I was asked the other week to write a short bio for an upcoming conference that I will be speaking at.
This caused a minor crisis as I realised that by the time that conference rolls around, I will no longer be a student. My definition of who I am and what I do will no longer be associated with university or formal education. After 18.5 years as a student, I was at a loss for even how to begin to define what I do beyond ‘Judit is a creative technologist’ (which in itself doesn’t explain much).
I wrote on a similar crisis as I started my masters degree and now as I am so close to the finish line, I am still wondering the same thing.
I like conferences. I often write about how much I like conferences and different ones I attend. One of the many reasons I like conferences are because they are a great way to try out who you want to be. I don’t mean that to say that you should lie about who you are or what you do, but I’ve always found conferences a great way to perfect your ‘story’. You’ll meet so many new people and you rarely have time for deep and insightful heart to hearts (with the possible exception of the 6 hour queue for a keynote). It’s a little longer than an elevator pitch but not by much. You meet someone new and you are asked some variation of “what do you do?”
Because conferences tend to bring together likeminded people around a topic or field – however broad or narrow – to be immersed in that mutual interest for a given period of time, when you introduce yourself, it’s also a way of saying ‘here’s where I sit in relation to this topic’, be it programming, design, gaming, whatever.
We tailor our stories based on who we’re telling them to, so at WWDC I tried on a few different versions of what I’m going to ‘do’ next and seeing what felt right and what the responses were. I’ve face a similar problem before, when I went to a conference just after I finished my bachelors degree. It was a conference with lots of academics so I started the conference with ‘I’m thinking of doing postgrad’ and finished the conference with ‘I’m going to postgrad in this research area…’
It’s like using a coin toss to make a decision: as soon as that coin is in the air, you know what you really want the outcome to be.
I found this problematic at WWDC this year because I’m close to the end of what I ‘do’ and I don’t know what the next thing is. What I ‘do’ also happened to be the reason I could be there at all, so I would begin with “I am a student (here on a student scholarship), one month out from finishing my masters degree.”
More often than not, this would provoke the much dreaded question, which was some variation of: ‘what are you going to do next?’
Even before finishing, I am already feeling like this:
Not matter how many times I’ve been asked, the answer isn’t clear yet. Don’t get me wrong – I have options for what to do next, but it’s more that long term question of what do I want to be.
I was in Sydney for a conference last week (what else?) and noticed something interesting. It was a conference outside of my direct expertise: targeted at sys admins and the content was about deploying and managing devices. A lot of the content went over my head, but in a good way where you actually feel like you’re learning and branching out. In that context, I wasn’t afraid to admit that I didn’t belong, that I had very little existing knowledge of what was being talked about.
Funnily enough, I was giving a presentation. I was terrified for a while thinking that this audience wasn’t going to get anything out of what I had to say but the feedback was fantastic, I was blown away by how many people came up to talk to me afterwards.
The interesting thing was, when I go to programming conferences, for the longest time I have been afraid of being figured out as someone who is just pretending to belong there. However, at a conference that genuinely was outside of my area of knowledge, I wasn’t afraid to admit it, even during my presentation. It was great learning opportunity and as always, I feel privileged to have had the chance to be there.
To return to my starting point: I managed to cobble together a bio (or asked someone else to write it for me). I am speaking at a fantastic iOS and OS X developer conference in Melbourne in September. You should too.
So at least that is something to keep me occupied as I figure out what to do post-postgraduate.
For now, back to battling the thesis.