I have now attended two Elixir conferences, the Big Elixir and most recently ElixirConf. But this time, I went as a speaker! That was quite the adventure; check out Nikki’s post to read more about our experience and what we presented. Our choice of topic was inspired by our own experiences of being junior developers at NewAperio and learning Elixir on the job. In order for the Elixir community to grow, we need more resources and opportunities for people new to both Elixir and programming to learn and work. This means that companies that work in Elixir need to invest in not only onboarding mid and senior developers, but also in the training of juniors. Happily NewAperio is doing its part to strengthen the ecosystem.
I’m excited to say that there is a growing interest in supporting juniors and this was reflected in many talks at ElixirConf. It was also evident in the conversations that Nikki and I were a part of before and after our presentation. During one of our conversations, another conference attendee mentioned that they preferred the term “early careerist” over “junior.” The term ”junior” can carry a lot of baggage with regards to perceived experience levels. I really liked their explanation and so will try to incorporate “early careerist” into my own vocabulary.
The Talks and The Conversations
De Wet (pronounced “the Vet”) Blomerus spoke on “Onboarding New Elixir Members”. We had the opportunity to speak with him the night before our talk at the speaker dinner. This was an enlightening discussion in which De Wet realized his talk was geared towards mid and later career engineers. Since he spoke immediately before us, he invited people to stay after to learn more about the early career experience. His talk had many overlaps with ours and showed that at all levels, the approach to learning and teaching Elixir can be very similar. During our conversation, one of the topics that stood out was the question of documentation. As an early careerist, when you need to learn something new, do you go to the docs, a blog, or a video? Nikki tended to reach for video explanations and me to blogs. This is because even though the documentation is excellent for experienced developers, it can be overwhelming with too much advanced vocabulary to learn for someone relatively new to programming. Finding additional sources and getting help from others can help early careerists digest what they actually need to know and narrow down what is relevant at the moment.
Brooklin Myers is the instructor at DockYard Academy and his talk “Using Livebook to Teach Elixir” focused on how he uses Livebook to help early careerists learn Elixir, Phoenix, and LiveView. Being an early careerist, I am very aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed with information. Brooklin shared that his approach to alleviate that problem for students enrolled in the Academy has been through a Hidden Cell library that he built using Kino Smart Cells to selectively hide information. Nikki and I really enjoyed his talk and were able to meet him in person at Elixir’s 10th anniversary party. His excitement for developing a system focused on teaching early careerists was palpable. DockYard’s goal is to have cohorts of 10 students participating in a 3-month course with a total of 3 cohorts per year. That is potentially 30 new devs annually! To see someone spearheading a movement to make Elixir more accessible and beginner friendly is something we as a community need and I can’t wait to see how that unfolds.
Theo Harris is a “Junior Consultant“ at Alembic and he gave a talk entitled “Wordle: Elixir Flavour”. We were unfortunately unable to attend, but it is high on my priority list to watch once the recordings are out! His recommendation for helping a beginner learn a new language matched the one in our talk: building out a project! He built out a version of Wordle during his onboarding at Alembic. We found Theo at the conference and discussed some of our similarities and differences in our onboarding process. What stood out to me is the desire for more beginner-friendly content at Elixir tech conferences. We enjoy hearing about all the exciting projects and libraries that advanced Elixirists are working on and using, but we also want to hear from newbies like us and see content for them.
Reasons to include talks by and for early careerists
When we see presentations that discuss concepts relevant to what we work on regularly or that are at a level we understand, the value of attending the conference increases. There is great value in seeing what is out there and what people with more experience are working on; it gives a glimpse into what our futures with Elixir might look like. But a good balance of the types of talks is important. With beginner talks we gain knowledge that we can immediately start incorporating in our day-to-day workflow.
Nikki and I connected with a number of early careerists at the conference both in person and virtually as a result of our talk. Being a speaker opens up the doors for important conversations and connnections. This really helps in fostering community. Before this conference, I didn’t personally know any other early Elixir careerists besides myself and Nikki. Now I have a new network of professionals that I will be able to grow with.
By including a spread of talks at different levels, it makes the conference more inclusive and welcoming for developers of all levels. As the community continues to grow, it is important to keep this in mind as we encourage early career professionals to join us.
If you are an early careerist in Elixir, I encourage you to consider presenting at future conferences! Your knowledge and experience is valuable and there are many of us that want to hear from you. Mike Zornek wrote a great recap of attending ElixirConf, and in his closing remarks mentions the desire to start giving back and sharing his own knowledge. In his early years with Elixir he wasn’t inclined to present due to “imposter syndrome – as an Elixir newbie, who am I to tell these people anything“. This hesitancy felt very familiar to me. Nikki and I would not have submitted the talk proposal if our boss had not encouraged us to do so. We didn’t believe that what we have to share is valuable, but our team showed us that it was.
Without our boss’s support to practice, rehearse, and perfect our talk on company time, we wouldn’t have had such a delightful and successful experience. I would like to see more early careerists sharing their knowledge and having an experience like what Nikki and I had; having company support is an incredibly empowering way to make that happen.