Being an Extrovert in a Virtual World
I started off the year going on a cruise ship for 16 days with over 20 speakers from around the world. Can you imagine what that is like? For those that love speaking at conferences and cherish the speaker dinner well imagine 16 speaker dinners plus breakfasts and lunches. Amazing. Of course you could do what you wanted and be on your own but nobody chose to. Most of us didn't know each other from before, yet we all just clicked so well that it wasn't just speaker dinner but card games, karaoke, quiz nights and endless chats and fun. It was literally out of this world, especially as we entered into the vastness of Antarctica.
Of course February is for skiing and although I couldn't take that much time off after being on a cruise for 16 days, I could for sure take a long weekend and head off to ski. And that I did. Work was getting complicated and I wasn't really happy in my job so to be honest every time I was out of the office was kinda better for me. Skiing is fun and a great stress reliever with only the mountain and again like Antarctica an almost silence and peaceful atmosphere. Great for thinking.
February was filled with more travel. First a meetup in Valencia followed by Vue Amsterdam, one of my favourite conferences where I get to meet my Vue family. I get so much energy from this conference and it was my goal this year to speak at this conference on that big massive stage. And it really is big. As always I was shaking like hell with nerves. I always get nervous about giving a talk in front of the Chopin brothers, the creators of Nuxt. Not only that but it was my first time giving a talk in front of Sara Drasner, someone I looked up to so much. I ended the show and went out with a bang by doing a dance on the stage after Sébastien Chopin said I could be part of the Nuxt team if I did a dance live on stage. I mean only a dance you need, is that all. And of course an Irish jig it was.
Little did I know that a week later I would get a phone call from Sébastien and Alex asking me to come and work for Nuxt as head of Learning and Developer Advocate. Not just be part of the Open Source team but actually be paid and work full time for Nuxt. Of course I was scared, what if I wasn't good enough, what if I wasn't ready, but I wanted it. I knew deep down it was the right move and I knew I had to break my promise to my old job where I was meant to stay till the end of the year but like I said, I wasn't happy in the job and I needed a new beginning and a new challenge. Working for Nuxt was like all my dreams coming true.
Wow 2020 was going to be the best year ever. I was already booked for 3 more trips to the US, to Google and Microsoft conferences as well as Switzerland, Belgium and Greece.
Then 2 weeks after Vue Amsterdam and I was in Texas for Vue USA. I hadn't handed in my notice yet and my boss was asking if I really had to go to yet another conference. I said yes I do. Not just did I need to get out of the office as I wasn't happy there but I needed to be surrounded by people who understood me. The energy I get from seeing all my speaker friends is something that I can not explain. Texas was so much fun as I had a day before the conference of hanging out with Vue friends followed by the conference itself. And my goal of being part of all Vue conferences had been achieved as I had spoken at Vue Toronto the year before and Vue London as MC.
It was now March. Some speakers had pulled out. There was disinfectant on the tables. We were told to use elbows instead of shaking hands. But in the speaker room felt pretty normal as we all sat there close to each other and I for sure was hugging everyone not even really understanding what was going on on the other side of the world. But emails were coming in. Microsoft cancelled the MVP Summit. Google cancelled Google I/O. Cloudinary would soon follow suit. My travel plans for the next few weeks and month were slowly disappearing. Yet everything seemed ok, I mean yes we had some precautions and then on the last night we pack into a bar and dance the night away sining karaoke all night, sharing a microphone with anyone and everyone. This is what I would say was my last night of normality. If I had of known back then I probably would have stayed for a few more drinks and not gone home to be responsible and get up for my flight.
When I arrived back to Spain things started to get worse. We were told to work remote, that soon we would go into lockdown. To be prepared as it was coming. That day I told my boss I was leaving as we packed up our stuff but I was giving 3 weeks notice. I wanted to finish off a big project I was working on for a client. So obviously I only packed the computer and not the things in my drawer like my jumper and shoes for when I was cold or my packets of snacks for when I was hungry. This lockdown was only going to be for 2 weeks max and then I would head to the office and bring a cake and have a few goodbye beers. Little did I know. Little did we all know.
