I don’t judge a speaker by their GitHub profile

In case you were wondering what I’m thinking, here is my personal opinion regarding people who provide their GitHub profile as a reference when applying for a speaking opportunity.

A GitHub profile is completely irrelevant to me.

Why? Because being a good coder does not make one a good speaker. These are two completely different skill sets. I organized and attended countless conferences. At these events, I have seen speakers deliver great presentations without being awesome coders. I have seen amazing coders bore their audience to sleep. Above all, a speaker needs to have valuable ideas to share, and be able to explain them well. In any case, to properly gauge the technical skills of a person, I would need to do a code review, which is simply not feasible with hundreds of candidates.

So what is relevant to me? The best thing that I can hope for is a video. It can be as simple as a 2-minute recording done at home in front of a phone camera. Otherwise, I’ll look at a blog entry to see how they express themselves and whether they bring value to their audience. I’ll read a few exchanges on Twitter to see how well they interact with people. I’ll look up past speaking experience and feedback whenever it’s available. I’ll occasionally look for anything interesting in their LinkedIn profile. Basically, providing one or more of these references can greatly increase one’s chances of being selected, because I can only view so many result pages on Google until I give up.

I hope that this can help newcomers to increase their chances to speak at other conferences as well. I suspect that they have similar requirements.

7 thoughts on “I don’t judge a speaker by their GitHub profile

  1. Christian

    Wow, the amount of work you put into reviewing a speaker is incredible, especially with a conference that has as many proposals as confoo.

    Doesn’t that take ages? Or are there only a few new faces?

  2. So it sounds like a Joind.in profile is going to be way more useful.

    Would you value that above or below a short video? Or I guess is there a threshold where you start to value a documented (with attendee feedback) profile over the video?

  3. @Christian Yes, I do take an insane amount of time to review speakers and there are always more new faces than familiar ones. It helps to have advisors with whom I split this task.

    @Keith Casey Joind.in is useful, but too few conferences use it and too few people leave feedback. I have maybe a 1% chance to find feedback for my speakers there. Even then, events have different audiences with various expectations, and reviews are relative to the other speakers at the same event, so it’s still very subjective. I know my audience best and so seeing the speaker present is gold.

  4. I think the ability to entertain is overrated, which is why I am starting to prefer unconferences. I much prefer raw insight from an expert in the given library/framework/language, rather than perfected flickr slideshows by a standup comedian if you excuse me the polemics. There are lots of speakers that get solid 5-stars on joindin that provide lots of jokes, usually at the expense of various open source projects, but deliver nothing material to my every day work life. Of course at a conference I expect a fair number of people who are there mostly to break out of the daily rot and prefer being entertained over getting something useful to take home, but this is not for me.

    That being said .. of course the ideal, which is deliver by few and far between, is to deliver both content and entertainment at once. Because this will usually give a positive vibration to the topic which makes remembering much easier.

    tl;dr when I have to choose about eloquence or technical expertise for a speaker, I choose the later

  5. usually smart persons have both eloquence and are experts. The majority imo after they are experts sin for being just too eloquent. I like less famous talks from famous people because sometimes they just lack content that i can use and I like more humble talks with truly useful things too, as Lukas. It is well invested money to travel and pay for attendance in this case. In particular if i am asked to exchange a jeopardy game for a technical talk, I care the less about playing really. And not that I don’t like gaming and having fun. I do, that is what the bar or whatever other karaoke is for. But conference should focus on work, not being entertained necessarily. In the research field is often the case, or at least it used to be, before some postmodern waves, or the influence of marketing into these types of conferences. Marketing often messes up conferences badly. So communications are important, but things to communicate are more and github is content and github has things I can clone and take home and use. So unfortunately I disagree in that regard. If a top famous person gives me only abstract thoughts and entertains me and don’t teach me how to do it on github even with a sample, then where is my money? If someone however gives me code I will remember that talk and go back and back to their slides. But I can assert the systems by which we question quality may differ and be somewhat subjective and error prone. So we are allowed to make mistakes in both edges.

  6. @Lukas @cordoval Being entertaining is only a bonus. One has to be able to explain the topic at hand in a clear and understandable fashion, without needlessly confusing the audience. The expertise of the speaker should not be sacrificed for the sake of entertainment. It’s important to be able to talk, but one has to have something interesting to say. It’s a subjective process, but you get the general idea.

    That has nothing to do with one’s ability to write code. I’m not hiring a developer. I’m reviewing a speaker who has to stand in front of hundreds of people and teach them something useful, without putting them to sleep.

  7. I may be in a different situation than most conferences, since we get over 900 proposals. Finding the right mix of technical and speaking skills may be a bit easier in that context.

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