JS Party – Episode #124
We got confs on lockdown
with special guest Quincy Larson
Emma, Divya, and Suz are joined by Quincy Larson from freeCodeCamp where they chat about virtual conferences. Are they better than in-person conferences? What are the differences? Let’s find out!
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Notes & Links
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Okay, welcome to JS Party! I am Emma Bostian, and today I am joined by two other wonderful lady panelists, Divya and Suz.
I think this is the first all-lady JS Party podcast we’ve had…
I think so. I’m very excited about this, actually.
Me as well. Very excited! Today we’re gonna talk about conferences, and specifically virtual conferences, because given everything happening with Covid-19, we’ve kind of switched into virtual conferences as a – not last resort, as a new resort… But I don’t think it’s a bad thing, and I’m excited to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of virtual conferences today. So have either of you had experiences with a virtual conference yet?
Yeah, so I spoke at a virtual conference last week called Live Coders Conf. I think that we were a little better positioned to do it, because it was essentially a bunch of livestreaming coders, who came together to give one talk each… So the whole thing was run by livestreamers; the speakers were livestreamers, the MCs were livestreamers, so we got really lucky… But we just wanted to give people a chance to learn development if they weren’t able to travel to be in person for their regular conferences, as a lot of people get to do every year.
Yeah, I’ve done one virtual conference so far… Well, actually two. I did NG-Conf, which is virtual, and that was like a very long virtual conference. I think NG-Conf goes for like a week. And then I did Perf Matters as well, which is a two-day conference, and that was virtual.
I think they had different ways of doing it. NG-Conf had some people do live talks, and then some of them were recorded, which was interesting… And then Perf Matters had the same thing, where people could choose between whether they wanted to record it before, or do it live. And I think that was to accommodate for if you have children, or if you have a situation that makes it hard for you to do live video while at home. Then it gives you the option of just recording it when you have a quiet moment, and then still being a part of the conference as well.
[04:07] Yeah, there’s much more flexibility when it comes to virtual conferences… And kind of seeing what’s happening on Twitter, people discussing virtual conferences, what I failed to realize is that some people actually find presenting virtually a lot more difficult, I would say myself included… But I have the added benefit of having worked on meeting software professionally for two years, so I was very used to using GoTo Meeting, and presenting over virtual meetings… So I didn’t have to think about that aspect of it. But I think the weirdest thing for me when I spoke at Lockdown Conf yesterday, which was hosted by FreeCodeCamp and Quincy Larson - the weirdest thing in those instances is you can’t gauge reactions of people… So if you are trying to be funny, or you have little jokes interspersed, you can’t actually get a reaction of people, so you kind of feel weird… I don’t like that.
I totally agree. I have a weird, sort of dead pan sense of humor, and also a lot of the time I’m giving talks to an American audience, and I’m Australian, so we all have sort of slightly different cultural ideas of humor… So I usually use that to gauge, “Okay, can I continue to make these jokes, or do people even find me funny?” So you kind of tend to – I didn’t realize that I adjust my [unintelligible 00:05:22.01] and I adjust my talk as I go along, because I’m feeding back from that body language and the audible laughter from the audience… So I think that you’ve really hit on a really good point there.
I enjoy presenting virtually far less than presenting in person as a result, because I wanna do such a good job, but it’s very hard to tell if you’re doing a good job.
Yeah, I think oftentimes with conferences, especially – I mean, this is a very interesting situation, because I’ve done virtual conferences that were not doing Covid-19… So like Concatenate Conf is a virtual conference and they did it last year and the year before, and that was purely like when you could still do physical conferences… They built it with virtual in mind, and so they had a live feed of the audience, so you could see people. It wasn’t the same as being physically there, but you could sort of gauge reactions and get a sense of how people were perceiving the talk.
I think the interesting thing with the current situation is a lot of conferences were built to be physical, and then they were forced to become virtual just as a way to keep ticket sales and maintain. Basically, to keep the conference organizers afloat a little… Which sometimes meant that you kind of got a bit of a loss, from the speakers’ perspective. Also from the participants, because you don’t get as much engagement as if you were in-person.