I said goodbye to my team and clients over zoom. It was strange. Almost like it wasn't real. But I was excited to start my new job in Nuxt which was going to be remote anyway so working from home was normal. There are always things you need to get used to when starting a new job. How things work, meetings here and there, new technology, roadmaps and plans. It is always a tiring few weeks.
It was now April. Spain was having one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. We were not allowed outside our door, not for sport, walking, nothing. Only to the local shop and even going there I tried to not do as it wasn't really a pleasant experience. Walking to the shop felt like everyone in the world had been removed and you were the only one on the streets. Kids were not allowed out and there was no sound anywhere. It was as if all the kids had gone on holiday. I lived for balcony parties were at 8pm we would come out on the balcony and clap the health care workers and dance for 2 songs and we would see people on the other balconies and just think, ok, we are not alone. It was very, very hard. Of all the things I have had to do in my life, lockdown was for sure one of the hardest.
Luckily I had a job I loved so I was able to work and I pretty much just worked. Easter holidays. Forget it. I just worked. It got me through the day as I was doing something I liked and I only turned on the news and twitter once I had finished work which was at balcony party time. Weekends I spent on my roof terrace where I did sport. Taekwondo patterns or running round in circles where I managed to run 10km one day. It kept me sane. Also I had great neighbours whom we were able to chat to as there is a large see through fence so easy for social distancing but still being social. My birthday consisted of having drinks with the neighbours and I put on my denim dress and cowboy boots from Texas and danced and danced and danced and I got a broom stick and we did karaoke while the neighbour sang to a spoon. We had fun in a crazy world. It was necessary. We need to sometimes switch off and just have fun.
During lockdown I had to go to the city to sign papers so I could work at Nuxt. My accountant had sent me a document which gave me permission to be on the street incase I was stopped by Police. That morning I walked into the city. It was so strange to see the city so empty. And you really realise that everything is closed when you kinda need to go the toilet and there isn't even a McDonalds open, not a single bar or shop. Nothing. After signing the papers I decided to take a detour, the long way home, so I could walk past the sea for just a few minutes. Not a soul on the street, not a boat in the ocean, not a plane in the sky, only the odd police car driving past. It really was a very weird and unreal experience that I hope I will never have to relive.
Lockdown lasted longer than we ever imagined and the day we were finally allowed out to do sport was so nice. I took my bike and cycled down to the sea. I saw people. It was so nice to see people, to hear chatter and just feel like there was life again in the city. There was actually a lot of people. Imagine locking everyone up for 2 months and then finally letting them all out at the same time. Well that is what it was like. Only we had timetables. So I could go out from 6am till 10am or from 8pm till 11pm. The rest of the hours were reserved for children or people over 70. As I cycled away from the sea and the crowds of people all out doing sport for the first time in months I smelt things I had not smelt for so long. Horse shit. I know. It smelt so good to just smell nature. Weird I know but that's how it was.
In June life pretty much went back to normal, in a non normal kind of way. We could go out when we wanted, bars and restaurants were open and we could go to the gym again. Masks everywhere but at least we could get out. But you don't really go out. Have dinner at the odd restaurant terrance that isn't busy but not much else. Except for the beach of course, one of the few places you can go where you don't have to wear a mask.
During lockdown there were a lot of conference cancellations. There were also a lot of remote conferences. It was like everyone just decided they needed to hold a remote conference or meetup and it was pretty full on for a while. We speakers, or at least me, felt like we needed to create and share content and connect with people. They were of course extremely hard times. Some conferences got postponed with most of them thinking September was going to be the month when everything would be back to normal. Unfortunately that was not the case.
