React Miami with Michelle Bakels

Transcript from Sunday April 30th, 2023

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Carl Vitullo: I'm here today speaking with Michelle Bakels, who is working with G2i as director of developer Health and organizer of the React Miami Conference, which is coming up in a couple of weeks on April 20th. [00:00:13]

Yeah, Michelle, thanks so much for joining us. [00:00:15]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, so thanks so much. I am organizing the React Miami Conference. We have a partnership between G2i, which is the company that one of your moderators Gabe Greenberg, is the founder of, and JS World Conferences, which is a huge conference organizing body that's based out of the Netherlands. [00:00:33]

They do JS world conferences. They do Vue Conf, React Conf over there. And so, um, yeah, So I co co-organized that with them, and I am the director of developer health at G2i as well, so I, outside of the conference I work on initiatives to support the mental and physical health of software developers. I've also been really active in the South Florida tech community for a really long time, so I am on the board of organization called South Florida Tech Hub Foundation, which is a nonprofit that helps provide like, tech Pathways in South Florida. [00:01:10]

And then also I'm on the board of 1909, which is also a non-profit, that's a community of creators, entrepreneurs, founders, small business owners in Palm Beach County. Just help them thrive. [00:01:23]

Carl Vitullo: That's awesome. Wow. So you're, involved with so many different community based organizations, that's really great. [00:01:29]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, I'm like a community addict (laughter). I like, can't get enough. [00:01:33]

Developer health, and planning a conference

Carl Vitullo: Oh, that's incredible. Very nice. Could you talk a little bit about developer health, and how that has influenced how you think about the conference? [00:01:41]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, um, that's such a good question, because obviously because like this is such a, a core piece of G2i is to, to focus on developer health. We brought it into the conference as well. The conference is on Miami Beach. So for one, it is absolutely beautiful place to be, to relax, to get some sun, enjoy some life. [00:02:03]

So like, sometimes conferences can be like really hectic for attendees, but even though we have a lot going on in our conference, we do encourage people to really, like, kinda take a step back and enjoy what's around. I've been to a lot of conferences where you kind of like, fly into the city, you go to the conference location, you grind all day at the conference, and then you fly out right away. [00:02:25]

We really try and like, integrate our conference into the Miami Tech scene and into just like, basically Miami culture as a whole so that it can be like a little bit more relaxing. Like you kind of leave, like you learned a lot of stuff, but you also leave like, a little bit happier, more relaxed, not really stressed out. [00:02:42]

And then furthermore, we have a couple of talks this year that are specifically designed around giving developers advice and support on you know, how to maintain mental health and physical health. [00:02:55]

Carl Vitullo: Oh, that's great. [00:02:56]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, we have like three talks that are like, really specifically developer health focused. [00:03:01]

Tejas Kumar, React as a developer health tool

Michelle Bakels: One of them is Tejas Kumar, who is really well known conference speaker. If you don't follow Tejas, he has you know, like a long history of health related issues stemming from a sun allergy. He's gone through a lot ,and so he's gonna talk about how, you know, coding and specifically React, kind of like helped him through a lot of this. So it's called "React as a developer health tool." So that's really cool. [00:03:26]

Jenny Truong, unexpected states of burnout

Michelle Bakels: Then we have Jenny Truong of Stately. She's going to be talking about the unexpected states of burnout, she actually, like, if you're familiar with Stately and how it, it basically is like state machines and like diagrams and stuff. She's actually gonna kind of take that visual and that concept and map out, diagram out, burnout like how we experience it in the terms of like state. So that's yeah, it's super interesting. Like, I was like, this is so clever. [00:03:55]

Andrew Shew, mental tooling from professional baseball

Michelle Bakels: And then there's also Andrew Shew of Vercel. He's a content engineer, but he was a pro baseball player for six years before he went be a full Slack developer for Vercel. So he's gonna talk about all of the mental tooling that professional baseball players use to perform their best. And how you can literally take like the tools of professional athletes and apply them to your work so that you can. [00:04:21]

Athletes, the longevity of their career is so important. So if they themselves too hard, like they have to find that barrier between like giving their best performance but not putting themselves out for a season. And that's where like engineers kind of break that. Like we constantly burn out, so we go into that injury area so often. [00:04:41]

So he's gonna share like the tools of like, okay, how do you pace yourself so that you're performing as best as you can over a long period of time. So that one's gonna be really interesting too. [00:04:52]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I'm really interested to hear a professional athlete talk about that aspect of health and really thinking about. Thinking about the long term, like yeah, this is, this is not a sprint, this is a livelihood. This is something you will likely do for your life. So, yeah. Oh, that's so interesting. [00:05:09]

