Category Archives: Diverse speakers

Speaking of Privilege Dynamics

The story is that a good proposal for a talk and some preparation is a sure way to speak on a conference. There are other factors involved.

Privilege dynamics

For this article I made up the term privilege dynamics. With privilege I am not writing about the honour to speak for a group of peers and their managers. It is about having enough resources to speak. According to me, dynamics is the way it forms the

Permission to speak

The first thing about privilege is asking for permission to go to the conference. My wife had mixed feeling about this. At the one hand she knows my love for speaking and at the other hand she wanted to know that I am in good hands.

The next in line for permission is my employer. My absence will lead to a drop in revenue. In some cases, I had to ask my customers to speak. This could have consequences for the results of the whole team.

There were employers who were really happy to send me as a speaker to a conference. In most cases they provide services and this benefits their companies. A lot of other companies are not eager to have a speaker at a conference. The benefits must be measurable in some way.

Confidential information

What is more appealing than to talk about than a real story? I can grab the attention of the public with a project or a sprint with some really insightful moments. There is a big chance that my employer or customer would not be pleased that some stories would be told afterwards.

For one talk I asked explicitly to use the graphs showing the results of a performance test. This added a lot of reality to my talk. For a workshop I created a website with an imaginary company based on real life experiences. This way no company or organisation was impacted by my stories.

Righteous owner

Copyrights are a difficult thing to handle for a beginning speaker. When I was a consultant, the rights of almost all my talks went to my employer. This applies for a lot of things. I read a story about someone who used a private laptop to retain the rights of a book.

An argument would be that the employer pays me, so this might be a fair trade. I can speak at a conference and my company will own the results. The drawback for me is, that I cannot use these talks after switching employer. This happened once.

Then there are conferences which obtain the copyrights of the talks. Even if the conferences pay me very well, then I will no longer be able to use this talk for other conferences or occasions.

Employee benefit

Another way to get permission is to ask for budget. Most of the time there is enough money to attend an international conference once in the three years. The costs of attending can be reduced by being a speaker. Things like a ticker for the whole conference, accommodation and travel might be covered. So, the costs can be reduced significantly.

Status quo

There are several tech conferences to whom I sent my proposals for talks. I noticed that there were 2 categories. I would label the most conferences as mainstream. All subjects are welcome so long they support the general view. Things like old standards and proven practices are highly in demand, The only exceptions are talks about new trends by known consultancy firms.

A small group of conferences are exploring the space of different topics outside the comfort zone of the delegates. Somehow, they create a safe place to experience or share experiences about experiments and team culture.

My last workshop at a mainstream conference was about blogging. A few years later I gave a workshop about privacy laws and Exploratory Testing on a conference focused on new ways for testing.


Of course, not all talks are selected based on scores like content and speaker experience. Keynote speakers are chosen directly. This led to obvious choices on mainstream conferences. Men are chosen to talk about things like car racing and technology trends. Ladies are supposed to talk about subjects like research on human interaction.

There are still tech conferences with only male speakers. A certain gender can be huge advantage to get an invitation for a talk.

Best in class

The usual argument of the conference is that the men are the best for certain topics. I was amused about a conference in Amsterdam with only female keynote speakers talking about testing. Several men protested. The female organiser just replied, that they were the best. Privilege can differ for each conference,

Restrictions apply

Minority speakers should be helped in any way. These people face all kinds of obstacles. Things like Code of Conduct can help a lot. Years ago, I wrote about a Balanced Conference Card.

Even then, a conference venue manager denied a service dog of a disabled speaker. It was like banning wheelchairs.

Time spent

After a talk is accepted for a conference, then the most difficult phase starts. It is called preparation. And it is not all about the talk.  It is about spending time.

When I was a consultant and I had no projects for customers, then I could work on the talk during office hours.

The last years I made these choices based on permission to speak and copyrights. I had to reserve time for the conference. This was normally Paid Time Off or holidays. I was supposed to work during office hours. For a talk at a multi-day conference, I had to take a week off.  Also, my preparations were done in my free time.

Travel limitations

Then there were conferences which did not cover the costs of travelling. When I was a consultant, then I would have no problems. My company would happily pay for the exposure.

