’m not going to name any other names because it’s an intimate conference. There’s a handful of people. And so I feel like if I name the ones that I think are going to be especially great, I’m going to be proven wrong because other ones will be equally great. And so I will talk a little bit about some of the topics that someone could expect to learn about and hear about at CodeLand. So our thoughts that came through our CFP including Pachi’s and Tracy’s are generally in four tracks. So our tracks are ones that were selected that we think are going to be especially important to early career developers. One is tech and ethics, which is about the responsibility that devs have and what we work on, the responsibility that we have to our digital world now and how those intersect. Beyond the binary, which is about how to increase the inclusivity and accessibility in development work, Pachi is in that track. Healthy coding, which is really important, which is about how to maintain your boundaries and your health as you’re doing all of that, which is especially important for early career developers who may feel like they want to put everything they have into this new career, Tracy’s talk is in that track. And then finally, a little fun track called Open Toolbox. That is about all the creative ways that devs have built something new and amazing and encouraging early career devs to do that as well. So those are our main talks. It’s like gilding the lily that we have these incredible inspiring keynotes. On top of that, Angie Jones was mentioned earlier. She’s one of our keynoters. We’re super excited of that. We’re also featuring Kelsey Hightower and Tracy Chou. It’s a very starry lineup. We are super excited. And then the last thing I would say is, and this is really important for us as CodeLand is an accessible, inclusive, early career developer conference, is that this year, just like last year, we’re super excited to have it be pay what you can. And that pay what you can starts with the include zero. So that is something that is really important too, because tech conferences, and again, I’ve worked with a lot of them. They can be a lot of times be a real barrier is you know this amazing event is going on, it costs hundreds of dollars, getting there costs hundreds of dollars, staying somewhere. So I’m really excited that for this virtual conference that we are able to offer it at a very accessible rate. So I’m excited. I think it’s going to be great.
[00:41:54] BH: Any final words of wisdom for the audience?
[00:41:58] TH: It would be wise for you to attend CodeLand. But also, go to all the Forem stuff because there’s so much stuff to learn on Forem, DEV.to, CodeNewbies. People are writing more blogs these days, which is great. So go check all that stuff out because you can learn a lot.
[00:42:15] BH: Thanks everyone for coming. This has been a great conversation.
[00:42:17] TH: Thanks for having me.
[00:42:18] AP: Goodbye. Thank you.
[00:42:19] PP: Thanks so much for having us. Bye.
[00:42:31] BH: Thank you for listening to DevDiscuss. This show is produced by Gabe Segura. Our senior producer is Levi Sharpe. Editorial oversight by Jess Lee, Peter Frank, and Saron Yitbarek. Our theme song is by Slow Biz. If you have any questions or comments, email [email protected] and make sure to join our DevDiscuss Twitter chats on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM Eastern Time. Or if you want to start your own discussion, write a post on DEV using the tag “discuss”. Please rate and subscribe to this show on Apple Podcasts.