DDD Sydney: The importance of community, why junior developers matter, and being unapologetically you

On Saturday I attended – and spoke at – DDD Sydney, a conference aimed at developers. I’d never been to DDD Sydney before, and this was the third year the conference was running in this city. Before I go into my thoughts on the day itself, I wanted to give a bit of background on DDD and my thoughts about the conference.

This was my first attendance at DDD. However, in previous years, I knew DDD to have a bit of a different vibe. I knew DDD to be a conference aimed at software developers, with very little content for someone like me – a developer more focussed on the front-end of web interfaces and closer to design rather than software solutions. However, I also knew DDD to have a strong sense of community, with great sponsors who kept the conference running each year.

This year, there was a data and design track, as well as a junior developer track. I spoke in the junior developer track, although, as you know, I wouldn’t consider myself a junior developer. I also have opinions about the term “junior” being used, but that is a topic for another day. No one should be ashamed of being labelled a “junior”, though I also don’t think it matters whether a developer is junior or not!

I was really pleased that there was this change in DDD, because, speaking to other people in the industry, DDD had a reputation of being a conference heavily focussed on more back-end technologies. But I truly believe that changed this year and I feel appreciation from more of the community towards design, front-end technologies, and the faces of the future: the junior/new developers in our community.

The junior developer track

Samme and Michelle were the determined faces behind the junior developer track, after being inspired by Levels Conf in Melbourne (run by Luke, and LJ – one of my online dev friends who I’m yet to meet in person!). Levels was aimed at junior developers, and Samme and Michelle noticed that Sydney was lacking an affordable, accessible conference for junior developers. They worked with the DDD Sydney team to pull together the junior developer track, and it was a huge success. I want to point out that these determined women probably had no clue whether it would work out, or even that it would be as popular as it was. They were courageous and did not give up, and it was their passion for their work, the community, giving back to it, and supporting other people like them, that made it the success that it actually was. 🌟

The junior developer track was in a smaller room than the Guthrie Theatre (oh! The Guthrie Theatre gives me some memories of my bachelor degree at UTS, indeed…), but it didn’t stop attendees from filling up the room and standing when there were no seats left. It was undoubtedly the most popular track of the day.

I want to thank Samme for reaching out to me and encouraging me to submit a talk. I would never have considered it if she didn’t ask. At the time I was also keen to speak, but not sure what to speak about, and was also short on time. But I did it anyway. I’m so glad I did.

My talk: Your blog ≠ everyone else’s blog

A woman with her palm upturned, in front of a screen reading “Unapologetically, you”
Me embodying the emoji 💁🏻‍♀️ during my talk. Photo by Geoffrey Chong

People who have seen this talk before (the 2017 edition) will remember it riddled with amusing gifs; mentioning a girl who copied my blog posts verbatim and changed the names of my friends; online bullying: a girl who threatened to douse me with petrol and set me on fire; and tips and hints on how to get started with your blog and feel inspired.

I don’t really know what happened in the 48 hours that I spent working on my talk prior to actually going up in front of a room of sixty-plus people. But my talk took on an entirely different form… in fact it was probably an entirely different talk and ought to be renamed.

I still keep forgetting that the talks at DDD were all voted for and chosen by the community, and I didn’t vote for myself, so I am truly honoured that there are people out there who really wanted to see my talk. I hope they felt they got their money’s worth. 😅

My slides are downloadable as a PDF, so have at it – but the form my talk took on was less humorous, and there was only one remaining GIF (I sought to remove it, but, I dunno, it felt somewhat necessary). There were also different takeaway messages in it. The hot tips I initially had to get organised, instead became small nuggets of inspiration that I shared – to find your groove and make blogging a priority. I think it made my message stronger, and were probably easier to remember than what I’d said in the previous version of my talk.

What I did not anticipate, though, was that the phrase “be unapologetically you” would resonate with so many people and be such a memorable takeaway. I don’t claim it as mine, and it certainly isn’t unique, by any stretch of the imagination. I want everyone to know that I put my real self out there, even if you still might only see a fraction of my life. But I remain true to myself, I allow myself to be vulnerable, and I am not afraid of being the person I am. This is something I’ve learned about myself through blogging and has helped me gain confidence in myself. I hope that if you ever start a blog – or even if you don’t – that the image you project online, or the person you are offline, is you.