For a talk as a free time speaker, I avoided most of the conferences which only offered me conference ticket. Then there were conferences with limits for the travel costs, which I could understand. No firm would like to pay for a first-class flight and taxis.

In one case I saved costs by taking the train instead of a plane. Once I read s story of speaker who got a ticket for a flight in the middle of the night. This was offered by the conference,

Additional basic needs

As a speaker I got the same benefits as attendees. All drinks, snacks, and meals are included. For a multi-day conference some extra things are needed like a bed and breakfast. Luckily, there are conferences which offer these things to speakers.  I got used to ask for stays and breakfast, if it was not offered right away.

My times for speaking as a consultant were more pleasant than the times for speaking as a private person.

In advance

Even when costs were covered by the conference, I had to collect bills. I could not let the conference pay for them at the moment of purchase. The biggest costs are for traveling. As a free time, speaker, I restricted my talks to Europe. Intercontinental flights tickets could be quite expensive.

In many cases I had to spend money from my saving accounts to be able to speak at a conference abroad. I had no business credit card like known consultants.

Commercial activities

No companies were harmed, when I announced that I would speak at a conference. My employer and my customer were informed. I had had to ask permission in earlier stage of my talk preparation.

Some conferences encourage speakers to convince other people to come to the conferences. If I would refer people, then I could get a small reward. This could reduce the unfunded costs of travel, accommodation, and certain meals. However, in the Netherlands there are certain clauses in job contracts which forbid extra sources of income.

So, only speakers with a good job contract or an own company can benefit from this referral program.

On site

After my appearance as a speaker in Sweden, my wife asked whether I had explored the surroundings. My answer was “No. I came for the conference.” And I wanted to meet people.

For sightseeing I had to leave the conference venue and go off site. I could have enjoyed the nature or some old buildings. My preference is to enjoy this before or after the conference. Then I would need permission for a longer stay.

In that case I need to ask my family for less family time and check my saving account for an extended stay. Even, if my company would sponsor my talk, then money is not available for a paid small holiday. I know at least one company which forbids to extend a stay even with personal budget.

Choosing my stays for the conference is not that simple. Some conferences offer only as many nights to stay as many days of the conference, Either I miss a part of the first day or a part of the last day. This part can be quite large, if I used public traffic or a car to go to an international conference, then my day of arrival or departure would cost me several hours,

Of course, my family had a big say about the date and time I had to be home again.

Pro deo

Being a speaker at some tech conferences is like being a consultant hoping to play even, If the costs would be compensated enough, then this would be great for me. At some conferences I gave free advice to the audience, who had paid the conference.

It was not done to send bills afterwards. This saved me the hassle of hourly rates or percentages of saved money on the short term. With fines over the million Euros for trespassing privacy laws I could make my workshop worthwhile.

In court, people with not enough money can use advocates for free, they are paid in other way. This is called pro deo. After such case advocates can pick more advantageous case.

Ad hoc

A lot of conferences will say, that speaking is good for business. This might apply for consultants. When I only focused on the activities of my employer, there was the known problem of commercial activities. I could not monetise this knowledge.

After one conference, I could only small bits of free advice. This saved me a talk with a manager about job contracts.

TIL or This I Learned

In order to give a talk I had to make some sacrifices. Privilege made a lot of difference for me.

LS In Conf’rence Land

Greetings to the reader or Lectori Salutem.

Texting and talking about diversity

This spring I was invited to speak at a known Dutch test conference. I had a good proposal, so I only had to say: “Yes”. But I had to ponder this carefully. I had a public promise not to speak at a conference with an all male line up.

I also had obliged myself to say: “No”, if there were too few female speakers. Women look different at tech and they need female role models.

This year several male speakers declined to speak at a conference with an all male line up..

There was only one way to find out. Just ask the program committee. I texted my dilemma and asked for the number of female speakers. There were only 2 female speakers selected out of 3. Selection took place on quality of the presentations, theme, and target audience.

I got my dilemma back. Is 2 enough? Looking at the last conference it was an increase of 100% in the number of female speakers. But still it bugged me.

