Conference Recap: Portland June 2014 Edition

date2014-07-04
10 min read

In the last week of June 2014, I traveled to Portland, OR for AdaCamp Portland and Open Source Bridge 2014. Here’s yet another stream of consciousness style conference recap for your reading pleasure.

Inclusivity

Both of these events did a great job with inclusivity. Many of the factors were common to both, so I will cover them jointly.

  • Vegan and vegetarian food options and helpful food labels to help people decide if food fit their dietary needs. This seems small, but it was meaningful because so few tech conferences have adequate veg*n options (no, plain iceberg lettuce is not a meal — that’s green water).
  • Travel lanes (blue tape on the floor indicating space people should keep free to allow others to easily travel through the space) and elevators for accessibility.
  • Lanyards indicating the photo policy (one color for “ok to photograph”, one for “ask first”, and one for “no photographs”). As someone who doesn’t like strangers taking my photo, I really appreciate this. It sets the expectation that consent is important and allows people to indicate their comfort level in a low-stress way.
  • Code of conduct.
  • Diversity of attendees and speakers.

Coral Sheldon-Hess, who also attended both events, has a post that digs a bit more into the importance of inclusivity at these events. I love this line from her post.

I don’t want to go to any more conferences that privilege “liberty” over hospitality.

AdaCamp

AdaCamp is a conference dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture: open source software, Wikipedia-related projects, open data, open geo, library technology, fan fiction, remix culture, and more.

I’m not going to go into many details about AdaCamp. One of the benefits of the event was it being a space where we could safely discuss difficult or controversial topics, and it’s important I respect that.

The most important part of AdaCamp for me was being in a women-centered space selected for people with similar values. We were not cookie cutters of each other, and it wasn’t an echo chamber. We had all sorts of people with different ideas, interests, et cetera. However, having shared values allowed us to learn from each other, open up about topics we wouldn’t discuss elsewhere, and have a great time.

Highlights:

  • Open spaces and workshops.
  • People having fun with the silly tiara making supplies I brought. Hurray for arts and crafts!
  • Getting to hang out with a bunch of friends from the internet and making some new friends.
  • I didn’t end up using it, but I was grateful that a quiet room existed if I needed it.
  • Hugs when I needed them because of some unrelated bullshit going down that weekend.

Open Source Bridge

Open Source Bridge 2014 is an annual conference focused on building open source community and citizenship through four days of technical talks, hacking sessions, and collaboration opportunities. Participants include developers, hardware hackers, community organizers, and people involved in the business of open source.

Highlights:

  • Got to see a bunch of my friends give great talks.
  • People were so excited for my firebee and Leon the cat stickers. This is my new plan for making conference friends. “Hi, I have stickers!”
  • Hacker lounge and working wifi!
  • Getting to hang out with even more friends from the internet and make more new friends.

Favorite Talks and Discussions

Favorite talks and discussions in order of attendance.

Stop Crying in the Bathroom and Start Your Own Business by Kronda Adair

Highlights:

  • Being fired for “cultural fit” pushing her to start her own business.
  • The benefits and freedom that come with freelancing.
  • The barriers and challenges to becoming a freelancer.
  • Resources to get started as a freelancer.
  • Microaggressions.
  • Kitties!

You can find slides on Kronda’s site.

Feminist Point of View: Lessons From Running the Geek Feminism Wiki by Skud

Skud asked not to have this talk recorded, so I will keep my comments general and brief on this one. It was awesome to learn more about the history of a community that means a lot to me. Much love for Skud and the others who worked to build the Geek Feminism Wiki.

It was noted that the timeline of incidents is so useful and important because it addresses an entire category of dismissive questions and comments. When someone claims an event is an isolated incident, all you have to do is point at the timeline.

Also check out You’re Welcome: A Pattern Language for Inclusive Events, a book Skud is working on that will include a hundred practical steps you can take to make your community events more inclusive, welcoming, and rewarding.

“Why are these people following me?”: Leadership for the introverted, uncertain, and astonished by Frances Hocutt

This was my favorite talk at the conference and seriously blew me away with how thoughtful and important it was. I hope other people watch her talk or read the transcript. More of our community needs to receive this message.

