14Mar

I gave a lightning talk!

Posted by Elf Sternberg as chat

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more terrified.  I need to do that again.  I need to get better at it.  I need to talk slower.

I went to the SeattleJS meetup this evening.  The presentation format is two hours long: a little schmoozing at the front, an introduction, then 20 minutes of lightning talks from the audience, followed by two 20 minute presentations.  The first was on Meteor, the second on Arduino and NodeJS, and then a little more schmoozing at the end.  The introduction had high points; he asked “What do people want to talk about?”  There was a desultory “jQuery,” from the audience, then “Backbone.”  I threw out, in quick succession, “Node,” “Coffeescript,” and finally, “Functional Reactive Javascript.”   I didn’t mention Mocha or Grunt.  He asked how many people were here looking for work.  Hands went up.  How many recruiters?  Just about as many hands.  “After the presentations, recruiters and job seekers, find each other.  I recommend you move over to that side of the room to make it easy.”

There were lightning presentations.  The first was mindblowing, a demonstration of visual recognition in Javascript.  He could wave his hands at the computer’s camera and control the paddle in a pong game.  The next were more pedestrian, but no less professional and amazing: a bible study website (“It’s hard selling bible study in the Pacific Northwest, believe me”), a socket.io demo.

Completely on impulse, and because there was a lull, I stood up and said, “Hi, I’m Elf Sternberg, and I got laid off a month ago.  That’s important to what I’m about to show you.”  I showed them FridgeMagnets, and went into the details of its construction: Coffeescript, Cake, Haml, Less, the separation of axes theorem, as well as I why I wanted to learn it: the animation, unicode, and audio APIs.  And then I said, “As straightforward a toy as this is, it’s important.  I was sending out resumes every day for three weeks without getting a return call.  Then, on the advice of a friend, I put the address for this toy, and a few like it, and my GitHub with the source code for it, on my resume, and re-sent it.  The next day I got 18 phone calls.  That weekend I had three offers.  Next Monday I start my new job.”  That got applause.  “So let me encourage you, please, since Ryan showed us how many people here are looking for work,  get a GitHub account, get a StackOverflow account, get your own blog on WordPress or Tumblr or Livejournal, and let people know what you’re passionate about.  It doesn’t have to be big.  This is a toy.  But it shows people what I do, and how I do it.”  That got more applause.  “Thank you.”

I have never been more terrified in my life.  I talked too fast, and I could have pissed myself up there.  What the hell was I thinking, shooting off like that in front of a hundred people?  I should do it again.

After the other two presentations– one of which, I helped the presenter figure out how to determine his own IP address, since local DNS wasn’t resolving correctly– I had recruiters coming up to me and asking me to explain to them how this GitHub thing worked.  They knew, in an abstract sense, that open source meant that some programs were available in some arcane “raw” source, freely available, somewhere on the Internet, but they were only now hearing about GitHub and StackOverflow.  I explained it as best I could, and some of them nodded and others just looked puzzled.

So let me re-iterate: if you want a job as a programmer, get yourself a GitHub and a StackOverflow account.  Especially if you’re a woman.  The head of hiring at Etsy said that whiteboarding, the common practice in interviews of making you write code on a whiteboard to prove you’re “smart… and quick!” is stupid.  Women are generally more deliberate and careful than men, less likely to shoot from the hip, more likely to be complete and correct.  Very few jobs in programming require the “quick” part.  Not in the sense of knowing the answer up front and immediately.  A GitHub or StackOverflow account shows what you’re capable of, and the interview should be about personality and cultural fit, and it’s a much better, and gender-neutral proving ground, than the hyper-aggressive “Skate… or Die!” of whiteboarding.

1 Response to I gave a lightning talk!

Melissa Kell

March 15th, 2013 at 1:14 am

Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking for a while. I hope this picks up traction.

I know that there are times when coding under pressure is necessary, and that’s part of the point of code on a whiteboard thing – can you do this when you have to do it *now* ? – but I don’t necessarily think it’s the best sample of what someone does on a long-term basis. I would prefer to see a portfolio.

Then again, I might be biased – I’m also hiring writers and artists, and I’m asking to see *their* long term portfolios, so it only seems fair.

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