May. 1st, 2014

Saying No

May. 1st, 2014 10:44 am
tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
In the past week, I had two talk proposals accepted: one for LambdaJam in July, and one for Open Source Bridge in June. I ended up declining to give both of them. This was hard for me.

I like giving talks. I don't have any stage fright. I've been told I give good talks. In my field, good speakers aren't very common, but the few good talks I've seen make me want to go do the same thing, in a way that almost nothing else does. I like the performance aspect of it, and it makes being at a conference make sense (I always feel vaguely awkward when someone asks me if I have a talk and I say no.)

What I don't like is preparing talks. I don't see a way around this. It's not like anyone else can do it for me. I think it's because of how feedback works -- I get feedback at the very end, after I give a talk, but it's very hard to get any feedback on intermediate products, and when something isn't closely coupled with my job, I don't really have an audience for a practice talk. Even if I do a practice talk, that's after I've prepared all the slides. I think to make the process less painful, I'd have to have a way to get feedback a lot earlier.

I proposed something pretty ambitious for OS Bridge, which is a hands-on Haskell tutorial. I would have to prepare the tutorial materials -- code with "fill in the blank" pieces -- from scratch. Likewise, for LambdaJam, I proposed a talk on a project I've been wanting to do (a "traveling salesman" approximation implementation in Haskell -- for fun, applied perhaps to a data set like the list of Hosteling International hostels in the US), with the idea being that the talk would give me motivation to actually implement it. But now that I would actually have to write all that code in less than 2 months, it doesn't look as appealing to me.

I think what I need in my life now are things to do in my free time that I can do with other people and that don't feel like work. Unfortunately, preparing talks doesn't meet either criterion: I have to do it alone, and it feels like work. And I can't do it on the clock, since it's related to my job but the talks aren't about what I actually do at work (since not all of it is open-source).

In the past, giving talks has seemed like a way for me to get bonus points at work, but the last talk I gave -- at Open Source Bridge a year ago -- backfired in that sense. My manager (at my previous job) complained that I "gave too many talks" (because I gave one talk in two years) because I spent the two weeks before the talk preparing slides and not doing much else. That experience discouraged me from giving more talks in the future. Since what the talks would be on would be only loosely related to my job, I don't necessarily expect negative feedback for giving them (since all the prep would be in my copious free time), but I don't expect it to be a big positive, either.

So the calculation I did was that preparing the talks was likely to give me more anxiety than satisfaction. And in fact, that would still be true even if I did only one of the talks. So I declined. I still feel like I'm passing something up, but the cost of accepting the opportunity seems too high for me right now. Of course, that could change in the future, and there will always be more conferences.

I still plan to go to Open Source Bridge -- there are too many good talks not to, I'll be passing through Portland anyway, and it's a great chance to see a lot of friends. I don't know what the future holds for me, career-wise, so right now, putting in extracurricular effort to be more established in the tech community doesn't seem like a good investment: I don't know if I'll be in this community in two years. It's uncomfortable to be in this liminal state, but I think the way to deal with that discomfort is to experiment with actually being nice to myself and giving myself enough time to satisfy needs that don't have to do with writing code.

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

December 2018

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