The only way for me to improve the diversity was to make suggestions for the keynote speakers. I texted 3 names of female speakers and subjects fitting to the theme. At the end of the same text message I also agreed to give a workshop.

When I saw the final version of the schedule, I could not suppress a smile on my face: one of my proposed keynote speaker candidates was a speaker with my suggested subject. Yes, mind reading is cool. And there was a female co keynote speaker.

During the conference I saw a tweet about testing of blockchain. There were two speakers and the female one could really explain it. That’s why diversity is so important. Just for the record the tweet was sent by an experienced male tester. And it was not me.

Continuing talking about diversity

Same test conference. There was a representative of a European test conference. One thing about the conf this size fits only 1. And I could not resist the urge to talk about diversity. The answer was of course quality. And the programme committee decided about the talks. Also the names of the submitters were not shown to the reviewers of the proposals.

I was not quite convincing. So the woman offered me her email address to send more information. So I sent information about Karoline Sczcur and a link to  A Balanced Conference Card. I received a polite Thank you.

So what went wrong?
Time for a retrospective. Yes it is an agile thing to do.

I had not prepared some talk. So here is the rebound.
As an organiser you can give guidelines to the programme committee. And you can reach out to female speakers in a positive way. Yes it takes time.

More important is to realise what is diversity about. People who think alike come with solutions alike. This means that these people will fall in the same pitfall.

Back to the conference. If there are a lot of white male speakers, then afterwards the attendees will make similar white male speaker errors. A female perspective can add a different and effective approach.

Also. What works for a white male engineer, might not work for a female engineer. A suggestion from her can easily be ignored or stolen. This can be avoided by using number 10 of survival tips for women in tech from Patricia Aas.

What really baffled me, was that lot of these tips also can be used by people of colour. As a man of colour I have to invest a considerable amount of time in finding and talking with allies. To get things tested.

In the Netherlands the campaign #NietGenoeg was started to get more women in tech.

Jez Humble tweeted about diversity in a refreshing way. You can only make good programs with empathy at the core.
“Empathy is _hard_. It means listening openly and deeply to people with very different perspectives, accepting the truth of those perspectives, questioning and changing your deepest assumptions about the world, and changing your behavior.”

Skin in the game of diversity

So I had my own piece of constructive feedback for tech conferences a few weeks ago.
Okay you may call it a rant. It was close.
Actually it was. For a good cause. Diversity.

As a blogger I could just lean back.
Now it was time for my action. Skin in the game.

Target One

This year I was on a test conference. The number of female speakers was low. Some male speakers might say:
“Let’s double the number of female speakers. Fine with us.”
“Thanks guys.”

There was one female co speaker. That makes two female co speakers.
Wait. Now let’s look at the incredible number of female keynote speakers of 0.
2 times 0 makes 0. If this would be quadrupled or octodupled, it would remain a disappointing 0.

In my experience there are more great female testers than 2 in the Netherlands. Let’s give them a place on stage. Main stage please. Thanks in advance.

In the past no correspondence was possible about the proposal selection process of this conference. Discussion takes time especially with Dutchmen. So a bit of transparency might help.

“You’ve got a question. What is your question?”
“I think that there are great stories of women out there. We don’t have the time to coach them.”
“Just go to
[Update: TechVoices was formerly known as Speak Easy.]
“But this is a Dutch conference.”
“Indeed. But English is no problem for the attendees.”
“There are no Dutch coaches.”
“That also worries me a lot. A testing country without Dutch speaking coaches is strange.”

My first tweet to the conference was a wish for 2018: more female speakers than in 2017. No reaction at all. That was my target practicing. Next.

The next tweet was aimed to the chairman. I remembered two announcements of keynote speakers:

  • “When I was in London for BCS, I met [white male speaker]. I was quite impressed with his talk, so [ ….]”
  • “The other keynote speaker is [white male speaker] . I met him at TestBash Netherlands. “

Now let me stress that I am impressed with the test experience and knowledge of these keynote speakers. Now imagine two female keynote speakers and my reaction would be double wow.

Ready, aim, tweet.
My friendly request to the chairman was to have a look at a list of female testers in case of keynotes.
The answer was considerate: some of the ladies had already spoken as keynote speakers, but he would try to get other ladies on stage.

