Sunday, September 18, 2011

Speaking at Ignite Boulder 16 : The Story

I was one of the speakers at Ignite Boulder 16 which was held on Sep 1st at the spacious Boulder Theater. The entire jaunt - from submitting the talk to getting selected to preparing for the talk to actually going up on stage and deliver the talk to 800 attendees and the post-talk exuberance - was an awesome experience for me. Hoping to capture the thrill and excitement from the whole experience in this blogpost.

For those who weren't at the Boulder Theater watching me speak in person, or watched the video of the talk yet, here is the video of my talk "Everything you need to know about Cricket" posted by IgniteBoulder team on YouTube:

1. In the beginning...

For those who don't know, here is the answer to What is Ignite? from the Ignite website:

What is Ignite?

Fast-paced, fun, thought-provoking, social, local, global—Ignite is all of these and more. It's a high-energy evening of 5-minute talks by people who have an idea—and the guts to get onstage and share it with their hometown crowd. Run by local volunteers who are connected through the global Ignite network, Ignite is a force for raising the collective IQ and building connections in each city. And, via streaming and archived videos of local talks, local Ignites share all that knowledge and passion with the world.

I am aware of Ignite for a while now, and have even helped with the organization of one of the IgniteNYC events a couple of years ago. I like the idea of Ignite with it's Enlighten us, but make it fast! mantra. And have been wanting to speak at an Ignite for long, but always stopped myself by saying I don't have anything of value to say at an Ignite.

After attending Ignite Boulder 13 last year - mainly because my buddy Ryan Angilly was speaking, I started to believe I could pull off a good talk! Over the next few months, I landed on Cricket as one topic I could do an awesome job with, aided in no small measure by the Cricket World Cup in Feb concluding in a fairytale finish for India. Another factor that made me settle on this topic was the many short conversations about Cricket I had with folks in my circle - they didn't know much about Cricket, but were curious to learn about it, and understand why it has such a passionate following in the Indian sub-continent.

2. The Spark submission & the selection....

So when Ef Rodriquez - one of the Ignite Boulder organizers - called for submissions for Ignite Boulder Sweet 16, I had to just check briefly to verify that the dates work for me before I submitted my "Cricket" spark. Ignite Boulder has a system of having people vote on the talks and select some of the talks based on the votes received. I decided not to campaign for getting votes, having decided that my talk should get selected - if at all it does so - by the merit of its own uniqueness.

And selected it was because of the very same reason, as one of the organizers Andrew Hyde let me know in a DM a few weeks later:
"You're my pick for Ignite! Let's work hard on it and make it amazing!"
3. The Preparation...
Even though I got to know of my selection almost 4 weeks before the event, for various reasons it turned out that all the preparation happened only in the last 10-11 days.

The Ignite Boulder team had organized a mandatory rehearsal for all the speakers on a Monday evening 10 days before the event, forcing me to have a slide deck ready the day before that. The rehearsal turned out to be a very valuable exercise, with the Ignite Boulder team and the fellow speakers playing a very friendly audience, and providing valuable feedback on the talks. Based on the comments made during the rehearsal, I threw away my entire slide deck, and decided to restructure the talk to focus more on explaining the game.

The next major rehearsal was with my Indian friends in Longmont where for 2-3 hours, I was fine-tuning the slides, ran through the complete presentation a few times, and got good feedback on each individual slides. Thanks to Anand Sharma, his wife Kavitha, his mother-in-law, and another common friend Arvind Sridharan, for being a patient audience that evening!

My last rehearsal - a couple of days before - was with my housemates Meg & Barron as the audience. Both of them didn't know about Cricket before, and didn't learn much about cricket in the 5 minutes of my talk, but both were touched by my enthusiasm while speaking. This reaction made me settle on having fun as the main objective for my talk instead of getting people educated about Cricket.

The day before the talk, I was really convinced that there is no point in trying to make someone know everything about Cricket in 5 minutes, and hence was seriously considering making it 'different' by talking about "crickets" with the same slides - with the hope that the disconnect between the talk and the slides would make it a memorable one. Decided against it after giving it considerable thought, and instead to talk about what I love. Glad I did that, as my love for Cricket carried me through with flying colors!

I should thank two people separately for making a huge impact on the quality of my presentation:
  • Andrew Hyde - for not only selecting my talk, but also providing the gem about "India-Pakistan matches & Nuclear weapons" during the rehearsal with the Ignite team.
  • My friend Ravi Chander - for forwarding the amazing tid-bit about the very first international match being between USA & Canada!

4. The Delivery...
By the time Sep 1st arrived, I was all excited and quite confident about making a good hand of it at the event. A few people suggested having a calming drink before going up to talk, but I was way too excited and thrilled - with no shred of nervousness - to be needing a drink ;-) The good vibe created by the fellow speakers - especially fellow rubyist (a slightly more famous one at that) Anthony Eden - and the Ignite Boulder team made it a pleasurable thing to go up there to speak.