Early bird outdoor activities

Michelle Bakels: it's super interesting. And we, and then we also have like the second morning, so it's a two day conference. So the second morning we have our, basically our developer health, like choose your own adventure. Basically if you're an early bird you can wake up and do yoga on the beach, which we had last year but we have a couple more options this year. [00:05:27]

Um, One of our speakers, Henri Helvetica, He's going to be leading like a 30 minute run in the morning. So you can choose that or the Sunrise Yoga or another one of our speakers, will Johnson, is going to be leading basically beach volleyball. So you can kind of like choose which one you wanna do, if you wanna wake up early and get active. [00:05:46]

Carl Vitullo: Okay. That's pretty fun. I'm in a beach volleyball league in New York, so I'll have to, I'll have to try and check that out. [00:05:53]

Michelle Bakels: Yes absolutely. [00:05:54]

Who is the target audience for React Miami?

Carl Vitullo: I, I see a question in the chat here. Who's the target audience of this conference? Is that mostly gonna be aimed at people who are already working with React professionally? [00:06:03]

Michelle Bakels: Um, Yeah, so we have I would say React developer or JavaScript developer, and it can be from beginner to experienced. We try to have a range of topics that can kind of like speak to both ends of a career. [00:06:18]

Carl Vitullo: That makes sense. Yeah. I feel like every conference is gonna have some talks that are very educational for anyone who is just trying to learn. But then a lot of the developer health kind of talks, that sounds a little bit more professionally oriented. [00:06:31]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, it's a good one too for beginners though, because I mean, to be able to get ahead of those burnout experiences early in your career and like develop those good habits early is. Really like beneficial. But yeah, there's like some that are gonna be, I imagine a bit advanced, for example, Sunil Pai, who's like just prolific in, in web development… [00:06:54]

Carl Vitullo: We just had him on. [00:06:55]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah. Like, yes, exactly. He's so amazing. He's gonna be talking about this you know, collaborative app that he's working on, realtime collaborative app. And I imagine that the technical content of that talk is going to maybe go over a few people's heads, probably even go over my head. [00:07:14]

He also has this like super interactive moment built into his talk that, you know, anybody can have fun. Like, you know, maybe you're catching like 10 or 20% of what he's saying, but it'll still be really fun cuz he has this like really fun activity planned for everyone. [00:07:30]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. And we do have a discount code to give away. If you're thinking about a conference I think this one sounds like a pretty great one to go to. [00:07:38]

Carl Vitullo (editing): If you do grab one, at, make sure you use our discount code, REACTIFLUX10 [00:07:44]

Speakers Michelle is excited for

Carl Vitullo: You've mentioned some of the speakers, especially the ones talking around developer health and burnout. Who are some of the speakers you're really interested in hearing from? [00:07:52]

Michelle Bakels: It's really hard for me to say because all of them, I do do most of the selection for the speaker lineup. Not a hundred percent, but very close to. I think obviously the developer health talks are gonna be super interesting. [00:08:06]

Christopher Chedeau, who's like one of the React pioneers of like, the GOATs of React, he's gonna be speaking and he's gonna be talking about. I don't know if, if you guys follow him, then you'll have seen these like tweets of him kind of like learning in public, building in public, this in browser video editor. [00:08:28]

I don't know that he's spoken about this at any other conferences yet, and it's very much something that he's like actively building, and he's going to be talking about that, which I'm really excited about. So his talk is one that I'm super looking forward to. [00:08:44]

Julian Benegas of Basement Studio. So I don't know if you guys are familiar with Basement Studio. They're like based in Argentina. They're a design and dev shop in Argentina, and they are so high quality, like, they're the minds behind, like the Next.JS rebrand. They just did Mr. Beast's new website, which is like an award-winning website. [00:09:07]

They actually do a lot of the work behind, like the Vercel website, like what you see on Vercel's site. They work really closely with the Vercel design team. And they have like a upcoming project with Solana and like a really cool like metaverse fashion show project too. So their head of development is gonna be giving a talk about Scrolly Telling. [00:09:28]