My first online experience was the MVP summit. It was good but not the same. There was a virtual bar and that was cool as we could just hang out with people after the talks. At the time you could only see 4 people in the Microsoft Teams app so when more people joined you didn't actually see them. I remember sending a message to my friend Jeff on twitter saying come to the bar and just say Hi Debbie so I can see you. And he did and I got so excited and said Hey Jeff, it is so good to see you. And it was. Seeing a familiar face was so nice.
During the lockdown a few speaker friends set up different ways for people to connect. Not everyone was going through a strict lockdown but people wanted to reach out and help others. There were virtual coffee breaks, virtual bars, virtual concerts and one guy even said "I will be working, here is a zoom link if anyone wants to just join and say hi". I of course did. Just for a few minutes as I needed to have a general chat with someone and have some sort of normality in my virtual world.
And that's exactly what it was. We were now left in a virtual world with lots of conferences coming up which should be an exciting time as conferences mean so much to us speakers. Not just do we learn new things but we connect with people, we network, we share ideas, we talk, we laugh, we have fun. And as speakers we get to hang out with like minded people and it helps us grow and be better speakers as we all support each other so much. As for the conference it self. We get a buzz from the stage, walking out there to give your talk to hundreds of people not knowing if they will like it, how they will react or if you will remember what you want to say. Before all my talks I get so nervous. If you put my talk after lunch then I can't eat at all. The nerves are so strong but that is adrenaline. That gives me the energy to get on the stage and once I am there and connect with the audience, I come alive. I give my talk and I don't even remember what I said. And when it ends and the audience clap it is like you have overcome another challenge in life but also as you leave the stage and talk to the people in the corridors who tell you they liked your talk and they learnt a lot and you see the twitter messages of people who connected with your talk and thanking you for doing it. And that is why I spend hours writing a talk. Hours researching content. Hours finding funny images and gifs and thinking of a theme to go along with the talk so that it is not only technical but also fun. I like when people laugh, I like seeing and hearing it.
But the virtual world has taken all that away. There is no buzz, no networking, no feedback, no laughing, actually you don't even see a person's face. There is no fun anymore. We have lost everything that makes conferences fun. Right now they are not fun. Virtual life is boring. Setting up a zoom call with only you on it so you can see someones face, your face, while you record a conference talk is just wrong. We have some of the best tech solutions in the world yet we somehow haven't been able to make virtual life fun. We haven't been able to make virtual networking possible. We need to do more. We need to fix this.
Don't get me wrong, it is not just conferences and meetups but everything in general. From work to family calls or perhaps it is the lack of seeing people even if virtual. Some people don't have great internet connections so many times peoples cameras are not turned on meaning you don't see them. You don't see peoples reactions, you don't see peoples smiles. Do people even have smiles? We wear masks everywhere so we don't see people smiling anymore. It is kinda sad.
I am an extrovert. That means I get my energy when surrounded by people. People are my energy. When I don't have interaction with people I just don't work like I should. Having a pair programming session for example gives me so much energy you would not believe. Having a podcast interview excites me as I talk to a person with a camera turned on and we have real life interaction. Don't get me wrong. I love working remote. But I like being around people. I like talking, laughing and running ideas by people. I like working on things together. We have the tools. We have the tech but I still feel we don't do enough things together. I know as well that some people are not like me. They prefer to not be around people. I respect that. We are all different.
The other day I was listening to the podcast created by Netlify. Thank you to whoever created this. It was so nice as I personally know some of the team and listening to them made me feel like I was at the table with them. It was general chat and it was nice to listen to and to hear familiar voices. It was nice that it wasn't about learning something but more about just hanging out and chatting. I need more of that.
We need more virtual coffee breaks, virtual bars, virtual fun. We are not leaving this virtual world any time soon. We are not travelling any time soon and we are probably not going to be doing in house conferences any time soon. So let's figure out a way to connect with others so we can get the energy we need to be the people we are meant to be. Let's try and change things. Let's try and create more fun. Together we can make things better. And hopefully one day soon we can go back to the way things were and just hangout with people and have fun.