I Left My Heart in Siberia

Valarie Regas
Dec 30, 2019 · 6 min read

In March of 2018, I gave my first short talk at a technical event. It was five minutes, and I prepared obsessively for it. At first, speaking was supposed to be a way to network and find work. As it turns out, it was fun! I realized I want to be an Evangelist, after learning such a role existed.

I want to travel the world spreading the good news about my company and our product. I want to make my living studying, researching, and figuring out how my company’s product integrates into the larger tech exosphere, and share that with the tech community. I want to preach from the rooftops about problems we’ve solved!

Honing my skills as a speaker — June 2018

As far as I could tell, the best way to get to an Evangelist role was to start…. evangelizing. My current company does not have an evangelist, and I am not paid to do so, and yet I have been evangelizing for them since July 2018. While at the first conference I attended as a speaker, for which my company partially paid for my attendance, I met a representative from a company who had already seen and dismissed our product a year previously. He felt we could not help his business.

I’m not a salesperson, mind you; I had little interest in his money. But I am passionate about the incredible product crafted by my development team. So I evangelized! His company ended up signing a contract for work with us. I’ve rarely felt so satisfied in my work as when I learned that fact.

Speaking at Devnexus 2019, barefoot and pregnant.

As I quickly noticed, being an Evangelist rarely just happens by chance. The standard routes I’ve heard from those successfully in the role seem to all include: conference speaking, blog posting, networking, and standing out as a subject matter expert in an area or two. So I started creating goals to help me move towards these things, particularly in the arena of speaking.

One of my main 2019 goals was to speak internationally. I was asked to speak at two international conferences over the course of 2019, but only accepted one. The first, while I’d have given anything to attend, occurred while I was at the end of pregnancy. I did not fancy the idea of giving birth in a foreign country, having to get a newborn home without a passport, etc.

This little bundle was worth missing a conference or two ❤

And so it was that Google Developer Group’s DevFest Siberia 2019 became the first non-US conference to which I was invited, and that I accepted. Little did I realize, as I happily accepted the invitation, how attending said event would change my view on so many things in this world of conferences.

From the first contact with the organizers, I realized this event would be different than any I had attended. Instead of sending me an email stating either acceptance or rejection, Leo reached out to have a call and learn more about my proposed talk for his event. He asked questions, gave feedback, and was genuinely kind. At the end of the call, I was accepted. From that point forward I felt completely supported as a speaker. From my travel, to assistance acquiring the necessary visa, to planning for the event, the organizers were there for me.

Little touches, like being greeted at baggage claim with this sign, made all the difference.

The trip itself was wonderful. I was afforded the opportunity to spend an extended layover in Moscow as I traveled, and I found the old city delightful. I took regrettably few pictures, as I was too busy taking in the majesty of buildings older than my country. When I travel abroad, my favorite activities have always been the times I was able to visit with residents in their homes or places of work; to see how normal folks actually live in a different place. To that end, I stopped by our Moscow office. I was treated to espresso, conversation, and a deeper understanding that we’re all the same in this world, in a basic way. Then I was off to Siberia.

26 hours of travel later, I got to see just a wee bit of Moscow. This is the only picture I thought to take.

The moment I set foot in Novosibirsk, and the conference organizers were at the airport to greet me, it felt a bit like “coming home.” Dora, Leo’s partner in life and conferences, immediately made an impression as being someone I could speak with for weeks, and still only barely scratch the surface of how amazing she is as a person. Every speaker I met from that point forward felt similarly endearing.

I was asked to speak on a panel about workplace culture internationally. The other panelists were incredible, and it was a little intimidating, but the crowd got my jokes and gave great feedback, so calling it a win.

Days were spent enjoying sessions, chatting with attendees, and eating delicious foods. Evenings were spent pondering existence, sharing stories, and getting to know the other speakers, mostly over more food, as well as copious amounts of alcohol. Fortunately, my liver has been training for such events for some time.

My first borscht, courtesy of the Park Wood Hotel’s Romanov Restaurant.

I did my best to represent my country; to be an example of what Americans can be. I studied local customs. I took small gifts to hand out to show my gratitude. I was willing to try new things. Some of the more memorable experiments while in country were my first bites of both horse jerky (amazing!) and also beef tongue (excellent flavor, but that texture tho 😬). Pelmeni, or dumplings, were central to my diet. The elk pelmeni were superb! As a welcome gift from Dora, I was treated to a shot of horseradish vodka. I can’t wait to never, ever, do that again.

GUSI brought their “A Game” with the mixed meat platter.

My absolute favorite new experience, however, was the banya. Russian saunas are a place for friends to commune, bodies to relax, and souls to recharge. I was nervous to go; folks at home can be harsh about bodies, and I have just given birth to my third baby. No one in Novosibirsk cared. Not even remotely. I will never forget the first thing said to me upon getting into my suit and heading into the main common space: another speaker, a wonderful soul named Oleg, saw me. His face lit up as he exclaimed “Valarie! I’m so glad you made it!” I felt welcomed, accepted, and like a part of the DevFest Siberia “family.”

My actual session was fantastic! I had feared my sense of humor wouldn’t land well for folks who learned English as an extra language. I prepped for a few weeks before, trying to talk through chunks of the talk without using slang, without quoting niche American movies, and without randomly breaking into song. I felt prepared. However, come time to deliver my session, the record reflects partial failure. Once adrenaline set in, my mind reverted to my usual manner of speaking. Fortunately, the crowd enjoyed my humor and quirkiness! We shared nigh constant laughs and my love of kubernetes.

Automation makes my heat go pitter-patter.

The feedback I received warmed my heart. The attendees were eager to interact, ask questions, and share their perspectives. The random conversations had between sessions were amazing! To a one, the folks I met who chose to attend this event were delightful. As I reflect on the caliber of humans I met, I can’t help but think “like attracts like.” It speaks volumes to me about the organizers, and Google Developers Group Novosibirsk in general, to have attracted so many incredible people to their event.

It had been years since last I sat foot outside of the US. I’d forgotten how much I love travel; meeting new people, and learning from them, is perhaps the greatest experience one can have. Well, with ones clothes on anyway. The travel bug has once again bitten me, and I am already planning more international events. I can only hope they’re as magical as was DevFest Siberia!

The Airbus office in Moscow is forever endeared to me with this thoughtful gift!

    Valarie Regas

    Written by

    Youngling developer. Relationship builder. Tech event speaker. Jr. Devops Engineer. Queen of the YAMLs. Total nerd.

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