November 24, 2016. The day I gave my first conference talk at CSSConf.Asia.

June 3, 2017. The day I spoke at a conference outside of Singapore for the first time at Webconf.asia.

Time doesn’t stand still. And dates are simply mental milestones we use to commemorate significant events in our lives. If you choose to take a rational view on this, it is simply our way of assigning meaning to a meaningless thing. But humans are not rational beings. And it is the most human thing, in my eyes, to remember the past.

I’ve been speaking internationally for 2 years now (2017 recap, 2018 recap), and it still feels surreal every time I stand in front of an audience. And I still feel immense gratitude to organisers who bring me out. I don’t think that will ever change, but if it does, someone please hit me with a mallet.


🇯🇵 @ DevRelCon Tokyo

I had joined Nexmo’s Developer Relations team last September and this was my first DevRelCon. My colleague, Myrsini, was giving a talk on hackathons as an internal advocacy tool and I was simply tagging along as an attendee.

Family photo after DevRelCon Tokyo 2019

She did ask if I wanted to submit a lightning talk, but at that point, I figured I didn’t know enough about DevRel to talk about anything useful. So I said, nope. But as fate would have it, I read the article, The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashes, just before heading out to the venue.

Giving my lightning talk on the Samurai track

The content in that article touched a nerve and by the time I made it to the venue, I had this compulsion to submit a lightning talk topic on the value of sharing our perspectives.

Given how last minute this was, I didn’t REALLY expect to have to give the talk. But during lunch, I found out that the submission was accepted, so it was game on from lunch until my slot at 5pm.

I pulled together 20 slides, and went through the talk in my head a couple times to get the timing down just right because you do get “samurai-ed” off the stage if you go overtime (I love this idea, by the way).

Speaker getting samurai-ed off the stage when time was up

Thankfully, the feedback I received was positive and here’s the transcript plus extended recap of the whole endeavour, if you’re interested.

🇨🇳 @ CSSConf China

There were a surprising number of firsts with regards to conference speaking this year. And giving a talk at CSSConf China was one of them. Not only because it was my first time in China since 2002, but also because it was my first time delivering a technical talk in Chinese.

On stage at CSSConf China 2019

I consider myself a native Chinese speaker, but it’s one thing to converse about everyday things and quite another to stand on stage and talk about CSS and web technologies. Luckily for me, the fates blessed me by allowing me to cross paths with Wei.

You know how you meet someone and even though you’ve just met, you feel like you’ve known them forever? That’s how I felt (I don’t know how she feels about all this, go ask her yourself). I literally asked her the question “OMG, where have you been all my life?” multiple times.

Acknowledgement slide in my CSSConf China talk thanking Wei for being my editor

Anyway, she’s originally from Beijing and kindly offered to vet my transcript for the talk, fixing all the ridiculous errors that arise from a person who clearly hasn’t used formal language in a long time.

CSSConf China was a great experience. It was a community-focused conference with more than 300 attendees. There was one English talk by Brian Birtles, while the rest were all in Chinese. Every single speaker was brilliant. What I found fascinating was how each of their unique personalities really shone through on stage.

Family photo after CSSConf China 2019

I was totally chuffed for the opportunity to meet my long-time CSS idol, 袁川, in person, and his talk was one of the most mindblowing talks I’d ever seen. Not just the content, but the delivery of it. He is very soft-spoken, and fairly shy. But he epitomises how sometimes, the most quiet voices speak the loudest.

If you don’t understand Chinese, here’s my unprofessional attempt at translating the talk: https://generative-art-with-css.commons.host/.

It was really cool to meet a few of the most well-known names in the Chinese frontend community like 大漠, 赵锦江 (AKA 勾三股四), 张鑫旭, 程劭非 (AKA Winter) and 贺师俊 (AKA Hax). Fun fact, 锦江 has now relocated to Singapore and is having fun with us.

🇷🇴 @ JSHeroes

My Nexmo DevRel colleague and fellow Mozilla TechSpeaker, Alex Lakatos, is Romanian and happened to live in Cluj for a bit. I had never been to Romania before, but I already had friends there, largely because of TechSpeakers.

Techspeakers around Cluj and at JSHeroes

JSHeroes was a 2-day single track conference with 23 speakers, a number of whom were friends I had met previously at other conferences, so it was nice to catch up with them.

There was a lot of amazing content packed into 48 hours (less if you count the actual conference time). This Romania trip also marked the beginning of my sort-of-nuts summer conference schedule for 2019.

Sarah Vieira and I met “the real” Brian Holt
Sarah Vieira and I with the photographer for JSHeroes who has an uncanny resemblance to Brian Holt

I was sort of jet-lagged when I got there and when Sarah Drasner introduced me to Simona Cotin, who is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, I FORGOT MY OWN NAME for about 3 seconds. One of many facepalm moments in my life.

My talk was near the end of the second day, which meant I couldn’t really enjoy the conference fully because of that nagging worry about my own talk at the back of my mind. I was doing my web typography talk, which has been remixed and built upon over the past 2 years, and remains one of my favourite talks to give.

