Creating Space to Be Awesome at QCon London

Thanks for the warm reception at QCon London today 🙂

Books & Tools Mentioned in This Talk

If you’re new to coaching, you might also enjoy the talk I did on stealing coaching lessons from sports at Dare Conf Mini a couple of years back: video and slides.

Awesome People Management with Agile – at Agile North East

Thanks for welcoming me to speak at Agile North East tonight — it’s always nice to be back in my adoptive hometown and the conversation tonight was especially fab.

Books & Tools Mentioned in This Talk

If you’re new to coaching, you might also enjoy the talk I did on stealing coaching lessons from sports at Dare Conf Mini a couple of years back: video and slides.

Creating Space to Be Awesome at Offentlig Chef

Tack så mycket for having me to speak at Offentlig Chef this afternoon. As promised, here are the slides and links and books mentioned in the talk.

Books & Tools Mentioned in This Talk

Practical Diversity at Thinking Digital Women

Thanks for having me to speak as part of the inaugural Thinking Digital Women. Here are the slides and the materials / resources mentioned during the talk.

Tools Mentioned in This Talk

I usually do a longer version of this talk including a bunch of stuff on how to lead and develop multi-disciplinary teams; the Agile People Sweden team kindly published the video of me keynoting on Practical Diversity at their conference last October in case of interest.

Neurodiversity: The Next Frontier at Agile People Sweden

Thank you to everyone at Agile People Sweden for welcoming me to keynote again this year. You are always such a warm and receptive audience, I love speaking to you.

Books & Tools Mentioned in This Talk

Some Further Reading

Broadening the Responses to Our Conference CFP

The Lead Developer conference, which focuses on three key themes of team, tech & tools for technical leaders – be they tech leads, senior developers, engineering managers or VP Eng / VP Tech / CTOs – is into its second year now. We are taking it international in 2017, with our first conference outside of London in New York in February 2017. The conference is organised by White October Events and chaired and co-curated by me, Meri Williams (@Geek_Manager).

We care deeply about making sure that our speaker line-up is representative. Part of the value of conferences is to hear diverse opinions and experiences from a broad range of people.

A number of people have commented on the (positive) balance in our speaker line-up, and asked us to write about how we achieved it, hence this post. It’s quite a long read, for quite a big topic.

NOTE: To be clear, we don’t think we are perfect, nor do we think that we are at the end of the journey with this. But waiting for perfection before sharing feels selfish – like we are withholding useful strategies & tactics from other event organisers who want to do better – and so we’d rather share what we’ve done, and what’s worked, and then still keep trying harder in future.

Year 1

In our first year, the majority of the conference line-up was invited. Because we were a new conference, we knew that people didn’t necessarily know what we were about yet, and so crafting the line-up by hand made more sense. We ran a Call for Papers just for the 10 minute tech talks that peppered the agenda, and got the word out about that through Twitter and various Slack groups and newsletters.

In order to find great speakers with interesting stories and experience to share, we did research and looked for recommendations. We found Lanyrd and the Articulate Network to both be very useful, as was asking for and following up on recommendations from great speakers that we knew.

It likely helped that our initial network was pretty diverse – this is an important thing to check before you rely on networks and recommendations to find speakers. If your initial network isn’t broad, then it may be worth finding someone quite different from you to be on your organising committee or panel to help with this.

Year 2

This year, the conference grew to two days and we filled the majority of slots with speakers who submitted a proposal through our Call for Papers.

We were delighted to find that this year 40+% of our CFP respondents self-identified as part of a group in some way traditionally under-represented in tech. This made selecting a diverse and representative line-up less of a challenge – the “top of the funnel” (the initial proposals) was representative, and so it was logical that the “bottom of the funnel” (the chosen proposals) was representative too.

That said, choosing the actual talks was incredibly hard – we had an amazingly high quality of submissions, and deciding between them was very very difficult. We could have easily programmed a 4 or 5 day conference!

So our story here is mostly about how we approached the CFP.

Steps to Broaden Participation in your CFP

Make sure you are creating a safe, accessible & inclusive space

The first thing that many speakers need to know is that you care about creating a safe, accessible and inclusive space. This is more about what you DO than what you SAY.

