How to (not) give your first conference talks.

Full disclosure and TL;DR

My talks at RESTFest were not the fairy tale ending of a Cinderella story.  They were really, really bad.  Skip to the bottom end if you would like to watch them, without the results of my retrospective process.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

If we go by that definition, I was not lucky at RESTFest this year.  My preparation game was seriously lacking.  I had the opportunity, but through hubris, indecision, and a touch of nerves I spoke impassionately and poorly about topics which deeply engage me.

What happened?

During my preparation for the conference I rode the fence and was indecisive about topics I wanted to present.  The conference added a great workshop by Shelby Switzer on hypermedia APIs and clients, which made me feel like my hypermedia talk would be largely redundant.  In short, I squandered the preparation time by I talking myself out of presenting a topic I felt passionate about but I was never fully convinced.  When I arrived, the environment was far more welcoming and supportive than I had dared anticipate was possible and I was convinced to develop and present a long form talk despite conventional wisdom against this type of action.  I wasn’t prepared for speaking in this environment, and my lack of preparation came from an entirely unexpected (by me) vector.

This is where the hubris comes in. For most of my school and professional life I’ve found success in even the most important of speaking scenarios by knowing the material well, compiling a light list of touch points and allowing myself to flow freely through the material.  I was sure, despite all evidence I read to the contrary, I would have no difficulty in ‘shooting from the hip’ in this way.  Ha ha ha… nope.

Speaking at a conference with an unknown audience is very different from any other forms of public speaking I’ve encountered, it requires you as a presenter to have strong confidence in your delivery structure in the absence of a rich interpersonal feedback loop.  I was unwittingly relying on an undeveloped and unknown muscle for reading the audience and adapting my tactics to the audience.  I assumed my confidence in my mastery of the material would be enough to power my presentation with zest to inspire all to immediately pick up the hAPI banners and charge forth.  Ha ha ha … nope.

This perfect vision was about as far away from reality as possible, while still delivering any talk at all.

What the audience got instead was a couple tone deaf lectures, presented with obvious discomfort lacking any semblance of passion or inspirational energy.

To the attendees of RESTFest 2017:  Please accept my deepest apologies for putting you through such a difficult talk.  Please also accept my sincerest gratitude for your benefit of the doubt in allowing me to finish the experience, and the tremendous support you all showed after my talks.  I did my material a disservice, gave an uncomfortable talk, yet you still welcomed me with honest, constructive, and yet reserved feedback.

Seriously, you guys rock.

Sorry Seneca, I’m not buying.

I’m choosing to reject Seneca’s definition in this case, because it doesn’t afford me any obvious path’s forward.  I obviously have future talks, but I had this opportunity and failed to truly capitalize.  Instead I’m looking at this as a win, not for my pride but because I can learn from this win and use it as a base to move forward.

Being such an introspective person, I’ve been repeatedly beating myself up over this failure since I walked away from the podium.  It’s only gotten worse since I have seen proof my initial analysis was accurate.  As little as one year ago I lacked any motivation whatsoever to speak at conferences, yet in September found myself at the very same conference which formed the foundation of my understanding of hAPI architecture.  Then in front of my proxy teachers, colleagues at large, and even someday perhaps my peers I stood and presented my ideas.

Thanks to Ronnie Mitra for offhandedly diagnosing my condition as “Imposter Syndrome” to explain the sudden nerves which nearly froze me in place.  It was a very new experience for me to feel nervous to voice my opinions or ideas.  The monotone lecture way I spoke came as such a stark contrast to my typical passion (bordering on fervor), to put a positive spin on it, that I usually speak with as I discuss anything I care deeply about.  Yet with the support of my family, this community, and my commitment to these goals I’m not running away.  I have more talks in the near future, and it is my hope there are yet more still to come.


Despite my poor performance at RESTFest these topics are things I’ve become very passionate about, they are all connected and worthy of my time.  Working to help refocus the tech industry on providing value to people; making it easier for developers to help people; expanding the definition of developer to include more people; recruiting more people to this cause of helping people; the connecting thread is a deep seeded calling to help people I’ve uncovered in the last year and a half.  I refuse to look at my poor performance as a failure, because it would be an anchor with a strong pull to stop or change course.  Yet, I’m not standing at an inflection point; I’m standing at a fork in the road between the hard path towards my goals or the easy path towards some consolation destination.  This failure of mine is actually an opportunity to prove my resolve and grow.

“If not now, when? If not you, who?” – Hillel the Elder

I’m choosing to view this as a win, because a lot more somebodies have to do it and having seen the opportunities I can’t willfully abandon them.  I was lucky at RESTFest, Seneca’s definition is not the only one.  I may have struck out, but at least I got the chance to bat in the first place.  Obviously this is a rocky start down this path, but I’m choosing to own it – it’s my rocky start.

I usually like to refrain from discussing things as intimate as this since my thinking sometimes comes off as alternatively grandiose or convoluted, but the recordings are available and I can’t change the past.  I can only control how I respond to it and what I do next.  I’m using this raw disclosure as a way to provide some excuse free context to the videos and a guiding light to keep myself on course.  I’m claiming responsibility for the lack of preparation and defining a path to grow into this speaking world I find myself in.  Sure, I haven’t given myself easy or short term goals, but I now do have a way to objectively track my progress and observe any deviation on the long path to my goals.


If for some reason you have read this far, and you still have the desire to view my talks I’ve included the links below.

Last warning – As of the writing of the post, I’ve only been able to suffer through the first short talk and about 9 minutes of the second.

