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6 Transformative Tech Conference Talks

Monica Powell

Here's a round-up of some of my favorite conference talks that have shaped the way that I think about web technologies, the workplace and community organizing. I hope some of these talks will also cause you to reflect and in some ways become a better technologist.

1. Glue Talk by Tanya Reilly


I had the pleasure of hearing Tanya Reilly give this talk at a Write/Speak/Code event in NYC. She walks through how to approach "the less glamorous - and often less-promotable - work that needs to happen to make a team successful" through a strategic lens. Often the burden of performing less-promotable work falls on the shoulders of marginalized folks within technology. Her talk is an actionable guide to navigating conversations with your manager to ensure you're contributing to the type of projects that will be recognized and reduce the chance of any surprises during formal reviews. I (unfortunately) have had to recommend this talk to a lot of women in technology who have experienced being delegated to do a significant share of glue work. You can check out the slides and sketch notes on Tanya's site: https://noidea.dog/glue.


2. JavaScript is AsynchroWAT? By Crystal Martin


Crystal Martin breaks down how asynchronous JavaScript works. I feel like this is a topic that a lot of folks new to JavaScript may have difficulty understanding and Crystal assures folks that don't yet fully understand asynchronous JavaScript that they're not alone. I found her talk very relatable and informative. I especially appreciated her bring in examples of an intense (hair) wash day to describe how JavaScript functions work.

3. How to Build a Magical Living Room by Saron Yitbarek

Saron Yitbarek, the founder of CodeNewbie is not only a prolific podcaster but also a phenomenal community organizer and one of my heroes! Her keynote at RubyConf is a master class in building inclusive communities. Saron shares what she's learned about building a magical living room to make people feel like they're welcome in your community. You'll walk away from this talk with actionable advice for becoming a stronger community leader.


4. Tautology and Business Value Presented by Heidi Waterhouse

Heidi presented this talk at You Got This 2020: From Home. I was able to see a live version at Adulting.dev. Heidi talks through how to strategically understand your value within a business context. I think this talk is especially crucial for folks who have not worked through a recession and/or need additional resources and tips to advocate for themselves in the workplace.

5. Building a Custom React Renderer by Sophie Alpert

One of the coolest talks I've seen live was Sophie Alpert walking through how to use the npm package react-reconciler to you build your own React renderer. It inspired me to one day (far away) attempt to give a technical talk with just a text editor. I felt that I had a better understanding of the React reconciliation process after listening to her talk.


6. Let’s Program Like It’s 1999 by Lee Byron

Lee Bryon also gave a phenomenal talk at React Conf where afterward I felt like I traveled a bit through time. He provided an overview of how much the web has not changed over the last 20 years. As a JavaScript developer who has only dabbled in PHP, I found it especially fascinating to learn how many of the PHP and LAMP Stack abstractions and mental models have found their way into the modern JavaScript development ecosystem. More often than not developers discuss how rapidly web development changes so it was helpful for Lee to share some of the principles that have, so far, stood the test of time (a.k.a the past 30 years) through various technical implementations.

What conference talk has most inspired you? What's the most interesting presentation you've seen so far? Share your favorite conference talks with me on Twitter: @waterproofheart.

This article was published on August 22, 2020.


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