At The Lead Developer, we have a strong, well-publicised Code of Conduct. We highlight it to attendees before they arrive, in our Slack group that attendees and speakers can join ahead of time, and on each morning of the conference. We are specific about what is not OK, how issues can be reported, and that we will deal with them swiftly and appropriately. Our conference staff and volunteers are properly briefed, and we have a senior point person who ensures consistency of response.

We are also clear early about the venue’s accessibility, that there is a speaker lounge (for speakers who might need quiet space to prepare or decompress – this matters!) and that help will be on hand for anything someone might need.

This year we also invested in getting live captioning from the excellent team at White Coat Captioning. This was SUCH a good investment. The stenographers were outstanding, and we had a number of folks comment to us how wonderful they thought it was. It was especially interesting to see what a large percentage of the audience “used” the captioning with many people commenting that it helped them understand better, overcome differences in accents, or see technical terms that had flown by a little swiftly in the talk.

Ground the initial line-up appropriately

Though we filled most speaker slots with CFP respondents this year, we did still have a few invited speakers, including our two keynotes. It seems to have been important that this initial published line-up was representative – both as a statement of intent and as a way of broadcasting that we welcome diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. Our initial line-up was diverse in the demographic sense, but also in the industry/experience sense.

Be clear about what you are offering speakers (and offer what matters)

We cover travel and expenses for speakers, and will book and pay things upfront so that people don’t have to “carry the cost”. Rachel Andrew recently wrote about this after doing a talk about it at ConfConf. We already offered taxis for speakers to get to and from the venue, but we have made sure that we actively talk about this in advance as well now. We offer an honorarium as a thank you for the speaker’s time.

We also provide speakers with professionally taken photos of them speaking on stage, and publish the videos after the event (with speakers retaining copyright), so for those wanting to build their profile as a conference speaker we are hopefully helping them in that regard as well. You can see the videos from The Lead Dev on Vimeo.

Earn the trust of the community

Honestly, this year’s CFP being so representative was largely down to having earned the right to ask under-indexed folks to submit by having a representative line-up last year. It’s really hard to get people to trust your intentions; you need to show in your actions that you really value and care about this stuff.

If your CFP is currently only getting responses from one group or type of person, consider keeping some slots for invited talks, and figure out how to make your conference one that an invited speaker will want to say yes to.

Pro tip: indicating to an invited speaker that you are inviting them for their “difference” rather than their content is a sure way to put them off.

Get the word out about the CFP far & wide

Ask role models to help

We are privileged to have the support of many of the speakers from our first year’s conference as brilliant advocates for us. Again that initial representative line-up paid off, as their networks, Twitter followers, etc, were also more diverse.

Approach affinity groups to share

“If you build it they will come” only works in baseball movies.

You need to actively reach out to affinity groups where the people who you are trying to reach are. We promoted the CFP through @CallBackWomen (which is excellent, and definitely drove a bunch of interest), Technically Speaking (a fab email newsletter for folks wanting to get into speaking), Ada’s List, and more.

One additional thing we are doing this year is to both reach out to more groups, and to ask on our CFP form where somebody heard about us so that we can do this better in future. If you have an affinity group to suggest, please give us a shout.

Proactively approach speakers who you’d love to see submit a talk

When we’ve had speakers recommended to us, or we’ve come across them in our research and particularly love their talk, we pro-actively reach out to encourage them to submit to the CFP. There are a lot of conferences out there, and expecting everyone to hear about yours is a little bit arrogant. So we follow up and highlight and encourage – and make sure that we are doing so to a balanced group of folks.

Communicate well, put speakers at the heart of what you do

Communication before, during and after the event all matters. We’ve had feedback from a number of speakers that this has really been a key positive in their experience dealing with us and part of why they are happy to spread the word / help advocate for us after the conference. Invest in your speakers, treat them well – without them you wouldn’t have a conference at all!

So What’s Next?

We’ll continue to focus on finding great speakers to give brilliant talks – and making sure that we reflect the diversity of the world in our line-ups.

We’re also actively looking to increase participation in the conference itself, and there will be a blog post about what we have done in this arena coming soon.

Sound Like Your Kind of Conference?

