Steven HicksAboutSpeaking

2018 In Review

2019 will be the year of balance for me. And I wish you the same.


A year is a long time. What you feel about yourself today is most certainly different than what you felt about yourself one year ago.

They say that the most important parts of a talk/lecture/presentation are the very beginning, where you hook them...and the very end, which is what they remember. The same could be said for a year. You could do 100 amazing things in the first nine months, but if the last three months stunk? You'd think you had an awful year.

That explains why I had a hard time remembering what I was most proud of when I looked back at my 2018 in December.

I took a look back at my Twitter feed from 2018, though, and things looked pretty dang good.

I Did More Speaking Than Expected!

Heading into 2018, I thought that I was going to have to cut back on speaking. My job wasn't happy about me taking time "off" to speak.

But I still managed to present 12 times! This is as many times as I presented in 2017.

I took a few vacation days to do it, which I wasn't thrilled about. I also had some help from my friend Tony advocating for me at work, convincing people that I was helping the company. I also did a good amount of local speaking - 5 times out of 12, to be precise. This breakdown also mirrored my 2017 speaking engagements.

At CodeMash

My speaking year started off with a trip to Ohio for CodeMash, a conference I'd heard a lot of things about. My talk went great, but my highlight was giving a lightning talk.

In one of the pre-compilers, we learned how to use a Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) to take a bunch of samples of text, and generate similar samples. It turns out there is a huge collection of TED Talk transcripts available - I used them to generate a new TED Talk, which I then presented at the CodeMash lightning a TED Talk. It was super fun!

You can listen to the talk on YouTube.

At Open Source North

Open Source North is one of my favorite conferences to speak at. Jeff Urban puts together a great conference.

The venue is also great:

I had a great time here, and a lot of people joined me to talk about React testing.

10/10 would do again....though I can't submit this year, due to it being held on my partner's birthday.

At That Conference

That Conference is a special event to me - the first conference I attended, and the place I caught the speaking bug. I was thrilled to speak for the second time here. Even more thrilled when one of my speaker heroes, Cory House, walked into the room halfway into my talk. If you watch the video, you can hear me say "Hi, Cory!" because I am a total spaz and got excited.

In A Hot Dog Costume

In the fall, I spoke for the first time at the Milwaukee JS meetup. Because it was halloween, and because I have a children's hot dog costume in my closet that I haven't gotten enough value out of, I talked about EleventyJS and Netlify while in a children's hot dog costume.

You can watch a recording of this talk!

I tried something in this talk that I don't usually do, and that I usually caution people to avoid - live demos. It felt like the right conditions for demos. I knew the subject very well, and I thought the meetup audience would want more than slides.

I'm not sure if it was the right decision. At the very least, I would not do demos while wearing a hot dog costume again. I spent a lot of time moving the costume out of my face while typing.

I also literally put someone to sleep in this talk. It was night-time and he was older, but I also just went way too long. But I'm one of the few people who can say I've done live demos while in a hot dog costume!

I Started Recording My Talks

One of my "goals" (what even are goals?) is to speak at an international conference. I'd heard from several people that many larger/international conferences won't even consider you without a video. I've not spoken at a conference that recorded my talk, so I took it upon myself and started recording my talks.

Inspired by advice from Jeremy Clark and Justin James, I decided the video mattered less than the audio. I bought a cheap-ish action camera (GoPro Hero Session); it's fine. It records video! But not great video. It lasts long enough on one charge to do slightly more than one hour-long session.

I traded a bike trailer with Ivan Eisenberg for a Zoom recorder. It is much better than the camera. I wear two microphones when I'm presenting, to get good recorded sound, but no one makes fun of me. (At least not to my face.)

I'm not great at editing. Correction - I'm not even mediocre. It's hard to get good at something when you do it about 4 times a year. But hey, people can see that I don't throw up on myself when I speak, and that's all that matters. I think?

I Did Less Writing Than I'd Hoped

I was secretly hoping to write about one article a month in 2018. I ended up with less than half that. I spent a lot of time working on talks/workshops, and it prevented me from writing more.

I shared a few of my articles on Medium. I wrote about what we can learn about unit testing from a Russian playwright, I shared some tips for writing a conference talk, and I offered advice on submitting an idea to a conference.

But I Got Paid To Write!

I've kicked around the idea of getting into developer relations for a while. One thing I've never been sure about is being paid to write/speak about a specific product, instead of "whatever I want." This feels like a situation where I'd have trouble motivating myself.

I got an opportunity to find out, when Fly accepted my proposal to write an article for them. They have a great team. They were really helpful getting me up to speed with Fly Edge Apps, and they helped me craft an idea and a solid article.

I came away from the experience feeling like I could definitely write/speak for a living, especially if I believed in the product. I'm still worried about the amount of travel that a dev advocate does. That just isn't realistic for me right now. But maybe this type of role is in my future.

I Was On A Podcast! Twice!

Early in 2018, David Pine connected me with Dave Rael, and I got to be a guest on the Developer On Fire podcast! I had a great time talking to Dave about "doing scary things", becoming a speaker, and tightening your feedback loops. And the movie "Medicine Man".

In early summer, while at Music City Tech in Nashville, I got a chance to record another podcast - this time with Matt Groves, on the Cross-Cutting Concerns podcast. We talked about the differences between writing an hour long talk and building a half-day workshop. Spoiler: there are differences.