On stage at JSHeroes

Largely because this is a talk that allows me a lot of room for localisation, to make it more relevant to the audience I’m speaking to. The research into the language, culture and history of whichever country I’m doing the talk in is one of the greatest benefits of this particular topic.

I had a true Cluj local, Alex, on my side, and he taught me how to open my talk with specific words that only Cluj people use. So when I opened with “Mno servus oameni buni”, I received the most amazing response from the audience of 700. And I hadn’t even said anything of worth yet.

Sketchnotes of my talk at JSHeroes

Another highlight was Madalina Tantareanu, who made live sketchnotes of every speaker’s talk. The entire process was projected on a side screen, which was really cool. JSHeroes was a really cool experience and I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s near the region to attend.

🇺🇸 @ ImageCon

Technically, this isn’t a talk about CSS. In fact, the talk I gave was the first full-length non-CSS talk I ever delivered on a conference stage. What happened was, I had tweeted out the year before about how awesome the 2018 line-up looked and unfortunately could only wait for the videos to be released.

On stage at ImageCon

Eric Portis reached out to me end of last year and asked if I’d like to speak at this year’s ImageCon, and I immediately agreed. It only dawned on me at a much later date that I wasn’t exactly an expert on images. But I always had a fascination with graphics rendering in general.

The talk I pitched was a deep dive into images on the web, because I wanted to answer all the questions I had in my head about this topic. The research process was fascinating, and I am so grateful to the experts I reached out to for advice and clarification.

Yiying and I at her art show

This particular trip to San Francisco was also a chance for me to catch up with a number of friends who were normally have a planet away. Like Yiying Lu, who I met almost exactly a year ago, in San Francisco as well. And I finally got to meet Christian Nwamba in person! 🤗

Tamas Piros, Christian Nwamba and I at Donut.JS

Also went climbing with Jennifer Wong, hung out at the most creative space ever, and helped out a bit with the 5x5: Art Show. Call me slow but it was then I realised that a lot of people I know are based in the Bay Area.

Helping out with the painting of the Flower Power exhibit

As a Malaysian citizen, entry into the United States can sometimes by iffy, so I’m always appreciative for the opportunity to spend time with friends there when I can.

5x5: Art Show

🇱🇹 @ YGLF Vilnius

Lithuania is a country that I’d known about since I was 13 years old, because of their basketball team. And it was a surprise to me, growing up, that most people hadn’t really heard of Lithuania before. We all have different priorities in life, I suppose.

My introduction at YGLF featuring the 2004 Lithuanian men's olympic basketball team

I’ve had the good fortune of speaking at 2 prior YGLF conferences and both were really great experiences. So when Sergey Bolshchikov reached out and asked if I would like to give the opening keynote at YGLF Vilnius, there was no way I’d say no.

Charlie and Bæla, Flaki, myself and Wei (with Adrian accidentally photobombing in the background)

As luck would have it, Wei was looking for conferences to go to, and I pitched her the idea of coming with me to Lithuania, not expecting her to agree. Nobody had ever taken me up on such offers before, but she said yes. Conference travel buddy! For the first time in my life, might I add.

The venue was gorgeous and the lighting was great. I inadvertently matched my on-stage outfit to the conference theme colours, so that worked out nicely.

On the YGLF Vilnius stage

One of the highlights of my speaking career is being emcee-ed by Bruce Lawson, not once, not twice but thrice. Maybe this number will go up in future, who knows? But it’s always a fun time when Bruce is running the show.

Bruce and I share an embrace after I go on his chair of interrogation

The content of the conference was amazing, and it was 2 days of awesome speakers covering topics from MIDI, to GraphQL, to Micro-controllers and much more. I’m probably biased because Charlie Gerard is one of the coolest people I ever met and I think the world of her, but she did the most boss move of the conference IMHO.

Vilnius is a beautiful city and we got the chance to explore a bit more after the conference with Tomas Miliauskas and Kyle Simpson. We even sussed out a potential location for the next YGLF. It might be called YGLF Trakai. Stay tuned for updates.

Sightseeing at Trakai with Kyle Simpson

I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go back to Lithuania, but I really hope it’s sooner than later.

Bonus adventure time:
Our flight home from Vilnius got delayed on the first leg resulting in Wei and I being stuck in Berlin for 24 hours. If this had happened a year ago, I would have been less chill than I was but this time, I knew I had people in Berlin. And we ended up having a pretty good time in Berlin. More on Berlin next…

🇩🇪 @ CSSconf EU

Ah, CSSconf EU. I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful event not once, but twice. CSSconf EU 2018 was my first time in Berlin, and I have been there again a few times. This is a city where I honestly have the thought: “I could live here”.

This year is the last time CSSconf EU and JSConf EU will be happening in their current incarnation. Consider it the end of an era. I had a lot of feels about Berlin and the conference experience during the 3 days, and wrote them up in an earlier post.

But talking CSS, right? So I’m typically a present-with-slides kind of speaker on a conference stage. (Meetups are a different matter) But some time last year, Alex (the same Alex from the JSHeroes section) convinced me that my no slides approach to explaining layout concepts with DevTools would make a great talk.

