Here are my sketchnotes from CodeMash 2013. These are the ones I was happy enough with to share. A lot of the code-heavy talks were not really conducive to sketchnoting.
I wish more conferences had some table space. These definitely don’t come out as well when I’m trying to draw on my downward sloping legs (damn my tiny legs!).
Straight Up Design by Jen Myers
Getting Good: How to Integrate Novice Developers by Elise Worthy & Steve Klabnik
"Users Are Losers." "They'll Like Whatever We Make." and Other Fallacies by Carol Smith
CodeMash Keynote - Geek Leaks by Neal Ford
Note: I strongly recommend watching Lindsey and Steve’s Anti-Oppression 101 talk before reading my post if you’re not familiar with the topic. It will give you a much better background for what I have to say. This is not a 101 post, and I am not going to rehash the content of their talk here.
There was a diversity-focused open space at Codemash this year. It got pretty heated near the end, and I had a lot of feelings about it. I am sharing some of them for many of the same reasons I spoke up at the open space. I care about this topic and not in a theoretical sense. This issue is very real for myself and many others on a daily basis.
The title of the open space was “How can we get people to shut up about diversity?” The intent was essentially “how can we improve diversity to such a degree that we don’t have to talk about it any more” – a laudable, but perhaps overly ambitious goal. A lot of different thoughts and perspectives came up during the lengthy discussion. I am going to focus on those that I think are worth analyzing further.
One of the topics that came up was whether we should have minority-only spaces in the tech community. People who were for them (myself included) were largely on the side of them existing alongside, but not as a replacement for, other spaces. Basically, they serve the purpose of providing a safe space for a group of people with similar backgrounds to discuss their experiences. Those who were against such spaces felt they were exclusionary and voiced concerns that those in the majority would have difficulty learning about the plight of minorities if they were not given access.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a space that serves both the purpose of fostering a safe space for minorities to have discussions and educating the majority about the situation. What followed later in the open space was a prime example of why these safe spaces are still necessary.
A major issue that came up during the discussion was harassment. Harassment can mean a lot of different things to different people – for the sake of this discussion, my rough definition is “unwanted and/or unacceptable interactions that make someone uncomfortable and diminish their enjoyment of an event.”
One of the women in attendance at the open space had the courage to share such an experience that she had at the conference. She mentioned that the experience made her uncomfortable and was upset enough that she considered leaving early. I am not going to speak to the details of her situation out of respect for her privacy and because they are not terribly relevant. What is worth evaluating is the discussion that followed.
The conversation took a turn towards how should we handle harassment at our events. During this discussion, a fairly well-known member of the programming community joined the open space. This person, who had not participated in the first half of the open space, quickly took over and steered the conversation. He stated that if put in a similar situation, he would stand up for himself and tell the harasser to leave him alone. Not only did he state that he would do this, but he also felt this was the responsibility of any person being harassed.
At this point, I felt it was relevant to explain that a white male prominent in the programming community is not being put in the same situation as a woman attending the conference. The privilege and power differentials are completely different, and it is bullshit to act like they are the same. I was then yelled at by another man in attendance for “making assumptions” about the speaker. At the time, I apologized to move things along and avoid derailing the conversation, but I find this deeply problematic. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, pointing out someone’s privilege in a situation is not an insult.
It’s privilege that says it’s the victim’s responsibility to make a harasser go away, and that the situation will turn out well if they try to do so. What may be reasonably easy and safe for one person may not be for another. Women are often socialized differently than men to handle conflict, and the harassment they receive does not always take the same form. If you want to get an idea of what women often deal with, try reading @EverydaySexism. It isn’t exaggeration. This is the daily lived experience for many women. The situation is not the same, and claiming so is misguided in the best of cases and harmful in the worst.
The conversation continued on the track of it being the harassed person’s responsibility to stop harassment. The woman who shared her experience looked increasingly upset as this continued. I don’t blame her. This conversation essentially said it was her fault that the harassment continued. That it was her job to stop it. This is often referred to as victim blaming. It is very problematic in a variety of ways including: upsetting the victim, shifting blame from the actual responsible party (hint: it’s the person doing the harassing), and decreasing the likelihood of someone coming forward to report harassment in the future.