The CFP for The Lead Developer New York 2017 is open until 26 August 2016, and the CFP for The Lead Developer in London next year until 30 Sept 2016. We’ve written some guidance about our key themes and the kind of talks we are looking for, and there are also links to the CFP therein.

What We’re Looking for at The Lead Developer Conference

We’re delighted that you’re thinking of submitting a proposal to The Lead Developer Call for Papers, whether it be for New York (February 2017) or London (June 2017).

Why you?

Everyone has something to share – and we’d love The Lead Developer to be the conference where you choose to share it. We are keen and committed to getting submissions from as broad, diverse and representative a range of potential speakers as we possibly can.

We have a strong Code of Conduct that we emphasise and are committed to, and our conference staff and volunteers are ready and trained to respond to any issues. Speaker travel and accommodation is funded, and we will book things and pay for them upfront to save you having to submit expenses afterwards if you prefer. We also offer an honorarium to thank you for your time. The night before the conference, we host a low-key speaker dinner so you can meet your fellow speakers and get to know the chair and organisers too. Post-conference, you’ll receive professional photos of yourself onstage, and we make videos of all the talks available for free online following the conference, with speakers of course retaining copyright.

Who would you be speaking to?

Our audience consists of tech leads, lead developers, and engineering managers, as well as CTOs and VP Engineering folk. They are consistently technical (across a very broad range of technologies and industries) and at minimum coaching and leading, with many also line managing people in their organisations. Some folks also attend when they have just been promoted, or when they are trying to figure out what skills they need to develop in order to progress into a tech lead role.

We also welcome product owners, scrum masters, agile coaches, designers, content designers and anyone else involved in delivering technical or digital products who is interested in our programme of speakers to attend, but our primary focus is content that is useful to technical leaders.

What are we looking for?

Our three main themes for The Lead Developer are Team, Tech & Tools.

We have two types of talk slot – a ten minute lightning talk, and a 30 minute full length talk. If you’re able to flex your talk to fit either slot, please tell us!

We tend to have a lot more submissions for full length talks, and so if you can do a great 10 minute talk you might have a better chance of being selected.

Some examples of topics around Team that interest us include:

  • Anything related to leadership
  • People management techniques
  • Creating inclusive environments
  • Attracting, recruiting and retaining great (diverse) talent
  • Team dynamics
  • Helping teams be most effective
  • Communication – interpersonal, interteam, interorg/dept/company
  • Helping people develop at all levels (including junior devs/interns/graduates, career paths, personal development for developers)
  • Creating and maintaining great cultures
  • Challenging issues (such as burnout, mental health and imposter syndrome)

The kinds of talks that work well for Tech include:

  • Overviews of new languages, frameworks and technologies
  • Trends and changes in the way things are being built and operated
  • Case studies or approaches for dealing with common problems, for example rapid scaling

Bear in mind that though our audience is typically technical, folks come from all different kinds of organisations and specialisations – so an overview of new approaches for building mobile apps might be appropriate, but a deep dive into Swift likely isn’t going to be super accessible for everyone in the audience.

For the Tools theme, we mean tools as well as process and ways of working, including:

  • Agile and other modes of delivery
  • Tech and tools you use to help your team be most productive / effective
  • Processes: for doing support brilliantly, or how you keep on top of your backlog of bugs, or how out of hours call outs are handled by your team, for instance
  • Ways of keeping current
  • Approaches to personal development for tech leads themselves

What if your talk idea doesn’t fit exactly?

If you have a proposal or idea for a talk that doesn’t fit exactly into these themes, or works across more than one, please do submit it! We keep a slot or two available for “wildcards” – something that doesn’t necessarily exactly fit the description of the themes above, but we nevertheless feel would be interesting, inspiring or entertaining for our attendees. There is absolutely no harm in submitting something that might be a little left field – we will consider it alongside all the other submissions.

Send us your submission!

Brilliant People Management in an Agile Setting at

Thank you for welcoming me to speak at and for all the positive feedback, especially after the plethora of AV issues. Slides are shared here, as well as the promised links to the various books mentioned.

Books & Tools Mentioned in This Talk

If you’re new to coaching, you might also enjoy the talk I did on stealing coaching lessons from sports at Dare Conf Mini a couple of years back: video and slides.