Subscribe

Share

Application Development

The Reluctant Advocate

Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassador Trisha Gee overcame nerves to deliver her first major conference presentation.

By Bob Rhubart

November 11, 2019

It was the last session of the last day at JavaOne 2011, and Trisha Gee had not been able to enjoy the conference. “I was nervous the whole time,” she remembers. Martin Thompson, her boss at LMAX in London, was closing out JavaOne with a session on LMAX’s Disruptor, which had won a Duke’s Choice award that year. Thompson had asked Gee to copresent the session, which would be Trisha’s first presentation at a major conference. Gee reluctantly agreed. Very reluctantly.

Up to that point, Gee had worked her way through a series of good jobs as a software developer for more than a decade, layering on expertise and experience at each company. In 2009 that path had led to LMAX, a London financial markets firm.

“I’d had 10 years of work experience before then, and within my first year at LMAX, I probably learned 10 times more than in my previous work experience,” Gee recalls. “I just can’t overstate how amazing the impact was of working with really smart people who are not just really smart but also determined to share all that knowledge.”

That determination to share triggered in Gee a passion for advocacy. She got involved with the London Java Community group, and although she found value in the technical content at the London events, she suggested to the organizers that the events should expand their focus. “We should be having social events and mixing events where we just help each other careerwise,” Gee advised. Her outspokenness led to leadership roles within the group, a role on the JCP Executive Committee, and an increased focus on advocacy.

That focus led Gee to leave LMAX after two years to take a job at Thoughtworks, where she met outspoken author, speaker, and chief scientist Martin Fowler. She had been blogging about gender issues in IT, and found Fowler to be an advocate for gender equality. He agreed that the dearth of women presenters was a serious issue but surprised Gee when he suggested that she could help effect change by speaking at those conferences.

Recognition

The Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassador program recognizes modern experts who blog; write articles; and give presentations on topics such as containers, microservices, SQL, NoSQL, open source technologies, machine learning, and chatbots. Learn more, and follow the Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassadors.

“That totally blew my mind,” Gee says. “I thought that it was the conference organizers’ responsibility to make sure they found amazing women to speak at their conferences. It never really occurred to me that it was my responsibility, as a senior woman in technology, to be there, to be present, and to be speaking. So I was like, yes, that sounds like a good idea, but don’t be silly, I’m not going to be able to do that.” Gee felt she’d need a lot of preparation before taking that step.

Gee assumed that speaking at conferences was something she could put off until she felt more comfortable with the idea, more confident about standing up in front of a room full of developers. That future was closer than she expected.

In April 2011, Gee returned to LMAX, where she was asked to lead its advocacy efforts. In September of that year, she found herself, very reluctantly, in that JavaOne conference room. Martin Thompson delivered his portion of the Disruptor presentation, and then it was Trisha’s turn, the moment that had terrified her.

“I’ve just got to do this,” she told herself. “It seems like a massive step, but if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. This is what I want to do.”

So she delivered the presentation. “It wasn’t that hard, and I could even answer some of the questions,” she remembers. “People came up afterwards, and they liked it. You’re properly scared while you’re doing it, but then afterwards you get this validation and this positive feedback.”

Since then Gee has spoken at every conference that would give her a slot. “That’s how I became a developer advocate.” Her advocacy efforts have resulted in several JavaOne Rock Star awards, and she has earned both Oracle Groundbreaker Ambassador and Java Champion status.

Now a developer advocate at JetBrains, Gee lives with her family in Seville, Spain. She spoke at 12 conferences in 2018. “At the beginning of the year, I say I’m gonna do 4, and then by the end of the year I’ve usually done many more.” Gee took a break from travel in 2019 but expects to be back on the road in 2020.

Next Steps

EXPLORE Trisha Gee’s blog.

FOLLOW Trisha Gee on Twitter.

READ Trisha Gee’s Groundbreaker Ambassador Profile.

Photography by Claudia Wiens/Getty Images