New Paint, New Focus

I have been privileged to work with fantastic Web designers who have helped me showcase my content. Years ago, the brilliant Shay Howe designed the first version of as a code and speaking portfolio site. Last month, I worked with the remarkably talented designer Kenton Quatman to freshen up the design, make the site responsive, and tighten the focus on my speaking engagements and writing. Both of these guys are fabulous to work with, and I hope you cross paths with them someday.

This site refresh reflects the sea change of my career over the last few years. My career has taken many twists and turns, and now it is taking another.

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Being Present

Two years ago, as the impending birth of my daughter was quickly approaching, I asked around for advise from the fathers I knew at the office. I was particularly interested in advice regarding the birth event itself, as it was not something I felt fully prepared for. Most advice was practical and calming, like “don’t stress out, humans have done this for millennia” and “let nature do its thing.” The “go with the flow” mentality suited my personality and felt comforting.

The advice that has stuck with me, however, was from my colleague John (fake name). His one piece of advice to me was, “Be present.”

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Inadvertent Sexism

Part of the Reflections on That Conference 2013 series.

I hesitated writing this one. The topic of sexism in tech culture (and specifically at tech conferences) is a hot topic and frankly I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. Like many guys, I’d like to think it’s not really that big of a deal. I’d taken the sexual harassment “webinars” and I’d never seen anything overt like that at Groupon. That means we’re in the clear, right?

Except that’s no longer the (primary) problem. With the exception of certain San Diego mayors, most guys have gotten it through their heads that outright sexist discrimination and harassment is unacceptable. Now we have to deal with inadvertant sexism, the language and actions that unintentionally reinforce a “boys club” tech culture and make women feel out of place or unwelcome.

I noted several cases of inadvertent sexism at That Conference, but I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I was the worst offender.

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An Open Space on Management

Part of the Reflections on That Conference 2013 series.

One thing That Conf has consistently offered its attendees is a dizzyingly large array of talks to choose from. Every hour, there are between 7 and 10 speakers sharing their expertise and passion, and you can only pick one! The organizers do a great job of ensuring each speaker is covering something different – open source, Microsoft, Web, cloud, desktop, mobile, frontend, backend, soft talks, tech talks, the list goes on. And still, I was torn between multiple talks every hour.

Given that, you can understand my initial doubt that an Open Space room would ever work.

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The Waterpark

Part of the Reflections on That Conference 2013 series.

You don’t really know someone until you have seen them helplessly plummeting down a water slide, their shrieking voice a unique mix of sheer invigoration and genuine fear for their life. They splash down in the pool, gasping for air, reassuring themselves that their swimsuit is still firmly attached.

I didn’t know it at the time, but something suddenly changed. The coworkers I had come to the conference with were suddenly friends. We didn’t know each other well, our interactions in the office were friendly but infrequent. We had some shared context within Groupon, but all that gave us were labels and roles, a hierarchical understanding of influence and value.

She recruits people. He makes performance enhancements. I lead a team. At this point, we are all just verbs.

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Jumping Off the Bandwagon

Part of the Reflections on That Conference 2013 series.

Historically, the conferences that I have attended and spoken at had narrow focuses and a homogeneous group of attendees. RailsConf, Fluent, Mile High Agile, Ruby on Ales — each is a great conference that brings together like minded people. This is useful when your work is anchored to a given technology; networking with other people using the same technologies gives you a chance to learn tips and tricks that are immediately actionable.

What I was missing was the bigger picture. I knew how Rubyists thought, how JavaScripters worked, how Agile gurus preached, but I was lacking external points of reference by which I could fairly evaluate the actual value and validity of the presented ideas.

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Reflections on That Conference 2013

I like That Conference. It’s a young conference; this August was only its second occurrence, and I’ve had the privilege to speak at both. It’s hosted at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, one of these enormous hotels that boasts both an exterior and interior water park. The conference has always been family friendly (hence the location), so I’ve enjoyed bringing my wife and daughter with me. I certainly look forward to when my daughter is old enough to attend the Lego Mindstorm kid programming sessions! She’s only a year and a half old, though, so in the meantime she’s building quite a proficiency in pool splashing.

While I enjoy the family atmosphere and the focus on bolstering tech in the Midwest, the thing that impresses me most about the conference is the vision and heart of the organizers. The passion they exude is abundant, and the fortitude it takes to build an event like this as volunteers is worthy of applause.

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About Me

Chris Powers

Chris Powers has been leading software development teams for the last twelve years, and he loves sharing his passion for building teams and software with audiences nationwide. As a Clean Coders author, Chris is producing an educational video series entitled "Clean Code in the Browser". Chris is a Director of Engineering at Sprout Social and lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with his wife and two children. In his free time he enjoys drumming and tabletop gaming.

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Twitter: @chrisjpowers