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.

Kara Luton’s path from ballerina to public relations to software engineer may be unusual, but with more software developers coming from non-traditional backgrounds, it’s not as surprising as it used to be. What’s impressive to me is how quickly Kara has embraced her new career and been able to help others by giving talks at conferences and meetups. As Kara points out in this week’s Speaker’s Story, speaking is a great way to bolster your career and encourage others in the field.

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

I had a weird path to tech. I pursued a career as a professional ballerina for a long time. I even moved to New York City by myself at 17 to train full-time with the Joffrey Ballet School. I really loved ballet but I realized that I’d be lucky if I could make my career last until I was 30 due to all of the strain it puts on your body.

That’s when I decided to take a break from ballet, move back to my hometown of Nashville, TN, and go to college. I majored in public relations with a music business minor and was one of the lucky few to land a job in the music industry after I graduated.

I absolutely loved working as a music publicist. It was a very glamorous job but also a highly stressful one and I was getting burnt out pretty quickly. I knew I needed a change and started looking into other career paths when I stumbled upon CodeCademy. I really enjoyed the feeling of solving an error and decided that I wanted to make the leap to tech so I enrolled in The Iron Yard’s front end engineering bootcamp. Fast forward almost three years later and I’m still loving life in the tech world. I’m currently working as an engineer on the UX team at CrowdStrike.

What do you like about speaking at conferences?

Speaking at conferences has definitely benefited my career. It’s allowed me to expand my network in ways that I’ve never imagined before!

I got into conference speaking first by writing blog posts which eventually led to speaking at local meetups and then conferences. I like that by speaking at conferences I can help others learn. It’s really cool that the way I present something or specifically explain something can help make whatever I’m talking about click with someone in a way that it hasn’t before.

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

I gave my first conference talk not too long ago! Big shout out to CodeStock for allowing me the opportunity. I’m really happy with the way my talk turned out. I talk fast naturally and talk even faster when I’m nervous so I was worried that my 60-minute time slot would end up being closer to 20 minutes. I took my time and a couple deep breaths and managed to use up most of my allotted time though!

How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?

I’m still pretty new to the speaker circuit so I’ve only applied to around eight conferences. I’ve spoken at one so far and am currently on the waitlist for another. I really appreciate when conferences give you feedback so you can apply that to the next one you submit to. I’m learning from each rejection I get.

Do you have a pre-talk routine?

I don’t like to attend a session before my talk as I like to take that time to be by myself and compose my thoughts. I’ll typically run through my slides one last time but I’ll only do a visual run through - I won’t actually practice. I also like to take a minute or two to go somewhere on my own and give myself a little pep talk!

What advice do you have for new speakers?

Go for it! You can never succeed if you don’t try. Submit to conferences that seems interesting to you and don’t give up on trying again if one tells you no. Even the most experienced speakers get rejections.

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

I really love watching Chloe Condon’s talks. I love how she injects humor into them.

Chloe Condon at DevXcon, 2018

Where can readers find more about you? Your next conference talk?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter! My handle is @karaluton. I tweet a lot about the tech world and, if I’m being completely honest, about dogs too.


If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected] to tell your story. 💌

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