Tech Conferences: Women welcome and wanted

GOTO is a conference for software developers that happens in different locations, including Berlin. It features some of the industry’s best speakers, practitioners and trainers and it covers topics such as agile development, UX, mobile, APIs, or product management. co.up sponsors some of the GOTO team activities, so I had access to a free ticket.

For all publics

The conference lasted two days and had six tracks; and was hosted at a bright and beautiful hotel in Neukölln, right outside of the Ring. GOTO could be enjoyed by seniors and beginners. My development skills tend to zero, but I am interested in how developers work, and the talks were simple enough for me to absorb a lot of interesting information. Few lines of code where presented, and a lot of the talks were about working culture topics. There was a very funny talk about building remote teams that would be helpful for any recruiter or manager. One needs not to be technical to benefit from tech conferences. If you work with tech people, it’s great to understand their world and speak their language.

Photo by Dajana Günther
Photo by Dajana Günther

Every time I spend some time around developers I come up with a repeated impression: most of them are very clever. They’re good with logic and structures, are into music, or films, or else and know a hell of a lot about their thing, and are great at doing all it takes, but not more. They have put a lot of effort in thinking of how their work could improve, and came up with things like pair programming (that puts two brains to work together in some code and reduces errors thanks to the continuous write-and-review process) or agile development (a very clever way of managing work flows that facilitates adaptability and ensures delivery). Software development is not just writing lines of unintelligible code; it is also empathizing with the end user to know how to put UX to work, or being able to put to work a team of very different people, like programmers and sales people and make sure they understand each other and work together towards a common objective.

Women Wanted

There’s a lot to be learnt from software developers, and this applies to both men and women. I am really bad with numbers, but I estimate around 200 participants, and though the organization team was formed mainly by women (wave) I saw very few of them among the attendees. In most talks, I happened to be the only woman in the room, and only in a talk about UX there were more than three of us. It makes me furious to see that, although more and more women get in touch with and interested in software development every day, thanks to initiatives like Rails Girls, Berlin GeekettesOpen Tech School, Black Girls Code or PyLadies, still very few of us make it to conferences. Nothing stops us from going. I just said that contents fit all audiences.

Do we have real reasons, or are we, once again, just putting barriers in front of ourselves? I can understand that some of you may be scared of being in an uncomfortable situation, and it makes me terribly sad every time I read about a woman that has a bad experience at a tech conference; but my experiences in conferences have always been positive. I’ve spent some really nice hours at tech conferences and after tech conferences get togethers. Rupy in 2012 was a great time, and I consider my first Rails Girls workshop life changing. I’ve met great women and men in these events, and I’ve made some friends too. All of it being a woman. And what’s apparently worse, having a project manager background.

Think of it romantically: boys are not going to ask you to please please go to their party, but if you show up it is not going to be an issue. Sure, you can be unlucky and meet the funny guy that stayed 15. There are assholes everywhere. There are assholes working as waiters, bankers, bus drivers, or stock exchange analysts. Some of this assholes work as computer scientists, but the ratio is not higher than in other professions. The great majority of developers are nice people. Some developers are actually explicitly welcoming, such as the Ruby Community in Berlin (organizers of both eurucamp and JRubyConf.EU), that has recently signed a manifesto for diversity.

You’ve probably heard me rambling about how tech is the Future and you need to speak the language. Don’t learn to code if code is not your thing, but understand it and know how working with code works. Two days of conference are like reading ten books. Don’t miss the chances. Keep an eye on sponsorship opportunities – programs focused on women often give away free tickets. Go there with your pen and paper, and absorb what you can. Raise your hands and ask questions. Talk in the breaks and go to as many panels as you can.

Conferences are awesome, and women are welcome and wanted.

Supported by:

Dajana Günther – Dajana and I met thanks to Rails Girls and she is part of the GOTO conferences organizers team. She probably also has a lot of good things to say about the tech community in Berlin, and it’s common to spot her at conferences, workshops and meet-ups.

Ping me at @crissantamarina to get listed as a supporter.

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