A few weeks ago, I left my comfortable basement coding lair to go to the Beyond the Code -- a day-long conference in downtown Ottawa. The conference happened Friday, September 19th and featured a full line up of female speakers and workshop leaders as a direct rebuttal to other conference organizers who have claimed that there is a dearth of qualified female speakers to present at these things. The day was sponsored by Shopify and generally a pretty great day.
Due to the fact that Beyond the Code had an all female cast, and had celebrating diversity in technology as a cornerstone, it perhaps was not surprising that most of the attendees were women. When you are used to being the token girl in your group of tech friends a conference like this can be extremely liberating. A sense of camaraderie seemed to develop quickly, as we all eased into not being the odd one out, the elusive lady developer. In that regard Beyond the Code was completely unparalleled as a forum -- I almost wish we had had longer break times in order to meet with more people.
One thing I hadn't realized (and probably would have if I had read the website more carefully) was that the conference itself was designed to cater to both technical women and those interested in becoming technical. As such, I was not as judicious as I could have been in my activity selection and I don't think I saw a single line of code all day. To me this was a small disappointment, but if I had read the materials better I would have been able to avoid this, so that's firmly on me. On that note, the most common complaint I heard at the conference was that people (myself included) really just wanted to go to everything -- and if that's the worst fallout for your conference you're probably doing okay.
I do wish that I had made it to the Chef workshop run by Jennifer Davis, because just about everyone I spoke to who went to it gave it rave reviews, though I am very glad I made it to Sabrina Majeed's talk which was at the same time. My workshop with Olivia Li was extremely informative for a computer scientist like me, who didn't know the first thing about developing a project for people other than myself. I have lately been wondering how to turn some small ideas that I have into projects for public consumption. I think given that it's safe to say I hope the conference continues to grow and with more time, some of the horribly difficult decisions about which activities to participate in are reduced.
I think my favourite part of the whole conference was getting the words to talk about some of the women in tech problems that I have struggled with. Between Kronda Adair's talk, and the concluding panel discussions some thoughts that I have found hard to discuss because I couldn't find the right words were presented in an extremely clear and easy to express way. Kronda mentioned that getting a diverse variety of people in the tech pipeline isn't worth very much if that pipeline is going to a sewage plant -- an extremely poignant way to describe sometimes feeling disingenuous trying to coach young women into tech when you know that you may be sentencing them to struggles with sexism and exclusion. Additionally, panelist Kat Li discussed how women only spaces are really more of a temporary hack than a permanent solution, and that really resonated with me as well. Most women in tech I know don't want to be sectioned off into their own areas, they just want to feel safe and comfortable in the places they occupy.
In general, I had a great day, listened to some great speakers and really met some amazing women. I really hope this conference makes a comeback next year.