Also, the other assumption I find organizers sometimes making is that you want the same speakers to be on the agenda, but oftentimes it’s just really hard to be like “I was supposed to physically be there, but I have to do it virtually”, because to me, it’s a lot more work to give a talk virtually, even though I have given that talk before… Just because for me it’s a matter of - like Suz was mentioning - I gain a lot from being in front of an audience, because it’s the similar thing of just understanding where people are at… Because sometimes you talk about a concept and you might talk about it at a high level, and people might give you blank stares, or they might look confused, and you might want to elaborate more on that… And if you don’t have that feedback, it’s really hard for you to gauge whether or not things are landing, like jokes are landing, whether concepts are landing… So that’s something I feel like you miss a lot of from just like moving from physical to virtual conferences, without thinking about the impact that that might have.
[07:48] Yeah. I was just thinking about all the differences… In-person conferences - I have to think a lot about what am I gonna wear, because I wanna look nice, but I also wanna be comfortable… And in a virtual setting it’s a little bit less so. I don’t have to wear pants, if I don’t want to… [laughter] I mean, should I? Yeah, probably… [laughter]
On the flipside of things, when we’re doing virtual conferences, technology can fail. So my conference talks - the one I was prepared to do this year was all live coding. Well, when internet is a little bit sketchy sometimes, you can’t rely on live coding being a great way to present your topic, because as you’re typing, there’s such a lag, potentially… So at that point now I have to go make code snippets for every step of the way, and put that in the slides… So you’re right, it is a lot more work to present at a virtual conference.
But then I think additionally, this community aspect - and we’ll talk about this in the next segment, the benefits and drawbacks of virtual conferences… But you’re not getting facetime with the participants, and as an attendee of a conference, it’s a little bit harder, unless you’re setting up Discord chats or Slack channels for your conference attendees… Like, how do I actually engage with the speakers?
Yeah, I think that is hitting the nail on the head of what feels missing, even if you back-fill all of the other things, which is that connection. I didn’t realize that a lot of my experiences, both as an attendee and as a speaker at conferences - connection, finding people who are like-minded with you, having that one little… You know, it’s always the cliché, the hallway track, which I actually mostly hate the hallway track, because I’m so introverted… But when you have that one little magical conversation with somebody, that can just give you either the motivation to keep staying in this tech industry, or it gives you a little thread to research for a personal project, or something like that… And that, dare I say serendipity, is just not there as much.
So I think that talking about having that Slack channel or some kind of chat channel I think is incredibly important to keeping that going, especially when a speaker is giving a talk. So I think it’s really weird to think about it in this way, but generally when you give a talk in person, people are very quiet and they listen. But if you’re giving a talk virtually, you have an opportunity to open up a chat and actually be looking at that while you’re presenting… And if something’s not clear, you can actually kind of end up editing your talk as you go along… So even though you don’t have body language, if you have the chat, you can actually kind of turn the talk into something, if you’re confident; you can turn it into something that the attendees who were there at that time actually want or need. I think that’s actually a really interesting concept, too. I think that the tech that the conference provides is really important to guaranteeing a good connection with the speaker.
I think one thing that I want to see more of is – I don’t think it’s a solved problem in terms of emulating the hallway tracks online. For instance, you used the term “serendipity”, and I think it’s cliché, but it’s also a very good term to describe it, because there are often times when I have conversations with people that I didn’t think I would have talked to them… So you just happen to be there, and then happen to start talking to someone, or someone starts talking to you and then you just realize “Oh, I’m really glad I had that conversation…” I find it really hard to replicate that online, because on Slack it just feels very – it’s synchronous, but it feels asynchronous. I can just walk away from it if I want to.
So the level of connection is really different, because it’s just – like, I’m fairly introverted, but I prefer physical communication than virtual, just because virtual drains me a lot more… Because I feel the need to always be available and just answer immediately, versus organically answering things and having tone and context add into that, and body language…
It’s something I think about, because I’ve seen conferences try to do this – so Pert Matters did this, where they tried to do topic tables… So they would have different Google Hangouts in between talks, in between sections of the conference, where they encouraged attendees to join a Hangout to sort of meet other attendees and get to know people and talk about various things.
[12:09] But the interesting thing is – I was talking to Estelle about this, because she really wanted to foster that community that conferences tend to have… But the issue with doing a virtual hangout versus an in-person one is that it’s way more intimidating. I was a speaker and I just felt really awkward just joining a Zoom Hangout, just because I was like – it’s so intrusive to be like “Let me just join this Hangout, because people are talking in there”, but I have no context on who’s in there, what they’re talking about at that point in time… When you’re at a conference, you can just saunter up and awkwardly edge yourself into a group…
Yeah, do the Pacman thing… How do you a Pacman in a Zoom meeting?
