Why giving talks at Postgres conferences matters? Highlights from a podcast
Published Sep 20 2023 09:59 AM 1,918 Views
Microsoft

With so many Postgres conferences coming up soon, it seemed fitting to share some highlights from a past episode of the Path To Citus Con about why to give talks at Postgres conferences. This episode was recorded back in May 2023 and shares an hourlong conversation between some wonderful Postgres engineers—Álvaro Herrera and Boriss Mejías—along with my co-host Pino de Candia and me.

 

The guests both have deep roots in the community—Álvaro as a Postgres committer and Boriss as a frequent conference speaker as well as the organizer for the PgBE PostgreSQL User Group Belgium. And they have known each other for decades, since university days. As much as Alvaro and Boriss have in common, it’s interesting to hear them talk about their totally different approaches to giving talks at conferences.

 

There’s also a point in the podcast where we explore whether it helps to be an introvert, or an extrovert, when it comes to giving conference talks. And how speaking at conferences can make it easier to meet people… after you’ve given a talk, people will often walk up to you and say “hey I saw your talk, I want to ask you about <insert PG topic here>”.

 

At the end of the post, you’ll find links to podcast platforms where you can subscribe. And if you’re hooked, you might want to listen to some of the past episodes of the podcast, which have included conversations about:

 

 

Why giving talks at Postgres conferences matters

Both Álvaro and Boriss have a long history with the Postgres community. And while they have different jobs, different skills, different presentation styles, and different opinions about things like whether a conference talk can or should be given multiple times—they both agree on this: It’s a good use of time to give talks at Postgres conferences.

 

The perspectives shared in this podcast episode with Álvaro and Boriss apply not only to Postgres events, but to many open source developer conferences, too.

 

Let’s dive into some interesting bits from the episode…

 

Figure 1: YouTube thumbnail for episode 3 of the Path To Citus Con podcast for developers who love Postgres, with (starting in the top left, listed clockwise) Claire Giordano, Pino de Candia, Boriss Mejías, and Álvaro Herrera. The topic = “Why giving talks at Postgres conferences matters.”Figure 1: YouTube thumbnail for episode 3 of the Path To Citus Con podcast for developers who love Postgres, with (starting in the top left, listed clockwise) Claire Giordano, Pino de Candia, Boriss Mejías, and Álvaro Herrera. The topic = “Why giving talks at Postgres conferences matters.”

 

Highlights from the episode with Boriss Mejías & Álvaro Herrera

 

“I try to pay attention to the questions that are being asked by the customers. And when I do training, I also try to get the questions that come over and over and I say, ‘okay, maybe this is something that's worth talking about at a conference, to explain this to a broader audience.’” – Boriss Mejías

Building talks from frequently-asked questions is a great way to derive content for conference talks. Boriss has many talks focused directly on the user or developer experience, and he provides a really personal perspective for the audience on everything he presents.

 

“[As an introvert] when I'm at a conference it’s very useful to have given a talk so that people approach me and we can speak about my topic, and then I will ask, ‘What are you working on?’ And then conversation goes from there. So that's one thing I definitely like about giving talks, which is to let me connect.” – Álvaro Herrera

Giving a talk at a conference, particularly if you’re an introvert, can be a bit uncomfortable. Even nerve-wracking. Álvaro talks about how he uses his conference speaking engagements as “icebreakers”— and how he especially likes giving one of the early talks at a conference, so he has the rest of the time left to connect with people.

 

In the time of the pandemic, we were all doing webinars and online conferences. And we would try to emulate a real in-person conference, and it was super tiring and it was difficult to get feedback from the people because you don't see the audience. And then [I thought to myself] ‘Okay, if I'm going to do something online, I should probably do something that I cannot do in person.’

And I was having this idea for a long time to tell stories. It actually came after I read a book ‘The Phoenix Project’ that I thought was really good in terms of storytelling about CI/CD techniques. And I wanted to do something like that for Postgres. And then it came out, the idea with Monica DeBea.” – Boriss Mejías

Boriss’s virtual talk at Citus Con: An Event for Postgres 2023 was amazing. It’s titled Postgres Storytelling: Support in the Darkest Hour, and featured gorgeous artwork created by Scarlett Riggs.

