I Got Into the PostgreSQL Community By Speaking…And You Should Too!

Seriously, you should. You should submit a talk proposal to PGConf US 2015 – the worst thing that will happen is the talk committee will say “no” and offer a bunch of reasons to help you get your talk approved next year! Believe it or not, speaking at a PostgreSQL conference is a great way to help the community at large, and I hope this personal story I am going to share will shed some light as to why.

[Note: I like to keep things concise, but I wanted to share as much of the story as possible, so if you have a short attention span you may not read the full post, but you will miss out.]

I never took a database class in high school or college (though I took plenty of computer science and math), yet I always loved using databases for my miscellaneous web and research projects, particularly PostgreSQL. I knew it was an open source project, I knew there was a community that supported it, but being young(er) and naïve, I did not know the extent I could participate in such a community.

Once upon a time, I helped manage content at a calculator enthusiast website (did I just tip my hand at how nerdy I am?) called “ticalc.org,” which was founded and run by an even bigger nerd than me, Magnus Hagander. Magnus, now on the core PostgreSQL team, was quickly inundated with questions about my web development projects and guided me towards using PostgreSQL.

Fast-forward to where I am about a year out of college and using PostgreSQL professionally (or at least claiming it was professional) in all my projects. Magnus, along with others from the PostgreSQL.EU community, were running a PostgreSQL conference in Paris, and for reasons that I’m still unsure of, Magnus encouraged me to submit a talk. I had been using ORMs to interact with my PostgreSQL databases and thought “why not talk about my experience?” The talk, to my surprise, was accepted.

I arrived, very excitedly, in Paris to speak at my first professional conference, but still felt unsure of why I was there. At the outset, the only person I know is Magnus, but quickly I start to meet a lot of longtime PostgreSQL supporters. Through my first day of conversations, I realized a few of things:

  1. Wow, these people are smart
  2. Wow, these people are really smart
  3. Wow, not only are they smart, but they are good at explaining things. And they are really patient and are really trying to help me.
  4. …wait, am I the dumbest person here?
  5. …yes, I am. And I am speaking the next day.

My talk was far from perfect (e.g. I mispronounced “PostgreSQL”), but it went well enough. I received a lot of constructive feedback on my thoughts and ideas, learned a lot more about PostgreSQL, and, much to my surprise, people there wanted to listen to me to help improve my PostgreSQL experience!

And the warmth, support, and desire to get better as a community was not a one-experience. At the next EU conference in Stuttgart, I remember being asked by Dave Page, one of the organizers and a PostgreSQL core member and someone who I hardly knew at time, for feedback on the keynote and conference overall. I thought to myself "Wow, they really do care!" I gave a talk on the new PostgreSQL 9.0 release and only received one question from the end: it was from Heikki Linnakangas, who worked on some of the key components for streaming replication, who asked (slightly paraphrased) “You’re using streaming replication in production? Cool! How is it working? Is it having any issues? Anything I can help with?”

Could I have made these realizations and connections in the PostgreSQL community without speaking at a conference? Sure, but speaking allowed a few things that may not have happened otherwise:

  1. I had to take my thoughts, research them further, and present them in a structured manner
  2. As much as I was trying to present new ideas to the community, in turn I was looking for new ideas too, and giving a talk was a way to catalyze this communication
  3. Though I would talk for 50 minutes, I could setup a topic of conversation for later, where people would come up to me for questions, comments, corrections, thoughts, ideas, etc.

I know public speaking is tough for people, but like any skill, it becomes easier with more experience. I still make lots of mistakes in my talks, both technical and with delivery, but I learn from them, and the PostgreSQL community is very supportive of doing so. And quite frankly, we will be with you too.

At PGConf US 2015, you have the opportunity to join the PostgreSQL community at one of, if not the, largest PostgreSQL events in the world – your own 50-minute forum to present an idea, teach us how you do something, inspire the community to approach a problem in a different way.
We succeed as a community if we can share our knowledge and grow, and to do that, we need new people to share new ideas.

All that remains to be said is: where is your talk submission?