Highlights:

  • Personal stories from Frances’s life.
  • “I stopped apologizing unless I actually did something wrong.”
  • Encouraging others to take a leadership role.
  • Discussion of sexism and abusive dynamics in STEM and the extra effort it takes to be a successful woman in science.
  • “I learned to volunteer quickly for things I wanted to do, so I wouldn’t be voluntold to do women’s work.”
  • You can “accidentally” become a leader.
  • Leadership doesn’t have to be coercive.
  • The importance of empathy and listening as leadership skills.
  • Leadership skills are learnable and practiceable.
  • Seriously calling out the toxic and unsafe parts of our communities.

Check out Frances’s site for a transcript and video.

Unicorns Are People, Too: Re-Thinking Soft and Hard Skills - by Liz Abinante

Highlights:

  • Explaining the problem with the dichotomy of soft versus hard skills and the labels themselves.
  • Reinforcing that “soft” skills are just as important as “hard” skills.
  • Pointing out that we do not effectively train or reward people for “soft” skills, and this can lead to a lack of them.
  • Adorable slides!

You can find slides here.

The Case for Junior Developers - by Shawna Scott

Highlights:

  • Pointing out the important value that junior developers bring to a team. Hiring them isn’t altruism — it’s beneficial.
  • “Junior developers are like foster cats: if you hire two they can hang together and not get bored in your code base.”
  • You need junior developers for a sustainable engineering pipeline.

You can find slides here.

Classism in open source/tech open space discussion

It was amazing to be able to have a thoughtful discussion about this at a tech conference. At any other conference, I’d be waiting for some dude to show up and start shouting about bootstraps or waxing poetic about the great tech meritocracy. Not here.

We had a thoughtful discussion with a varying group of people. People listened to one another. People shared. I learned a lot from it as a privileged person when it comes to class. I talked a bit too much — I need to remember that it’s important to shut up and listen more.

The conversation reminded me how predatory many of the code school programs can be when it comes to class. Perhaps a topic I’ll expand on in a future post.

Speaking

This was my first time giving two talks at one conference, and I think it will be my last. I’m glad I agreed to do both, but one talk is enough stress, time, and preparation for me.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone: Battling the Invisible Monsters in Tech

This was my first ever keynote! I was really excited for the opportunity to open the conference, and I think this talk was a great fit. My keynote was introduced by an organ playing music from the Legend of Zelda, which made me feel extra fancy.

I added some content to help set the tone for the conference and encourage people to get the most out of the event and help others do the same.

Let's practice at OSBridge Set goals: meet at least n new people, participate in [activity], talk to a speaker, ask questions. Set goals: meet at least n new people, participate in [activity], talk to a speaker, ask questions. Set goals: help others enjoy the event, avoid creating negative spaces. Hacker School User's Manual: no feigning surprise, no well-actuallys, no backseat-driving, no subtle sexism (or racism, homophobia, etc.). Enjoy OSBridge!

This tweet after my talk warmed my heart. One of the reasons I started public speaking was because I was frustrated that so few people on stage looked like me. This really validated that and reminded me it was important.

Thanks to Julie Cameron for the awesome sketchnotes of my talk!

You can find slides for the talk here. You can find video here (note: there are some audio problems in the video).

Speaker Support of Awesomeness: How I went from stage fright to stage presence and want to help others do the same.

OSBridge was a good fit for trying out this new talk. I think I mostly got the “new speaker” side of attendees. I’d love to share this with a larger audience in the future, so I can reach more people and also get the “experience speaker” and “event organizer” audiences.

Thanks to Julie Cameron for the awesome sketchnotes of my talk!

You can find slides and notes for this talk here.

Powell’s

I know it’s not part of the conferences, but visiting Powell’s was also a highlight of the trip. I have loved book stores since I was a little girl, and Powell’s is an amazing, huge, independent book store with ALL THE THINGS. Entire shelves dedicated to books I can’t find at all in the few crappy chain book stores we have left in Pittsburgh.