I like watching developer talks, live and recorded. For my money (or free, depending on the venue), it doesn’t get any better than listening to Bob Martin work his way into a talk on software design by talking first about astronomy. He and so many other speakers are engaging, charismatic, and informative.
So we strive to be like them. We should put our names out there, give talks, and build our brand.
The Benefits of Conference Speaking
“Build our brand” is a little wishy-washy, though, so let’s get specific. How does speaking at conferences help you? I have my own opinion on this, but I went out in search of others’ to see. In broad strokes, here are some specific things that I saw.
- Make yourself better at public speaking. It’s like Toastmasters, but in your domain.
- Speaking at conferences means attending conferences, and that helps you “network.”
- Give back. Do your part in advancement of the general cause of programming knowledge.
- Teaching something is a great way to learn, so speaking at conferences forces you to up your game and improve your chops.
I found some blog posts on the subject offering specifics. Scott Davis says, “the knowledge that I’ve gained from teaching workshops has been invaluable and I don’t believe that I would have been as successful with out it.” Heidi Waterhouse says, among other things, “I also do it because I want to show up and be technical and expert and pink-haired in the world.”
That last statement, in particular, I think summarizes up the common speaker experience in the development world (though Heidi, herself, is apparently not a software developer, per se.) Public speaking on a topic helps you acquire a lot of skills associated with speaking publicly about that topic. And it helps you “show up in the world.”
What’s less clear is how, exactly, that benefits you in your career.
Getting Specific about Your Career and the Benefits
Now let me say something up front. If you’re speaking at conferences for the love of the game or to generally become a better rounded person, then what I’m telling in the rest of the post will either be passive food for thought or else not entirely applicable. For the rest of this post, I’m addressing people who are speaking at conferences to help their careers, with the idea of offering advice on how to make it help your career much more efficiently.
When listening to people tout the career benefits of conference speaking for software developers, it generally takes on this iconic form.
- Speak at conferences.
I mean, it doesn’t actually go that way. People don’t actually say, verbatim, “you should speak at conferences and then stuff happens and then your career takes off!” Instead, they just say that speaking at conferences is good for your career.
How so? Well, it “builds your brand.” Okay. And what does “building your brand” do for you as a senior software engineer or a freelance app dev pro? Ah, well, it’s about marketing yourself! Better job opportunities. Advancement. You know, … profit!
But let’s look at what, exactly, we’re saying will arise out of conference speaking. And also what, exactly, people put into it.