Community

I am pretty selfish. I would like to think I can be wholly altruistic, but I cannot remember a deed I did for someone else where I was not rewarded by a general feeling of well-being. Perhaps this is normal and we kid ourselves that true altruism exists because, well, it feels good to believe that. Recently, I realised it is because of this feeling that I volunteer as part of the local developer community.

I have been involved in the Ann Arbor area developer community for just under five years. A couple of colleagues had suggested I attend an Ann Arbor .NET Developer (AADND) meeting, but oddly, a woodworking class is what led me there. In that class, I met fellow developer Steve Meagher, we became friends, and he eventually persuaded me to tag along with him to a .NET meeting. Like many within the developer community, I avoided user groups and other community events for fear of not fitting in or some other perceived discomfort. At that first meeting, I met David Giard as he was the speaker that evening. Meeting David turned out to be a gateway into the wider community and volunteering. At the time, he was the president of the Great Lakes Area .NET group (GANG) and he invited me to attend a meeting there the following week. Just as with Steve at woodworking class, another connection was made and so it was that my adventures in the developer community continued. Through the friends I made attending the local groups, I ventured to far off places like CodeMash and Kalamazoo X. Through the friends I made attending those far off places, I ventured to electronic wonderlands like Twitter, StackOverflow, and my own blog. And eventually, through the encouragement I received from this amazingly supportive community, my family, and my friends, I found the courage to look inward, to seek help for the demons that fostered my low self-esteem, and to grow.

I have volunteered on the board of AADND, as a participant and team leader at Give Camp, and as a speaker at CodeMash; having thoroughly enjoyed every second, I can tell you that volunteering is 100% pure fun.

OK, that is utter bollocks; volunteering is hard. There is no pleasure in finding content for newsletters and slide decks, no joy in the conflicts a team faces when you have less than a day to get a database migrated, no comfort in preparing and rehearsing a talk1. Volunteering is often stressful, sometimes boring, and always built upon a foundation of compromise and sacrifice. If those things were the rewards of volunteering, I cannot imagine anyone who would do it. Every year, Michael Eaton tells a tale of how he declares that this Kalamazoo X will be his last. That it is too much work. Too much worry. Too much sacrifice.

Thankfully, the hard work leads to gratitude: the emotional words of a non-profit director overwhelmed by the generosity of local developers; a room of people applauding at the end of a talk; or a simple "thank you". Regardless of its delivery, seeing or hearing that someone is grateful makes all the effort worthwhile. It feels good. For community volunteers like Michael Eaton it is the gratitude shown by attendees, speakers, and co-organizers that ultimately leads to more events (like just one more Kalamazoo X).

So, next time you enjoy something that someone volunteered to do, show your gratitude. And if the opportunity arises, try volunteering; you have no idea who might be grateful and how good that might feel.


  1. or a last minute Pecha Kucha that your friends then make sure will get heard while you are busy searching for that lost sleep 

CodeMash 2.0.1.4

Adventure

It is almost nine years since I first set foot in the US. It was through that experience that I rediscovered the joy in challenging myself and embracing change, something I had not so strongly felt since I first started singing in a band. So, while I had faced challenges before as a result of my own decisions, none had been bigger. Even though the opportunity had been provided by someone else, it had been my choice to take it and to see it through1.

It took me a while to settle in to my new home (or even to acknowledge it as home), but I eventually joined the developer community in Ann Arbor and the wider mid-west region. The interaction with other developers has continued to provide challenging opportunities and encourage positive change within my career, as well other aspects of my life. It was through the basic act of attending one local Ann Arbor .NET Developers Group meeting and the people I met there that I learned about CodeMash.

CodeMash

CodeMash v2.0.1.4 logo
 
The CodeMash conference – a community-organized event held annually in Sandusky, Ohio – never fails to provide unique experiences or challenges. My first CodeMash, CodeMash v2.0.1.2 was unique because I had never attended a developer conference before (or any other conference), and CodeMash v2.0.1.3 provided a completely new experience when, after attending a fantastic workshop on public speaking, I went on to win the PechaKucha contest.

This year, I was guaranteed yet another unique experience when I was accepted to be a speaker. I am extremely grateful to friends, mentors and others for their support and encouragement leading up to speaking at CodeMash v2.0.14. It was a wonderful honor that I thoroughly enjoyed, and while it changed my CodeMash experience with the added anxiety of speaking and subsequent release when my session ended, I would definitely do it again if the chance arose.

To those that attended my talk on AngularJS for XAML developers, thank you. I  hope that you found it valuable. If you were there or if you have an interest, you can find my slide deck and code on GitHub (Deck|Code).

I am very grateful to the volunteers that organize and run CodeMash each year, as well as the many friends and mentors that have guided my own CodeMash experiences and the many other experiences within the developer community. Without these people, I would not have had such amazing opportunities, nor would I have learned how important it is to challenge myself and strive for new experiences. It is always uncomfortable to embrace change, but the rewards of doing so are often worth the pain.