There were also some discussions about the pros and cons of having an anti-harassment policy. Roughly the same people who expected the person being harassed to resolve the situation also stated that these policies will not empower the harassed to stop the situation or report what happened. That is a pretty big assumption, especially considering the type of people most likely to be harassed are largely the ones who have been asking for the policies in the first place.
My frustration here stems from the same place as my frustration with the victim blaming. It was people speculating about the experiences of others and dictating how those people should feel about and handle those experiences. We all do this from time to time. I’m guilty too. However, it is especially troubling when the point of the conversation is to make said people feel more comfortable attending our events.
Barrier to Entry
One of the women in attendance pointed out that putting the onus on victims, particularly women, to handle problems may lead to them not attending conferences in the future. The response to this from some was essentially “good, then they shouldn’t attend.” I suppose that is one way to make people shut up about diversity – just stop including them unless they have the fortitude to actively fight off harassment.
I found it really interesting that the women in the conversation, particularly those speaking up, were largely the strong, outspoken type (I think a few even self-labeled as “assholes”). I include myself in this group. We’re great at calling out bullshit. I love people like that. They are awesome, but not all of us start out that way and other types of people are awesome too.
Many of us had to grow a thick skin to be a part of this community. That unspoken thick-skinned requirement is likely part of the reason minorities don’t attend these events. Studies show issues like this are part of the reason minorities leave tech mid-career and don’t come back. The barrier to entry is too high. If you want to make diversity such a nonissue that we don’t talk about it any more, stop calling for the maintenance of that barrier.
If you want us to shut up about diversity, you have to do more than tell us to shut up about it. You have to do more than tell us it’s our responsibility to handle the situation. A lot of us are already trying really hard. We run groups and teach classes and mentor and encourage new speakers and even sometimes help advertise your events. We’re trying to do all these positive things to improve the situation, but you have to help too. Helping isn’t telling us that our experiences and perspectives are invalid. Helping isn’t shouting us down. Helping isn’t victim blaming. Helping isn’t denying us safe spaces where we can likely avoid being shouted down or victim blamed.
So what can you do? I recommend reading Ashe’s post “So you want to put on a diverse, inclusive conference.” She covers this topic really well. There’s also a bunch of other great posts out there. I recommend reaching out to real live people who fit into the demographics you are interested in. Ask us for help!
One last recommendation: shake things up a little bit and make room for new people (minority or not). Some of the old guard is pushing hard for more of the same. The saying goes that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Want us to shut up about diversity? Try something new.
A lot of the discussions at the open space were good and productive. This post is largely about the second half of the discussion.
Much love to those who were helping fight the good fight in this discussion. Allies are very much a thing we need. <3
I want my tech to be more intersectional. I wish this discussion could have been inclusive of more demographics.
I got upset about the madness surrounding the BritRuby debacle today and decided to channel a few minutes of my anger into answering a question. Should technology be intersectional?
Less than a year ago, it started as an idea. A tiny little awesome idea in the pghrb chat room. Over the next few months, that idea slowly grew because of the hard work of roughly a dozen people. This weekend, that tiny little awesome idea, Steel City Ruby Conf, became a real thing that is hardly tiny, but definitely awesome. A Ruby conference with over 200 people in the city of Pittsburgh, the place I’ve called home for almost a decade now.
I am frequently skeptical, often a realist, and sometimes a cynic. Touchy-feely isn’t really my thing. If you know me, you know these things already. If you don’t, I mention it because it helps color the thoughts that follow.
This conference was magical. It was such an amazing group of fantastic people helping and contributing to create a community for a weekend. It’s not supernatural, but it’s so rare and sufficiently advanced that I can’t distinguish it from magic.
This is the best conference experience I have ever had. I don’t say this because I helped organize. I don’t say this because it happened in my city. I say this because of the people, the experiences, and the community. I’m going to attempt to randomly condense some of my favorite things before I come down off the conference high, but my writing is probably ill equipped to convey the level of awesome that went down this weekend.
