Why Speak?

Recently I was discussing my upcoming trip to speak at devLink and was asked why I do it. I figured that’s a better topic than some of the others I’ve thrown up lately.

Do they pay you?

No. =)

I don’t earn a speaker fee. In most cases, I don’t even earn any reimbursement from the organizers. When I’m lucky, my employer will cover any travel expenses and/or meals, but otherwise it’s all on me. The exception has been when it’s a user group affiliated with INETA, in which case they throw some gas money at you. Highly appreciated, but I haven’t done these to turn a profit.

If not money, then what?

Instead of throwing out simple generic answers, I figured I’d go through some of the gigs I’ve had in the past few years and reflect on the specific motivation for each.

TechMixer University Oct 2011 – Committed to Good Commits

I don’t remember how I heard about the event, but I suppose it was likely a tweet. Probably from Michael Crump or Leverett Powell. Regardless, I remember recognizing it as an opportunity. An opportunity for what? To share, to network, and to perform.

I’ve always liked teaching and sharing. I was a tutor in college, and it wasn’t to pay the bills. One of my favorite students was a guy who was probably 32 years old and taking remedial math. Some joked around and called it “big pencil math,” but you know…really simple stuff. One day, I watched him continually pull out a calculator to multiply numbers by powers of ten. I gently showed him the shortcut of counting the zeroes. He didn’t quite get it at first. Two meetings later, he reached for the calculator and then shook his head and moved the decimal point to the right. It’s great when you see it click and know that you’ve helped someone through a challenge.

There was also the selfish reason which really doesn’t need explanation. Getting your name out there is a good thing. Having speaking engagements on your resume never hurts. Most people don’t realize that you can get yourself into speaker lineups at lesser conferences even if you have no idea what you’re talking about. I will neither confirm nor deny that I’ve done that myself Winking smile The point is: recruiters who can’t differentiate between C# and Node will just see that you’ve delivered presentations at formal events.

Finally, despite the fact that I can be quiet around new crowds (I open up more over time, and as I get to know a smaller group), this disappears if I’m “on stage”. From participating in theater programs in high school to the karaoke fever I developed in college, I enjoy performing. While my talks involve a delivery of technical information, there’s also some showmanship that goes into making sure people don’t fall asleep.

Agile Birmingham Nov 2011 – Continuous Integration

After TechMixer, a member of the TMU committee invited me to speak at Agile B’ham about Continuous Integration. What? This came out of the blue; I didn’t feel like I had done so well at my first gig, and I was certainly no CI expert. I remember recognizing this as…well, an opportunity!

In addition to the given stuff above – networking and performing – this one opened up a new facet of speaking engagements. This time, I could dive a little deeper into the concepts behind some of the practices I had simply been consuming. I remember boning up on Fowler’s seminal piece pretty intensely, but I needed a twist. Everyone would have already seen the high level concepts of what CI was – how could I make it interesting for an hour? Then I realized that I had heard a lot of people say they didn’t do CI because it’s too hard to set up. So, zero to hero in an hour would be fun…

In addition to covering the concepts for anyone who wasn’t yet aware of them, I took a bare Ubuntu VM into a fully functioning CI (actually CD) server with Team City. We had code building on check in, packaging artifacts, running tests, and automatically deploying to staging where SQA could verify the latest changes. “Too hard to setup” was no longer a valid excuse. I felt like this one went a lot better than TMU, and there might be a very low quality recording of it somewhere on YouTube.


I had registered with INETA and the Huntsville, AL group got in touch to see if I could do something for them. My sticking point was a topic, so I threw out Web API, which was still in Beta. They said that sounded great, so I did it. The primary motivation was to have a good excuse to dive deep into Web API. I saw Web API as a very promising idea and figured it would go far. Looking at where I am now, I believe that this was a good call.

After the talk, the primary feedback was that I covered way too much, too deeply, for an “Introduction.” Looking back at the outline, I can see that… I’ve tried to incorporate that feedback into later talks.

