Speaking at Lviv IT Arena in Lviv, Ukraine
I recently had the amazing opportunity to travel to Lviv, Ukraine to speak at the Lviv IT Arena conference. Speaking internationally in a country I had never traveled to and experiencing the discomfort of not understanding the languages and culture made for a very memorable trip. I met some wonderful people and formed some hopefully lasting networking and collaboration relationships.
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit scared to be traveling to Ukraine. In the United States, all we see is turmoil between Ukraine, Syria, and Russia. Yes, I understand there is a certain lens that is applied to it in the States, but I was a bit concerned about my safety. But, I had the conference coordinators book my travel and I was off with my Lonely Planet Ukraine book. I was not sure what I would find and was pleasantly delighted with the beautiful architecture in the City Center. I was also met at the Kyiv airport and on the outside of the Lviv with the desolate buildings remaining from the Soviet era. There was certainly poverty, but there was also a large glimmer of an emerging city rising up against a tumultuous past and becoming a technology hub of eastern Europe.
It was inspiring to see the excitement the conference brought to the entire city! The Lviv Arena soccer stadium and the city hall were decorated with banners and memorabilia announcing the conference. It was clearly a well publicized and important event! I was glad to be a part of it, but I was worried people would automatically know I was from the United States and would despise me for that as in some European countries (you know who you are). Luckily those stereotypes did not heavily prevail. Mostly I was spoken to in Ukrainian or Russian unless I first said “Hi” or “Thank you” in English.
The biggest language barriers were some of the conference sessions. I assumed they would all be in English, but that was not true. I attended a few sessions where it was entirely in a different language. I had never experienced that before as most things are usually in English. It was valuable to experience discomfort because I have a better understanding of what others feel with English not as their first language or even having Agile feel like a different language. It had to use my other senses to try and read the slides (which sometimes were in English), look at the images, and feed off of body language. It was like everyone knew some joke that I did not understand. It was a good reminder that the world does not revolve around the United States.
A refreshing piece was that the language of Agile and better software development is universal. I saw so many excited faces and great questions and conversations throughout the conference. Everyone had the same passion, and in many cases even more so than Americans have. We as Americans have so many conferences and networking opportunities in our backyard and we take them for granted. I know I have gotten to that point, but the passion around me was enough to re-energize me to take advantage of the plentiful opportunities I have on a frequent basis in the States. It also reminded me that there is so much more world out there and I need to make an effort to stay in contact with my new friends about Agile topics.
Another interesting observation was how the conference ran. There were frequent coffee breaks, it ran over a weekend instead of during the work week and the hours were different than in the United States. The coffee breaks were 1/2 hour to an hour and it was a great time to chat with people. The conference ran from Friday – Sunday which was nice because more people were able to attend because not as much work needed to be missed – especially since many people were traveling from other parts of the country or the world. The conference itself ran from about 9:00AM – 7:00PM which is very different from the United States. In fact things didn’t really get started until close to 10:00AM and schedules were much less rigid than they are in the United States. I started presenting about 1/2 hour late because another session went later than planned. It just worked without folks getting worked up (ok, I was a little worked up).
As for my presentation, it went swimmingly. I used a handheld mic because the over the ear one was obviously designed by a man and doesn’t work with my hair. I ended up doing a lot of extra work on my presentation to make sure that it made sense for people who did not speak English as a first language and would not understand the colloquialisms that are common in the United States. I wanted to have an equal balance of text with some supplemental pictures in case I was speaking too fast or using uncommon language so that attendees could also follow that way. The entire approach and way I looked at my presentation was different than I had before, and I think it made it much better and more clear. Ideas that made sense to me I really needed to examine how to explain them to others who may understand things differently or use different jargon. Overall, I got a positive response. You can view my presentation here.
As I mentioned before, everyone was extremely helpful, cordial, and curious about the topics I spoke on as well as the other speakers. I was the one from Best Buy (which I didn’t really think of as not being international before I arrived). Best Buy is such a household name in the United States I had to re-think how I explained it because it’s not common knowledge everywhere. The product track of the conference had many talks on Lean, MVP, UX, and design thinking, all of which tied together with the presentations beautifully. There were so many well thought out questions and I got the opportunity to talk one-on-one with a number of locals about their specific situations using Lean UX and analysis and how it related to my experience at Best Buy and other United States-based companies.
The conference hospitality was great. Never once did I feel unsafe. I was picked up from the airport, had help checking into my hotel and getting places via taxi. When I was out with conference organizers or people I met they made sure if I needed something translated or was having trouble understanding they made sure I was taken care of. I even got some time to explore the city outside of the conference!
In short, it was a great opportunity and I’m glad I got the chance to take it (thanks again Leslie J. Morse). I experienced software processes outside of the United States, got a taste of discomfort, made some great connections, and gained a better world view. If you get the opportunity to go abroad for a conference, even if you’re not speaking, I highly recommend taking it. I hope to go back and visit soon!