Itai Yaffe has seen a lot of changes in technology in his career. His first experience public speaking was talking about mainframes with a group of soldiers, and now he speaks regularly about cutting edge technology used in big data applications. Itai is in a great spot to speak on these topics too - his employer Nielsen has some truly large-scale data needs, which I imagine make for some interesting engineering problems.

That said, the parts about speaking he enjoys most are the conversations and opportunities to learn from others. Read on to hear more about how Itai got into speaking and some of his tips for people considering giving their first talk.

Tell me about yourself. How did you get into public speaking?

Other than being married to Liron and a father to Yaara and Yuval, I’m also working at Nielsen, the data and measurement company. I work for a division called Nielsen Marketing Cloud, as the tech lead of the big data group (sometimes people confuse “tech lead” with “team lead”, so I wrote a short post to explain what I see as a tech lead 😃).

In addition to that, I’m also a co-founder and a core team member of the Israeli chapter of Women in Big Data.

I actually got into public speaking more than 10 years ago, when I was invited to give a talk about Mainframes to a group of young soldiers during their basic programming course in the army. I really enjoyed it, and since then I’ve had the chance to talk about various topics in several different forums, ranging from internal sessions, through local meetups, all the way to international conferences.

What do you like about speaking at conferences?

While speaking at conferences is not part of my job per se, I’m sure it’s beneficial for my career in the long run, but that’s definitely not the main reason for me to do it. The main reason is actually the fact that it gives me an opportunity to meet a lot of smart people and share my knowledge with them - I absolutely love it!

There are two added bonuses for speaking at conferences:

  1. I get to attend other talks and learn from others as well.
  2. After I give a talk, people come up to me and ask questions, which always leads to very interesting conversations.

Bottom line - speaking at conferences is an awesome experience.

What topics do you typically speak about?

In the last 7 years or so, I’ve been a big data developer and tech lead, so naturally I cover big data related topics, usually frameworks and tools such as Apache Spark, Apache Kafka and Apache Druid.

I’ve worked on data-centric systems since the early days of my career, and it’s funny how sometimes the terminology is similar, while the underlying technology has significantly evolved (e.g Mainframe batch jobs vs a Spark batch jobs). As a data engineer, it’s exciting to be able to use cutting-edge tools to process the ever-increasing amounts of data, and so is the opportunity to share with others how we actually use those tools.

Do you remember your first conference talk? How did it go?

Yes, I definitely remember that talk! It was a local conference about 2.5 years ago, where my colleague, Yakir Buskilla (who’s now our VP R&D), and I spoke about how we use Druid for interactive count-distinct queries at scale.

It was the first time I gave a talk to such a large audience (about 400 people), and I was excited (and a bit nervous of course…). We got great feedback after the talk, so I guess you can say it went well.

You can check out the video recording of that talk below (my part starts at 12:01 minutes):

“Using Druid for Interactive Count Distinct Queries at Scale” with Yakir Buskilla and Itai Yaffe

How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?

Since I joined Nielsen, over 5 years ago, I applied to around 10 conferences, and was accepted to about 7 of them. 2019 has been extremely successful for me as a speaker, presenting and co-presenting at 5 different conferences throughout the year. I also speak at meetups and other forums quite often.

And, I’ve already started working on my applications for next year’s conferences.

Do you have a pre-talk routine?

I arrive a few minutes earlier to the location I’m going to talk at, and make sure everything is set-up properly. I also keep a bottle of water close by (just in case). Last but not least, it’s always helpful to pick a positive thought or idea that can lift your spirit and energize you right before getting on stage. I sometimes use Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (apparently, this is even backed by a scientific study).

What advice do you have for new speakers?

The best advice I can give, is to[read my blog post about How to present at meetups and survive (and what does Freddie Mercury have to do with it?) 😃

But to summarize the tips from that post:

  • Success doesn’t (usually) happen overnight, it takes a lot of work.
  • Try to make your talk a story worth telling - people always want to hear real-life stories about how others have dealt with common challenges.
  • Practice makes perfect - conduct a lot of dry-runs and get early feedback.
  • Don’t let criticism get you down.
  • Don’t let yourself get you down.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy!

Are there any other speakers you look up to? Anyone who’s inspired you?

I’ve been to several conferences and seen many great speakers, but I really look up to Holden Karau - her talks are always awesome, funny and insightful!

She’s involved in quite a few open-source projects, and it’s really impressive she’s able to contribute to the open-source community both in terms of coding and in terms of sharing her knowledge.

Where can readers find more about you?

I’d love to meet you at Spark+AI Summit Europe on October 15-17 in Amsterdam, where I’ll be talking about different streaming methods with Spark and Kafka. Or, if you prefer London, you can join me at Big Data LDN on November 13-14, where my VP R&D and I will be talking about how we use Druid for counting unique users in real-time.

If you happen to be based in Israel, you’re more than welcome to join our R&D’s meetup group and the Israeli chapter of Women in Big Data meetup group (which is open to everyone, regardless of gender!).

And last but not least, I invite you to connect via LinkedIn, Twitter or follow me on Medium.


Technology conference speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds, experience levels, and interests. At CFP Land, we highlight different speakers every week in our Speaker’s Story blog posts. If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected]m to tell your story. 💌

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