ArticleNovember 1, 2023 · 5 min read time
After 50 Lightning Talks sessions, we want to look back on where we started and how the concept has stayed true to its initial purpose. Pizza boxes have changed to professional catering while Lightning Talks grew as a part of company-wide monthly meetings. Yet the same sense of community brings Nitoreans to learn from each other every last Friday of the month.
We introduced the concept of Lightning Talks in early 2018. The guiding principle was to offer low-threshold opportunities to share knowledge and learnings among Nitoreans. Continuous professional development is a key value for Nitor, and it comes with the idea of learning new things together.
And that’s how the casual, dedicated space for everyday discoveries, insights, and ideas was created. Now that we have our 50th Lightning Talks session behind us, we can proudly call it a success in every sense.
Lightning Talks creates togetherness and highlights each month
In the beginning, it took some luring to get enough speakers for each session. Nitor has always fostered an inclusive culture of togetherness, and paying attention to expectation management was crucial. That is why more experienced speakers, for example, were encouraged to ensure their presentations weren’t too fancy – otherwise, the newcomers could have felt intimidated.
As a result, Lightning Talks was always about learning together, fostering conversations, and sharing new ideas rather than polished slide decks. Some of the best talks have been almost crude in terms of technical execution. Slides, tech demos, and all other formats are all warmly welcomed.
Creating a safe and supportive space definitely bore fruit. Over the years, many had their first talks during the first few months with the company. The sessions allowed Nitoreans to hone their presentation skills, test ideas and topics, and crystallize their professional expertise.
Eventually, Lightning Talks started to run mostly self-directed, fulfilling another core value of the company. Today, Lightning Talks can be described as an open forum that is based on people wanting to share their passion topics with others. And to keep it real, we have seen some silent moments, too. The occasional lack of talks is merely the price we need to pay for an initiative built solely on the enthusiasm and volunteer contributions of Nitoreans. Otherwise, Nitoreans are quite keen to pick up slots for upcoming sessions autonomously.
Lightning Talks are a demonstration of strength for the self-steering company culture Nitor fosters. There’s always a group of Nitoreans who proactively want to talk about what they are working on or find interesting. Similarly, the participant count is also high. Nitoreans are willing to make time to listen, discuss, and learn from their co-workers. Lightning Talks acts as a crucial building block of the community.
From kitty litter boxes to compiling a non-trivial Clojure project to native code with GraalVM/SubstrateVM
While there's always someone to coordinate and advertise the Lightning Talks internally, the topics presented are always open and never curated. Anyone can choose a free slot for their subject. The only requirements are to keep the length at 15 minutes max. and carve out space for a couple of questions from the audience. That way, we can have as many Nitoreans as possible to enter the stage.
A good talk stems from a topic the speaker is genuinely passionate about. The excitement of others is contagious, and it’s always great to hear what kind of interests others have. Since the idea is to make a short and concise introduction, it’s always good to focus on a single specific topic. But in general, if Nitoreans find themselves pondering on the requirements for their talks, they are likely already exceeding them.
Over the years, we’ve seen a multitude of different topics, themes, and executions. The most praised talks all include a unique theme or point of view, gaining recognition in our annual Core Awards. In 2023, our Senior Designers, Annika Madjeska and Lotta Ahonen, were awarded for their talk about concrete tools that would help in including ethical touch throughout design processes. And the year before that, Michal Lison grabbed the recognition by tracking kitty litter box usage with Raspberry Pi, PIR sensor, and AWS to optimize cleaning.
But the topics don’t have to be highly technical or offer impressive new insights. Our very first Lightning Talks presentation was called ”Failing in everyday work and learning from it”. The talk can offer relatable Trello board tips to boost self-management, or it can describe how to use games and simulations to enhance learning experiences. Once, we heard how a fellow Nitorean (almost) became a cyborg. Recently, we learned about our new and improved office tracker that shows the location of consenting Digital Engineers roaming around our facilities.
If we look at the data, a couple of themes are more frequent than others. Core projects and conferences are undeniably the most talked about, and with a very good reason. Sharing knowledge is in our DNA, and Lighting Talks serves as one channel to do so. We’ve seen Core Week demos and heard the latest developments from the Microsoft Cloud Native Summit.
Ethics, sustainability, and accessibility are also discussed topics at Lightning Talks, and no wonder. We want to develop sustainable digital solutions that are accessible to as many users as possible. Ethics, on the other hand, relates closely to the rise of AI and how it shapes the future of work. Stirring up internal conversations on the topics has proven valuable from a culture and development point of view.
Our 50th Lightning Talks session was held on Friday 27th of October 2023. We heard about an AI model a fellow Nitorean built in the spirit of Google and Home Assistant. The AI could answer their questions, find information online, and even put on some music. Another talk was about a connected pipette and digital workflows. A colleague had worked on a smartphone app with a client that would connect to a pipette device for remote use. A combination of topics you wouldn’t hear from anywhere else!
We are eager to hear what insights the following 50 sessions will bring – thanks to every past and future participant, who are eager to make Lightning Talks the source of inspiration it is today.