CodeStock 2012 – Double Whammy (Mind the Gap – PhoneGap, and Committed Redux)

I thought it would be fun to stretch myself and go for a regional conference. CodeStock 2012 was my first. I decided to submit a previous talk and a new one that I’d have to start from scratch. Joey convinced me to do PhoneGap. The motivations here were primarily to go a little deeper into PhoneGap, and given the relative size of the conference, just to see if I could. To my surprise, both sessions were selected…


I did a more talks for HUNTUG (Committed for a third time, etc.) and honestly the primary motivation was Cricket’s. I’ll accept almost any excuse to eat at Cricket’s. Seriously, I’m considering making the trip for CHT to HSV during devLink because I will have already come so far from WA…to be so close and still miss Cricket’s might destroy me. I love you, Cricket’s.

This Summer

I submitted talks to both CodeStock and devLink. I was selected for both, but regretfully backed out of CodeStock because two trips across the country amidst all the other relocation / unpacking, settling / new job stuff just seemed overwhelming. devLink notified me of acceptance the earliest, so that’s why I stuck with them.

For these, the primary motivation was to attend the conference in the first place. Some conferences give speakers a ticket, and that makes it a much easier sell when you ask management to attend. I love my topic and am going to give it my all when I present, but I’m equally excited to see what everyone else has to share. Also, due to recent relo, I’m also looking forward to catching up with some old friends (and even family) while I’m over there.

Different For Everyone

Motivations will vary from person to person. Some people might speak to share what they know, others to force themselves to learn. Some might do it to game their resumes, others to game their way into attendance. I don’t think many do it for money (perhaps when you reach a higher level of notoriety, the perks might change). Over time I’ve probably done it for a little bit of all of these, but ultimately in every case, I’ve done it because it’s fun. At the end of the day, that’s probably the only reason you ever should.


About David Ruttka

I've been "making computers do things" since I first saw King's Quest on a 286 PC in the mid-80's, but I turned it into a career just over a decade ago. While the majority of my experience has been on the Microsoft stack (C#, .NET, ASP.NET), I've recently been diving deeper into JavaScript and exploring the Ruby universe. Occasionally, I'll do a public speaking gig or write a blog post. When I'm not coding, I enjoy spending time with my family, watching hockey, and playing the occasional video game. You can also find me on Stack Overflow, Google Plus, and Twitter. Microsoft Certified Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 Specialist; MCPD Windows Developer 3.5
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4 Responses to Why Speak?

  1. Good to hear about your experience speaking. A nice overview of your talks too – it seems you’ve racked up several good ones!

    I guess everyone’s afraid of public speaking to some degree (I’m terrified of it!), but it seems to me from your tone and from knowing you a bit that you’re fairly eloquent in explaining concepts. Have you always like to speak in front of people (as it were)? Or how has this inclination and your ability evolved over the years and through your career?

    • David Ruttka says:

      “several good ones” … several ones, at least =)

      The part about being afraid is natural, I think, but also healthy. I’d cite the first time I did karaoke (the song was “Jeremy”, Joey was there). As the intro built, so did my nerves, but it became a do or die situation. I think I did a pretty good job, mostly because I had no other option 😉 Then I got hooked and subjected the BT team to far too many serenades across the pond.

      The inclination to teach or explain has probably always been there. The inclination to do it in front of groups is only a matter of scale or efficiency (one time to n people vs. one person repeated n times) – especially if you record it. The real problem mirrors that of blogging (finding something valuable to share that hasn’t already been covered more properly by others). I think it’s time to just stop worrying about that part: there will always be an audience that missed those who came before, and if not, you can still bring a unique delivery.

      So when are you going to give it a whirl? There must be some good groups near you!

      • Good deal!

        There seems to be many friendly and welcoming groups around here (there are just too many meetups to go to them all!), but I’m trying to see if presenting is something I want to try. Maybe it will come into play in the future…

  2. David Ruttka says:

    @Derek our replies nested too deeply! Anyway, you could always test the waters by presenting a Lunch and Learn to your team. More familiar faces will make it easier. That’s a tip for when you get out to groups too – see if you can get some friends to attend.


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