My two first conference talks

I held my two first conference talks earlier this week at the Swedish SAP user group conference SAPSA IMPULS 2019, and in this post I will share some of my experiences. SAPSA IMPULS is a yearly conference targeting people working with SAP solutions in the Nordics, and the event had more than 800 attendees this year. This was a two days event, and I was scheduled to hold two different presentations, one on each day of the conference.

Day 1 – a broader appeal

On the first day I held a presentation titled “How to stay up-to-date within the SAP space with openSAP“. openSAP is an excellent MOOC platform to stay current with the SAP space and acquire new skills. I explained the structure and advantages of using MOOCs in general and openSAP in particular, to expand my knowledge within SAP. I also shared my personal experiences attending about 30 openSAP courses.

I was quite nervous before the talk, since I haven’t really done any public speaking. After having rigged up my computer, there were still about ten minutes to wait for the planned starting time of my talk. I found these ten minutes the most nervous part of the talk, since I was just standing around waiting. Thankfully a former colleague of mine came into the room about five minutes before my talk was to start, and we engaged in some small-talk which helped me relax. Once I got started presenting, my nerves calmed down. There were seven parallel tracks as I was presenting, and my presentation attracted about 70 people. This meant that the room was full, but not crowded. After the presentation, several attendees came forward to discuss some questions they had and they also gave me some positive feedback. I think that the talk was generally well-received.

Before holding my presentation, I had the opportunity to attend the key-note. This enabled me to tie the topic of the key-note back into my own presentation. The key-note was mainly about customer experiences and experience management. Since there is currently a course on the topic on openSAP, The Power of Experience Management, I referenced this in my presentation. Even though that this was just a small detail, I still think that it was a nice bridge between the key-note and my presentation.

I was also able to attend a few other sessions before I held my presentation. This made me realize that I had completely overlooked the fact that I should have included a slide presenting the organization I work for in my presentation. I was able to correct this mistake in the break before my presentation.

Day 2 – the technical niche talk

On the second day, I held a talk titled “Improving your ABAP code quality with open-source tools“. The talk was about how we have improved our code quality through the use of open-source tools at the organization where I work. The tools I explained and demonstrated are:

Since the session was only 20 minutes long, and I had a lot of material to cover, the talk felt a bit rushed. I feel very comfortable with the topic I presented, which probably made me talk a bit more than during my rehearsals of the talk. I felt much more relaxed than on day 1, most likely since the first talk was well received and I had already received positive feedback.

In retrospect, the talk might have been a little too technical for the audience of this conference. However, I still had about 20-25 people showing up. I was approached after this talk with some interesting comments and questions, so even though it was more of a niche talk, I’m happy that I gave it. I also learned a lot as I was preparing for the talk.

Key takeaways

I’m happy to have participated in the conference and to have shared my experiences and knowledge through the two talks. It was a learning experience both when it comes to the subjects I presented as well as regarding the whole process of writing presentation proposals, preparing and finally delivering a talk.

Some of my takeaways are:

  • Start preparing the talks early. I fine-tuned my talks over a period of about two months, and still ended up doing last-minute changes.
  • Ask someone to review your presentation. I asked my manager as well as my colleagues to review the presentations, and this gave me some valuable feedback.
  • Rehears, rehears, rehears. I practiced my talks alone as well as in front of my wife and kids, and it was important for discovering transitions in the presentations which weren’t smooth enough as well as practicing my presentation skills.
  • Try to engage in small-talk and use the opportunity to network ahead of a presentation. This helped me shift into a more talkative mode and made me more relaxed.
  • People want to hear your story. Both of my presentations contained personal stories about why the topics were important to me, and how they helped me to be successful in real-world situations. This made the presentations as well as me as a presenter easier to relate to.
  • Attend the key-note, so that you can relate to it in your own presentation if relevant.
  • Attend other sessions to see how the other presenters are presenting. This helped me fine-tune my presentation.

If you are considering submitting an abstract to a conference, just do it! It’s a fun learning experience!

How you can stay up-to-date through MOOCs

In this post, I’ll share with you how you can use MOOCs to stay up-to-date with your field and acquire new skills. I’ll also share some of my experiences after having completed about 30 MOOCs in the last year and a half.

What is a MOOC?

Let us start with the basics. According to Wikipedia, MOOC is defined as:

A massive open online course (MOOC /muːk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.