I have no idea… It’s almost like I just wanna peek in there, rather than just appear into the Hangout. I’m like, is there a way to just draw the curtains and kind of spy in terms of what people are saying, who’s in it, and then choose to join it…? I don’t know…
Yeah, and just as a last note before we take a break and move into the benefits and drawbacks of virtual conferences - people have families. Did you know that? And when it comes to families - and cats, specifically; because I don’t have children - they can cause chaos in the backgrounds of things, and it’s a lot harder for me personally to be professional when my cats are running laps around my house.
So having this virtual conference in my home, it’s harder to a) separate work/life balance, but also mitigate these distractions… So that was just one thing. And Divya, your point about virtual hangouts - the best part about meeting people in person, or like these big group chats in person, is you can find the people that you jive with pretty easily… But it’s easier to escape. I don’t like saying that, because it sounds mean. Not escape, but it’s easier for you to seek out the conversations that just work for you and it’s not too much effort. Not to say you should ever avoid people who are wanting to talk to you, but you know, you always meet some people and you just hit it off with them. But in a virtual setting, everyone’s talking over each other, and sometimes you’re just not invested in the conversation, so it’s just a little bit harder. But in any case…
Virtual conferences, I think, have a lot of benefits, and we’re gonna talk about that in just a minute… But first, let’s take a break, and when we come back, we have a special guest that we would like to introduce to all of you.
Okay, welcome back. We just had our first segment, where we talked a little bit about how virtual conferences differ from these kind of brick-and-mortar conferences… But I’m excited, because we’re joined by a special guest, Quincy Larson, who – you’ve founded FreeCodeCamp. That’s like your official title? Why don’t you introduce yourself, so I’m not speaking for you…?
[16:00] Hey! Yeah, I’m Quincy Larson. My title is teacher at FreeCodeCamp. I’m also the executive director of our non-profit… And yeah, I’ve founded FreeCodeCamp.
Nice, nice. We’re super-excited to have you on today, because – was it just yesterday that we did Lockdown Conf?
It may seem like yesterday… Hopefully, you got plenty of sleep afterwards, because that was a lot of work… But yeah, it was Tuesday. I think we’re recording this on Thursday.
I don’t know what day it is… Yes, days are hard now. So can you tell us a little bit about Lockdown Conf? What was the inspiration? And also – I have this tendency to ask multiple questions back to back, that are not the same questions… So I guess my biggest question is “Was this originally an in-person conference, or was this something that you created to spawn out of this Covid-19 pandemic?”
A lot of our team members and friends are in India, and India went into full lockdown for 21 days. The government just mandated “Hey, everybody, you need to shelter-in-place.” 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 billion people… I don’t even know what their current population is. But it was like the biggest mandatory lockdown probably in history. And that really got us thinking, like “Wow, there are a lot of people who are probably very rapidly having to cope with that.” Also here in the U.S, of course, different states have different degrees.
I’ve been in self-quarantine or social distancing for like a month and a half. My wife is Chinese, and we suspected that it would be a huge thing when this pandemic eventually reached the States… So we have been just hanging out in our house, with our kids, and we’re very fortunate we’re in a situation where we can do that. But I was talking with Fazle, the cofounder of Hashnode.com, and he and I were just like “We should do something, we should organize some sort of event…” So within about 10-12 days the entire thing came together. And I really appreciate you, Emma, for just responding so quickly. I think within less than a day you got back to me and you said you’d be interested in being on one of the panels. So it was because of the responsiveness of people like you that we were able to pull all this together so quickly.
Yeah, thank you. I remember I woke up, it was like 6 AM, and I was like “Oh my god, Quincy messaged me.” I was so excited. So thank you for having me. I think it was an absolute blast, and I also think it was very successful, just to hear these diverse viewpoints from people all over the world.
So we kind of touched on some of the benefits and drawbacks of virtual conferences, but I would love to hear from you, Quincy, as a conference organizer, what were some of the benefits and drawbacks, in your opinion, of hosting a virtual conference?
Well, the first thing is the asynchronous part… People who can’t make it, for whatever reason, are able to just watch the essentially the video on demand of the live stream. That way they can double-speed it, they can pause it if they need to take care of something and come right back, and they don’t have to miss anything, they can rewatch parts of it… If they’re a non-native English speaker, it gives a lot of flexibility there. And the fact that it’s remote means – before, if you had a conference… Let’s say you have a conference in New York City. Everybody has to fly out there, it can be prohibitive for a lot of people to be able to get a visa to attend, or just it costs a lot of money to go to a new city and stay in a hotel and attend a conference… And it’s also a big time commitment.
