PodCamp Toronto

A few weeks ago, I was given the chance to do something I hadn’t expected to do – I was invited to speak at a Conference. The Podcamp Toronto Conference to be more precise. Taken from their website, “Podcamp Toronto is Canada’s largest and longest running un-conference for people who create digital experiences and are at the forefront of innovation.” They have been hosting this conference since 2007, and had over 1000 people in attendance last year.

A few days after the very successful UofTHacks hackathon, I received an email from Richard Pietro. He originally asked me to participate in one of the Lightning Talks at Podcamp, though unfortunately the timing wasn’t working out. We continued talking and eventually Richard asked if I would be interested in doing a full 45 minute session instead. Initially I was hesitant to say yes because I had never really thought about doing public speaking before this event. I am still a student after all. I also didn’t know if people would want to listen to a talk hosted by a ‘student’. I was also a little nervous because all the previous speaker events I had been to, the speakers were flawless, energetic and knew so much about what they were speaking about. Eventually I convinced myself to try something new. I said yes and can definitely say I do not regret that decision.

My presentation needed to focus on Open Data and Hackathons, and to try and include some of the recent hacks that I have either seen or personally worked on. The Hackathon side of things were pretty easy. I could very easily talk about what a hackathon is, and how a Hackathon is run, having just finished planning another round of UofTHacks. The tricky part was how to properly incorporate Open Data into the mix. Eventually it hit me – what is one of the reasons we have hackathons? To find new and creative ways to use the tools we have at our disposal. Open Data is a pretty power tool – a huge, mostly untapped, resource that is waiting for the creative minds of hackers to dive in and do what they do best.

The title of my presentation was “Civic Engagement and Technology; A Perfect Marriage.” I wanted to build on the idea that Hackathons are here to stay, and that hackathons have become a great way to disrupt both the technological industry as well as every-day life. I wanted to share that in todays world, every single person has the tools they need to make the changes they want. An extension of this is the ability to give the power of change back to the people who want that change. I then included that improving access to and ease-of-use for Open Data is one of the best ways to help propel this even further.

I honestly expected only 2 or 3 people to show up to the talk, and was pleasantly surprised when there were a lot more than that at the event. I tried to make it interactive by asking a few questions – this is always risky because if no one in the audience responds, you end up with awkward looks staring back at you. The audience was great though, and responded to my questions with better responses than I could have come up with. After my presentation, I had a few people come up to me to find out more. A few of them have been in touch and it’s amazing to see how they want to apply what I talked about into their worlds.

I’m really glad I did the talk, especially since it has made me feel more confident and comfortable when speaking in front of a crowd about a specific topic. I have since been invited to speak at the FITC Women’s Meet and Make event happening right before the FITC conference, and am definitely working to get ready for that.