Positivity and the RustConf keynote

I gave my first keynote some weeks a ago! At RustConf! With Steve!

The RustConf keynote is Rusts New Years address and it was a huge privilege delivering it.

I have a little bit of a coda to it. Generally, I give rather well-researched talks and like to focus on problems and solutions. I like to derive the solutions in my talks or give a story on how the solutions evolved. This keynote was not that. It used to be that.

Hyperfocusing on the problems

Rust in 2019 is in a difficult time: Rust 2018 was released and there’s some natural problems coming out of that. Mostly: where do we go next? There’s tons of multi-faceted and complex things to discuss here.

The first iteration of the keynote was just that: Steve and I set down in Berlin, talked about some of the subjects we wanted to talk about and got together. We came up with a huge list of problems. The second iteration was some of the most glaring problems, their history and how they evolved. In retrospect, each of them would probably merit 15 minutes of talking about. Quite frankly, had we given way to this interpretation, the keynote would have been the darkest to date. And all of those talks should happen at some point, but maybe on some side-track at some point.

That line of thinking also made coming up with a proper description of the keynote hard: we didn’t quite feel at home with the subject.

Focusing on the people means focusing on their achievements

But the RustConf keynote is kind of the beginning and the ending of a new year. Something new starts. Problems won’t go away, but they will also not go away by two people going on stage and point at issues for 45 minutes. We’d probably better start a tumblr around that.

As pointed out in the keynote, the Rust project member numbers have skyrocketed. We’re now at over 200 members, 5400 contributors and counting. Now imagine joining a project, working on your tasks, delivering them… and then two core members hop on stage talking about everything that went wrong. As interesting as that might be, it’s not a very inclusive experience. Because every single one of the mistakes we did last year was under control of a small group of people. It’s out of place to ask people to collectively own them.

So, we turned the keynote into something hopefully more interesting: a look at out undeniable achievements of last year and some reflections of the general kind that are of relevant for both all of the project and also to the wider audience. Giving a glimpse into our personal thought processes. Kind of the standard thing.

This has probably not been the most amazing keynote under the sun. But I was very happy to talk about all the great work that all the amazing people behind Rust and also in the community have done. I think we can use our little fix of positivity by the end of the year. I feel much more at home with that.

I hope this reflection gives you a little glimpse into why keynotes often don’t address problems. Because for that, you’d have to segregate the audience. Vision, insights and achievements make for a much more collective experience and that’s what keynotes are about.