This was four hours, it was just a quick chunk of time… So it’s not nearly as – virtual/online conferences are not nearly as fun and exciting as in-person conferences. You’re not actually shaking hands or getting to hug people, or high-five them or anything like that, that you would be able to do at an in-person conference. There aren’t the same kind of like bumping into people, and meeting new people, and those kinds of exciting chance encounters…
[19:53] So there are a lot of advantages, and there are also a lot of disadvantages. But this conference didn’t really cost us any money to put on… I know from people who have put on big conferences that it is a lot of money; it’s a lot of financial risk as well, because you have to book the venue, and you have to make sure all the numbers work out…
For example, I have a friend who was planning to have a big React conference that I was scheduled to go to… And of course, the pandemic hit, and he had to deal with all the contracts. He had a clause that would allow him to get out of it and everything, but I don’t know how much money he lost. He almost certainly lost a lot of money as a result of that cancelation. So there’s a lot of risk associated with in-person real-world high-fidelity conferences that you don’t have with online conferences.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I’m curious, thinking about virtual versus in-person… We’ve touched on some of the things. You’re not paying for a venue, you don’t need catering, you don’t have to worry about what types of dietary restrictions your attendees are gonna have… But there are other costs that are now gonna be associated with a virtual conference, that potentially you wouldn’t have with an in-person conference.
So when you did the Lockdown Conf, you had really custom artwork/graphics and music… What other costs are associated with virtual conferences, that are maybe not associated with in-person conferences?
I can say from our experience our budget was literally zero. We’ve spent nothing on this conference. And the reason was we were able to use royalty-free music from Base Rebels, which is a really cool livestream on YouTube, and then we have it some other places… But it’s all music that is either public domain, or licensed to where you can play it in the background.
And I think some other – Suz would probably know a lot more about this than I do, but MonsterCat and some other radio stations you can play in the background and they won’t get muted or they won’t block your video on YouTube or Twitch.
So we were able to get music from that… And then we have this gentleman, Matthew Potter, who I met him ahead at a FreeCodeCamp conference in Toronto… He has volunteered a tremendous amount over the years, and he put together all the graphics… And he’s like a designer who can program, who also knows a whole bunch of video production stuff. So he was in the control room, making sure all the feeds were patched together… And we just used Skype, because they have a pretty robust API, and he was able to pull the feeds from Skype and put them into his system, and have this fancy UI, I guess…
There were the little windows with the different people chatting, and then he could do – like, if one person was talking for a long time, like I am right now, you could just pull up just an image of that person talking… And then if two people were talking back and forth, you could put two side by side and hide everybody else… And then you could zoom out and have all five people - the two MCs and the three panelists on the screen at the same time. He just did all that stuff…
So unless you have a friend like Matthew Potter, it may cost you some money for those things. But for us, it cost us zero dollars. And we didn’t even have to really moderate the chat, which is normally something he had to do, because you get a lot of low-quality comments, and unfortunately the reality is if you have a woman on the stream, people will always be like “Oh, she’s pretty”, and things like that, and you don’t want that kind of stuff… So we didn’t have to do that, because we had members-only chat, and people had to pay like $5 or 200 Rupees or different currencies (this is scaled to purchasing power parity), so that reduced the overhead in terms of the amount of attention we had to pay to chat, and the number of people we had to have moderating.
That’s really cool. I think that the kind of era of live-streaming becoming something that everybody is able to do in their home now also offers better software package options for people on a budget as well… Like you said, MonsterCat and all of that just didn’t exist for a while, and so before that, I was trying to go to Bandcamp and looking at every single music artist license to make sure that I could play it in the background, and had to artisanally pick things.
And I’m just so stoked that these kinds of demands have actually paved the way for us to be able to do this now… That is one kind of nice thing that’s happened.
[24:14] Definitely. And one of the things that you mentioned, Quincy, the power of parity, speaking to different currencies - I just had this epiphany, wouldn’t it be great if in the future we could take that into consideration when pricing our conference tickets? I’m curious if there are any conferences already looking into where attendees are coming from and reducing costs for people with different currencies.