In the last year, I’ve met a lot of great people in the tech community online (mostly on twitter). This conference helped bring us and many others together in real life. These people are just as (if not more) awesome as they are online. I will be making an effort to travel more, so I can visit them and meet others in their communities.
In addition to meeting my internet friends, I also met a bunch of strangers. In the past, I’ve had a hard time socializing at conferences. Not this time! Corey Haines tasked us with talking to 20 new people – a daunting goal for someone who in the past had trouble squeaking out a “hi” to one or two people at a conference. I didn’t keep an exact count, but I am positive I exceeded my goal.
We got a ton of support for Girl Develop IT Pittsburgh. Halfway through the first day of the conference, someone suggested people give us donations. For the rest of the weekend, people walked up to Lindsey Bieda and me to give us cash to help get started. We haven’t done a final tally yet, but I think we received over $100. I wish I had gotten down all your names – thank you to everyone who donated! We talked to even more people who showed their interest or moral support for the group – thanks to you too! We have a long road ahead of us, but it’s going to be great.
Seeing and hearing an impromptu jam session during lunch. Hearing Jim Weirich singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” definitely helped with that magical conference vibe I mentioned earlier.
I gave my “My Technology Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be BULLSHIT!” lightning talk – my first time speaking at a conference and speaking in front of that many people. It was terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. It helped a lot to hear Aaron Patterson admit earlier in the day that speaking makes him nervous too. In the Ruby community, our heroes are just people too, and those people want to help build the rest of up.
Kitties! I got a GorbyPuff sticker!
I could mention a bunch of individual talks, but you can see what I learned in my sketchnotes.
The important thing about this conference was people. Earlier, I mentioned my cynicism. This weekend, it melted away. I used to think that my cynicism was a personal flaw (and it still probably is to some degree – we all have our flaws). I’m starting to understand that it is a shield for navigating a crappy world that aims to treat me and others like cogs in a big machine. I don’t need that shield when I’m in a community of people who genuinely care and see each other as more than just things. I need more of this in my life. I may be exhausted right now. Con crud may be likely to follow, but I feel better than I have in a long time.
TLDR: Steel City Ruby Conf is awesome and magical!
So, Steel City Ruby Conf 2012 was pretty much the best thing in all of EVER! I’m going to do a proper write-up soonish. In the mean time, check out my sketchnotes from the conference.
Getting the Most Out of a Conference by Corey Haines
Thinking in Objects by Josh Susser
Anti-Oppression 101 by Lindsey Bieda and Steve Klabnik
Open Source: How to Give Back by Aaron Patterson
People Patterns by Joe O'Brien
Lightning Talks - Day 1
See the whole set at Flickr
This saturday, I attended Pittsburgh Tech Fest, a local one-day conference. I was still a little worn out from MidwestUX (and the con crud cold that followed), but had a fantastic time learning a few new things and hanging out with friends. The recent growth in Pittsburgh’s tech community is very exciting, and events like this are a prime example of that growth.
Michael Norton did a great keynote about being a better software developer. I have heard a lot of the pieces before, but they definitely bear repeating, and it was nice to see them combined into one talk. We also had some interesting conversations between talks and at lunch.
I was glad Steve Klabnik did his talk about “Designing Hypermedia APIs” because I missed it a couple months prior at Pittsburgh Ruby. It was engaging, educational, and included a nice mix of philosophy and politics. We also had an interesting conversation about the protests going on in Quebec prior to the talk – this is something I (and you) really ought to know more about.
I continued my efforts from MidwestUX by sketchnoting several of the presentations. Check out my favorites below.
Node.js: A Guided Tour
Exploring UX Techniques by Ari Font
Designing Hypermedia APIs by Steve Klabnik
I have been super-busy and am unlikely to have time to do more write-up about MidwestUX soon, so in the mean time here are some of my sketchnotes!