And we couldn't have asked for a better audience! They were very supportive of every speaker, and the 'heckling' too was to encourage the speakers! Terry Cabeen in particular was very vocal during my talk with some funny comments, making whatever little nervousness I had vanish!

5. In Conclusion...
I had a ball preparing for the talk, and while on stage delivering the talk! And the audience seem to lap it up as well. Quite a few people congratulated me on a job well done after the talk. More heartening was to have many people come up to me and share their Cricket related stories!

My fiancée Meera Devraj & Anand's wife Kavita watched my talk on the live video stream and immediately after sent me messages of congratulations! The comments on twitter about my talk were very positive as well.

From being a guy who went through 2 years of MBA course with my mouth zipped shut back in 1994-96, to being the guy who revelled on stage at Ignite Boulder 2 weeks ago, I have come a long way! And most of the credit for this transformation should go to the Landmark Forum course & the Introduction Leaders Program at Landmark Education.

So folks, in conclusion, take up the opportunity to speak at your local Ignite event; it is a terrific - fun & rewarding - experience! With Ignite being an international phenomenon, it is quite likely there is one in your city. And if you feel public speaking is a thing to be avoided like the plague, check out the courses I mentioned in the above paragraph.

Thanks for reading till the end ;-)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Code Retreat Boulder - From the perspective of an organizer & a participant

Took care of the last piece of work - getting the check from a sponsor - around the organization of Code Retreat Boulder earlier today. Before I jump into & get totally absorbed in another project, thought it would be a good idea to write a blog post about the event. It has been a terrific experience for me as an organizer, and this could quite likely help others who may be interested in organizing one.

The history...

I had come across Corey Haines' idea of Code Retreat sometime last year - when I was beginning to learn Ruby and was looking for ways to improve, and was fascinated by the idea - mainly about how it can make software developers learn from and teach each other. While I was interested in organizing a Code Retreat with Corey Haines in Boulder at that time, things did not work out, and I had moved on to other things.

In late Jan this year, Chad Fowler tweeted about possibly organizing one, and got a good response from many folks who were interested in participating. What can be better than the author of The Passionate Programmer taking on the responsibility of organizing the Code Retreat?! I wrote to Chad saying its an awesome idea, and offered to help in organizing the event.

Chad & Corey decided that Sat Feb 26th would be a good day for Code Retreat Boulder; and Chad asked me if I could help with setting up the event registration site. I guess I had given enough thought to organizing a Code Retreat by then; so from then, I took over the full responsibility of the organization work and ran with it! I did have some concern initially about possibly stepping on toes, but both Chad & Corey gave me a free rein in the organization, and that allowed me to go about doing an awesome job of creating the event.

A few interesting aspects of the organization process:

Number of Participants:
With 56 people participating, this was by far the largest Code Retreat event. The initial number we started with was 30. Corey Haines usually limits the number of participants to 40 if there is only one facilitator for the event. The demand though was for a larger number. When the event was open for registration the first time around with 40 spots, the seats got filled up in less than a day! We increased the number of spots to 60 with the understanding that, with Corey & Chad co-facilitating the event, 60 would be a manageable number of participants.

The remaining spots too were gone in no time, and a few people informed me that they would like to be put on a waiting list. As the event drew closer, many people dropped out, and I had the people on the waiting list sign up. In the end, only a handful of people did not show up.

It is not a surprise that 60 spots got filled up in no time; in addition to Corey Haines and Chad Fowler, the event had big name attractions in Dave Thomas, Michael Feathers and Mike Clark.

In the initial 40 registrations, there was only one woman - Lisa Crispin. For the next round of registrations, we put in some extra effort to get more women to sign up, and had four women participated in the Code Retreat.

Location for the event:
With the smaller number of participants in the initial stages, we were considering Dojo4 or Pivotal Boulder as the options for the location. Once we decided on 60 participants, we had to drop these and look for more spacious options. We did hit the jackpot with Boulder Digital Works in downtown Boulder. BDW turned out to be a perfect location for the Code Retreat. It had everything that was required - large space to house 60+ people for a whole day; separate space to arrange for food, coffee & snacks; enough power outlets and cables for 60+ computers to be hooked on; two projectors & drawing boards (mobile ones at that!) for the facilitators to use; and even microphones to be used at the closing circle. In addition, BDW was perfectly located in downtown Boulder, with quite a few free public parking spots in the neighborhood.

BDW was so good as a location for the event, that I hardly put on the Organizer's hat on Saturday, and could participate fully in the Code retreat.

This was the first event I was organizing and having people register online for the event. I chose to use EventWax for this purpose simply because I had noticed Corey Haines use it for the previous Code Retreat in Ohio. EventWax turned out to be a joy to work with! Everything was easy & straight-forward. Also, the couple of times I had questions about how to do something with the site, the EventWax support team was very prompt in responding to my emails! EventWax + PayPal combination made it easy for me to manage the whole registration process. I used Paypal refund functionality to pay back the registration deposit to the participants after the event - that allowed me to not worry about it at the event, and instead take care of it offline.

