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July 14, 2017

Why Speak at a Conference?

By IT Revolution
DevOps Enterprise Summit

Because you have an interesting story to tell.

One piece of advice we continue to receive from the tech community is to answer the call to include as many diverse viewpoints as possible when programming a conference. Moreover, the goal of integrating women speakers has continued to present itself in new and interesting ways. In fact, we wish more women would submit for our call for presentations and we are always interested in better ways to cultivate those desired actions. Therefore, we thought a Q&A with a few of our past DevOps Enterprise Summit speakers was in order. We asked a few questions to Margo Cronin, formerly of Zurich Insurance, Courtney Kissler of Starbucks, Alexa Alley of Hearst Business Media and Nicole Forsgren of DevOps Research and Assessment, who were generous enough to participate. Read below to learn about their experiences at DevOps Enterprise Summit and get some sage advice about speaking at a tech conference.

Q&A with Past DevOps Enterprise Summit Speakers

IT Revolution: What influenced your decision to present at DevOps Enterprise Summit?


Alexa Alley

Alexa Alley, Program Manager, Hearst Business Media

Alexa Alley: I spoke at DOES16 San Francisco and the feedback from people who attended and saw the talk was overwhelmingly positive. I believe I have a great story to tell and experiences that are valuable for people across all departments and organizations. The opportunity to share my experience, and hopefully help others facing similar challenges, to bring DevOps and collaboration into their business is very gratifying.

We are all part of a large community and should help one another when there is the opportunity. I also want to learn from attendees how they may have overcome similar challenges we are facing and see how I can learn from them. Presenting is not just about sharing my own experience, but learning from others and being able to expand how I can improve my own processes and continue to grow as a professional and individual.

Margo Cronin

Margo Cronin, Former Head of Technology Architecture, Zurich Insurance Company

Margo Cronin: Honestly, my driver was a personal goal. I had set a goal to speak more in public. One of the reasons to do this was not only to “face a fear,” but to challenge what I was doing in the context of the wider marketplace.

Frequently, when you work in any large institution/enterprise/company for a long period of time, you start doing things the company way. Terms get skewed and company specific processes take over. I wanted to talk about what I was doing publicly to challenge my own work in the context of the wider industry—to make me a better team player and leader.


Nicole Forsgren

Nicole Forsgren, Founder and CEO, DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA)

Nicole Forsgren: The biggest motivator for me is the opportunity to participate in the community and to share the things I’ve learned. I used to be worried that what I did wasn’t interesting or was common sense. But then I realized it was only common sense to me because I had done it. It was valuable and interesting to others, and by sharing what I had learned, I gained additional insights, I helped others along their path, and, most importantly, I opened up a dialog that otherwise just didn’t happen. That ongoing dialog has proven to be the most valuable to me in my career: I’ve met the best people and had the best discussions that have helped me learn the most about myself, about my work, and about the industry.

Courtney Kissler

Courtney Kissler, Vice President, Retail Technology, Starbucks

Courtney Kissler: I was encouraged to submit by people I trusted and respected in the DevOps community. I hadn’t really considered it before and wasn’t sure if anyone would want to hear from a leader vs. a practitioner. The input and feedback I received from the group was that a lot of people appreciated hearing about how leaders are contributing to the success of a DevOps transformation and that my background of starting in Ops and moving into Dev provided a unique perspective on that journey.



ITR:  What has the experience of presenting at DevOps Enterprise Summit meant to you (personally and professionally)?

AA: I have felt so welcomed by the community of people at DevOps Enterprise Summit. Professionally, this conference has given me avenues to reach out to people who are going through, or who have gone through similar challenges. We are able to collaborate and share ideas and success stories to make our own businesses more successful. You are never alone when facing a challenge, so being able to reach out to this community helps to broaden my knowledge and skill set for tackling internal processes. Personally, I have gained friends and a support system across the world. Events like this allow like-minded individuals to connect and bond in ways that are not always available in your own community.

MC: It was incredible both professionally and personally.

