Write/Speak/Code is a hands-on conference for technologists of marginalized genders to advance their careers through technical writing, conference speaking, and open source coding.
This past August, I attended my first Write/Speak/Code conference, in San Francisco.
Below are my takeways from W/S/C, including what I got out of attending the conference and some tips / advice for first time attendees for next year. 🙂
Lesson 10: What marginalized genders mean:
Marginalized genders are people who have been traditionally under-represented in tech, including cisgender women and transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming individuals.
Lesson 9: I felt truly at ease, and every effort was made to make the conference inclusive.
It was a conference where I truly felt at ease, and the level of effort put into making the conference inclusive was impressive.
As a cisgender woman in tech, I’m “used” to experiencing microaggressions at tech events. Sometimes I’ll have someone ask me if I’m a designer (no offense to designers, that’s also a challenging, and much needed, line of work). I’ll often feel like I have to “prove” that I really belong there, that I really am an engineer, in spite of my years of experience in the tech industry. But at W/S/C, no one questioned whether I belonged there or not.
It was also refreshing to speak to recruiters at the company booths who were genuinely interested in getting to know me, and in hiring individuals of marginalized genders. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders!
Inclusion efforts weren’t just limited to marginalized genders. These efforts also included folks with diverse diets. For lunch, there were vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options. And when the workshops / talks let out for lunch, they “released” us in staggered groups from the most restrictive diets to least restrictive, so that those who needed both gluten free and vegan for example, could get enough food to met their dietary needs.
One of the keynote speakers, Liz Fong-Jones, made an exceptional effort to include those who are hearing impaired by closed-captioning her talk, which was much appreciated!
In addition to the pronoun badges, there were also badges you could wear that indicated how social you wanted to be (a nice way to meet the needs of everyone on the introvert-extrovert scale). Wearing any and all badges were optional, of course!
Lesson 8 – There was support for learning, trying new things, and taking risks.
The level of support was incredible. It was a safe, supportive atmosphere to try new things, and even take risks.
There were many firsts! A few attendees from the Speak curriculum gave their first lightning talks towards the end of the Speak track, and another group presented their first talks towards the end of the last day of W/S/C. All were delivered to enthusiastic audiences.
One of the keynote speakers broke down while talking about her late father, and his influence on her life and career, and quietly left the stage. A few minutes later, she returned to the stage to a round of applause and finished her talk to even more applause from the supportive audience.
In fact …
Lesson 7: W/S/C was interactive, and introvert friendly.
W/S/C is not your typical conference — it is a lot more interactive but in a good way! (By the way, can you tell by now that I’m an introvert? 😉 )
The whole conference is biased towards encouraging attendees to take action immediately, and taking small steps towards their goals during the conference, and offering support along the way.
So rather than sitting through talk after talk, which is a pretty typical experience at most tech conferences (which there’s nothing wrong with! I enjoy watching good technical talks too!), there were a lot of interactive workshops in addition to the talks.
For example, we had a lot of fun at the “Improv for Introverts” workshop, where the speaker, Maya Porter, helped everyone comfortably get out of their shells (which is no small task, we’re talking about introverts here!)
One particularly memorable exercise involved us breaking into groups, and in each group, taking turns “giving” the next person a gift and acting out what that gift looks like. The receiver is supposed to say, “Thank you for the …” and say what the gift is supposed to be. There were some hilarious answers, from “Thank you for the earrings” to “Thank you for the …. basketball?”
There were lots of small group work and opportunities to actually write, speak, or code immediately. Frequent changing of partners too, so you get different perspectives and meet more people in a supportive, low key environment.
Lesson 6: The multi-track schedule allows you to choose your own adventure.
The multi-track schedule allows you to customize the conference experience to your needs and what you hope to get out of it.
There was one day of workshops focused on technical writing, another for conference speaking, and another for open source contributing. In addition to the main curriculum for each day, there are other workshops and talks that touch upon the other tracks, including a Growth track. So, you can focus on an area that day or learn a little bit of everything. It’s up to you!
For me, I attended a smattering of talks on the first day, attended the Speak curriculum one day, and the Code curriculum on the last day.
Some talks I found useful: one on salary transparency, another on working for non-profits, and a panel discussion on the conference call for papers process (how conference committees review and accept talk proposals).
Lesson 5: You will miss some things. Prioritize what you want out of It. Make time for self care. And Nail Conf.
You WILL miss some things but that’s okay. Prioritize what you want to do / get out of the conference. Make it work for you!
For me, I identified my must haves every day: who I had to meet, workshops / talks I had to attend, and allowed myself to skip some things by identifying “nice to haves / optional” activities and talks.
NailConf was an area set up for folks to take a break from the busyness of the conference and just do their nails. I saw NailConf as a form of self-care and a low-pressure way to meet others.
Thanks to Kara Carrell for organizing this activity, and to Neem Serra for providing the nail stamps for that extra style!
Lesson 4: Be intentional in managing your social media and Slack notifications.
For me, I use Twitter to connect with people both during and after conferences. So, I definitely tweet and make it a point to connect with people on LinkedIn.
There is a Slack team for the conference you can join as well, and this is where the notifications settings is your friend! Tweaking the notifications settings allows you to communicate with people online on your terms, in a way that is useful to you without distracting you too much from the rest of the conference. So, I set it to notify me on my threads and DMs only. I also DM or tag people (@ them) if I need to get a person’s attention, but I make the DMs short as people may be in the middle of attending a session so as to not disturb them, etc.
Also, schedule meeting times if you need to; don’t just presume you’ll “bump” into someone you want to talk to. There are a few hundred people there, and sometimes you might not be able to recognize someone by their avatar, or they might be in the middle of something when you see them.
Lesson 3: I put my improved speaking skills to use immediately and gave a lightning talk once I came home.
I have been fortunate enough to have done all three in my career: technical writing, conference speaking, and open source coding prior to attending Write/Speak/Code. But I still managed to pick up a few new tricks from attending my first W/S/C conference, and got some valuable feedback.
I got feedback on my lightning talk during the speaking track for example, during the group exercises.
Speaker Alex Millatmal shared her knowledge about the CFP (call for papers) process, where to get free slide templates and images, etc. Thanks Alex!
As a result, I incorporated the lessons from the speaking track into the next lightning talk I gave, back home in Denver. A few weeks after I came home from W/S/C, I presented at Denver Startup Week as part of the local Women Who Code lightning talk panel on “Developer Fails”.
Lesson 2: I put what I learned from the Code Track to use immediately and submitted a PR that got merged.
Courteney Ervin had a great slide presentation on open source contributing, and helped connect me with the maintainer of the dev.to iOS repo, Ben Halpern, who got me working on an issue immediately!
The issue I worked on had me adding a refresh button to the navigation bar of the iOS app for dev.to. I was successful in adding this new feature and my PR has been merged.
Lesson 1: Diversify Tech posted a Write/Speak/Code scholarship that I received. Writing this blog post is my way of giving back.
I didn’t partake in the Write track, but as you can see, I’m blogging here. 🙂
I first learned about the scholarship to Write/Speak/Code from the Diversify Tech newsletter. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend, and hence part of my reason for writing this blog post was as a way to give back by sharing what I’ve learned.
Thanks again to Write/Speak/Code and Diversify Tech for this experience!
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