Stop burning your customers and users.

Human Conversation Services.

A pragmatic review of OAS 3


Before I go any further I want to address the elephant in the room. Obviously I consider myself a hypermedia evangelist and I’m aware it is easy to make ivory tower arguments from this perspective. I am also an application architect which requires frank pragmatism where today’s OK solution is generally much preferred to next year’s better one.  In most of my previous posts I’ve focused my discussions on the distance between where we are as an industry, where I think we should go, and why it’s important.

Getting started

As part of my process of preparing for my upcoming talks at APIStrat on API Documentation and Hypermedia Clients, I’ve been reviewing the specification in depth for highlights and talking points.

On one of my first forays into the new world of twitter, I rather tongue-in-cheekily( pointed out as a hypermedia evangelist my issue with the specification.  Going back, I probably would express the thought differently, but the crux of the issue is OAS does not support late binding.

I’ll get back to this point later, because first I want to talk about the highlights of the specification to acknowledge and applaud the hard work put into such a large undertaking.  Looking back on the state of the art of APIs only 10 years ago, it’s easy to see the vast improvements our current standards and tooling provide.

At this point I’m going to assume most have googled for the changes to the format in OAS 3.  My aim with this post is not to focus on changes, but evaluate OAS as it exists in the current version.

The Great Stuff

Servers Object

This is a very powerful element for the API designer which allows design time orchestration constraints to be placed on the operation of the services. This can greatly enhance the utility of OAS for use in many scenarios, including but not limited to: API Gateways, Microservices orchestration, and enabling implicit support for CQRS designs on separate infrastructure without intermediary.


My previous experience with OAS 1.2 lead to a lot of redundancy, which the components structure of the current version very elegantly eliminates.  The elegance stems from the design choice of composition over definition allowing for reuse without redundancy.  It simplifies the definition of the bodies, headers, request, and response components as reuse becomes a matter composition.  The examples section is a developer experience approval multiplier, which is welcome and should be strongly encouraged.


As a hypermedia evangelist, my approval of this section should be not come as a surprise.  It mirrors in concept many of the beneficial aspects of an external profile definition like ALPS and is a welcome addition to the spec.


The standardization of the discovery or submission of webhook endpoints within the application contract itself is a very good step in supporting increased interoperability, internally and between organizations.

Runtime Expressions

With the inclusion of this well-defined runtime expression format, OAS removes a large amount of ambiguity for consumers and tool developers. This allows the API designer to add a lot of value enhancing the ease of use for consumers and integrators.

A Mixed Bag

These items are included simply because a tools utility isn’t determined when it is created.  The optional nature of the definition or use cases of the response object and the discriminator open them up the potential of unnecessary ambiguity and misuse.

Responses Object

All of the benefits I mentioned in the components section also apply to the responses object. My concern centers around the enumeration of the different expected responses.  The authors deserve credit in immediately pointing out this shouldn’t be relied on as the full range of possible responses.  My experience has shown that designers, tool developers, and end consumers are prone to missing the fine print or assumption, subsequently over relying on these types of features.


For the purpose it serves I think the discriminator as defined is a very elegant solution which helps to differentiate OAS from standard CRUD.  It allows for the use of hierarchical and non-hierarchical polymorphism alike, for more concise and reusable designs.  However, it still fundamentally ties the API to design time defined data formats.

Room for Improvement

The Extension Mechanism

With obvious resemblance to the now long deprecated format of custom HTTP headers, this section should follow the specs own well designed components format.  This upgrade could use the composition rules defined within the spec to allow much better support from tooling developers, and more consistent interoperability.

It’s All Static

While the authors have done an excellent job removing a lot of static portions out of the spec, it is still fundamentally static at its core.  Fortunately the static nature of the format is largely limited to a small section of the document thus allowing designers and developers much more room to innovate after design time.

Intertwined Protocol and Application Design

In computer science it is always immensely difficult to know precisely where to create boundaries for improved separation of concerns.  The OAS specification was not created from an ivory tower bubble.  It was created to solve real problems in real time.  Unfortunately, it still bears scars from this period by mixing protocol design concerns with application design concerns.  Each application design component is also able to declare protocol properties in a mix which wouldn’t allow for protocol portability.  If protocol concerns like HTTP headers and response codes were abstracted to external definitions or formats, then the reuse of OAS could bridge nearly all relevant protocols.  However, there would be one thing left to prevent the specification portability – the path.

Path Is The Base Abstraction

Getting back to the point raised in my cheeky tweet.  By using the URL path as the primary abstraction the specification creates the possibility of many future; operational, developmental, and maintenance issues.  Recently even the quickly growing GraphQL community has joined voices with hypermedia proponents to point out how this subtle design flaw can develop into severe issues.

Bringing It All Together

The purpose of this post isn’t pointing out all the flaws in OAS but to give a pragmatic review of the state of the specification.  If you want to see a more in depth analysis take a look at Swagger isn’t user friendly.

In the end, if you’re going to opt for an alternative to hypermedia then OAS is about as close as you can get at this point.  The ecosystem fits extremely well in the wide berth between a single user service and massive scale where every byte counts.  If your service design hasn’t been updated in the last 10 years or is nonstandard, it’s very likely OAS 3 would be a massive improvement and represents a today’s best ‘good enough’ solution.

Some of these necessary improvements are easy to handle, others will require more finesse to mitigate if they are addressed at all.  One thing is clear if your project is still using custom API designs, or spend too much time managing older service designs, and you don’t have time to contribute to a hypermedia alternative then OAS is worth your serious consideration.