Basically like captivating your audience, like on your landing page by like on scroll animations and like telling a story, like as you know, a user goes through your website, and I don't know if you guys saw uh, Next.JS conf like. Uh, Guillermo RA's keynote, the basement studio team built out that whole keynote. So, I can only imagine what their talk is gonna look like. So that's another one that's gonna be amazing. [00:09:54]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. That's pretty incredible. The Next website… It felt like it's on the cutting edge of web design, leading the charge on that. So that's, that's pretty cool. I I, I didn't realize that that team that had built, that was based in Argentina. I've definitely heard a lot about Argentina based development companies. It sounds like there's a, a lot of really cool stuff happening in Argentina. [00:10:14]

Michelle Bakels: Argentina has such strong talent. It's like blows my mind how underrated it is. It's like phenomenal. Like the people that you see working from Argentina, like they're just, they have such great talent. [00:10:27]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, and Christopher Chedeau, I'm always interested to hear him talk. He's such a, intelligent and giving person. We, we actually had him on a couple weeks ago to talk about the React documentary uh, which he helped organize and we ended up getting deep into the history of Reactiflux because turned out he helped organize Reactiflux too, he was one of the behind the scenes guys, [00:10:48]

Michelle Bakels: I was listening in on that one. That one was super interesting. Yeah [00:10:52]

Carl Vitullo: So that's some of the speakers you're excited about. [00:10:55]

Michelle's philosophy for organizing a conference

Carl Vitullo: Could you talk a little, a little bit about the, I guess, the philosophy that you've approached organizing a conference from, like, how have you thought about creating space and programming to help developers with their careers? [00:11:09]

Michelle Bakels: That's such a good question. It's like this question like between that question and like how do you choose speakers, I always feel like that Always Sunny in Philadelphia meme of like that crazy map with like the red string. I'm like, so this is how it works. This. [00:11:23]

Carl Vitullo: You go insane for a couple days. [00:11:26]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah. But, but yeah, like hopefully I can like come up with like a comprehensive answer to this, [00:11:34]

So, how do I think about creating a conference to help devs with their careers? So, so first of all, like born and raised South Floridian. So the conference is on my home turf, I'm like very well connected with the community and with the environment that we're working in. So, again, like I really try and bring the city into our conference and vice versa, so that people are really, oh, what's up South Floridian. Okay. So like, I'm like looking at the chat too. [00:12:03]

So try and like, bring it all together to really feel like community, because I think part of what makes a conference the most successful it can be for attendees is to facilitate networking as much as possible. [00:12:17]

The talks are all obviously like the key learning moments, on the books. But it's like being able to talk to the speakers, network with the speakers, and network with the other people there and create, like all of these relationships is so important. [00:12:32]

We definitely wanna make it like a fun environment where you wanna stay and you wanna hang out and that you can relax and you don't feel stressed. So like you're really there as your best self, and like an energetic person. So there's definitely that aspect to it. I think also like a huge part of our philosophy is diversity of our speaker lineup and diversity of our attendees. If you don't know, like Miami is an incredibly diverse city. [00:13:00]

We want to be true to that in our conference as well. We really try to, first and foremost, I, I have the personal belief that your speaker lineup is gonna be a reflection of the people who are going to come to the conference. [00:13:15]

So if you have like, all of these big names, everybody's like super senior, they've been in the game for like two decades. Like it's gonna probably feel a little bit intimidating and it's might not feel like the most welcoming place for everyone. I definitely want. People to be able to like look at the speaker lineup and be like, oh, there's first time speakers, there's a lot of women, there's experts. [00:13:39]

So like, there's just this range of attendees that can come and see themselves being comfortable in this environment. So I think diversity is like huge for us. And then of course, like the community aspect and then of, for just logistics, we co-organized this with JS World Conference, who's like, a pro at putting together conferences. [00:14:00]

And so logistically they are just like on top of every single aspect of like operations. So that's the main, the main kind of like concept behind the conference. [00:14:12]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. Yeah. Very nice. Yeah. I love what you said about the speaker lineup driving who feels comfortable showing up. I think that's so true and that's such a… nobody will ever will ever tell you why they didn't show up. Like you never get to talk with the people who don't come to a conference. [00:14:29]

I think keeping that in mind and designing a speaker layout so that people looking at what's gonna be happening will feel comfortable, will feel like, yes, these are my people, I can show up and be a part of this. I, I, I love that. That's such a great way to think about it. [00:14:43]

Michelle Bakels: Thank you. Yeah, we try and do a lot of scholarships too. So our scholarship closed like last week, I think, but you know, we have 500 attendees max for our conference, and last year I, we were able to give away 60 scholarship tickets to help with diversity inclusion. And this year is a little bit of a different year for conferences, but I think we've done, I think we've been able to do 40 tickets so far. 30 or 40 scholarship tickets so far. [00:15:13]

