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Open Source and Public Speaking. An Interview with Erik Isaksen

Tal AterTal Ater

Erik Isaksen is the host of The Web Platform Podcast and cohost of ReadTheSource. He speaks frequently at conferences and workshops on everything from Service Workers to JavaScript Rehab.

Tell me a little bit about you and your work.

For most of my career, most of my development has been behind a paywall of some sort. This was until 2013 when I started to get more involved in the community outside of work. I don’t commit to doing a lot of intense coding though. Most of my contributions are content creation or documentation. The most active one I contribute to is

You have given a number of talks and workshops in a few conferences. How did you get started with public speaking? What are the benefits to speaking publicly?

I started presenting in 2013. I had a fair amount of acting experience from high school and college, but public speaking isn’t a character you play on stage… it’s you; body, mind, & soul.

I had been teaching at technology schools from 2003-2007 so I was familiar with some public speaking in the confines of a classroom. For me, public speaking forces me to better my communication skills, meet new people, share development experiences, and tell stories. Storytelling has always had a special place in my heart. I find that speaking is the best way to get to know people better and establish better relationships. There is a connection when meeting people face to face that gets lost in virtual meetings.

What would you advise someone who is interested in speaking publicly for the first time?

Be honest and tell your story. Developers appreciate real people.

What would be your top tip for someone who just posted his first open source project, and wants people to know about it?

Go blog often and a lot about it. Spread that content through social media multiple times a day (with action items like links, etc). Marketing yourself is important. Your content doesn’t have to be a lot all at once. For better or worse, quantity & frequency of related open source content matters.

How do you juggle family, a full time job and being involved in the Open Source community? What are some of the challenges and how have you overcome them?

It’s hard. Honestly, I prioritize what I am excited to do over what I need to do more often than I should. I am still trying to get better with this. One way I am doing this is by setting some boundaries and compromises. For instance, I start work very early and I leave early. This gives me time to pick up my kids, make dinner, and spend time with the family.

I do not use the computer at home (if I can help it and I am not on call). Also, I respect my wife by not planning or attending events in the evenings or weekends.

How has working on Open Source benefited your career?

Open Source has opened doors to different companies in that space. I have made great connections on a business level as well as a personal level. I consider many of my peers in open source to be my friends.

You’ve been able to get many great people to participate in your projects. What are your tips for developers looking to get members of the community involved with their project?

Just don’t be afraid to ask…and try not to be to creepy. 🙂

What motivates you to participate in the Open Source community?

Definitely the people. I love the social aspects and cooperative learning that happens so often in the web development community. We love to share and learn from each other (mostly ;p)

What’s the secret sauce to creating a project site or README that gets people excited about a project?

I am not sure these generally cause excitement. Have a clear purpose for the project so it’s easy to figure out if it is what you are really looking for. For me, I like easy instructions that you can do right away. Tell us how to quickly learn & get started in your documentation.

What are the first things you do after launching a new project to make sure it gains traction?

This goes back to what I mentioned earlier. Use social media effectively and speak at events and more importantly – create lots of quality content – as much as you can. Get other people to talk about your project and be a guest on a podcast.

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