Yeah, well YouTube does that automatically. For becoming a member on the channel, which was what you had to do to be able to chat – we just set that up because, again, we wanted to see if we could get some donations… Essentially, the way YouTube works is they keep 30% and you keep 70%. I think with Twitch it’s a 50/50 split, if people become subscribers on Twitch…
So I think some of that may be scaled based on the country. I’m not even sure how popular Twitch is outside of the U.S, but YouTube is definitely like a global phenomenon. By usage, I think it’s the number one site in the world right now. I think it’s passed Facebook. So if you wanted to, there’s something called The Big Mac Index, which is – The Economist puts it out every year; they take the cost of a Big Mac, which is available in pretty much every country, and they scale it… And they use that to determine the multiplier that you should put on a price of like an online good if you want people to all be paying about the same thing in their local currency, based on their earning power.
That’s really cool. And for anyone listening, we’re gonna link all of these resources and conferences down in the show notes for you, so take a look there if you’ve heard something you wanna check out.
I’m curious… Suz, you do a lot of livestreaming, and I wanna know, has this prepared you better for performing – that’s not the right word… For speaking at a virtual conference? [laughs]
I mean, it is a performance.
It is… I’ve never thought about that. Do you think that’s prepared you better? And then I wanna switch to Divya; you haven’t spoken at a virtual conference yet, but what do you think would be the most difficult thing about transitioning into a virtual conference speaker? So we’ll start with Suz and then we’ll go to Divya.
Yeah, I think that it’s definitely made it easier. I think the thing that I missed the most was just that live feedback in the chat, which is why I was emphasizing that in the first segment of this episode… Because I like that real-time feedback, and so for me – I only have one computer monitor, so if I’m presenting slides at a virtual conference, I have to have some kind of other phone or screen open with the chat… And it’s just not quite the same experience.
So I think it prepared me for knowing that it was gonna feel weird “talking to yourself”, and also just the feeling of isolation. Knowing that you can’t read people’s body language, those kinds of things - it made me aware that it was going to be a subpar experience, compared to in-person performing or speaking, for sure.
I think that it also just made me more confident, because I was like “Oh, I’m just presenting slides. This is actually very easy, compared to live-coding”, which is what I do most of the time. So having a set of slides that were actually incredibly predictable, and not feeling like I was gonna run into a random yak shave was also very helpful.
Yeah, that’s interesting, because I find that – I’ve not done livestreams before, and I always deviate away from live-coding as much as possible, just because I really hate it… It gives me such anxiety, because I always second-guess myself a lot. So when I’m live-coding and I get into an error, it’s just like going down this rabbit hole… Everything just gets worse over time… [laughter]
See, I’m with you there. If you have a good audience, who’s willing to play with you, in a sense, like they joke around with you, they’re willing to help you fix your bugs… When we were in Amsterdam, Frontend Developer and Vue.js Amsterdam, the crowd was so interactive… But with a virtual conference, if I mess up typing I can’t phone a friend… I end up just copy-pasting solutions from the master branch… [laughs]
[28:10] Yeah, so in general – this is not just specific to virtual conferences; in general, I never live-code or do anything live, just because I… Maybe it’s just an exercise in me knowing myself very well; I know myself very well, that I lack the resilience to recover… So I hardly ever do that.
I think for virtual conferences – I’ve spoken at two of them so far, and one of them was an actual live talk, where I was on a Zoom call with all the participants and I presented remotely, essentially… Which was kind of an eerie feeling, because I didn’t get any feedback. There was no feedback, so it was really hard to get a sense… Also, Suz was mentioning in terms of jokes - I think my pauses are also determined by how I think things are landing… So if people are understanding things; should I go faster, should I go slower…? So it’s really hard for me to do that.
When I do things virtually, I actually talk much slower… I go so slow. So that was a strange experience, but it was also an exercise in learning to do things with zero feedback. And then another one was where I did – ng-conf, and I had it recorded. The only reason for that was I did that talk with my co-worker Tara, and so both of us did a two-person talk, and doing that live would have been a nightmare… Because she was live-coding, and then I was talking, and there was a lot of back-and-forth… So we ended up recording it, and then using video software to put the two together. But we had to watch our talk, so we had to be present during our talk, and then we would answer questions as we were speaking.
I think there’s an interesting dichotomy in terms of what participants expect. Some participants don’t like it when talks are recorded, because they feel like it’s too rehearsed, and they find they’re getting a lackluster experience, in a sense… And I sort of got that sense, because when I did the recording, it wasn’t clear which was recorded and which wasn’t, unless you have crazy video effects and it was clear. But in my talk particularly it wasn’t clear that it was recorded… And I was answering questions in the chat that indicated to people that I was. There were some comments – people were like “Whoa, she’s speaking and responding at the same time…” [laughter]
I love that.