My tweet had an unexpected side effect, which I had not anticipated. A case of collateral praise. One female speaker reacted with “cool and Very proud” to be on this list.

Target zero
A few weeks ago Rosie Sherry pointed to a whole discussion about #PayToSpeak. As a speaker it is the norm to pay your travelling and accommodation costs. Both Rosie and I don’t like this.

I reacted with a Balanced Conference Card.
Just answer enough questions with Yes and you have a balanced conference.

“Why was TestBash target 0?”
“It was not. TestBash is one of the conferences focused on balance.”
“Why did you call this paragraph ‘Target 0’?”
“It is an inside joke.
Programmers always count from 0.”

Anyways my blog post ended up in the newsletter of Ministry of Testing. Thanks.

A week ago there was another discussion about female speakers. I pointed to my blog post. Somehow I ended up as an ally.

Target Two Too

Next tweet target was a huge European test conference.
You know: this size fits only one in Europe.
I actually was hesitant to send a tweet, but a disappointed tweet of a famous tester about another male lineup at a conf pushed me out of my comfort zone into my action zone.

Now comes the scary part.
The program chair had no Twitter account. A few years ago this was already mentionable according to his track chair. So I picked the conf itself.

I thought it was good to praise the conference organisers for actions taken for a diverse lineup this year. The aforementioned famous tester was also pleased with the steps taken in the past. So I retweeted her reaction with the request to keep up the good work.

This left an unaddressed program committee.
I tweeted a female member of the program committee to repeat the success of diverse lineup of this year. She did not react.

The conf did. Gender bias was taken care of by making the proposals anonymous. Reads good to me.

Target Two Too

By now you know the drill:

  • Pick a tech conf.
  • Make a compliment and/or request.
  • If you need a link or blog post

    [added later, see reason below ]

So if you want to have more diversity, you have my permission to use these actions.
Excuse me for scaring you.

Some tech confs have questions about diversity.  I respect their point of view. I heard really good stories about first time speakers supported by Speak easy. Now know aw Tech Voices.
Oops let me add this to the list above.[v]

Conferences want praise from their attendees. So give New Voices a stage like Agile Testing Days. You know what: those first time speakers have a lot of keynote potential in themselves.

Little thought experiment

Bio 1: I am a white male speaker. My dad sent me to the best schools and universities, because he could afford it. I now work at a Fortune 500 company.

Bio 2: I am an African American woman. I grew up in the Bronx. We were really poor. The only times we saw a computer it was on the television.

One day I was invited by Per Scholas. They thought I was bright. I laughed. They suggested something with computers. Me and computers, I could not stop laughing for 1 minute.

Anyway I got some really good teachers. And I could touch a computer without some comment like:
“Hey, what you’re doing?”
It was not that difficult to pick up things. It was logical.

For me the time with Per Scholas was like a Christmas story. After school it would be back in the shop selling veggies. You know what. I got a good job offer. Ain’t that great?

“Wait you are writing everything down.”
“But that is not a good bio.”
“I assure it adds so much flavour.”

Of course I am biased, if I see those bios.

  • A very influential tester once told me, he would like to follow the Per Scholas course. And he is already good.
  • These days I have to learn a lot just to keep up. What could this woman teach me about struggling and keeping faith?
  • I want to see the underdog.

Okay recruiters, don’t send me mails now.
I have a disappointing message for you. Both bios are fake.
Because this is a thought experience: you know like imaginary or hypothetical or dreamed up.

Target Me

Now what is all that stuff about skin in the game?
Good question. Which needs a good answer.

If I get accepted by a tech conf and there is big unbalance, then I will bail out.
I won’t speak.
This talk will be dearly missed on my CV and my Conference Speaker Bingo Card,  but that is my skin in the game.

Side notes

  • I am going to submit to 2 #PayToSpeak confs in the next few weeks. Although I don’t like this.
  • One conference is part of yearly package deal membership under 100 Euro. This club offers a lot to the testing community. So I give something back.
  • One conference is so nearby I lose a small amount of money for travelling. I can sleep at home.
  • And I want break my streak of speaking every other year. In the meantime I have this, a blog to practice my speaking skills.