Lily Chen

@lilychendances

The not-so-glamorous behind-the-scenes of giving my first ever tech talk

#DevStories at Github HQ:

And the lessons I’ve learned

Derpy cat

“I can’t do this! This is too much pressure!” I shouted and reverted to a five year old phase.

It was the evening before my first ever tech talk. I was mechanically staring at my powerpoint presentation for hours, constantly adding things, yet nothing gets added.

As the clock ticked towards midnight, my anxiety came to a boiling point.

The powerpoint sucked. There was no cohesion. And I had no idea how to present my topic.

Feeling I needed a change of pace, my boyfriend suggested I put away the computer and start talking.

Though it was only an audience of two, comprising of people I’m closest with, I felt like a deer caught in headlights.

I opened my mouth, but words couldn’t come out. After a mild anxiety attack, some sweat and tears, I finally calmed down.

“Hello, my name is Lily, I’m a senior software engineer at Apollo…”

When I got through my first pass, I could barely remember what I said, or how the story flowed.

I guess it’s a good thing because I do know my first pass was a mess. I have caught myself losing track of what I was talking about couple times. I have realized on multiple occasions I needed to take a step back and give more context before saying something. A five minute content ended up taking ten or fifteen minutes to get through.

“Do it again.”

The second run through was better.

“One more time.”

After the third time, I felt I haven’t slept for days. I was mentally exhausted. However, I did gain a sense of clarity and direction for the talk.

I went back to my computer, pieced together the pieces of the presentation, and went to bed feeling like I was going to survive the next day.

When I saw the video come out, I buried my head in the blanket as I listened to the five minute talk. Luckily, nothing made me cringe too much.

I was nervous the whole time. I even said, verbatim, “this is my first ever tech talk, I’m a little nervous, as you can tell.” Luckily, that part was edited out 😂

You could tell from my body language in the video I was nervous. I was holding onto the microphone like I was holding onto my dear life —i.e. tight and with both hands — for the longest time.

I was standing against the wall! You can always tell when someone is nervous. They tend to get closer and closer to the wall until they no longer could. Thankfully, I caught myself doing that, and so I did end up walking forward.

If I were to give another tech talk, I would apply the following learnings:

  1. When I get stuck on the Powerpoint, I should start talking. Change of pace helps. Talking out loud helped me catch myself in the moment — it helped me realize when I was rambling on and when more context was needed. It also helped me feel more confident about giving the presentation.
  2. Don’t hold onto the microphone so tight, and don’t stand so close to the wall. The microphone isn’t a weapon and the audience don’t bite.

Lastly, the event itself was great. It was at Github’s headquarter in SF. There were about 100 or so attendees. Though I’m not particularly eloquent at public speaking, I nevertheless enjoyed sharing a topic so close to heart in my career thus far in tech.

“Feature Fatigue Kills UX .”

I’ve seen over and over again features not getting adopted or customers not understanding the power of a feature because it’s “too much.”

Just like I have a hard time on Netflix figuring out what to watch, users have a hard time figuring out what to do when there’s too much going on.

If there’s one key takeaway from my first 4 years as a software engineer, it’s this:

Less is more. Before building out a feature, be crystal clear on why it’s needed. What problem is it solving and is it a problem worth solving for?

Thanks again David Smooke and Linh Dao Smooke for hosting the event and for giving me the opportunity to live this experience.

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