Yeah… But in a way, I kind of liked it. Maybe I liked it in the sense that I could actually be present to answer those questions while I was giving the talk. I think if I did more livestreaming, I’m sure I’d be more in-sync with doing both at the same time… But I’m not, so it was something that I had to learn, and it was really hard for me to do in general. So when I gave my talk live, some people asked questions, and I couldn’t answer it as I was speaking, because mentally, when I’m speaking, I just block everything out, and then I just talk.
I think it also differs based on the type of people. Some people really thrive on being able to multi-task and do everything. Others need kind of a single-track focus, and I’m one of those people.
Yeah, definitely. Well, first of all, I apologize, because I wrongly said that you had never spoken at a virtual conference, and I was innately incorrect, so I apologize.
It’s all good.
But you did start to touch on one thing, which is live talks versus recorded talks… And when we come back from our next break (and our last break), we will dive a little bit deeper into that as well [unintelligible 00:31:32.24] Quincy about any lessons learned from planning a conference.
Alright, so we’ve talked about virtual conferences and how they differ from in-person conferences. We’ve touched on benefits and drawbacks of virtual conferences and kind of what goes into planning them… But I’m curious, Quincy, what are some lessons that you’ve learned, or things that you would do differently next time around?
Well, the biggest thing, in my opinion, is just the technical difficulties and the time scheduling. Making sure that everybody knows where they should be, when… And this time, what we did was we did an entire day of tech check before. So we had everybody jump in using Skype, in the exact place they were gonna use, with the headset they were gonna be using, or the microphone and headphones - we had all that stuff. And that addressed so much of the issues that we’ve had in past virtual conferences.
When I say virtual conferences - this is the first proper conference we’ve done that had Conf (or Con) in the name. Before, we did a couple things. Two years in a row we did what we called Open 2016 and Open 2017, which was New Year’s Eve. We had Anil Dash, and Jeff Atwood, and a whole lot of other people onto this kind of New Year’s celebration/interview, where we talked about our predictions for the following year in technology, and everything.
We started at 11 PM on the East Coast, and we ended right after California celebrated New Year’s… And it was just mired in technical difficulties. There was always something. Somebody’s audio wouldn’t be working and we’d have to reconnect them… And we didn’t have a separate kind of – we didn’t throw up the slides and say “Okay, now we’re gonna recompose for the next section”, and in retrospect, we absolutely should have done that… Because that works a lot better. But I was the control room. I was using OBS and I was just dialing people in through Google Hangouts, while the stream was going…
I always say – you know, Walmart had that silly-looking happy face logo on their bags for so many years… And they did that because they wanted people to think “Oh, Walmart’s cheap. They’re flying by the seat of their pants. They don’t know what they’re doing”, because that reinforced that you were getting a good value when you went and shopped there…
And to some extent, the fact that the livestreams were so amateurish was part of the charm, and that invited people to give you a degree of leeway… Like, “Oh, Quincy is running this from a single laptop, with OBS, while he’s also interviewing people. Of course it’s gonna be an amateurish show.”
So if you’re getting everybody in glitzy suits and you have all these fancy graphics and all this stuff, and you’re charging $200 a ticket, those sort of things would not be acceptable. So I think a lot of it comes down to expectation.
So anchoring the expectation, under-promising, over-delivering… I can say with pretty good confidence that with Lockdown Conf I think we did that. It was a free conference, and we had amazing speakers, and everything worked really well… So I’d say people probably weren’t expecting that degree of polish, and it was a pleasant surprise. So that was one thing I’ve definitely learned - right-size the expectations of your audience.
That’s very good advice.
Absolutely. And one other thing that – well, I don’t know if we’ve touched on this, but we’re gonna touch on it now, it doesn’t matter… It’s this concept of virtual workshops versus talks. Okay, I shouldn’t say I’ve never given a workshop, because that’s not true… But I’ve never given a live workshop in person. That’s also false. I just did a Frontend Masters course. Oh, my gosh, what am I saying… Okay, let’s talk about virtual workshops. Have any of you given a virtual workshop? Let’s start with you, Quincy. Have you ever spoken at a conference and/or given a workshop, in-person or virtually?
[36:02] I’ve spoken at some conferences and given – by workshop, basically I had slides prepared, and it was on a very specific topic, trying to teach people about that topic… I’ve done that a few times, if that’s what you mean.
