Half a decade of public speaking

Posted by Katie McLaughlin on November 4, 2019

Previous articles: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

Last time on Public Speaking Summaries:

I am looking forward to a break coming up soon. It’s sorely needed.


Five years ago today I gave my first conference presentation.


Talk 81, Being kind to 3am you, Christchurch, NZ, Jan 2019

~time passes~

Talk 94, Being kind to 3am you, Auckland, NZ, Oct 2019

Looking at those two talks, as a snapshot, a few things stand out. The same talk title, the same country, and the fact there’s a bit of a gap between the normal November or December “first talk”. But this one, is January. And yet I’ve still got a good baker’s dozen talks in this year.

This last year has been… ‘rollercoaster’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Two weeks after I got back from my last talk in last year’s summary, I left my job. It was a combination of factors that lead to that decision, but one of the major ones was I was in a role where I was on-call remotely and not able to travel as much as I previously was, conference or no. I had to withdraw on a number of opportunities, and that wasn’t going to work for me. I left without another job to go directly into. I was fortunate enough to in a position where I could do this, and I had options for small paid writing gigs in-between, but I didn’t have a safety net of a new position to go directly into. That’s scary.

It’s not the first time that my public speaking has led to major career disruption. I’ve given a keynote before, mentioning that time that I was let go six weeks after a presentation for my employer. For a few events there, I was attending purely for the joy of it, entirely of my own volition.

The week I left my old employer, I got notification that I had been accepted to speak at PyCascades in Seattle, WA. I ended up being scheduled as the first talk of that event. The morning of the first day of PyCascades, I signed my contract with Google as a Developer Advocate on Google Cloud. I gave the talk I’d used in my interview at Google, in front of a crowd that included many of my now co-workers and peers.

And the last 7 months have been.. wow.

I’m doing developer advocacy as a job now. I don’t also have to be on-call, also have to be doing development, also having to be fixing the systems. I can just have one full-time job now. Speaking is no longer a gluttonous hobby. It’s my career.

And.. wow.

It’s really hard to describe the change of having to go from fighting to attend a conference, having to share accomodation, the flight on miles, and eating into your annual leave, all while representing your company; to being able to have entire systems - both people and technology - designed to help you make the most impact with your travel, to make your advocacy scale, to have peers to collaborate with.

To have the work you do with and for the community you love be used to show how you are helping your employer and community at the same time, rather than hindering by being away for the odd week or two a quarter.

I’ve been able to find ways to improve my presentations and “scalable advocacy” (Did You Know that you can blog and not have to get on a plane to present your ideas to an audience? It’s True!). There is always a little happy you get when the thing you worked out from trial, error, and first principles turns out to be a stonkingly good idea.

I’m able to take my experience and stories and failures and help people like me. As a job.

And while my mum may not know what exactly it is I do, she at least knows who I work for. 😆

I’m having a hard time trying to articulate just how proud and chuffed and thankful I am that I’ve been able to finally find a place where my skills and talents are not just tolerated, but appreciated and encouraged.

Yes, one could say that I am still in my “honeymoon period” at this company. That same keynote mentioned earlier, I had just changed jobs, and I think I said something along the lines of “and it’s pretty good, at the moment”. Nothing is forever. I’ve been through the cycles a few times now. But right now, it’s pretty good.

Here’s to another half decade. 💜