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Meet the CSSconf EU Speakers: Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur is a designer, developer and photographer living in Kraków, Poland, currently working at &yet. Her talk “Validate Me” addresses topics that sooner or later most of us encounter: self-doubt, impostor syndrome, confirmation bias, burnout. Karolina will discuss how to cut yourself some slack and surround yourself with people who will empower you to do so.

To kick off our series of CSSconf EU speaker portraits, she took the time to answer a few questions for us.

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Hey Karolina! Besides being busy speaking at conferences, what are you working on these days?

I’ve been working with my friends at &yet for over a year now. For the past couple months I’ve been focused on internal projects — mostly something that I like to call front-end standardisation. This involves creating a pattern library (or a framework, if you wish), unifying branding, writing documentation and code guides. It’s a very challenging project — trying to cater to our team needs and preferences as well as maintaining flexibility, following the standards and having optimization in the back of your mind. Front-end systems are still a fairly new thing, that requires continuous collaboration efforts and maintenance. But I’m sure Jina will tell us all about it.

Have you been to Berlin before, and what are you looking forward to the most?

I’ve been to Berlin several times before — most recently at CSSConf.eu 2013. It’s a vibrant, historic and eclectic city, which I think is pictured quite well by UCLA law professor — Hiroshi Motomura:
“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.”

Going to Berlin is always exciting because of reconnecting with old friends and making new ones — the community is huge. It also feels like a bigger version of my hometown Kraków, which makes it more familiar, in a way. The food is simply amazing, coffee culture very diverse (by the way — can anyone resist a cheesecake from Five Elephant?) I think it’s legendary by now), there’s so much to see, do and photograph. Every single time I’m sure I’ll discover something new and it’s so exciting.

PS: If you want to find great places to eat, drink and shop in Berlin — Stil in Berlin is my personal favorite.

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What is an upcoming CSS feature that you can’t wait to see widely supported by browsers?

Flexbox finally getting an up-to-date, bug-free implementation in all browsers. I’m also dreaming about the parent selector and variables.

Other than that I’m pretty satisfied with the current state of CSS features. When writing in Stylus I find myself not using the majority of extended functionality it provides in favor of code simplicity, readability and ease of comprehension.

If you would not work in the web, what else would be your profession?

My first job was actually being a fortune teller (and I even gave a talk about it at TriConf this year), but it’s not something I’d get back to (laughs). Before starting my HCI studies and getting married to technology I’ve enrolled on a photography course. It was (and still is) a huge passion of mine; if I could I’d definitely combine my love for traveling with shooting pictures for a living.

What do you like most about giving talks at conferences?

I don’t necessarily think that I’m changing lives by giving a talk, but what I find most rewarding is knowing that it provoked someone to think (not necessarily differently), provoked them to try or taught them something new.

There’s a certain level of self-validation in your ideas resonating with a room full of people, that consciously or not will build up your confidence in sharing more.

Do you have any tips for newcomers that want to get into speaking?

I’d definitely urge anyone who thought about speaking to try to overcome the initial fear and/or shyness and start applying to conferences. Had I ever thought I would become a speaker? Heck, no. Public speaking was (and still is, a little bit) something that gave me cold sweats. The thing to remember is that everyone has valuable experiences and knowledge to share. Every. One. Of. You. Don’t ever forget that and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Still not convinced? How about this — a year ago a good friend of mine, a very talented iOS game developer — Natalia spoke in Berlin at up.front. A year after that she was invited to speak at WWDC, where she walked the same stage Steve Jobs and Tim Cook did. This could be you. If you really want to get into speaking apply for many conferences and don’t get discouraged by being rejected, because it will happen, sometimes for reasons completely disconnected from your proposal (such as conference budget, those flights can get really expensive).

As for preparing the talk itself I’d say — start as early as possible. You’re speaking in two months? Great. Start writing the talk now. Great presentations are stories and good storytelling requires time and craftsmanship. Don’t leave it for the last possible moment, because you might end up being in a beautiful city, locked in a hotel room doing slides. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare and starting early will give you more time to rehearse and a peace of mind when travelling. It’s especially important to give yourself this buffer when you’re starting your adventure with speaking.

There are many terrific resources that will guide you through designing slides, rehearsing, hardware preparation and talk delivery. If you’re unsure where to find conferences to apply for Lanyrd has a quite comprehensive list. Additionally, if you follow @calltospeakers and @callbackwomen you’re quite unlikely to miss any call for speakers. Last but not least, I’d recommend reading Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker”, which is not only a hilarious compilation of anecdotes from his speaking career (you won’t believe some things that happened to him on stage, I assure you) but also invaluable resource of speaking techniques.

If you could make one wish: What would you like to change in our industry?

The other day I was browsing Hacker News and Reddit (which I’ve consciously chosen to avoid) in the aftermath of my &yet friend Henrik Joreteg’s “Opinionated Rundown of JS Frameworks” blog post. I was unpleasantly surprised by the amount of unfounded negativity and judgmentalism. Naturally it’s quite a controversial topic, that might elicit strong commentary, but I’d love to see more kindness, empathy and a little bit of credit given not only to creations but people as well. This kind of positive and welcoming community is something that I’ve been noticing on LayerVault’s Designer News and I’d like to see it everywhere.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a trait of our industry — it’s a people’s trait, and it’s in our hands to contribute affable behaviors and change it.


You can follow Karolina on twitter, see what she is working on over at Github, read her recent articles on Medium.

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