It’s like a talk, basically.
It kind of is, yeah.
But a workshop might be a little bit more complicated, like it involves multiple back-to-back – you take a break, and you come back, and you’re still… I guess I don’t know enough to say with confidence that I’ve given a workshop, but I may have.
Yeah, that’s a good question, like what is the difference between a workshop and a conference… I guess my first stab at that would be like a workshop has maybe more activities than just lecturing… But I don’t know, have any of you - Suz, Divya - given a workshop? And if so, how would you define the difference?
I usually know it’s a workshop because it’s marketed as a workshop… [laughter] They’re like “You’re giving a half-day workshop”, and you’re like “Okay.” I think it’s also – just in general, when I am giving a workshop, it’s 1) way longer. I’ve seen people do workshops with just like a three-hour lecture, and those to me are not as successful. I mean, I’m sure some people like that, but to me it’s not very successful, because like, we’re not in college, university, where that is the case, where you go to a capstone and it’s like three hours of just straight talking…
With a workshop, generally, there’s a lot more feedback that you can get, because you can take questions from people, answer questions, dive into specific topics that people have issues with… So there’s a lot more interaction. Because I think with talks you can sort of do that, but not really.
You can do that within the allotted timeframe, because talks are usually 30 minutes. Longer ones are maybe an hour. But with a workshop, it’s much longer, so if you are talking about specific things and you find that many people are having issues with it, you can just choose to be like “Okay, we’re gonna take the next 30 minutes to talk about this…” And there’s a lot more exercises as well. So in terms of the back-and-forth, you get more of that.
I like it because it allows me to dive much deeper into a topic than I usually can with a talk… Because talks are just high-level.
To me, when I think about talks and workshops, a talk is to get people excited about an idea or a concept, and a workshop is to show the actual implementation details, how does it work, and get people to work with the thing that you’re talking about. So those are the two differences between the two of them… So because of that, the approaches of how you do both differ as well.
That’s very true.
That’s a really great explanation… And to your point about workshops that are essentially just three-hour lectures, and how difficult those are - we did an episode, I think it was called “I do, we do, you do”, or something along those lines… It talks about the different ways that we can teach people. “I do” is like “I show you something”, “We do” is “Let’s do it together”, and “You do” is “Take those skills and now use them to deduce an answer.” So if you wanna listen to that episode, go back through the JS Party archives; we’ll also link it in the show notes.
But that does bring up a good point - I would assume a workshop is a little harder to divulge online, although Egghead is one example of online platform who’s doing virtual workshops… And they seem to be quite successful at it. I’m curious what the differences would be, virtual workshop versus in-person workshop. That’s a whole other topic, probably.
One other area I wanted to touch on before we wrap up - and we did already touch on this - is live talks versus recorded talks, and the benefits of both and the drawbacks of both. Divya, you had mentioned that you were in the chat, discussing with the participants during your recorded talk, which has benefits and drawbacks. The benefit is you can engage with them in real-time as they’re seeing it, but the drawback is – perhaps internally, they’re thinking “Oh, this isn’t as personal, because she had already recorded this.” Did you find that there was any fall-out from that with the audience?
[39:59] It’s hard to say, because I think people are really nice about the talk. I think there were a couple of comments where people were just mentioning that “Oh, it’s uncanny that she’s able to talk and type at the same time…” But I think in general people weren’t as negative. I’ve seen online, on Twitter, where people have mentioned that it’s kind of annoying that that happens… It’s interesting, because I’ve actually heard conferences try to compensate for that… So for them, they’ll allow speakers to do a recorded talk, but when you do a Q&A after the talk, you have to wear the same clothes that you would during the recording… [laughter]
Just so it’s not distracting, yeah.
Yeah, exactly. Wear the same clothing and be in the same room, just so that people don’t realize. [laughs]
That’s actually really funny.
That’s funny, but it’s intense.
I know… It’s like, I don’t know to what extent people care, but I guess it’s just to prevent that jarring experience of people thinking that.
You know what’s funny - Quincy, on Tuesday, before we started… There was a photo of Quincy, and then he joined and he was like “I’m wearing the same shirt.” But it was a different color, because he’d washed it maybe a couple of times… So it’s like, you were wearing the same clothes, but everyone was like “It doesn’t look like the same shirt.” So does it really make a difference? Probably not…
No, probably not.
But I’m curious if you would even consider doing this as a recorded conference, versus live?