We actually have a sponsorship package where we, you know, if companies come to us and they're like, oh, I wanna be a bronze sponsor, which is like $5,000 level. We also have what's, basically we called it DE&I sponsorship as well. So instead of saying like, I want my $5,000 to go to the conference, it's almost like dedicated funds for, the way that you would do dedicated funds to a nonprofit and you're like, I want my $5,000 specifically to go towards funding tickets from your diversity inclusion applicants. [00:15:43]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Very nice. Okay. So they can pay to help support the logistics and operations of the conference, or they can give money directly to paying for tickets for attendees who otherwise might not be able to make it. That seems like a great way to structure sponsorship. [00:15:56]

Putting on a conference in 2023

Carl Vitullo: While you were just saying that, about it being, you know, a different time for conferences, we're in 2023, it's starting to feel like the pandemic is over. How is designing a large event that people are gonna be traveling to attend to, how is, how has that been? [00:16:11]

Michelle Bakels: I mean, we did our conference last year. So yeah, it was like last year was I think the first. It was like last April, I would say that was like the first time that a lot of people started really, I think traveling. So now we have had like a full calendar year of people traveling and going to all kinds of different events. [00:16:32]

And so, the people that are comfortable with traveling and attending conferences, I think people are like getting to be a little bit more comfortable with that. I don't even think that the issues this year are necessarily with that so much as the economy of the tech industry right now is it, it's in a really tough place. Like one, one of the toughest spots that it's been in a really long time. So, or maybe ever. [00:16:57]

So yeah, we're just very cognizant of, you know, we depend a lot on sponsorships, obviously, to be able to meet our attendees expectations. And so many companies just have their marketing budgets frozen until q3 and it usually takes about three months to like work with a company on a sponsorship. [00:17:14]

So I think, let's say this kind of like hard economic hardship flushes itself out on time with what's projected? I think it'll be in, you know, Q4 when conferences start actually kind, kinda like seeing the typical sponsorships and numbers that they used to. [00:17:32]

Carl Vitullo: So you, you are a native South Floridian. Could you talk a little bit about the Miami tech scene and how that's evolved in the time you've been working as a professional? [00:17:41]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, so, so basically I've been a software developer for like the last seven years, maybe eight now. So basically when I started learning how to code and I, I learned like I got a computer science degree, but I took my classes all like remotely from Florida State University. I've always just been in South Florida since I started coding. [00:18:03]

And when I started coding, it was so hard to find a community especially because I'm like really in Palm Beach County. But it was so hard to find a community where I could like connect with other developers and I could learn from them, or I could find like a mentor. [00:18:18]

Right around the same time that I was looking for a community, there was one getting started called Palm Beach Tech. So I really just threw myself into that community and, and tried to pull together pieces around that of technical people in, in South Florida. And Palm Beach Tech grew to expand to the region, which is now called South Florida Tech Hub and as I mentioned earlier in the interview, like I'm now the chair of the foundation for South Florida Tech Hub. [00:18:48]

So that's one of those things that's like really evolved over time, of starting as a few like disparate meetups coming together as a proper nonprofit organization that has like big tech companies to like Office Depot and also NextEra Energy, which if you're familiar with it, is the world's leading producer of renewable energy, but like having companies like that involved in the organization. [00:19:11]

So that's kind of like the north region perspective, and then in the south region closer to Miami, you had also like a lot of people, 10, 15 years ago that were. Pulling together, you know, pieces to build a tech community. [00:19:27]

So React Miami is kind of like a conference within a conference. We have a partnership with a general tech conference called eMerge Americas. And one of the reasons why I really love working with them is because, a) all of our attendees get free tickets to eMerge America so they can like, enjoy this conference that's like, 40 times bigger than ours, at the enjoying React Miami, but also the founders of eMerge Americas are like, tried and true, like Miamians and like Miami Tech Builders. [00:19:55]

So the founder of eMerge, his name is Manny Medina, he moved to Miami from Cuba and he had a telecom company and he wanted to sell it and, you know, stay in Miami and everybody was like, no, you have to move to San Francisco or New York to sell a company. [00:20:11]

And he was like, absolutely not, I'm staying in Miami. And this was, I think, a little over 10 years ago, maybe 12 years ago. He is like, "absolutely not, I'm staying in Miami and I'm gonna sell my company from Miami Beach." And so he did just that. And he sold his company to Verizon for I think like $1.2 billion. [00:20:33]

