The Lead Developer 2016 and My Impostor Syndrome

Two months ago, I promised a longer post about what The Lead Developer conference was like for me this year. It occurred at the end of June, but I’ve taken my sweet time writing an update to my short summary. Sorry about that! It’s been a very full summer! The video of my 30 minute talk is available on Vimeo here.

The first thing to know about my experience at The Lead Developer is that I submitted my talk, “Addressing Impostor Syndrome,” and it didn’t make the cut, initially. The organizers kindly emailed me to say they’d love to have me speak, but needed to make hard choices, and would I consider attending anyway? I pondered. Since my friend Heidi Waterhouse was speaking, and it was an event I was excited about, in a location I wanted to visit this summer anyway, I searched for inexpensive flights and made my plans.

I took a selfie from the stage! Photo by Katura Jensen at The Lead Developer.
I took a selfie from the stage of the conference, naturally, first thing. This will help me in future when struggling with my own Impostor Syndrome! Photo by Katura Jensen.

It was with a bit of shock, therefore, that I arrived in London to an email asking if I could perhaps give my Impostor Syndrome talk after all, since there had been a speaker cancellation. I had about 48 hours to take my two-to-three-hour workshop on Impostor Syndrome and condense it into 30 minutes. Months prior, this had seemed like an excellent and simple idea. Under a tight deadline, however, I worried it would be a disaster. My own struggles with impostor syndrome reared up, and I considered declining. After some additional consideration, however, I decided that it was a good opportunity and I had lots of encouragement from the organizers and from local friends, so I said yes.

First things first: I needed to revise or recreate the talk entirely. I replaced nearly all of my workshop powerpoint and decided to implement Google Slides for the first time. Replacing my slides meant I changed my timing pretty easily, since I changed my banter with the slides, but putting them in Google Slides turned out to have … unintended consequences. More on that in a bit.

It’s worth noting that this conference was the most supportive of speakers I have ever encountered. During the conference, White October Events staff were there to provide meals and quiet space in the green room, make sure all tech worked, facilitate the speakers meeting each other in a pre-conf dinner, etc. They made sure food preferences and needs were taken into account everywhere, too — even as a last-minute addition, I never had to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find something to eat or drink. All of that at-con work is in addition to the months prior, when they had spent many hours encouraging potential speakers and attendees to submit talks and bring themselves to this event. The conf staff highlighted how important a range of experiences and speakers is with their words and actions.

Speakers at The Lead Developer 2016 in London, UK. Photo by Katura Jensen.
(Most of the) Speakers at The Lead Developer 2016 in London, UK. Photo by Katura Jensen.

From their Call For Proposals: “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.” This commitment is followed up by having a strong Code of Conduct and commitment to accessibility (including specifics on the accessibility of the venue as well as live captioning for all talks, aka CART). These things make it easier for marginalized people of various identities to have confidence that they will be treated well at the event, and know what to do if something untoward occurs.

I credit this pre-con work as the foundation upon which The Lead Developer created a speaker lineup that had 12 women out of 23 total speakers. Without outing anyone, I will say that at least 7 of those speakers were of other intersectional identities, as well. I was and remain very impressed. White October Events staff were top notch, is what I’m saying.

This supportive environment was therefore primed to be helpful rather than judgmental when something went wrong. In the real world, mistakes happen, and we had a couple of technical difficulties during the conference. Slides for one of the talks somehow didn’t work at runtime, which caused a sudden change in order so that the difficulty could be addressed. My own talk had tech challenges, which was a fascinating microcosm on its own.

Remember, I basically created this talk anew in the 48 hours prior to the conference. I uploaded the slides to Google Slides, my first ever experience with this service from Google. I was nervous, but had practiced a bit the night before, and felt pretty good about my talk, going into it. I had a slide remote clicker thingie, and everything! This was exciting, for me, because I live an exciting life. 😉

Crystal Huff, speaking at The Lead Developer 2016 in London, UK. Photo by Katura Jensen.
Crystal Huff, speaking from the heart on Impostor Syndrome at The Lead Developer 2016 in London, UK. Photo by Katura Jensen.

The first few times my slides didn’t advance when I was pressing the “next” button were probably not noticeable to the audience. I figured the remote needed to be more precisely aimed, tried again, and it worked. I moved on with my talk. This happened several times, which was anxiety-producing, but I managed through it.

There were two times when the slides didn’t advance and I couldn’t cover for it more, though. It turns out that my slides were relying on the conference wifi, and I thought I had told Google to work from my local copy. The conference wifi was not as reliable as one might have hoped. So that … didn’t work out too well for me, on the one hand. On the other hand, though, it was a marvelous opportunity to walk the walk, and address my own Impostor Syndrome! I managed that struggle reasonably well in the moment, I think.

The really lovely part was that while I was busy troubleshooting my wifi issue from the stage with the tech assistance (which, goodness, took a nerve-wracking minute or three!), one of the conference organizers, Meri Williams, stood up to encourage the audience to be supportive. I think she led the audience in a quick superhero pose exercise, if memory serves. It was quite appreciated!

My slides back in order and all righted, I continued with my talk, and it went quite well despite the anxiety in the middle. Reviewing the video, I see places where I missed some of what I intended to say, but it came off, and done is done. You can see the video here:


My wifi snafu also stood me in good stead when the next speaker up had slides that wouldn’t display at all. I was able to point to my experiences as someone with technical difficulties during my talk, and reassure her that we’d fix the problem and it would be fine. And so it was. 🙂 She tried again, after a brief pause for technical help, and nailed it.

Andrew Polhill drew these sketch notes of my Impostor Syndrome talk!
Andrew Polhill drew these sketch notes of my Impostor Syndrome talk!

There was a bit of micro- and macro-blogging about my talk, in the moment and afterwards…

There were several blog posts about the conference in general which mentioned me in particular. Notably, Cate Huston reviewed and live-tweeted my talk, and Dylan Schiemann posted about it to his blog. Andrew Polhill’s sketch notes about my talk are to the right, here.

So! All in all, I’m very pleased to report that my Lead Dev talk, “Addressing Impostor Syndrome,” came out pretty well, and I’m glad to have the video from it, too.

Videos of all of the talks at 2016 The Lead Developer are available here:

Slide decks of all of the talks are available here:

More photos from the event, taken by Katura Jensen, are here:

One thought on “The Lead Developer 2016 and My Impostor Syndrome

  1. Lovely write-up! I submitted to The Lead Dev’s NYC CFP, and now you have me even MORE excited about the conference.

    If ever your impostor syndrome starts to nag on your speaking, just remember that you delivered a talk under what would be worst nightmare circumstances for many people (48 hours notice AND technical difficulties?!). And it sounds like you did it with grace.

    New life goal: Get someone to sketchnote one of my talks.


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