October 1, 2014 · community code

StrangeLoop, Part I: Powered by JS & Opening Party

Last week eight women from Ada Developers Academy got to head down to St. Louis to check out the StrangeLoop conference for the first time! Few of us have been to such a big conference, plus we were looking forward to checking out what the tech scene outside of the PNW looks like. We were able to attend due to very generous scholarships which paid for our tickets as well as our travel. StrangeLoop was on our radar because this year they engaged Ashe Dryden to help come up with strategies that would increase the number of women in attendance. Last year, the conference had about 6% women attendees and this year they doubled the number. We were really excited to benefit from these efforts--without the scholarship, none of us would have been able to attend.

So how was it?

Well, it was awesome.

view from the arch

We all attended pre-conference events. Two other Adies and I attended the Powered by JavaScript all day conference put on by Manning Publications, while some of the other attended workshops on topics like elastic search, deep vim, erlang, and more.

Powered by JavaScript:

The Powered by JavaScript conference was more than we expected! Because some of the other pre-conference options were more workshop focused, we hadn't really realized that Powered by JS would be it's own multi-track conference. We were a little bit afraid we had been duped by a bait & switch at first...

powered by java?

But we were greeted by very enthusiastic volunteers and organizers, and were pleasantly surprised by the conference swag from Manning Publications- no, not another oversized men’s nerdy t-shirt, but something worthwhile- a book!

I had three favorite talks from the Powered by JavaScript conference. The first was Tomomi Imura’s talk “The current state of web on mobile - Have smartphone browsers gotten smarter?”. Not only did she entertain the audience with fun projects like the sushi compass, but also she explained how we could create entire sites and apps with JavaScript that harness the power of our smartphones. It was really cool to see all these great projects and think about how I could start to build similar products with the skills I already have and by using APIs and new HTML5 features, and without having to learn special languages or tools just to interact with my phone in the way a native app can. It was a huge plus to me to see that there was a female keynote speaker and a great way to kick off the day.

Another talk that I really enjoyed was Trek Glowacki’s “Single Page Applications: The Web's Horseless Carriage”. Part of his talk was about the concept of SPAs and how presumably we will eventually drop “single-page” much like we no longer call cars “horseless carriages”. Additionally, many of us still view the web and web development as a series of pages that we interact with despite that being an outdated model. While I loved the speculation about the future of JavaScript development and the increasingly blurry line between native and web, I couldn’t help but think about all the lessons Marcy Sutton had taught me during my internship about accessibility and some of the difficulties we ran into while developing Distiller. It’s easy to get carried away talking about the changing state of an app and how cool and sleek it is to not have to refresh the page, but the discussion about who might get left behind if we aren’t careful was conspicuously missing.

By far my favorite talk of the day was “Art.js: Transfigure Data to Create 21st Century Art” by Sarah Groff-Palermo. I must admit, the reason this talk was my fav was probably due to my own biases in favor of data based art. Many of my projects involve collecting data over a long period of time and then doing some sort of visual display, but mine are about 800% less cool and definitely low-tech compared to the examples Sarah showed us. I was glad I came to her talk during this conference, because she was also presenting it during StrangeLoop and I was able to tell a bunch of people about how they should go see her speak. My favorite piece of she presented was “Timeline of Neglect”, a graph piece that marks when a book was bought and then slowly starts to disintegrate as time goes on without reading the book. I left her talk feeling inspired to actually explore the libraries and tools she presented in order to create my own projects, or to take the non-tech data art projects that I already have to the next level and start to integrate code in ways I had never thought of!

The only thing I would have changed about the line up of Powered by JavaScript was that the two non-keynote women speakers were scheduled for the same time slot, so we weren’t able to attend both. On the other hand, we could tell that there were visible efforts to make women feel included. While the speaker line up definitely skewed male, the organizer Candace Gillhoolley approached us to make sure we were having a good time and to let us know that if we needed anything she was there for us. She expressed some frustration at trying to find women speakers, so I made sure to point her to CallbackWomen and hint that she had just met some great potential speakers for next year! So I guess we’ll have to come up with our own proposals for next year.

StrangeLoop Opening Party:

I know it might seem silly to dedicate half of a blog post to a conference party, but the only reason you might think that is if you’ve never been to StrangeLoop’s opening party. Dear lord was it amazing. Since the start of 2014, I have attended 3 other conferences and let me tell you: StrangeLoop knows how to throw a party.

My expectations were fairly low, seeing as how one of the biggest cultural adjustments I’ve had to make as I transition into tech is changing my expectations when I hear the word “party”. I’ve been to conferences where the big selling point has been board games and a lesson on solving rubric’s cubes. Not that there is anything wrong with those things, just that I come from an industry where “party” has meant something between semi-formal wear and renting out the top floor of a 7 story club. I had not in any way anticipated the sheer joy of exploring St. Louis’s City Museum nor the surprisingly well-behaved men of the conference. Normally I tend to get bothered, and perhaps being with many other women helped prevent some of the unwanted attention, but I was quite impressed by the other attendees’ respectfulness.

new friends/striped shirt party

We made lots of new friends during the party, from the likes of Launch Code and 8th Light. It was hard not to make friends, honestly, when you run into someone also lost in a series of tubes, caves, and weird tree sculptures. One of my favorite parts was trying to get to the top of the building to ride the 10 story slide, only to find out the line was too long and then discover the giant dome room. We climbed up a bunch of rebar on the side of the dome to reach a small basket-like structure at the top, which you can see Anne and I chilling in below:

inside the dome

Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get any cooler, we pulled ourselves out of the basket, onto the roof to discover a beautiful night skyline and, no joke, a Ferris wheel!! Ferris wheels are basically my favorite, so I didn’t think the party could get any better.

The whole lot of us Adies tried to organize a time to get our picture taken at the Cloudant (a database-as-a-service comapny) sponsored photobooth. Elizabeth and I had already taken a few photos, not really realizing that it was a contest. We had just wanted more content for our #TeamElizabeth extreme pair-programming website and the chance to be silly. We ended up with this photoset of us pretending to be TSwift and Yeezy:

tswift & yeezy

But the best part of the Cloudant photobooth was when we got other Adies in and decided to try our best shot at winning their funny photo contest. Of course, the secret is always to never use the props, so we ended up going for the classic "roller coaster" photo:


Cloudant hooked some of us up with t-shirts, swag, and best of all, a set of Raspberry Pis! The women working at the Cloudant booth were so friendly and excited to talk to other women in tech that they left quite a positive impression on us. Since all of us came to StrangeLoop as Ada Developer Academy students on diversity scholarships, we decided that the best thing we could do with the prizes was to give them to the new students at Ada. We are hoping not just to be able to inspire the new women to explore the different kinds of hacking they can do with the Raspberry Pis, but also to explore different conferences and not be afraid of trying new things and putting themselves out there in the community.

My next blog post will be a rundown of the talks at StrangeLoop-- Hope you'll check it out.
Thank you to all the StrangeLoop & Powered by JavaScript organizers, especially Bridget Hillyer, as well as to all the diversity scholarship sponsors!

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