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Never stop Grokking

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The keynote incident

Act I, Scene I - The News

I was sitting at La Luna Cafe in Cambridge sipping on Apple Cider, hacking random stuff and waiting for S to be done with work so we could head to the airport. That's when Atul pinged me and asked if it was okay to change the time slot of my talk. I said, yeah, no problem, just let me know the new time. He says, "6pm, keynote slot". I wasn't sure how to react. I told him that I'd never given a keynote before, and in parallel, my brain was telling me that this was true at some point for every keynote speaker ever.

I wasn't sure what to do apart from panicking. Did I have to approach the talk differently, did I have to put more into it? Did I need to speak for more than the 30 minutes that I'd already planned on? Did I need more than 5 slides? I write this now as a reminder and in the hope that it helps someone else.

Act II, Scene I - Bangalore

I got into Bangalore early on the morning of December 2nd and checked into the hotel. I'd slept well on the plane, so a few hours more in the hotel left me ready for the conference. My first task was to get myself a local phone number and then find the conference venue. About an hour later I was standing in NIMHAN's hospital wondering where the convention centre was. A security guard pointed me in the right direction where I saw familiar faces at the door. Tejas handed me my speaker badge as I got in.

Act II, Scene II - Interviewing

At this point, I still had the structure of the talk I'd planned to do before Atul gave me the news. Part of it involved speaking to hackers at FOSS.IN about their experiences, so I got started with that as soon as I got in. I spoke to Pradeepto, Tarique, Tejas, Kartik, James Morris, Siddhesh, Vinayak, Anant and many others about their experiences with hacking. I was a little relieved to know that their ideas always matched mine. At this point I was starting to lose some of the doubt I had.

I spent some time attending talks and checking out the workouts in the hacker area. This was the same old conference I knew.

Act II, Scene III - The first Keynote

Harald did the first keynote I attended, and the few things that struck me were that he'd used the LaTeX (beamer with the Warsaw theme), he had a lot of content on his slides, and he really knew what he was talking about. I sat up in the balcony to take notes. It only served to scare me.

Act III, Scene I - Panic

I'll jump now to the next keynote by Milosch Meriac. Milosch is a hardware hacker, and like in the last keynote, a few things struck me. He used LaTeX with the Warsaw theme for beamer, he had a lot of content on his slides, and he really really knew his stuff. His talk awed the audience and left them wanting more, which resulted in a follow-up workout on hardware hacking. It was turning out to be impossible to match the quality of the keynotes already delivered, and I had less than 24 hours left to get my act together.

Act IV, Scene I - There is no spoon

I was in early on the 4th. I sat through several talks. All of which were excellent. I thought back on the talks that I'd attended on the previous two days and it hit me that any one of these people could have done the same talk at 6pm and would have been great keynote speakers. Many of them also used LaTeX. I sort of joked on twitter that maybe if I used LaTeX, then I'd have a good talk as well. Then @artagnon replied saying that what I said was more important than my slides. He also helped out with some LaTeX formatting. I'd decided to use LaTeX for my presentation, not because the other presenters did, but because I didn't know LaTeX, and this conference seemed like a good excuse to learn it.

Act IV, Scene II - The photography BoF

At 5pm, Kalyan Varma and James Morris had a photography BoF in the largely unused speaker area. The space was mostly dark for best effect of the photos they were showing off. I sat in on it, and threw out everything I'd planned on talking about. Taking a cue from all the speakers, I decided to talk about what I knew best. My slides were unimportant. I had a few points that I wanted to cover, and made a note of those lest I forget (which I often did) and I had a lot of code that I wanted to show off, some of which I hadn't tried before, but I had a few hundred hackers in the room to help me with. As mentioned in the talk abstract, this talk was meant to be a hack, and that's the attitude I decided to go in with.

Act IV, Scene III - Shining lights

As I stood on the stage and tried to plug the VGA cable into my laptop, my hands were shaking. Not sure if anyone in the audience noticed though. I was nervous. Should I wear my hat and shield my eyes from the light or take off the hat and let my forehead shine? I went without the hat. It didn't matter. The talk had its ups and downs. I missed a few points that I thought I should cover. I lost track of where I was in the little list of points I'd made, and I stopped blank a few times. I also forgot to give away the tshirts that I had. Where it went the smoothest though, was when I was doing what I like best - hacking. Whenever there was code to demo, I was excited and I had real time feedback from everyone in the audience.

Act V, Endgame

I didn't get a chance to read the comments on twitter until late that night. They were mostly good, and the few that were critical were justified. The next day many people came up to me and told me that they enjoyed the talk hack. If they all end up hackers, that's what will be the real win.

Now it may seem from what I've said that the talk was largely spontaneous. The fact is that I wrote down a script a few times and threw it away. I rehearsed by recording myself speak and was aghast with the playback. I was forcing myself to change my talk simply because it had a new label. That was the only time I faltered, and it led me down the wrong path. A lot of people helped me get back on track, so in honesty, I only presented the keynote. It was hacked up by many many people at FOSS.IN.

For those who are interested, my slides are up on slideshare, but if you've been paying attention, you don't really need them.

Short URL: http://tr.im/fossdotinkeynote


Nithin K
December 10, 2009 9:18 AM

Both the talk and the hack were great, liked the quote 'Have Itch, Scratch'.

Nithin K
December 10, 2009 9:55 AM

I was going through some of your older posts and interestingly in the post 'Being a Geek' posted in November, you mention rewriting it in LaTeX, and here you say you don't know LaTeX. Geeks have really short memory ;-)!

December 10, 2009 12:23 PM

@Nithin, being a geek was a dry run as part of my learning process. I wrote the LaTeX version about 10 days before I did this one. I still didn't have everything nailed down though and @artagnon helped me with it that afternoon.

December 10, 2009 12:27 PM

Really enjoyed the Hack/Talk and started hacking... It was the great talk.. The best part i remember in Q&A session someone asked you about the Title HACKER, previously people use to get the title of HACKER because of there great work and many thing... asn ased your opinion about it, and your answer "Man lots of talk Shut up and hack".. that was just a unforgeable movement of your talk..

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