Carl Vitullo: Wow. [00:20:34]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, like something really high. Like really crazy like that. And he's basically taken that money, created eMerge Americas with his daughter Melissa, who's now the president of, of eMerge. And they are, for the last decade, been putting on eMerge America's conference every single community event that pops up, like they'll sponsor it, they'll support it. [00:20:58]

When they heard about React Miami, they were like, how can we get involved? Like how can we help you? Which is like, I think a hallmark of South Florida tech community in Miami tech community is this phrase, how can I help? [00:21:10]

Which has become almost a cliche because of like the tweet from Mayor Suarez. But it is really something that we say all the time, like very collaborative. So, you know, over the years it's been very like grassroots, building up the tech community, bringing in resources, making connections. [00:21:25]

And then of course, over 2020 we had people from San Francisco, you know, investors from San Francisco, VCs from San Francisco come in and recognize what's happening in our region. And then they kind of like made it Twitter famous, I guess. So it was growing at a great rate already in building up. And then we kind of just had this like, kind of like boom over the last couple years. [00:21:53]

Carl Vitullo: Nice. Oh, very great. Yeah. What a, what a great story of somebody building something on their own. Staying authentic to their roots, you know, giving back where the city they came from and the city that helped them build their business. That's, that's so great. And now to have it be this huge network of different conferences, that's a really incredible like origin story. [00:22:14]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, they are amazing. I definitely admire Melissa Medina is like, it's so funny cuz she's the organizer and president of eMerge, but at the same time she's absolutely like a role model of mine. I definitely look up to her. [00:22:27]

Choosing topics for the conference

Carl Vitullo: We had some good questions show up in the chat. When you're scheduling the speakers, how do the topics get chosen? Do you have an idea in mind of what topics you'd like to have on stage and then you find people who could talk about them? Or do you do outreach specifically to speakers? Is it inbound? [00:22:42]

Michelle Bakels: It's both. So usually we have to, in order to stimulate sales of tickets, we have to have some speakers announced. So we usually do a preliminary outreach to a couple people that we feel would be a good representation of our conference and what we're looking for. So it'll be a mix of some first time speakers. To very experienced speakers and like experts in the field. [00:23:09]

And then among those people that we reach out to, we try and also have racial and gender diversity represented as well. So that is what we call the speaker preview. And that's direct outreach. And that's like the down low, like, "Hey, don't say anything. We're gonna do a big announcement" kind of thing. [00:23:26]

And then throughout this whole time we have our call for papers open as well. I would say that as far, if — this is like my Always Sunny in Philadelphia moment again — but like I would say that like as far as picking topics and speakers from the CFPs, I really don't think that I have with certainty, some kind of knowledge ahead of time of exactly what the speaker lineup will end up looking like, because there are so many people that apply for the CFP that I'm like, "how did you even find this? Like you're not on Twitter, you're not on Instagram. Like, how did you even hear about us?" And they're like, and, and they're just the most incredible people. [00:24:06]

And they, maybe they've never even spoken at a conference, but you read the other things that they've done and you're like, "oh my God, I have to have you here." And so, I would say that there's definitely a mix of just trying to find like a huge range of diversity among the speakers. Which makes it just so interesting. [00:24:23]

And then as far as topics go definitely wanna try and hit what's trending. Obviously things that are really important to people, but I also try and avoid things that are trendy, if that makes sense. There was some like, Twitter explosion around like suspense, for example, last year. And React 18 actually came out like two months after our CFP actually closed. [00:24:51]

And so people were like, why isn't there a talk on this? And I'm like, well, we chose our whole lineup before this even came out. And aside from that, you can see how like the discussion around suspense like really quieted down. So it's like, you know, for the people that are coming, a lot of times they're sent by their companies and a lot of times they're like, maybe not even on Twitter or part of these conversations. [00:25:14]

And so you wanna try and find the things that appeal to enterprise and corporate developers as well. People who can't change their tech stack decisions or their design decisions based on like, what's happening on Twitter, right? So you also wanna try and keep like the tried and true talk. [00:25:30]

So I try and always have, straight React talk, talks that involve machine learning, talks that involve type safety, you know, a little bit of backend, and infrastructure. So it's like, yes, it's front end, but I think that the days of like just somebody being solely a front end developer is kind of fading away. [00:25:52]

So it's like I kind of try and feel out like a lineup of topics that speaks more to the full stack developer that does React as the front end. [00:26:02]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. That's a trend that I've noticed as well. And I guess that the React core team has sort of been pushing as well a lot more emphasis on crossing the client server boundary. That makes sense. Yeah. What you said about tr picking things that are trending but not trendy, that sounds like a tough balance to reach. [00:26:21]