Um, I also did not anticipate that my laptop screen was mirroring the slides up on the wall, so, uh, I had no notes in front of me. 😱 This is probably the third time this has happened to me and I have an internal freak-out mid-talk that I realise my notes actually aren’t there. I didn’t realise until I was at least five minutes through. So I made it up as I went along, or at least, tried to remember what I’d rehearsed. Nobody could tell, apparently? Nailed it. I’m not sorry. It was unapologetically me. 😆

I don’t know yet if I’ll have a recording of the talk, but someone did record it, but I didn’t give her my details. 😬 If I get my hands on it, I will try to create a written transcript. ☺️

The rest of the day

I was, for some reason, stressing out about my talk on the day. I get nerves no matter what! Right up until the moment I stand in front of an audience, I am shaking. I need to have some better preparation, like do some humming and shaking of my hands and legs.

Not sure why, but during the keynote my Apple Watch told me my heart rate was 164 beats per minute. Mate, that doesn’t happen unless I’m busting my legs on the stepper machine. I did have a leg workout that morning though, and because I didn’t want to miss the keynote I had run for the bus and was working up a sweat under my fluffy sweater. 🤨

I wish I had seen more talks that were on during the day, but the day was so packed! I have to admit that I prefer single-track conferences or those with only a few. DDD had four! I spent some time recuperating after my talks but managed to talk to quite a few other people and make some new friends. I met Rosalie, since we have a mutual friend Pauline, and I also met Amanda Dean – we’ve been Twitter friends for some time and it was awesome to be speaking at the same conference!

My favourite talks. I have things to say about them.

Amanda’s talk on testing was a great overview on different types of testing and I hope people walked away with an appreciation for the work that testers do, as I’m aware that sometimes their role in the development process is often ignored. She did a great job at keeping it interesting, as I imagine the subject might be kind of dry to some people as well.

Meggan Turner spoke about numbers in JavaScript, dealing with huge numbers, and functions related to mathematics. JavaScript, being a programming language I avoided for most of my career, and then hated with a passion, and then avoided again, has been an immense struggle for me. I do a lot of work with React now, but don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Meggan’s talk was entertaining, humorous, and really refreshing. I didn’t feel like it went over my head like a lot of other JavaScript talks, and it wasn’t full of technical jargon.

The last talk I saw on the day was by my friends Sophie and Monica (yes everyone this is my friend I met on the internet when we were kids like 11 years ago woo ee ooo). I’m proud of them. 🙂 They spoke about collaborating better, and how to work effectively and efficiently in a team of different roles while respecting your peers and encouraging team bonding exercises. I really love the personal experiences they drew from and the lessons they summed up in their talk were amazing!

Community.

To this day I honestly feel like I’m still recuperating and trying to breathe normally after having such a packed day. I love when my confidence in the community improves with events like this. Because occasionally, I get bummed about the rapid pace of front-end, or that the importance of writing scalable CSS is ignored, or that user interface developers like me get mistaken for being designers who can’t code, or as “fake” developers. This is why community is important to me and why supporting each other is so much more important than trying to beat each other at our own game.

I feel so strongly about junior/new developers – I remember being in that very position, being passionate and determined about work, and they deserve to be lifted up and skilled up and to do the best in their career. The thing that inspires me the most is being around people who are motivated and determined, and have a passion for what they do. And nothing really comes close to the passion a budding developer has. I help run codebar Sydney because I believe helping people learn to code and giving people a safe environment to learn is valuable. Junior developers are the future so let’s welcome them with open arms, pass the knowledge on, and make friends.

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OK HEY GEORGIE. IT’S ME. I’M READING YOUR BLOG POSTS AND WILL TRY TO COMMENT IN ALL OF THEM 😂

I *had* to read this one first. I remember seeing all the tweets and IG posts/stories and then coming across Rosie’s IG story AND FREAKING OUT (as you know from our DMs 😆) I was so excited to see if you two would cross paths, like, so excited that I didn’t sleep for a good hour after seeing Rosie’s post. 😂

It was so heart-warming reading the tweets and your post about your talk. You’ve come such a long way with your blog and talks – you should be proud of yourself! I’m so thrilled that I’ve had the chance to see you grow over the years online, you’re an incredible woman Georgie 💖

“Be unapologetically you” really resonated with me – it’s one of the things that was first written by a friend in my 21st birthday booklet and since then I realised that actually, I have (especially since 2016) been doing MY BEST to be ME, to reflect my online self to offline self. 🤗 When I read your IG post about your talk, I honestly teared up. Thank you for reminding us all that being ourselves is nothing to be afraid of ♥️

I have those moments with my talks OMG. I remember the GitHub Keynote I delivered, my mind went blank, I had technical difficulties, my notes DISAPPEARED and so I spent the first few minutes of the talk with a shaky voice (I can hear it in the recording on YouTube) But it taught me that I can do a talk without notes and have since done my talks without them 💜

I can't agree more with the confidence boost after conferences – community really is key. I'm so glad that you had a fantastic time and I hope to one day sit in the audience and listen to you talk 🤗

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