Building a Design Culture by Brad Colbow
Shrink it and Pink it by Jessica Ivins #1
Shrink it and Pink it by Jessica Ivins #2
Information Overload is an Opportunity by Karl Fast
Interaction Design Through Mixology by David Farkas
Design and Development of Post-Digital Experiences by Nathan Martin
Designing for Disagreement by Boon Sheridan
Presented by: Binaebi Akah, Veronica Erb, Charlene McBride
I have always been someone who doodles when listening and hates taking formal notes, so I’m really surprised it took this long for me to learn about sketchnotes. They provide me the opportunity to turn my doodles into something more useful – visual notes that capture the important points or vision of something I listened to.
My drawing skills are pretty limited, and I don’t have any experience here, so my sketchnotes are pretty terrible. That said, it’s definitely a skill that will improve with practice (practice, practice). As such, I tried to sketchnote at most of the talks I went to at the conference. I’ll include the sketchnotes as I discuss my favorite talks. If you want some examples of experienced sketchnotes, you should check out some of the ones Veronica did during the conference. Also, I recommend checking out the resources they put together.
As an aside, I really need to share some of my old doodles. They are a weird and hilarious view into my formative years.
Responsive Web Design Workshop
Presented by: Ben Callahan
I saw Ben speak about responsive design previously at CodeMash2012 and really enjoyed it (and learned bunches). This was a more extensive presentation, but re-tread a lot of ground I have already heard him talk about or things I learned since hearing him last. What I really want to do is attend one of his Build Responsively workshops - can’t wait for this to happen in Pittsburgh!
One new thing was hearing Ben explain the negatives of skeleton (which I currently use on my site). Skeleton was a quick stand-in while I was working through learning things, but I was planning on replacing it at some point. His explanation will give me a push to do that sooner and probably replace it with semantic grid.
I just got back from MidwestUX 2012 in Columbus, OH. Normally, conferences help recharge my mental batteries a bit. This conference went a step further and felt like it added some feature upgrades. I am exhausted from the last few days and traveling, but it was totally worth it!
I was originally going to put together a big, long post covering my experiences at MWUX12, but I think it would take too long to get that all together. Instead, I plan to post several small updates over the next week or so. Stay tuned for updates!
In case you haven’t noticed, I am very excited about Steel City Ruby Conf (an upcoming Ruby conference I am helping organize). One of the major reasons for this is that we are targeting people who have never been to conferences before and making efforts to be inclusive (check out my blog post, Why We Care About Inclusivity, to find out more). If you know me (or at least follow me on the interwebs), you know that diversity in tech is an issue near and dear to my heart. I am so thankful for the group of people putting this thing together because their efforts are not only creating an awesome conference, but helping improve the environment in tech.
I was really blown away by the feedback I got about my diversity in tech lightning talk (presented to a group of colleagues), especially because it was even reasonably received (read: they didn’t completely hate it) by people who I thought would outright reject it. In the conversations that followed, I may have even convinced a few skeptics that some diversity initiatives could be good for tech.
It feels really good to be actively doing something instead of just raging into the gaping maw of the internet. While I think anger has its place (and I doubt I’m going to stop my own personal renditions of FEMINIST HULK any time soon), direct action seems way more productive and rewarding.
Between my social anxiety and a touch of imposter syndrome, I generally haven’t thought of myself as someone who could speak or be one of the leaders at a tech event (be it a tiny local user group or a large conference). But right now, I swear I’m getting some sort of contact high off of just the possibility of making things better with my tiny little actions. And you know what? I like the taste of the drug that is making things better.
So what am I going to do while I’m still high on life? I’m going to set some hard goals for myself, so I can keep riding this high into the future and maybe (just maybe) even help others find highs of their own. I will present at tech events, starting with my current lightning talk and eventually growing to longer talks. I will be active in my local tech community, starting with attending more events and eventually moving into (or creating) some leadership roles. I will temper my rage because while anger can be valuable, actions are better.
I’m writing about this in the indelible ink of the internet because I’m having what one of my friends describes as a “come to Jesus” moment (perhaps “Eureka moment” is better for this godless heathen). I want to be able to look at this and get a taste of this feeling when I’m having a setback or a shitty day. I want my friends to see this because they deserve thanks for helping me get here, and I want them to call me on my shit if I don’t live up to my own expectations. And, perhaps most of all, I want other people struggling to figure things out to see that the tech community has a lot to offer, and they can be part of it and make things better too.