Michelle Bakels: (laughter) It is, and sometimes get called out. [00:26:25]

Carl Vitullo: Sure. Right. Yeah. It's picking something that people are excited about, but that has staying power survive the life cycle of organizing a conference. Yeah. That sounds like a, a tricky balance. [00:26:36]

Michelle Bakels: Yes. Yeah, you, because the videos last forever and you obviously, you wanna have something beneficial to people in the moment, but you also wanna have something that people can watch again in two years, and it's still informative. [00:26:48]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Somewhat timeless at least. [00:26:51]

Reaching out to first-time speakers

Carl Vitullo: Did I hear you say that you do some outreach early in the conference to first time speakers? [00:26:56]

Michelle Bakels: Yes. [00:26:57]

Carl Vitullo: How do you do that? How do you discover people, first time speakers to reach out to at that phase? [00:27:02]

Michelle Bakels: It's actually one of the very small benefits of being chronically online. So I spend a lot of time on Twitter and you connect with all kinds of people. You start to like be able to see who these like rising star developers are. [00:27:17]

We usually try and have like a good handful of first time speakers, but one of our first time speakers was Will Johnson of Auth0 and Okta. And I think you can see like how much he's blown up over the last year with his content and, and the material that he creates. [00:27:34]

And then another one is Camie Ramos who was a first time speaker and React Miami was her first conference. I remember one night at the speaker hotel like, Brandon Bayer, Tejas Kumar, Kent Dodds, Facundo Giuliani, like all of them on the back patio of the speaker hotel, giving her feedback on like her practicing her talk. And now she's probably given like 20 conference talks. Like she's in such high demand now and traveling all over the world since then. [00:28:01]

So I think like part of it is just being online and like seeing, okay, who's building, who's creating, who has like, who's kind of walking into a topic or a niche and is gonna probably have a lot to say about it. [00:28:15]

So that's how you, how I kind of find the first time speakers. [00:28:19]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I like that, that's a really good answer. [00:28:21]

You had said earlier that one of your, one of the driving motivations behind the conference is… networking is such an important aspect. So hearing a story of a first time speaker being given an opportunity to be in network with these very experienced speakers, and that being a, a spring pad for her, at least for her speaking career. [00:28:42]

You know, who what that, how that reflects back on the actual career, but, oh, that's so great. That's, that's such a good example of a, a success. [00:28:50]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, it's something that's really awesome. And I think also I have this, I don't wanna like curse, but like, basically like no a-hole policy. So it's like, even if you're like the biggest superstar in the world, but you're like constantly picking fights on Twitter, I probably am not gonna like, Ask you to be a part of like our super lineup because I love those moments. [00:29:13]

Like the people that are, like the veterans that do come, they're so generous with their knowledge and their time, and I think that's so important. And so I think it's also like finding the right personalities that make everyone feel comfortable when they're there. And, you know, Tejas Kumar, I think is like an exemplary speaker here because, he's even offered this year to do one-on-one coaching and feedback the whole time leading up to the conference. So speakers can reach out to him and like get feedback from him. And he obviously spoken at like a hundred conferences and is a pro. [00:29:45]

Carl Vitullo: I had an opportunity to speak with him, really for the first time. I, you know, I had met him at conferences, but we had him on to talk about his new business and going independent a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, I really, he's just so generous, so generous and so enthusiastic. [00:30:00]

Michelle Bakels: Mm-hmm. [00:30:01]

Carl Vitullo: Like you said about getting the right personalities to have the event feel good. Someone who knows a lot and who gets joy from bringing other people up to their level. I think that's, such a good energy to, to bring. [00:30:13]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, definitely. I think all of those guys, Facundo, Kent Dodds, Brandon Bayer, they all have that energy and there's like, I love that. I love seeing them spend time with the speakers ahead of time and give feedback. It's like warms your heart. [00:30:27]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Sort of, I guess a follow up to the question I asked about reaching out to first time speakers. [00:30:32]

Tips for wanna-be speakers?

