March 9, 2014 · ada community

My experience at the LWT Summit

Thanks to everyone who supported my indiegogo campaign to cover the costs of attending the LWT Summit in San Francisco last weekend, I was able to go and had a fantastic time! Here is a write up of some of the things I experienced and learned along the way!

I got to the summit Friday morning and was immediately thrilled to see a packed theater with just shy of 800 attendees. Despite a flight delay, I made it in time to see the morning keynote speaker, Lisa Sherman, who gave a talk about the value of "being your authentic self" and using that to help mold your career path. The theme of the authentic self was repeated often throughout the day. The late morning sessions were focused on talking about being a woman and a lesbian in the tech industry, although I found it particularly interesting that the women who were a bit older all mentioned the discrimination they have faced over the course of their careers, where as the younger women focused on the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps/just do it" narrative. I wonder if this is a difference in generational politics, or if the younger women have yet to experience any overt discrimination or have yet to recognize it. I find it unlikely that the cultural climate of the tech world has changed enough that this discrimination doesn't take place anymore; if that were the case, the need for a lesbian focused conference wouldn't have resonated with so many of us.

The breakout lunch sessions were definitely chaotic, but I really enjoyed the Coder Connect lunch that was sponsored by Google. It was just a social lunch, but it was nice to be around the more tech focused women. I met a lot of women in tech-adjacent fields, like PR/marketing and the startup world, but I didn't happen to actually meet that many developers or engineers until the Google lunch, so I was able to make some really great connections there. Best part- I won the raffle for a Google Chromebook!

After lunch, I skipped some of the pitches to hang out at the recharge station and refill on coffee. I actually found it incredibly useful to hang around the recharge station because it made it very easy to strike up a conversation and network with the other women who were also there to charge their phones or laptops. After a while, I did notice that all the young women I met from the bay area seemed to present themselves very similarly, especially those who were working on startups. It was sort of a little bit of a culture shock and came across to me as posturing. Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned at the summit is that I don't think SF is the right tech scene for me at this point in my career. After meeting all these women there and experiencing a little slice of it, I think I will save myself a lot of trouble by knowing now that I would rather develop the start of my career elsewhere.

The afternoon keynotes where a highpoint marked by really funny and insightful women such as Kara Swisher, Leanne Pittsford (the founder of Lesbians Who Tech), and Danae Ringelmann of Indiegogo who gave a really great talk about intentional culture in the workplace. She provided a lot of insights about how to really parse out which companies have the sort of diverse, collaborative and highly motivated company cultures versus those whose idea of company culture is having a ping pong table and a beer fridge. I think those tips will really help me now as I am just beginning to figure out what kind of work I'd like to do when I finish Ada.

The Hackathon

The hackathon on Satuday and Sunday was a real highlight for me and actually a really big boost to my confidence in terms of technical skills. Sometimes it can be hard to feel like I have an accurate guage on how much I know because Ada has been such an intense bootcamp, but unfortunately that also comes with feeling like I am in a safe little Ada bubble. When I was at the hackathon, I was able to use my technical skills and work with "real developers" on a real world application. I chose to be part of the Chicana Latina Foundation's team, where we digitized their application process for the scholarship fund they run.

At first I was a little flustered because we decided to work in python, which I have never looked at before. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to contribute to the team. Then once my fellow dev on the team, Aliya Rahman from Code for Progress out in DC, gave me a quick lesson and orientation, I was surprised that I actually sort of knew what was going on! This little high was followed by some frustration that I knew what I wanted the app to do, but didn't know how to use the proper syntax. Then, I helped several women from different teams resolve their git issues so they could work on their own projects. It was sort of a rollercoaster of emotions to be honest, but then I realized how cool it was that I knew some things, could help some people, and actually was only hindered by not knowing the language, rather than not knowing how to program in general! By the end of the weekend, several people had mistaken me for an instructor when I would say I was "in" Ada Developers Academy.

After the Summit

From realizing that I'd definitely like to stay in Seattle as I start my new dev career, to getting some outside perspective and validation on my new skills, I think I learned a lot about my own place by going to the conference. I don't think I would have had the same experiences at a different conference, and it was also just really reliving to be around other women like me. Normally, I feel like I have to watch myself and not be "too gay", whereas during these three days, I was free to "be my authentic self" as the theme were. There were so many jokes, mannerisms, and culture (and great haircuts!) that I don't get to express while in Ada, so it was like refreshing to be with people who embraced that.

Additionally, I ended up with $200 left over from the Indiegogo campaign due to some extra generous offline donations. Half of that will go back to Ada Developers Academy. $100 has already gone to the LWT campaign to support the social good organizations that pitched during the summit of Friday. When the room full of 800 lesbians found out they were voting on which one organization would get the prize of $5,000, everyone decided to pitch in for all of them and we raised over $25,000 which will be matched by Megan Smith, the Google[x] Vice President for a total of $50,000 to be split by all the organizations.

Thanks so much once again to everyone who helped get me to the Lesbians Who Tech Summit. Your generosity was really meaningful to me and I am so glad to have been able to go to the conference and hackathon- it was an invaluable experience!

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