To close, I encourage you to challenge yourself this year. Make sure to let me know in the comments below how you will challenge yourself and perhaps we can follow-up at the end of the year.


  1. Of course, there were many times in the weeks between being offered the position and setting foot in the US when I considered changing my mind, including just after the plane doors closed 

CodeMash 2.0.1.3

I cannot praise the board members of CodeMash (@codemash) enough; this year was yet another excellent conference. Rather than focus on all the things I did at CodeMash this year, I want to focus on a single thread that made CodeMash special for me. I realise I'm a little late getting round to this considering the conference was in January, but I want to tell you about me winning the Pecha Kucha contest of CodeMash 2.0.1.3.

Public Speaking 101

On the first day, I decided I was going to attend the Choose Your Own Application precompiler1 session in the afternoon, but I was unsure of how to spend my morning. After perusing the other precompiler sessions, I decided to check out Leon Gersing's (@rubybuddha) workshop on public speaking. Though I fully intended to ditch this class midway through to continue my day with Brian Genisio (@BrianGenisio) and Dennis Burton (@dburton), Leon's workshop was so compelling and enjoyable, I couldn't do it. His background in theatre coupled with his patient, consistent and insightful coaching style ensured that attendees became comfortable with speaking (and sometimes singing) in front of one another. Though I attended some great sessions, had some great conversations and ate some awesome bacon, this workshop was my favourite experience of CodeMash. I doubt there were few, if any people who left that workshop not intending to do more public speaking at some point.

During the class we were tasked with putting together a five minute presentation about anything at all and delivering it to the class for critique about our presentation style and habits. My choice of in-class talk had been a toss-up between something about building a raised bed and something about British slang. Given the potentially offensive minefield of the latter and the fact that I already had a blog of material about the former, I babbled about DIY for five minutes in class and gained an disproportionate level of confidence about my abilities in public speaking. Running off the high I had gained from delivering an impromptu five minute gardening lesson, I decided to enter the Pecha Kucha contest with a presentation on British slang. After all, why offend a small room of forgiving workshop attendees when you can offend a much larger room of conference attendees?

Pecha Kucha

Pecha Kucha is a presentation contest where you get 20 slides that auto-advance at 20 seconds per slide. It's a battle of timing, content and delivery. For those who attended last year, you may remember the Urinal Rules Kata slide deck from Mel Grubb, Jon Skeet's Coding in the Style of Glee or Leon Gersing and his Pecha Kucha on Love. I felt that all three of these had set the bar pretty high, so I stayed up till 4:00 AM on Wednesday night agonising over what to include in my slides. I had decided to focus on areas of British slang that might be common pitfalls for Americans. I also wanted to avoid anything that might be directly offensive to the non-British audience (my apologies to Jon Skeet and other Brits that were in attendance). By 4:00 AM, with my slide deck almost complete, I fell asleep.

The next morning, I submitted my presentation title, "The Dog's Bollocks", to the contest so that  conference attendees could vote. The plan was that presentations with the highest number of votes would get to present in the main hall just after dinner. I checked my tally over the course of the morning and noted that I was not getting many votes. This was probably because my title flew in the face of what we had discussed in class; titles should give an indication as to the subject of the talk.

As the day wore on, my late night caught up with me and  I decided to go for a nap sometime around midday. While I was asleep, my friends pimped my talk all over the Kalahari resort, so I awoke a few hours later to my phone buzzing with text messages to let me know I was presenting in the contest. I had less than an hour to finish my presentation, but with a few edits and some new slides, I did so. Once the deck was submitted and at the insistence of my friend, I performed a couple of rehearsals in our hotel room as he grinned back at me with the most disconcerting of smiles and then we headed off for dinner and the main event.

The Main Event

After dessert, all the contestants gathered near the stage and determined in what order we would present. I have no idea what that order was, just that I wasn't first, I wasn't last and Jon Skeet was after me (I know this because he cleverly borrowed a bit of my talk to end his own, for which I was really flattered). All the talks varied wildly in both content and delivery, leaving a somewhat difficult choice for the audience to make when voting. In the end, it was determined that I and Jessica Kerr (@jessitron) were the most popular entries and so, we had to contend with the battle deck in order to determine a winner.

The battle deck consisted of ten slides, chosen by Brian Prince (@brianhprince), that neither I nor Jessica saw before presenting them. In the end, my battle deck performance swayed the audience just enough and I won the contest. I thanked Leon Gersing, my public speaking coach of two days earlier, several times after I won as I would not have done so if I had not attended his workshop and nor if he had been participating instead of compering.

Ocular Proof

I've included videos of my main talk and my battle deck performance below. I recommend that you hunt down videos of the other performances if you can as there were some great ones (I'll add any that I find or that you send me).

Also, you may note (as others have) that "Pigs" is slang to both the British and Americans. Due to last minute edits, this one slipped through. What can I say? I was tired.


  1. CodeMash lingo for the first two days of the conference.