Last week we hosted a meetup describing the evolution of our data pipeline over the past 5 years - starting with a simple script to aggregate log files to a fully fledged big data system relying on a slew of technologies ranging from Kafka to Spark to Redshift. I find most meetups and presentations more focused on the present which is valuable but does a disservice to the audience by not describing the history, motivations, or thought process. No system lives in a vacuum and it’s much more interesting to look at the evolution of a system rather than focusing on its current state.

Seeing a large and complicated system for the first time is overwhelming but it’s incredibly unlikely it was built that way. Most likely it required multiple iterations with some subsystems being replaced by others until the present state was reached. Going over the evolution of a system reveals that process and makes the final result more approachable and relevant.

Stories are a core part of the human experience and we’re wired to think in narratives rather than standalone facts. The most interesting talks and presentations are done in the form of a story with an obstacle that needs to be overcome, a series of potential solutions and setbacks, and finally an approach that solves the problem once and for all. Technical talks don’t always lend themselves easily to a narrative but done right they end up being incredibly sticky and enjoyable. If you’re giving a talk on a technical topic, or any topic for that matter, see if you can do it as a story rather than listing a series of facts.

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