It is a very professional established conference, very well put together. I was really positively surprised by the support and feedback I got putting my session together. I got excellent guidance and the areas I was concerned about most (slides not being technical enough, etc.) I got clear answers and support from the programming committee.

Professionally, I was very impressed with the attendees, the audience were all from enterprises similar to mine. … I got to talk to similar people as myself in other banks and insurance companies. I am actively in touch, more than a year later, with quite a few people I met at the conference. The conference audience was really a perfect size. I have since been to conferences that were too big and that kind of professional mingling was not possible.

Personally, it was a great learning experience. Putting the abstract together, putting the speech together, practicing the delivery. However, what I was surprised about was how much I learned from having to structure my experience into a speech format. I could see at the beginning how much we achieved and what our biggest challenges were, but putting the speech together made me analyze our failures more carefully and really examine what I and my teams had learned.

NF: I think I hinted at this above: It’s all about the community. I think it helps show there are people leading the transformation that we might not have expected. Personally, I’ve met some of my favorite people at DOES and forged some great friendships. By presenting, it has opened me up to additional conversations and dialog that I don’t think I would have participated in before. Professionally, I think the benefits are twofold: I benefit from learning new things and being invited to more things. Being a presenter has a boomerang effect, so I’m invited to be a presenter and a panelist again in the future, and I meet more people and have more opportunities. Second, I benefit by having opportunities to share the work that my team and I are doing. This helps the community to learn and grow, so it’s not just selfish, but it also helps establish me and my organization as an innovator in the field.

CK: It was a stretch for me to present at DevOps Enterprise Summit because I am not comfortable speaking in front of large groups. But I’ve met some amazing people being a part of this community. I have learned so much and the sharing has been instrumental in my personal and professional journey.

ITR: What is one piece of advice you would give a woman in tech who is hesitant to present at a tech conference?

AA: This is such a wonderful and welcoming community of individuals and professionals. We all want to see each other succeed and do well personally and professionally. Presenting at a conference like DevOps Enterprise Summit has opened many doors and connections with people that I may not have gotten the chance to meet and learn from. Every experience, both good and bad, is valued and respected by this group of people.

My advice is to take a chance and make yourself vulnerable and open to those in the community; I guarantee you will form new relationships and become part of a group that will support you in your transformation for DevOps and success.

MC: Stay clear of the sayings and the buzzwords. DevOps is an established methodology, so you don’t need to write an inspirational speech on why DevOps works. This is known.

My advice is this: You have a story to tell. What is your story? Take a step back, write down the key points of your transformation journey and/or role in this, and examine what your story actually is. If you were someone’s mentor, what learnings would you share with them based on your own experience?

Do not be wary if your journey is not complete or only starting, you have a story—tell it!

NF: Get out there and try it! I know it’s intimidating, and honestly, I feel you. I’m not sure I would have done it if I didn’t have to: I started because I was an academic and we have to present our research. We literally have no choice. But once I got up and gave a few talks, I realized it was okay. And honestly, the audience is rooting for you!

CK: Pick 1–3 people to help you prepare well ahead of time. I focused on having someone I trusted to give me tough and constructive feedback, someone I could iterate on the content (a good storyteller) and someone I would consider the target audience member (persona).

ITR: Is there anything else you would like us to know?

NF: If you don’t see any women speakers, that means a conference needs you. Definitely submit to a CFP, and even reach out to a conference organizer and ask if they have tips to help your submission be successful! I’ve chaired a few conferences myself, and we’re always happy to help and offer tips.

Special thanks to our past speakers for their feedback on their experiences. We look forward to connecting with them again this November in San Francisco!

CK: I love how this community is all about learning and sharing. If a new speaker thinks about it that way, hopefully that will help with getting over the initial fear.  It’s a truly supportive community and asking for help is seen as a strength.


Be sure to join us at DevOps Enterprise Summit San Francisco this November! If you register before July 31, 2017 you can save 20% on tickets!

- About The Authors
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IT Revolution

Trusted by technology leaders worldwide. Since publishing The Phoenix Project in 2013, and launching DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2014, we’ve been assembling guidance from industry experts and top practitioners.

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