Carl Vitullo: Any tips for people who have never spoken, getting their first speaking opportunity? [00:30:37]

Michelle Bakels: I'll preface this by saying that the things that would stand out to me are not true for all conferences. All of the things that I described on like how I do a speaker lineup, that is not true for everyone. All conferences kind of have their own criteria of who they choose. [00:30:52]

So with that said, I would say, there are some conferences that just are not interested in first time speakers. If you apply to one of those conferences, unfortunately, like it's so hard to like, we try and like kind of lay out the criteria in our CFP, but not every conference does that. [00:31:09]

You could very well accidentally apply to one of these conferences that are like, "we only want celebrities" and you know, I would say biggest thing is just not to take it personally. Like if you get rejected, it pretty much happens to everyone and it will happen to even the experts, like even the veterans get rejected still to this day. [00:31:27]

So with that said, I would say, if you don't have any conference experience, it's really important to convey to the organizer what kind of energy you're gonna bring to the stage, how you are as a speaker. We want people who are on stage who are going to like, engage the audience. You know, seem really energetic. That carries over to the recordings and stuff that go up on YouTube afterwards. [00:31:51]

So we want people who are also really good at explaining their ideas. So if there is an opportunity, even if it's optional, always try and submit a video or something of you talking about your topic, you know, what your ideas are or how you're gonna be as a speaker because there's just no premise for it that anybody can reference. And I think that's like the biggest thing is for people to get an idea of who you are. Cause culture is huge at conferences. So I would say that is a video is really helpful. [00:32:21]

If you don't do a video, don't skimp out on, you know, describing what your talk is about. Don't skimp out on your bio. You know, you'll see like somebody like Ken Wheeler today, his bio is, "an award-winning, critically acclaimed music producer that's just doing computer stuff for the money." [00:32:40]

A first time speaker can't submit that as a bio. Ken Wheeler can submit that. Cause everybody knows Ken Wheeler now. [00:32:47]

Carl Vitullo: Ken Wheeler has a brand. [00:32:49]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, exactly. So it's like, at least three to five sentences, like explain, you know, the most impressive things about you. And yeah, I think somebody said context is key. How does it relate to this conference? You're basically like trying to get hired, right? So like, why should we pick you? [00:33:05]

And then your topic idea, just make it really clear and make it really well understood, like why you're the expert to talk about. Thing, like if there's, you know, 10 people who submitted talks on accessibility, why should they choose yours? What are you gonna bring in your talk that's gonna be really important and beneficial to the audience? [00:33:24]

So those are definitely a couple of my biggest tips. [00:33:27]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, that makes sense. I know that a lot of the time, many speakers at conferences are either professional developer relations, you know, they're working for a company specifically to go to conferences and speak about the product. Consultants or people like that will do it for a branding opportunity. [00:33:44]

There's a lot of competition and, and like you said about some conferences really focusing in on the celebrity speakers. I imagine that those conferences are not going to tell you that's what they're doing. [00:33:54]

Michelle Bakels: No, no, like just on the D-L, like between all 50 of us and whoever listens to the recording, like I know for a fact that there are conferences that rank really highly, like the number of Twitter followers that you have. They're never gonna put that on their website, but it is what it is. [00:34:12]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Yeah, that makes sense. I like how you describe it as, you are trying to be hired, basically, you know, it's, it's lower stakes because it's one event, not an ongoing, compensation structure. But yeah, you are selling yourself in a very similar way to a job interview. [00:34:26]

One piece of advice I've heard given before that I'd love to hear your take on, is to speak at meetups because it's a smaller scale, lower stakes environment to get a speaking experience. [00:34:36]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah. Yeah, I definitely think it's definitely good advice if you're able to do that, to try and find a virtual meetup. Or a one in your community, or you can just organize one yourself. I think that's a really great way to get speaking experience and I think it's a really great way to get your ideas across. [00:34:53]

We don't limit the number of proposals somebody can like send us, so there are definitely a few people that submit tons of talks that, sometimes it feels like, well, are you. You know, is this for a line item on your LinkedIn, or do you really care about talking about this thing? And so sometimes I can really tell that people care about that thing that they wanna talk about, but it, you know, we have a single track conference and at some point we have to cut off who we accept. [00:35:21]

And I would say also, just like if your talk doesn't get accepted, even if you make your own video at home, just talking about this thing the next time you go to apply for a conference, now you have a video of you talking about this thing. And you know, like you have people who are like interested in you talking about it. [00:35:40]

Like you kind of have an audience which makes you more compelling, you know, for the next time around. [00:35:46]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. So I guess maybe one point of feedback that could be valuable for someone trying to get the first time speaking experience is just start speaking, find any opportunity you can to get a platform of, to talk on whether it's Meetup in person or virtually. [00:36:03]

I know, you know, like we've had a number of people reach out to reactiflux to me to say, Hey, I'd love to come on and do an office hours event. [00:36:10]

Carl Vitullo (editing): Hint, hint! We accept inbound requests to speak at events like this, you can DM me, vcarl, or email [00:36:18]

