Julie Pagano

Conference Recap: CUSEC 2015

Time for one more conference recap. Just one more. The only one for 2015. Maybe the last one ever, so this feels a bit like a goodbye even though I wrote one in October.


I mentioned in my goals for 2015 that CUSEC was an exception to my “no more tech community” rule. I could have cancelled, but I was unwilling to screw over the student conference organizers because the tech community had done me harm.

The conference was three months after I decided to quit the tech community. I began to dread going back after a season’s break, but I keep my promises. I practiced my talk. I got ready to go. I can do this. It’s only three days.

I am not telling you this because I want to depress you. I am telling you this for context. People who follow my writing already knew about it, and now you’re caught up too.

The conference

I had a wonderful time at CUSEC. I couldn’t have asked for a better last conference. I got to leave on a positive note with a little hope for the future. That means more to me than I can put into words. Thank you.

I got to open the conference with a version of my impostor syndrome talk. I love giving this talk as an opening keynote because it gives me the opportunity to set an encouraging, positive tone for the rest of the event. I was especially excited to give this talk to an audience of students. It was a chance to send that message early, so that hopefully people get help before impostor syndrome hurts their careers. I was a little worried about doing Q&A on stage (I usually avoid this), but every question I got was valuable.

I had so many wonderful conversations with people afterwards about impostor syndrome and related topics. It was clear that they cared. I think my talk had a positive impact, and that really warms my heart.

Through a lovely bit of serendipity, some of the other keynote speakers were people who had encouraged me to start public speaking in one way or another. My talk includes a short anecdote about Aaron Patterson being vulnerable on stage about his fear of public speaking. Years ago, Sandi Metz chatted with me on a Google Hangout and urged me to give public speaking a try. I am not one for hero worship, but sharing a stage with people who I look up to made this special for me.

Ultimately, the people are what made this conference really stand out for me. I met so many wonderful people, I couldn’t possibly name them all. I got to connect more with people who I knew in passing from the internet or other events. I met loads of new people. I talked to so many students who are excited about programming. I had thoughtful, engaging discussions with people about a wide range of topics.

The only negative thing I can say about CUSEC is that MontrĂ©al was way too cold. However, I don’t hold the conference responsible for that. I want to come back and visit when it’s warm out, so I can properly enjoy and explore the city.

A note on women speakers

I didn’t think about this until another speaker pointed it out, but the conference had a large number of awesome women speakers. This is notable because it is rare. Not only is it rare, but many conference organizers claim it is too hard to do.

If my experience as a speaker is any indicator, the gender diversity in the speaker lineup was not an accident. The CUSEC organizers clearly cared about this and put hard work into it. They reached out early in the year to make sure the conference was on my schedule before I was booked up. They showed excitement about a topic I speak about that would fit their audience. When I asked about a code of conduct, they took it seriously and clearly cared about it.

This conference run by student volunteers succeeded at something that many conferences organized by working professionals have claimed is too hard. I never bought that argument before, but I really don’t now.

Note to the organizers

Dear CUSEC Organizers,

You did an amazing job this year. I tried to tell as many of you as I could in person, but just in case I missed anyone, I’m also telling you here. I know organizing a conference is often thankless volunteer work. You clearly worked diligently this year to put together a great conference, and you deserve praise for that.

As a speaker, it was fantastic to have everything taken care of, so I could really focus on giving a good talk. Even after I was done speaking, I felt taken care of, so I could focus on engaging with students. This was one of my best experiences as a speaker, and I would definitely recommend your conference to others in the future.

I also had a great time as a conference attendee. You did so many things, big and small, to build a pleasant community for those three days. The talks were great. The events were fun. You kept the coffee flowing all day.

I was seriously impressed. You all did a great job. Thank you so much!

– Julie