Speaking At Self Conference

Apr 25, 2014

I have had this issue for a few years regarding conferences. The issue is that I think, at a certain point, a person passes from listening to teaching. A sort of enlightening moment. After so many talks, I think most people start to wonder if they should be speaking.

I thought that was the case with me and made it a goal in 2014 to start speaking at conferences. I had no idea what I would present. Just that I wanted to give it a shot.

When selfconference came around asking for speaking submissions, I thought I would give it a shot. And for some strange reason I thought about sharing my experiences teaching programmers with little to no experience how to program. This would be pretty easy for me. I’m basing this off of my own personal experience, with some lower level concepts mixed in.

My talk is titled Teaching Programmers Through Empathy and is a walk through some of the things I’ve learned, some of the concepts I’ve used to teach in that setting and of course some of the failures I’ve had.

I’m not super qualified to talk about this subject. I don’t have some teaching degree. I just have a two-year business degree and some University credits towards teaching in a technical setting. Even then, I didn’t finish the University degree. I came close (who doesn’t), but I did not finish.

What I have done is design and teach a web development program for three years before I decided to move on. I taught the usual things. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and some ActionScript when I was forced.

It sure was rough in the beginning, but I caught my stride after the first year. Teaching someone a programming language when they don’t understand programming logic is challenging. But you start to find signs to look for to know if you’ve gone too far.

So What’s in the Talk?

From the Abstract:

There is a saying that those that can’t do, teach. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, teaching may be one of the more difficult things you can do as a programmer. Once you start to think about how to explain complex topics to a beginner, you start to realize how far you’ve come and how difficult it is to explain what you know.

In this talk, I will share my experience teaching web development to those that have little to no prior experience. Topics include creating and maintaining a safe learning environment, using real examples to make concepts more concrete, and teaching how to learn and not always how to do.

Besides sharing some of my experiences, I want to touch on the three pillars of teaching.

  • Safety
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Authority

Who is the talk for?


Have you ever had to show a junior developer something? Maybe you had to explain a design pattern to someone that had no idea design patterns for software development existed. After your initial shock of realizing that a developer doesn’t about the GoF, you attempted to explain some of the concepts. Maybe it went fairly well, maybe you were frustrated beyond belief. Either way, this talk is for you. With any luck, after the talk, you will be able to understand a little more what it must be like looking into the giant world or programming, and be able to teach a little better.


There are a lot of workshops and courses from everything like web developer bootcamps to just learning Rails or some other framework. These workshops are a ton of work. If you have ever taught one of them you know the plan gets tossed out by the second lesson.

After this talk, you will have the knowledge necessary to adjust quickly while keeping your main objectives in place.

Even if you know all about how to teach in a technical setting, my hope is that you can pick up one thing. Or at least bring up good points for discussion.

We are all educators

The last point I want to make is this. We are all educators. Every last one of us. The face of education is changing. The Internet allows any person to find an enormous amount of information. Given that information is available, College isn’t always the right answer. Some people just want to know how to build a website, or how to make a poster, or how content marketing works. If you know one of these things, you are the teacher. You can educate your peers. And you will learn more than you ever thought you would.

I invite you to teach your peers and help shift education as you know it.