Carl Vitullo: So yeah, I think we are one stage event where people , could come up and talk. I've heard of like virtual coffee podcasts, things like that. There's, I think there are a lot of speaking opportunities that are maybe lower stakes, a lower barrier to entry than you know, in-person live on stage at a conference. [00:36:35]

Michelle Bakels: Absolutely for sure. [00:36:37]

Will talks be recorded? (yes)

Carl Vitullo: One question about the conference, for people who attend virtually, will the presentations be recorded? [00:36:42]

Michelle Bakels: Yeah, so we'll have, as we get closer to the conference, I mean, we're two weeks away, so I guess it should be in a couple of days, hopefully. We're going to have a link up to register for the live stream, which is going to be free. So we're gonna have a live stream of the conference and then, I would say about, it takes two weeks of post-production work to get the talks all ready to go. [00:37:04]

So I think at probably at least two weeks after the conference, then the recordings will be up. For anybody who wants to watch. [00:37:12]

Documentary screening, afterparty, beautiful venue

Carl Vitullo: Sure. Yeah, that's a lot of video content. Anything about the conference you feel like should be highlighted? [00:37:17]

Michelle Bakels: We gotta talk about so many fun things about the conference. I think again, I mean, I think we have like an amazing speaker lineup that's super interesting. Two days in Miami Beach, like , cannot beat that, in my opinion. I think one thing that we didn't talk about yet is the opening party. [00:37:35]

The conference starts on a Thursday morning, so the night before on Wednesday, we're gonna have a React documentary screening. There's a rooftop cinema club on Miami Beach, which is obviously a rooftop cinema, which is very cool. And it's very fun, they have like, almost feels like carnival concessions, and then like these comfy Adirondack chairs in a, in front of a big screen. [00:37:57]

We're gonna have some networking. We're gonna screen the React documentary, and then afterwards we're going to have Ida Bechtle, who was on the Reactiflux. For the documentary, Ida and Christopher Trudeau are both going to do a live short Q&A with Sunil Pai. [00:38:13]

So they're gonna kind of have like a Q&A conversation for about 15 minutes after the documentary, and then you'll be able to network with them after the documentary screening as well. And it's just such a fun environment. [00:38:25]

And we're also gonna have like a, a DJ who's a really cool DJ because they're actually like, South Florida, founder, entrepreneur, community builder person. And then they like have like the DJ thing too going. So it's like a really cool person to meet. And also do a great job DJing. So she's gonna DJ for the opening party and she's gonna DJ for the after party, which is at the backyard, at Marsai hotel, which is just this gorgeous hotel on the beach. [00:38:53]

if you ever see any pictures of React Miami or the videos of React Miami with this kind of like outdoor boardwalk kind of thing with like a shallow pool and like these lily pad platforms, that's the Marsai Hotel. We did our opening brunch there last year and now we're doing our after party again. [00:39:11]

DJ Lovely uh, is gonna be DJing that as well. It's just this really cool backyard chill area and the beach is like right on the other side of the gate and it's just like, so cool. So those are kind of the extra little gems. [00:39:25]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, that sounds pretty awesome. The opening and closing party especially, that sounds like something not to miss. [00:39:32]

Michelle Bakels: Yes. [00:39:33]

Carl Vitullo: Cool. Well, we're coming up on an hour here. Yeah, Michelle, thank you so much for coming out. This has been a really great talking to you about React Miami and conferences in general. [00:39:40]

Michelle Bakels: Thank you. Yeah, it was like definitely fun to have this conversation and like I said, an hour ago or so, I could talk about React Miami forever, so I enjoyed it. [00:39:52]

Where can people learn more?

Carl Vitullo: For sure. Yeah. Well, where can people find more information about either what you're doing or the conference itself? [00:39:58]

Michelle Bakels: you have some good, perfect links here in the chat. So is our website. ReactMiamiConf is our Twitter, where we post everything first. We're also on Instagram at React Miami Conf. And then for me on Twitter at Michelle Bakels. So you got the best links already up [00:40:18]

Carl Vitullo: Perfect. Excellent. Yeah. Thanks so much for coming out. It's been really great talking to you. [00:40:21]

Michelle Bakels: Of course. Thank you. [00:40:23]

Carl Vitullo (editing): All right. Thanks for listening! If this has piqued your interest, it is not too late to get a ticket, though I'm not so sure about flights and hotels. If you do grab one, at, make sure you use our discount code, REACTIFLUX10. Thanks so much for listening!