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Can 9-to-5 Developers Be Good Developers?

Stock photo of clock indicating a ticking timepiece

While picking talks for the conference he’s organizing, James Titcumb recently tweeted that well known speakers get picked over others because, among other things, they’re reliable (i.e. they don’t cancel). I would argue that “among other things” carries more weight – I believe that most conference organizers pick such talks and speakers because they like to play it safe and fear risks.

A Safe Play

The number of times I’ve seen a well known name from the PHP world hold a trivial (and, on their end, too, a “play it safe”) talk is staggering, and it always makes me feel like I try too hard with my submissions. In this day and age of almost instantly-available recordings, why have a talk more than a few times? By the second or third time around, it’s accessible to everyone online anyway. Why pick “safe” topics – who are you if you don’t push the limits of your own comfort zone? Invite discussion, polarization, and disagreement – grow yourself by learning from and educating those who disagree with you, find common ground, see things from people’s various perspectives, prevent the formation of an argument from authority. Stop acting like a prophet, and instead act like a human – fallible, capable of learning, and always curious.

When your whole career is banking on being a speaker, then I suppose it makes sense to have evergreen talks you don’t need to prepare. Traveling around the world and reciting the talk from the top of your head is a pretty good gig and I can’t fault such speakers for this approach any more than I can fault McDonalds for continuing to sell hamburgers. It works. But even McDonalds introduces a salad or a chicken wing from time to time.

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