BuildStuff 2015 is over, so is (almost) another season of conferencing. It has left me somewhat ambivalent about whether I'm up for more in 2016 - I've written about that after DevDay 2015 already, so I'm not gonna repeat myself. But there's one thing I just can't resist bitching on. A new career model that has emerged recently (?) - Notorious Conference Speaker (aka NCS).

Who's an NCS?

NCS is a person who appears every 2nd conference (at least), who's known rather because of his/her conf sessions than actually "building stuff", who (in majority of cases) has had very successful & appreciated session some day in the past & (s)he's still living on his/her name until now. Sounds familiar? Yea, I suppose.

What can you expect of NCS?

NCS will apply every conf's CFP (Call For Papers), even if (s)he has not a single idea to speak about. In case of lack of inspiration, there are so many backup plans available ...

  1. "Refreshed" the-one-and-only successful talk from 2006 (with a nice subtitle like "Reloaded" or ": Retrospective after 10 years")
  2. Principles of Microservices ;P
  3. CAP theorem & Eventual Consistency: Distributed Systems 101 ;PP
  4. TDD for dummies ;PPP
  5. Functional programming for Object-Oriented people: examples in random FPL ;PPPP
  6. Introduction to DevOps / Continuous Delivery - with mandatory Docker tutorial ;PPPPP
  7. Full entertainment sessions without any content, filled with:
  • ponies
  • funny cats
  • random memes & animated GIFs
  • making fun of someone who's under-represented at the event (Java / COBOL / JavaScript / PHP / .NET people)

Hooray, at least 15 sessions per year covered. Remember, in case of emergency - Microservices to the rescue!

All of above (except the entertainment session) are basically either dry theory or entry-level demos from first tutorial that has appeared after googling.


What's wrong with NCSes?

It should be clear after last paragraph, but let me state it boldly:


There's an adage in polish, used mainly when speaking about professional athletes: "names don't play" - one shouldn't rest on his/her laurels. Same applies in speaking at conferences - you're as good speaker as good was your last session, so let me rephrase: "names don't do good sessions, good stories do".

Unfortunately some do forget / ignore that or don't realize that at all. For their own good they could have skipped half of their sessions this year to actually prepare better, have some more time to get new ideas / stuff to talk about ;P

Why people keep listening to NCSes?

But NCSes keep NCSing. Some because they like their celebrity status, some like traveling / socializing / meeting new people. And some are just "conference junkies" - addicted to that specific atmosphere of short-time-framed, intense event with a lot of positive energy, opportunities to hear new stories, etc.

Anyway, if NCSes's sessions are that bad, why doesn't so-called "free market" react to that (people who've attended the session can rate it fairly afterwards, so more people won't be exposed to the speaker later)? Why are their session proposals still being accepted, why people do attend their sessions in high numbers?

I can come up with at least few reasons:

  • NCS ain't a NCS w/o a good reason - they usually have one or more specific (& enthusiastically welcomed) social skills -> either they are great at entertaining crowd on stage (just talent, not much substance needed for that) or they are great companions who never refuse the opportunity to have a drink with a fellow dev in the pub ("I've got wasted with X.Y. at ABC conference, how awesome is that?!")
  • some NCSs are just good pals with someone utterly awesome & they have ... just ... sticked ... for good ...
  • conferences can't help the commercial reality - w/o good, sound names there won't be any reasonable attendance; w/o reasonable attendance total income won't cover conference costs - nothing boosts local conference's prestige like foreign speakers
  • known NCSes are well predictable -> less risky for orgs than someone unknown, who's just a one big, question mark
  • people who truly build awesome stuff don't have much time to participate in conferences (especially abroad), because ... they are busy building stuff :) so there's more spots waiting for NCSes who are always eager for some party ...

Ok, enough

You can call me envious, vicious, picky (many people seem happy at the conferences, though it's more typical for conference virgins ;P) or over-expecting - I don't care. It just freaks me out that some people clearly do not respect their audience & keep serving us the same, cold dish again & again, without blenching.


The best sessions I've attended at Build Stuff 2015 (in random order):

  • Rob Ashton on Erlang in their shop
  • Motiejus Jakstys on unikernels
  • Liz Keogh on alignment of tech excellence & successful products
  • Brian Troutwine on the conquest of space (seriously)

Pic: © Maridav -

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