Yeah, recorded is so much easier, in terms of just like, you can get it right – you just record everything, then stitch it together and then ship it. YouTube has a feature called Premiere… It’s kind of like you have a live audience, that everybody’s watching at the same time, but it’s pre-recorded. That is almost the best of both worlds, because you can have the polish of pre-recorded, but you don’t have to worry about the vagaries of trying to remember exactly what you were gonna say, stumbling over your words, or having technical difficulties… So that’s probably what I would recommend for people who don’t wanna do livestreaming.
And live-coding is – if there’s a hierarchy of hard things to do on the web, live-coding is probably at the very top, and hats off to Suz and everybody out there who’s in the arena, doing the live coding. It’s really impressive. I haven’t done any of it in a while, just because I’m worried that if I make some really bad coding mistakes, it’s gonna reflect poorly on FreeCodeCamp as a whole. So I have to loom in the background, and people just have to take my coding skills for granted, as opposed to– you know…
So I don’t want to completely put my foot in my mouth when I’m saying something technical, and then have people think that that’s the quality of the curriculum… Because our curriculum is created by thousands of people around the world.
Anyway, that’s just a quick tangent as to why I don’t do live-coding. That, and it’s completely nerve-wracking. With the Premiere functionality I think you can get a lot of the same experience… But I can see why people – people will always ask for more; it doesn’t matter. Even if you deliver the perfect talk, there will be people like “But you could have come out on a unicorn at the beginning, instead of just walking onto the stage.” People will always ask for more.
So I think people who are critical of you answering questions while a pre-recorded talk rolls, I think that those people are – you know, that’s fine. I mean, it’s always okay to ask for more, but just know that people will ask for more. And if you keep that in mind, then it doesn’t seem like as big of a criticism; it’s just something you expect.
Definitely. Well, unfortunately this week we are out of time, but I do wanna say a huge thank you to you, Quincy, for joining us today, and also congratulations on running the Lockdown Conf so seamlessly. It was an absolute pleasure to have you today. Also, thank you to Divya and Suz for co-hosting the all-lady JS Party Podcast. I think we need more of these… Definitely.
As a quick note, if you haven’t checked out FreeCodeCamp, we’re gonna leave a link in the show notes. They are incredible. They helped me achieve my dream job, which more news will be coming soon about that, and I hope to do a write-up for you, Quincy, to help show people how they can use your platform (which is totally free) to get your dream job. And I think that’s wonderful. So again, a huge thank you to all of you, and hopefully we see you soon.
Awesome! It’s great talking with you, Emma, Suz, Divya. I really appreciate you all inviting me on the show.
Emma, that was so slick.
It was like “Quincy’s in the waiting room. Okay, we’re gonna have a guest now.” This was so good. [laughter]
You know, it’s all good. It’s all good.
I think that’s really fun. It’s like, “Bringing a secret guest…” Yeah, he’s in the waiting room.
Okay, how do I do waiting rooms? [laughter]
Who has the power to let them in?
I do… Or I don’t know.
It should be at the bottom, like Waiting Room.
It says “Participants: 4.”
If you don’t even see the waiting room thing, then I’m confused.
I just messaged him. I said “Are you in the waiting room? Jerod’s technologically-struggling.” [laughter]
If you don’t have a button, he might have left.
That’s why I said, can you hop on…?
I wasn’t looking… I was listening, but I wasn’t looking, so maybe I missed him and he hopped out.
Usually, a little tooltip pops up above a new Waiting Room button, and then you can admit them. So if you don’t see that, it’s not your fault, I promise. It’s very obvious when someone’s in there.
Oh, he’s typing. Hold on a second.
He says the room is still locked.
Okay, I’ll unlock it now.
This is fun. I love being tech support.
Okay, “You have unlocked the meeting. New participants can join.”
Okay, “Now you should be able to join…”
This is like Mission Impossible, when like the timer’s running… You have to defuse the bomb before the hard stop.
Right… Where– Invite.
I don’t think Tom Cruise ever said “Hold on, I have a hard stop.”
I’ve just resent that.
Oh – Admit. I’ve just admitted him!
I feel like a medical professional. I’ve just admitted him from the waiting room. [laughter]
There he is! Quincy!
Jerod figured it out!
I can’t hear you quite yet…
It might be a Zoom setting.
One… Doctor Evil look… Oh, can I keep the audio? There we go.
Alright. Yeah, I’m here!
Yaay! Quincy’s here…!
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