10 Year Anniversary

For those of you that do not know what CodeMash is, it is a tech conference put on at the Kalahari water park in Sandusky, OH.  The conference just celebrated its 10th year anniversary!  It is by far THE best tech conference in the great state of Ohio!  I haven’t attended all 10 years, but pretty close, probably 7 or 8 of them.  I remember attending the very first one when there was only a little over 200 people that attended.  I don’t know what the final tally was for the 2016 event, but I’m guessing it was somewhere around 2,000+ attendees.

My First Time Speaking At A Tech Conference

I’m no stranger to speaking in public.  It began as early as elementary school when I had some parts in school plays where I recited some lines and even some dance steps.  Then in my teens, I became a disc jockey where I used my speaking abilities to encourage people to come out to the dance floor.  Later in my professional career I came across Toastmasters, a communication and leadership program, where I joined a local chapter.

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Up to this point, I had never prepared a speech for any sort of conference.  It wasn’t that I was afraid to speak, but it was more about the topic or content I was providing people.  My concern was more around making sure people would get something useful from my talk.  My goal would be for them to walk away from my talk being intrigued to learn more on their own or hopefully build upon the knowledge they already have.

I didn’t let any of that worrying stop me.  When the CodeMash conference staff opened the doors for speaker submissions, I got started on writing my abstract.  With the help from some of my colleagues, they reviewed my draft write-ups and gave me valuable feedback.  I made the suggested edits to the abstract and two days before the deadline, I submitted my talk.

Over 1,100 talks were submitted to the CodeMash conference staff this year, so I had to wait a full month before knowing whether or not my talk would get selected.  On September 30, 2015, I received an email that happily stated my talk on “A/B Testing Mobile Apps and Tools That Help!” had been accepted!  It was truly a great feeling but this only meant that the hard work was just beginning!

Before I go on any further, let me explain what A/B testing is in general for those that may not know.  A/B testing is a practice where companies or individuals writing software applications, whether it be a web or mobile application, can test various visual components of a deployed application while the user interacts with it.  Basically, in the case of a mobile application, two screens are being compared against each other, unbeknownst to the users.  One version is considered a baseline or control and the other a variation.  The baseline and variation are distributed evenly meaning, 50% of the time the baseline is shown and the variation is shown the other 50% (the distribution can be adjusted).  The way the users interact with each version provides feedback and then offers suggestions to which screen yields better results.  From there, a software team will decide what updates to make to the app and make those available to users as an update.

In order to build my presentation, the presentation needed to revolve around an iOS mobile application that I had already built, well, sort of.  What I mean is, I had been working on the app for an internal project at work that introduced me to A/B testing.  The first version of the app was clunky and not at a point to where I felt it was ready for presenting.  So I decided to rewrite the application and apply the fixes it needed.  In addition, I felt that I could also get a taste of Apple’s new programming language called Swift.  The Swift programming language seemed to make things a bit more simple but I ran into one complication that made the app unpresentable.  So I went back to the Objective-C programming language and rewrote the app for the third time.  Like the first two versions, I managed the code with a GIT code repository but the only difference this time, I managed it by marking it at different checkpoints.  This gave me the assurance that if something didn’t go right, I had a good fallback to work from.  Needless to say, I got the app to a point that I liked and I could add it to the presentation.

The Day of the Presentation

Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t nervous and all my worrying about people liking and finding the content useful, well, it was as good as it was going to get at this point!  I arrived at the room I was to speak in a bit early and I was glad I did.  It’s something I’ve always known, arrive early to test the equipment and make sure you have everything you need.  I hooked up my laptop, connected the projector cable, and everything looked good.  The one thing I didn’t expect was no power from the outlet I plugged into.  Luckily, CodeMash provides each speaker with a room proctor.  Their job is to make sure you have everything you need and my room proctor did just that!  In no time, I had a live outlet!  All systems go!

I watched the clock as it approached 3:30p, the start time for my session.  As the time rolled into view, I kicked things off!  I gave my intro, gave the background on A/B testing, provided an example of a case where a company could have benefited from A/B testing, began my introduction to an A/B testing tool called Taplytics, and finished with some demos.  After 45 minutes of presenting I was done!  The audience offered up a few questions and provided one person with some additional visuals to further answer his question.  Overall I got some good feedback but I would have preferred a little larger turnout.  I joked with a few developer friends by saying, “well, it is a developer conference, no one likes testing!”

Looking Forward

Learning something new, like A/B testing, rewriting a demo app three times, preparing slides, and rehearsing, was it worth it?  You bet it was!  It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to submitting this talk to other conferences, as well as finding my next topic for CodeMash 2017!  Let the speaking portion of my career begin!

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