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Archive for the 'yapcna07' Category

Lightning Talks: Would I be brave enough to give one?

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

I always thought that Perl conferences had lightning talks to encourage new speakers. I had a look at the description that MJD wrote when he was organising them and he mentions how they are a good place to start speaking. Geoff, who now runs most of them, also states that they are a “great choice for your first speaking experience”. But I’m not convinced that is true anymore.

In Vienna and Houston last year the lightning talks were held in the main hall in front of the whole conference. The only other speakers who were put under this much pressure were the keynote speakers – who were all experienced. Can you imagine having to give your first ever talk in a large room in front of 300 or so people?

Of course many of the speakers who give lightning talks are very experienced. How would you feel if you were giving your first talk ever and had to speak after 8 other people who had obviously been speaking for years and on top of that were witty, original and funny? Lightning talks have become stand-up comedy. The ones people rave about tend to be the ones that were most entertaining. I imagine that for most people it would be easier to speak for 20 minutes on something technical rather than try to give a five minute talk that is entertaining enough to keep the audience laughing with them throughout it.

I asked Marty recently if he would give a lightning talk at a conference and he said, “I have nothing funny to say”. And I think the expectation is now that lightning talks are there not to teach you something but to entertain you. There was a really good non-funny lightning talk at YAPC::NA last year but it seemed to be out of place. When Paul started talking about his elderly parents I wanted to laugh because that’s all I had been doing for the rest of the talks. It is hard to change pace and recognise that the person on the stage isn’t telling a joke but sharing a technical solution to a serious personal problem.

The lightning talks are not scheduled against anything else at YAPC conferences because so many people want to go to them. We all want to be entertained and I think we should keep these but I would like to see an appropriate forum for inexperienced speakers to talk about technical things.

Pittsburgh Perl Workshop

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I meant to write up the Pittsburgh Perl Workshop when I was there in October but didn’t get round to it. Mint has been writing about it lately, which reminded me that I hadn’t.

(This is only the second Perl Workshop I have been to and I haven’t been able to work out why they are called workshops. To me this implies something more practical with an exchange of information and not a series of presented talks.)

Pittsburgh isn’t exactly close to Tokyo but it was a good opportunity to catch up with some friends.

Sometimes things can be a bit chaotic at a grass roots event but this workshop was very well organised and there seemed to be very little that the organisers hadn’t thought of in advance. It wasn’t the first workshop they had put on and it showed. Like most Perl Workshops the event was inexpensive and great value for money. Given the low cost I was really surprised by how much food was provided. Breakfast and lunch were served at the venue. They also provided snacks on the Friday night before the workshop, dinner on the Saturday night and a beer at the end of the conference on Sunday night.

The event was held on the Carnegie Mellon University campus and the rooms were all an excellent size. This is always a hard thing to get right at conferences as you don’t know when you are booking how many people are likely to turn up. It was also within walking distance of shops and restaurants – which I think is very important for a conference. I don’t find it as enjoyable attending conferences when I am stuck on a university campus outside the city.

I didn’t attend many of the talks, as I ended up helping out at the registration desk, but I did chat to lots of the attendees. It was noticeable that some of them were not at all interested in the “Perl Community” and were much more interested in learning how to do things with Perl. This meant that some of the attendees I spoke to found the opening keynotes dull as neither the Perl Survey nor Perl Mongers were of interest to them. This made me realise that the workshops are different than the YAPC conferences. At first a workshop looks just like a mini YAPC but at a YAPC there is much more talk about “community” and people do want to know what it happening within the community and with organisations like TPF.

After the 2006 Pittsburgh Perl Workshop the organisers ran a survey, as they wanted to know what they could improve for 2007. One of these things was more teaching for beginners to the language and in 2007 they ran a one-day tutorial to do just that. YAPCs do run talks for beginners but they also have to cater for the very experienced Perl programmers who attend year after year. Marty and I gave a talk for beginners about CPAN at YAPC::Europe 2006 and in the audience we had some of the most prolific CPAN authors. I remember looking round the room to see if there was anyone there who hadn’t already released modules on CPAN. I imagine if I had given the same talk at Pittsburgh that the audience would actually have been full of the sort of people the original talk was aimed at.

Mint pointed out another difference in the workshop: the fact that there was a higher percentage of students in attendance than there was at YAPC::NA. As he mentioned, both conferences took place at universities, although YAPC::NA was held in the summer, but the workshop appeared to encourage student attendance more by reducing the cost for students.

I’m sure I had more to say about the workshop but his post already feels too long to me. Maybe, if I get to attend again this year, I’ll try to write things up a lot sooner.