My Scary Thing Was Workshops!

This time last year, I was trying to decide what my "scary thing" was going to be in 2018. I had some candidates, but I wasn't really sure where I wanted to invest my time.

While I was at CodeMash 2018, I bounced in between the workshops, taking notes on what seemed to work well and what didn't. By spring, I decided that leading workshops was where I wanted to put my energy for 2018. I started submitting workshop ideas to conferences. I was lucky enough to have ideas accepted twice.

Music City Tech

In late May, at Music City Tech in Nashville, I led a workshop called "Building Quality JavaScript With Test-Driven Development". It was 4 hours long, and took a lot of time to build. It went pretty well, but I definitely learned a few things about keeping people engaged & energized. I needed to take more breaks than I thought. My exercises were too long & too difficult. In one case, I made too large of a leap from one exercise to the next, and didn't give enough background or context.

Dev Up

In October, I led a workshop called "Building Your First React App" at the dev Up Conference in St. Louis. This went really well! I applied a lot of my learnings from my first workshop. Smaller exercises; more variety of exercises; lots of context & background for every exercise.

This was a full-day workshop - to be honest, I don't think a half-day workshop on React would be enough to really get someone started.

And A Trail Half Marathon!

Staying fit is as important to me as sharing with the tech community. I've raced about 3 triathlons a summer with my partner the last few years, and I've considered myself a mountain biker for the last 20 years. In 2018 I learned that I really really loved trail running. So much so that I've shifted my identity from "mountain biker" to "trail runner".

I have long said that I never wanted to run more than a 10k, but something about a half marathon on trail got me excited. I raced the North Face Endurance Challenge 10k in September of 2017, and loved it - this was enough to convince me I could do a half marathon in 2018.

And I did it! And I loved it. And it went great. Except the part where I forgot my water bottle at home. This was a bigger deal than you'd think - there was a 5 mile stretch in between water stations, and I drink a lot while I run.

And A Road Half Marathon!

And A New Job! (Again)

I started a new job in December, 2017. I didn't really enjoy it, for a variety of reasons. I knew pretty quickly that it was a temporary stop.

In June 2018, I met Jon Allured at Open Source North. We completely hit it off, and hung out a bunch that day. Within a couple weeks, he introduced me to Artsy, and I started a long interview process.

In October, 2018, I started as an engineer at Artsy. I'm working out of my basement, as the main office is in New York City. I love everything about it. I'm learning a ton. I'm becoming a Rails developer, which is a strange thing for me to say. One thing I know for sure - ruby developers use ❤️ emojis A LOT.

Cream City Code

In October, we held the first ever Cream City Code - a re-branded MKE DOT NET. I've helped organize this conference the last few years, and the day of the event is an absolute blast for me. Unfortunately, I missed most of it this year, due to a conflict. CCC was bigger than ever this year, and the team continues to get better at putting on this event. I am really proud of the lineup we put together for speakers this year - yet bummed that I barely got to see any of them 😢.


October was an absolute mess for me. I wrote a full-day workshop for dev Up Conference, spoke twice & led that workshop at dev Up, helped put on Cream City Code, started my new job and spent the first week in NYC, and spoke at MKE JS. Most of that happened in the first couple weeks of October. Things were rough at home, as I was spending a lot of time with people that weren't my family.

I had another event scheduled for October - LibertyJS. I had to cancel it. I felt really awful, but I did a really bad job of planning my month. In the end, I decided I would rather have the organizers of LibertyJS hate me than have my partner and kids hate me. I backed out.

I burned myself out. By the end of October, I didn't want to spend a minute of my free-time away from my family. I skipped Milwaukee Code Camp - an event that means a lot to me, as a local free event for the community. I just didn't have it in me.

I'm mostly over the burnout now. I did it to myself, though, and I need to be more mindful of my schedule in the future.


That's my 2018. What's ahead for 2019?

Less Speaking

Looking at open CFPs, I have a lot of conflicts for events that I'd like to submit to. I'm also doing a better job of communicating with my partner about the events that are on my radar. There just aren't nearly as many events I'll be submitting to this year.

I'm okay with this. The nice thing about less speaking is that I'll have more time for writing. I think I'll be able to meet my goal pace of one article per month.

The hardest part is that I'm not able to submit to two of my absolute favorite conferences: Open Source North and Self.conference. Hopefully things align better in 2020. (Holy crap. Next year is 2020.)

More Workshops!

On the other hand, I now have a really solid React workshop that I'm planning on giving more often. I'm submitting it to conferences, but I also plan on running it in Milwaukee a couple times, for the community here. I'll charge enough to get a space paid for and some food, and maybe enough money to buy myself a beer.

The Year of Trail Running

I ❤️ trail running. I love it. I've got several races on my calendar already for this year - including 2 half marathons, and a 9 mile race. I dream of a future where I am a crazy ultra-marathon runner. I don't have time for that yet, but this year I want to get my calves pretty dirty.

Combining trail races with triathlons and road races, I have 11 races that I'm looking at this year. I might have a problem.

Finding Balance

More than anything, I just want to find balance. I don't want to burn myself out again. I want to feel like I'm giving back to the Milwaukee & midwest dev community, and still have energy left for my family and running.

2019 is the year of balance for me. And I wish you the same.