Costs & Sponsorship for the event:
The total cost of organizing this event came to around $2100 (detailed breakdown at the event site). This amount is only for the Code Retreat, and does not include the costs for organizing the after-party. There was no difficulty in raising this amount, especially with Chad Fowler's clout pulling in big name sponsors in quick time!

Thanks again to Foraker Labs, The Pragmatic Studio, The Pragmatic Bookshelf, Databasically, Indra's Net & Gnip for sponsoring and making it a successful event!

The event itself:

The event itself went very smoothly, and as far as I know, there weren't any complaints from anyone. The only thing I seem to have overlooked is to arrange for water bottles. A few people asked me if there were any. I had totally not taken that requirement into account, and had directed them to use the water from the tap in the BDW kitchen.

Most of the participants had words of praise for the food from Tibet Kitchen and the coffee/snacks from The Cup Boulder.

I was able to be a participant in the Code Retreat without any disturbance from any organization-related work for most part of the day. The highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly the session when I paired with Mike Clark and he gave me a master-class in how to test drive the solution for a complex problem. The other pairing sessions too were very useful and instructive as I got to stretch myself in working with others on solving the problem.

In closing....
I had a terrific time being the main organizer for this event, and was amply rewarded for it by the applause & praise I received from everyone. I did enjoy being the organizer of a popular & unique event that was valuable for many developers in the area.

As a participant, I got re-introduced to the power and value of pair-programming.

I must say I am very satisfied and proud of my accomplishment in organizing Code Retreat Boulder!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What's Facebook good for, and what's Twitter good for?

I have been intending to write in detail about my twitter usage for a while, with the objective being to get many of my non-twitter-user friends to start using Twitter. Never got around to it, with it always being a low priority.

The above interesting conversation on Facebook today triggered this blogpost in which I hope to clarify from my perspective the answer to the question "What's Facebook good for, and what's Twitter good for?"

People use Facebook and Twitter to disclose different levels and types of information. On Facebook, the information shared is of a more intimate nature, with people sharing their families' pictures, videos, stories, and other information of personal nature. On twitter, the amount of information shared is limited to words. Yes, people can share pictures and videos on twitter, but that isn't what the site is geared towards, and that is not the general usage.

Twitter is pure and simple a communication forum where anyone can listen (or not listen) to anyone else, whether they know the other person or not. There is no restriction on who one can follow (yes, I know there is the concept of private twitter accounts; that to me is an irrelevant feature, and it is too uncommon these days that I come across one). So people can follow the conversations of anyone they find interesting.

Facebook has restrictions on who you can communicate with; given the intimate nature of information shared by users there, it has to have that kind of restrictions in place. And it is natural that people respond to friend requests on Facebook only from people they know in real life. Accepting someone as a Facebook friend means a certain level of trust.

Following someone on Twitter involves no concept of trust. You find the person interesting; you follow them and listen to their tweets.

So in summary, Twitter is the place where I can get to know people who share same interests as me. And Facebook allows me to connect with those people with whom I have had more meaningful interactions. There are quite a few people I got to know through twitter who later on became friends on Facebook.

Each tool has its own advantages and disadvantages; gotta make the best of the advantages, and use the right tool for the requirement.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Enough with the "Last 2 digits of your birth year + current age = 111 for everybody! OMG!" giddiness

The first time I came across this tidbit a few weeks ago, it was amusing. And with a little inquiry, it turned out to be nothing unusual about it.

So if you are born in 1995 (you have to be that young!), you will be 16 years old in 2011; adding 1995 to 16 gives 2011, and adding 95 to 16 gives 111. If you want to go gaga over it, you might as well start with 1+1 adding up to 2!

And it is wrong! For kids born after 2000, it adds up to 11. For people born before 1900, it adds up to 211!

You want a real mathematical tidbit of 2011 to go gaga over, here is one:
2011 is itself a prime number, and is a sum of 11 consecutive primes!
2011 = 157 + 163 + 167 + 173 + 179 + 181 + 191 + 193 + 197 + 199 + 211

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Millennium Trilogy : Captivating read

I read the three books of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy over the last month. All three books are well written, were un-put-down-able, and had me captivated for hours.

Finished the first book - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - in little over a day of continuous reading. The third book - The Girl who kicked the Hornet's nest - was finished in three straight late night readings. Only the second book - The Girl who played with fire - took over a week to finish as I had to focus on other things.

Steig Larsson is a terrific story-teller. Just reading the three books will have anyone be impressed by his writing skills. To know more about his life - that he died after delivering the manuscripts of these three books, and that he had planned to write 10 books in total - makes it totally surreal.

Among the three, the third one is arguably the best, in my opinion. The author sets out the various players and components of a quasi-governmental conspiracy against one person - Lisbeth Salander, the main character in all three books, and slowly builds up the story with different players contributing to it from their perspective, to a thrilling conclusion when the conspiracy is blown to pieces, and the main character emerges victorious & unscathed.

I am glad I got to read this awesome collection of books; it rekindled the magic of fiction books that had been lost for a while. (The only other fiction book that I seem to have read in the last year is another terrific book : Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.)