 

The protagonist of Boriss’s story is a fictional DBA named “Monica DeBea” (get it, “DeBea”, which sort of sounds like DBA?) Boriss tells the story of Monica’s late-night struggle with the transaction ID wraparound problem with Postgres vacuum. And then Boriss shares how he conceived of this storytelling technique.

 

Storytelling-as-learning is a change of pace for a Postgres conference and many of us think it’s quite fun. And more importantly, it works! When your brain is tired after watching talk after talk, it’s refreshing to listen to a story (while still learning.)

 

“Giving talks [at Postgres conferences] gives us the opportunity to grow the Postgres community.

And growing the Postgres user community means we also grow the Postgres development community. Both directly because some of those users eventually become developers—and also indirectly because those users, as they interact with the software, provide very useful feedback for what should we do next… and how to evolve the software in a way that serves everybody.” – Álvaro Herrera

Both Álvaro and Boriss talk about how time-intensive it is to create conference talks—and yet even so, they still make the time to create talks and go to conferences to present them. Why? Listen to hear why they think engaging with the Postgres community at conferences is valuable. In particular, the opportunity to talk to real-world users of Postgres and get feedback from them is key.

 

“I've learned that humor [in a conference talk] is like salt to food. I mean, it enhances the taste of your food. But you can't have a plate of just salt, right?” – Boriss Mejías

Should you use humor in your presentations? Everyone on the show had an opinion. Boriss believes he can use a little bit of humor, but has to be quite sparing. Others (you can listen to find out who) felt they couldn’t use humor at all.

 

I know that I try to be funny as part of my effort to keep my audiences awake and not looking at their phones. Competing with cell phones is a challenge.

 

Inspiration for different types of conference talks

Also on this episode, several different types of conference talks were discussed. Here are some of the different categories of talks we explored in episode 3 of Path To Citus Con—although obviously there are more, this list is not complete by any means.

 

  • Storytelling talk, such as about problems a support engineer faces
  • “How to use” talks about features, diving into all the parameters etc.
  • “How to get started using” <insert Postgres capability/feature here>
  • Explain the use cases for a feature
  • Answering Questions that users or customers often ask
  • Explore Pain points or trouble spots—and tips to avoid them
  • How to become a Postgres hacker
  • How to create Postgres patches
  • “What I learned” as I was doing X for the first time (similar to “Today I Learned”)
  • “LFMF” Learn From My Failure talks
  • Customer stories & success stories

I wrote a blog post about why to give conference talks (or why to give Postgres talks) last year and I forgot to mention it during the episode. Talk about a missed opportunity. The blog post includes even more ideas and inspiration for different types of talks—plus how the investment can benefit you and your team.

 

Upcoming Postgres conferences

It's the beginning of Postgres conference season. If the podcast inspires you to attend some of the PG events (or to submit talk proposals into the CFPs), here are some of the events coming up around the world.

 

 

Where to find Path To Citus Con podcast episodes (and transcripts)

You can listen to and find the show notes online for this Why give talks at Postgres conferences episode with Álvaro and Boriss—and the transcript is online too.

 

Next podcast episode will be recorded live on Discord

 

  • When = Wed Oct 11 @ 10am PDT | 1pm EDT | 5pm UTC
  • Topic = How I got started as a developer (& in Postgres) with Andres Freund and Heikki Linnakangas
  • Calendar invite: To participate in the live text chat that happens in parallel to the live recording (it’s fun), mark your calendar. All the instructions for joining the live show on Discord are in the calendar invite.

You can find all the past episodes for Path To Citus Con on:

More useful links:

Thanks for listening! Since Path To Citus Con is a fairly new podcast for developers who love Postgres, if you enjoy the episodes, please be sure to spread the word! We really appreciate ratings and reviews, so more people will discover the podcast, and hopefully be as delighted as you.

Attribution: This blog post by Claire Giordano about Episode 3 highlights of the Path To Citus Con podcast (with guests Álvaro Herrera & Boriss Mejías) was originally published on the Citus Open Source Blog.

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