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J.D. Hillen
J.D. Hillen

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My Journey as a Fake DevRel

My Journey as a Fake DevRel

How It Started

Before the pandemic hit and ruined everyone’s plans for two and a half years, I attended VueConf in Tampa Florida in 2019. I had been to a handful of conferences before but this one made a real impact on me. Being primarily a Vue.js developer, I walked away from that conference feeling invigorated and inspired to do something in the developer community.

Organizing MeetUps

When I returned home I went to and searched to see if Kansas City had a Vue.js MeetUp group. It turns out they did have one but it had been stagnant for over a year. I was determined to rectify that. After multiple emails to the organizers, someone finally responded and invited me as a co-organizer. And for the next two years I scheduled, organized and presented at our VueKC group.

I had no idea what I was doing. But my thought at the time was the same as that memorable moment from the movie Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come”. The first meetup was amazing! We had a packed house of about forty people. Not bad for my first time. My employer at the time had a great room to hold meetups in and even bought us pizza for the event. We already had beer on tap so everyone was happy. This went on for the next year with what I call, mild success. And though the numbers varied from time to time, I found it to be a worthwhile endeavor. It was official. I had caught the presenter’s bug.

After about a year of organizing local events, I then took that same energy into the next VueConf 2020 in Austin Texas. I found it just as inspiring as the last one I attended but something changed in me. The whole time I was there I thought to myself, “why couldn’t I present at VueConf”? I’ve got a story to tell. Why couldn’t I do that? So on the plane back to KC I decided that my next goal was to present at VueConf 2021.

COVID Ruins Everything

Well that didn’t happen. The week I got back from Austin, COVID hit full force in the states. I found myself locked away in my office for the foreseeable future. No conferences. No meetups. No happy hours. Just me and my laptop, slowly losing sanity. I’m a fairly extroverted person so the lack of community interaction became something I craved regularly.

During that break from the real world I began writing talks. I’d tinker with slides here and there. But mainly I would write out ideas for something that might be interesting to a conference audience. And even though I was stuck at home, my determination never wavered once. I wanted to present at a conference.

Things Started Moving

Fast forward to mid 2021. I noticed CFP’s for conferences starting to pop up on Twitter. They were at least six months away but I was so excited to submit, I didn’t hesitate for a second. The first one I applied to was ConnectTech in Atlanta Georgia. I wrote many talks during quarantine but the talk I was most interested in presenting was called “Animating Vue with GSAP”. I submitted my talk right away.

I never heard anything back from ConnectTech so I had assumed that I didn’t get in. That’s ok. I figured it was a long shot anyway. But then I checked the ConnectTech website. To my surprise, my dumb face was plastered right on the home page saying I was presenting.! What in the what?!? I immediately emailed the organizers to find out what was going on. Low and behold my talk HAD been accepted, I just never got the confirmation. I scrambled to book travel and hotel accommodations because the conference was in three weeks. It may not have been the VueConf goal I had set, but it was a conference that I wanted to present at so I was very excited to get the opportunity.

I attended ConnectTech solo. I didn’t know a soul there. But I went in with wide eyed optimism about having a good time. What I found was a wide variety of people that I really got along with. Some where attendees but mostly the other speakers. They were so gracious, open to hanging out and becoming fast friends. My presentation went pretty well for having given it for the first time. By the time it was all over, I had found an amazing community that were welcoming to an outsider like me.

In the next couple of months, I had applied to a few other conferences not expecting to hear back. But to my surprise, I was accepted to almost all the conferences I had applied to! Including VueConf 2022! It turns out the organizers of ConnectTech were the same organizers of VueConf! I’m still not sure how that all happened but I had achieved my goal I set two and a half years ago.

How It's Going

Over the last year I have presented at six different conferences on Animating Vue with GSAP all while being just a developer. Im not in DevRel. I don’t have a company backing these conferences. I do it because I think it’s fun. That’s why I consider myself a fake DevRel. But what I learned is that you don’t have to be in DevRel to do presentations or speak at conferences. All you have to have is a story. The rest will come. I have made a plethora of new friends from both Twitter and just hanging out at the conference. If you are reading this, you know who you are.


The point of this story is that you never know what you're capable of until you put yourself out in the world. I’m not one for vision boards or manifest type thinking. But I set a goal for myself and though it took a few years to achieve, I was able to speak at the very conference that had inspired me to take action. But action alone doesn’t equal success. It takes determination to go out and achieve something that you want. Set a goal and then work like hell to make it happen. I did. And if I can do it, so can you. The development community is there to welcome you with open arms.

Originally Posted on my Blog

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