Wikipedia

MOOCs are a kind of distance education where you can consume the learning content whenever and wherever it suits you. A MOOC is typically built with the following building blocks:

  • Video lectures
  • Self-tests
  • Assignments (weekly / finals)
  • Collaborative projects
  • Discussion forums
  • Downloads (videos, slides, and transcripts)

The following mind-map by Mathieu Plourde (Mathplourde on Flickr) [CC BY 2.0] gives a nice overview of the concept and the flexibility of its implementation:

MOOC poster mathplourde

My first contact with MOOCs

I stumbled into the world of MOOCs in February 2018 after having found the MOOC platform of SAP, named openSAP. SAP was offering a technical course on test-driven development in the programming language ABAP, which I enrolled for. The course was great, and it changed how I keep up to date as a developer.

What can you use MOOCs to learn?

The MOOCs I’ve attended mainly fall into the following three categories:

  1. Technical skills
  2. Thought leaders
  3. New products and solutions

Technical skills

Being a developer, I always look for material to expand and improve my technical skills. This can be anything from learning a new programming language or a test framework to learning about a new NoSQL database.

The courses I’ve attended in this category typically consist of a lot of coding exercises, which for me personally is a very good way of learning. MOOCs that fall into this category are typically the most work-intensive.

Thought leaders

As a developer, it is important to widen your perspective and be aware of greater trends in technology and society. Attending MOOCs within this space helps you to keep up with new business practices, and the lecturers are typically business and academic thought leaders as well as top politicians.

New products and solutions

When working with enterprise software, you as a developer will often be asked by your customers about new products and solutions which they have heard about. Even if you have not yet had the opportunity to do hands-on work with these products and solutions, I recommend attending MOOCs within this area to at least have an overview of which scenarios the solutions are applicable to.

When and how I consume MOOCs

The major advantage of MOOCs over traditional classroom training as I see it is that you can consume the course content whenever it suits your personal schedule.

I have a daily subway commute of about 45 minutes in total. As long as I can find a seat, I think that this is an ideal opportunity to use MOOCs. The MOOCs I’ve attended typically have units with a length of approximately 20 minutes, which means that I can squeeze in two units a day, just going to work and back. I find this to be a much more productive use of my time than just scrolling through social media posts or playing games on my phone.

The assignments typically require at least an hour of focused work and are not ideal for my commute. I typically do the assignments when the rest of the family is sleeping.

Nice side-effects of attending MOOCs

Apart from the learning itself, which is, of course, the most important part of attending MOOCs, I’ve encountered the following nice side-effects:

  • Certificates and badges to put on your LinkedIn profile: If you receive a certificate or a badge, make sure to put it on your LinkedIn profile. Since the words of the MOOC are searchable, people looking to connect with people with a certain skill will find you through these search terms.
  • Free books: In one MOOC I attended, the teachers were publishing a book on the topic simultaneously to bringing out the MOOC. Since I was one of the top 30 students of the course, I received a free copy of the book in hardcover.
  • Discount coupons: Several MOOCs I’ve attended have given me a discount coupon at the end of the course. The coupons have been for books, conferences and paid e-learnings.
  • Invitations to conferences: Just the other day, I received an invitation to attend a conference on a topic for which I had attended a MOOC. I’d still need to pay for the conference, but I wouldn’t have been aware of the conference if I hadn’t attended the MOOC.

Potential downsides to attending MOOCs

The potential downsides I’ve encountered when attending MOOCs are the following:

  • Opportunity cost: When attending a MOOC, there is an opportunity cost. I’ve noticed that I’ve read fewer books when attending MOOCs due to time constraints. Make sure that the courses you are attending are really worth the time investment you are making.
  • Marketing material in disguise: A few of the MOOCs I’ve attended have been little more than sales pitches and marketing material from a software vendor trying to push a new product. This becomes obvious at an early stage, so don’t hesitate to drop out of a course with these characteristics. I’ve come across these courses mainly in the new products and solutions category.

MOOC platforms

There are a lot of MOOC platforms out there. I just want to give you a few examples to get you started. If you have any recommendations, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

freeCodeCamp

At freecodecamp.org you can attend an online coding boot camp completely free of charge. The focus is mainly on front end web development with courses on topics such as responsive web design, JavaScript, front end libraries, and APIs. There are a lot of hands-on coding exercises available.

openSAP

At open.sap.com there are hundreds of courses available. Many of them are focused on SAP specific solutions and technologies, but there are also a lot of general courses available. Some examples are courses on Java, Snap!, design thinking, digital transformation, and AI. The courses are offered free of charge to anyone interested.

Udacity

At udacity.com you can acquire tech skills within different areas, like programming and development, AI, cloud computing, and data science. I’ve only taken a JavaScript course at Udacity, and am not all too familiar with the platform.

Final words

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and experiences around the topic of MOOCs. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. I plan to write a follow-up post with my favorite MOOCs attended so far. Happy learning!