This year, Brian Rinaldi invited me to speak at RIAUnleashed. By way of background: RIAUnleashed is a 2-day conference, held in Boston, founded by Brian Rinaldi, with a speaker and topic list as diverse as the fair city in which it’s held. As its name implies, its focus is “RIA” – Rich Internet Applications, though that concept is now so broad that it perhaps defies definition. This year, you’ll see Flex, AIR, Android, LiveCycle, ColdFusion, and even something called “Blitting” which, as a server-side dude, I’m both proud and ashamed to say is something that gets a WTF? from yours truly.
Check out the Agenda. It is, in a word, Fun! But that’s not what I want to talk about. This isn’t a post about “Why you should attend RIAUnleashed”. If the topics don’t interest you, fair enough. I want to get more personal.
This is my story
I know a little bit about education
I began my professional life as an English teacher. I graduated from IUP in 1996 with a degree in English Education. I taught high school English from January 1997 to June 2000. My heart was, and to some degree a part still is, in education. I left this hallowed profession for the most pedestrian of reasons (money. duh.). But I was good. I think. Anyways, as a student of teaching, and as a teacher, I learned much, the most germane here being this: when you give people ownership, they tend to respond in ways you could not predict. This is most certainly true of young people, in my experience as both a teacher and a parent. The difference between “ye shall do this”, and “what are you interested in? Now do it. Make us proud” is nebulous and enormous. It’s hard to measure. I shan’t attempt to do so here. Thus, this is yet another in the annals of subjective wish-wash. I’m cool with that.
Upon the approaching of the first RIAUnleashed, Brian asked me if I’d speak at his conference. I was honored, to be sure, but occupational obligations prevailed (never again, btw… the “deadline” I needed to meet never came to pass). Lesson learned.
This year, Brian asked again. I graciously accepted and asked what he’d like me to speak on. His response:
What do you want to talk about?
My gut tells me that this is probably one of the riskiest responses a conference organizer could propose. Think about it: you’re bootstrapped. You have no mega backing. You are funding this conference on attendance and the goodwill of some some supporting sponsors, but above all, asses in seats pay the bills. By all rights, Brian should be “reading the tea leaves”, asking of the world: “what do you, dear World, want to know about?” and then he’d enlist speakers to present on those topics.
Instead, he asks people, “what do you want to talk about?”. He chose speakers first, and the topics came later. This I admire.
Why this matters to me
While I have a J-Lo sized booty, I’m no prima donna. I’m generally known for being part of the unit testing / TDD fringe of the CFML community. I typically propose conference topics in those areas because they’re “safe” for me, and frankly because there’s not much competition.
But I’ve given those presentations, and I don’t like to talk about them more than once. Part of my fake motivation as a speaker is that I know if I’m talking about something in front of an audience, I’m probably only going to get one shot at it. I don’t recycle topics. So lately, while I’m known for one thing, my interests have gone in other directions. I’ve been spending more of my free time on datastores, parallel computing, and other investigations into “high scalability” applications.
In May, when I joined Booz Allen Hamilton, I was given the opportunity to investigate NoSQL datastores for an application, and I settled on MongoDB for a POC application. A love affair was born, and I haven’t let go.
So recently, when Brian asked me if I’d speak, I asked him if he’d accept “MongoDB for CFML developers” as a topic. He didn’t flinch, and I’ll be there in November, talking about my current passion.
How is this any different from what I’ve done in the past?
As I said, this is my own story. I’m not writing from the perspective of a business owner or conference organizer or, even, as a “smart guy”. This is a dude who will stand at the front of a room for an hour.
Several times recently, I decided to stop submitting topics that would increase my chances of acceptance, and instead submitted on only the things I cared most deeply about. By my count, I’m at about a 33% accept rate with that approach, not including RIAUnleashed. That’s completely cool! Because for the topics I’m presenting on, I feel as energized as I’ve ever been. I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak on things that matter to me, and I hope that translates into meaningful presentations for the folks gracious enough to attend.
So, to Brian: thank you for this honor. I’m excited to be in Boston for RIAUnleashed, both as a speaker and attendee of other fantastic sessions!