Fast forward half a year and I’m about to go on stage in front of 800 developers with a brand new talk that’s basically just me resizing the browser for 30 minutes. It’s no surprise that I would have a face that looked like this:

Just before going on at CSSconf EU 2019

There were lots of friendly faces near the front of the stage and once I started talking, I got swept up in the actual CSS like the nerd that I am. The feedback from that talk was some of the kindest I’d ever received and I really appreciate the opportunity to give it on that stage.

I was captivated by all the talks from start to finish, and super chuffed to meet Manuel Rego, Jason Pamental and Estefany Aguilar in person! Estefany gave a great talk on one of my favourite CSS topics, logical properties, and her slides were gorgeous.

Selfie with 2 amazing women, Sareh Heidari and Estefany Aguilar at CSSconf EU 2019

She also dropped big news at the end of her talk, that CSS Conf Columbia would be the newest addition to the CSSConf family and would be taking place in March 2020. 🎉

With Sher Minn before her talk at JSConf EU

CSSconf EU speakers also get to attend JSConf EU and so I got to watch my home girl, Sher Minn blow everyone’s mind with her talk on recreating retro computer art.

Team Nexmo (Alex, Garann and I) at sunset

Team Nexmo was pretty well represented this time, with Garann Means rocking the main stage talking about the missing Javascript phone we were promised, while Alex’s coffee ordering app being well-utilised throughout the 2 days.

Berlin is a special place for me. And CSSconf EU is a community and an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. ❤️

🇬🇧 @ Pixel Pioneers Bristol

Next stop, Bristol. I didn’t know much about Bristol, other than the fact that Rachel Andrew lives there, and that it’s really quite pretty.

I had corresponded with Oliver Lindberg the year before about speaking at Pixel Pioneers, and this time, because I was already in Europe, everything worked out.

On stage at Pixel Pioneers 2019

This was the same talk I gave in Berlin and the feedback from CSSconf EU made me feel slightly better because if I had bombed that, I would probably had to rethink my conference talks for the rest of the year. 🙈

Pixel Pioneers is a very locally-focused conference and a contrast from CSSconf EU, but boy, was it a great conference, both to attend and speak at. The only minor hitch was that I’d finally run out of conference luck, and my computer decided to freeze right in the middle of my talk.

Family photo after Pixel Pioneers 2019

Because I needed to reboot, and my work computer needs at least a good 5 minutes to start up, I really put our emcee, Phil Hawksworth, on the spot by asking him to tell jokes for at least 5 minutes. Phil was brilliant as an emcee, plus, he gave a talk of his own, so all the kudos to him.

Phil doing me a solid while I frantically reboot in the background
Phil distracting the crowd with engaging questions

After a lot of running around since April, it was finally time to head home for my last major event of the summer conference season. Lots of traveling does make coming home a more significant event, especially when you have people to come home to.

🇸🇬 @ JSConf.Asia

My first gig on a conference stage was emcee-ing for CSSConf.Asia 2015. Because I was too cheap to pay for a ticket. That’s the truth. I’ve always felt more relaxed being an emcee than being a speaker because I feel that nobody remembers the emcee.

Emcee-ing Day 1 with Martin Verdejo

The emcee’s job is to make the speakers look good, and entertain the audience just in case things go wrong on the technical side of things. As someone who has the useless ability of coming up with nonsense on a moment’s notice, I’m fairly comfortable with this role.

We traditionally run a gameshow before the start of JSConf.Asia as a warm-up, and this year the game was Loop of Fortune, a parody of Wheel of Fortune from the 90s. Also a chance for me to showcase some Singlish. It’s my city, and I’ll do what I like. 🤪

But this year, I was also a co-organiser with Thomas Gorissen, who had been shouldering the bullk of the workload for the past 7 years. Prior to the conference itself, I was mainly helping out with talk curation, reaching out to speakers, scholarships and wholy in charge of volunteer management.

Closing out JSConf.Asia 2019 with Thomas Gorissen and all speakers on stage

I don’t really have a proper approach to running a team of people, because honestly, I never thought of myself as someone who’d lead the charge. I’m rubbish at delegating tasks, and there were so many things that I could have done better in terms of communication and scheduling. But I guess you live and learn.

When your best mate also agrees to be a volunteer
Wei, Bæla and I catching a spare moment during the conference

Being part of the organising committee meant liaising with all the people behind the scenes who put in a lot of work to make the conference run smoothly, and I’m grateful for all of them, for their cooperation and understanding given how unpredictable things could be during the event itself.

Nice to have conference friends come to my home country for a change
TechSpeakers at JSConf.Asia 2019

Most of the feedback we received was very heartening, plus some suggestions for improvements. But it means a lot when people tell us that this is a world-class conference.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard locals say how the conferences in the United States or Europe are better than the ones we have here. But hopefully this mindset will start to change.

It was chaotic at time, things went wrong, and a lot of sprinting and lifting heavy objects took place. But overall, I think we can consider JSConf.Asia 2019 a successful conference. Go team! 🙆

JSConf.Asia 2019 organising team

To be continued…