November 7th, 2016
It’s really difficult to know exactly where to begin writing this blog post. The experience I had at Ela Conf was so much more meaningful and helpful to my tech career than I ever thought possible...
I remember I first found out about the conference through Joni Trythall, a designer I much admired and followed on Twitter. I came across her work through her SVG pocket guide. It is a great book that helped me learn a lot more about SVGs and feel inspired by her cutesy-style designs.
(Basically, I had, and still do have, an enormous girl crush on her).
And! I saw she was organizing a conference called ela conf. I was really interested in the concept-- a women in tech empowerment conference? Count me in! At the point I applied for the conference, I was still working my technical support job and felt like all of my goals were still so far out of reach. I told my tech bestie, Lindsay (who I met through Girl Develop It!), about it and asked if she would be interested, not expecting her to be as excited about it as I was, but she replied back with much enthusiasm and said she was going to apply to give her tech talk to see if she could go for free. Of course I encouraged her, and applied for a grant ticket myself.
Fast forward a few months later, we both got accepted! She spoke on the transitioning into tech panel and I went just as a pure member. I was nervous… sure, this was a women in tech empowerment conference, but I worried if the women were going to be as supportive and kind as I imagined in my head.
Spoiler alert: They were!
Friday night, we arrived a little late, but early enough to come in the middle of the first woman, Eleanor’s talk. The audience was a great indication of the lovely women that attended. The cheers were loud and they laughed at all the appropriate moments. You know how when you attend a movie at the movie theater and you feel a connection with all the people in the audience because you’re all laughing and crying and enjoying the movie together? That’s exactly what it felt like, but this was no movie-- this was real life filled with real women who felt connected to each other through each speaker’s story. Each woman had a story to tell that we heard through her speech. Through the first talk of the night with Eleanor’s, we learned how to be build up our community to build our careers. We laughed through Liz’s talk as she joked about her Galaxy Note 7 and talked about ways to increase our influence. Through Brittany’s talk, we learned how being the “angry black woman” at work wasn’t always a bad thing. Jessica taught us how to accept negative feedback and why it’s important. Angelina told us how scope creep was a real thing and shared how to keep it from creeping up on us. Alex capped off the first night with a very personal story, sharing how shaving her head “made her a better programmer.” Joni came up after all the talks and said she had chills from each story… and I think everyone in the audience agreed… it was such an emotional roller coaster and I loved it.
The next morning, we were at it bright and early and kicked off the day with Mary, who talked about lessons about leadership she learned about her son. Tiberius gave us a very insightful talk about salary negotiation. A lot of the tidbits from that talk are going to be especially helpful in these upcoming months when I start applying for junior developer positions. Timarah gave an amazing speech on the power of respect and tolder her about a song she wrote/sang called “Coderitits.” I definitely have to check that out still. Nicole made us laugh with her funny and heart-warming speech about the importance of having a squad in the tech community, with lots of funny slides depicting pictures of Beyonce and Nikki Minaj.
We then had the opportunity to break off and go to different speeches/workshops of our choosing. I chose to go to Vaidehi’s talk about technical blogging-- and I have to admit that’s why I’m actually writing this blog post right now! Did you ever look at someone and think “Oh my gosh, I want to make it my goal to be this person’s friend?!” That’s what I thought about this woman. Her workshop/speech talked about how she transitioned from a career in writing to becoming a developer, how she learns through writing and telling/reading other’s stories. She took up the challenge of writing a technical blog post, teaching someone how to work through a certain coding problem, every Technical Tuesday for a year, and had a total of 52 blog posts at the end of the year. I think the quote that really inspired me was, paraphrasing a bit here, this:
“Maybe someone will read my blog post, maybe nobody will-- this is for me. And after I approached it with that idea, the more I wrote, the more people started to read my posts and I was able to give back to the community and teach through learning how to teach myself.”
That was super inspiring. I’ve always loved writing but never really figured my writing was worth putting out there for the public to read. Sure, I have a few blog posts on this website because we’re always hearing about the importance of blogging, but I guess hearing her dedication each week to write something knowing there’s a good chance nobody will read it, inspired me. Because as much as I want to give back and help others through my blog posts, my posts are also extremely personal and, well, a bit selfish too.
And I’m okay with that.
Tldr: Her workshop was amazing and I’m going to start writing a technical blog post every Tuesday for a year. Not sure how much of a struggle it will be, but I’m going to commit, dammit!
After that, I ate lunch and was lucky enough to meet socialize with some really awesome ladies! It was cool to see that there were friendships that were forming even from people that attended ela conf last year! I won’t go into too much detail about these social interactions I had throughout the conference, but basically, they were a huge part of what made the conference so amazing... it was so easy to bond with everyone and I felt inspired by each lady’s story.
We came back and I chose to go see the transitioning into tech panel-- the one Lindsay was on! Gosh, these ladies were freaking amazing. In addition to Lindsay, Alicia, Louisa, and Cathryn were on the panel, and it was moderated by Angelina. Every lady was awesome and I was so inspired by everyone, especially Alicia who was filled with such insightful wisdom, an amazing story of how she taught herself programming 25 years ago, and made an app to help women experiencing domestic violence to get help. Not to mention, she was freaking hilarious.
Elise’s powerful talk about the Power of I Don’t Know. It really resonated with my experience at boot camp right now and how I feel like there’s soooooo much left yet to learn and I always feel uncomfortable asking questions. Basically-- ask away! We all cracked up at Ruthie’s first tech talk as she powered her way through her amazing speech with humor and authenticity as she basically had an experience of every speaker’s nightmare-- her slides didn’t match up with her speaking notes! But she powered through it and everyone cheered and laughed and applauded through her speech. Lisa’s talk about giving back as a beginner was so important to me too! It tied in quite nicely with Vaidehi’s talk about technical blogging and inspired me in new ways to help figure out how I can give back to this amazing community that’s helped me so much.
Last: the moment we were all waiting for, a speech by the amazingly kind Ms. Adrienne. It’s kind of hilarious, and kind of a shame, but I didn’t even know she was going to speaking at this conference! I listened to her interview a few months back on CodeNewbie and fell in love with her story, her authenticity, her kindness, and willingness to open up about her coding journey and the struggles she faced. Basically, her speech was awesome. As someone on twitter put it “I laughed, I cried, I laughed so hard I cried.” I definitely did these things. It was extremely powerful and a great way to end the day.
After that, we went to Time, a bar, and had the whole top level dedicated to just us. We drank and ate and chatted about. I got to speak with lots of the ladies who gave talks and talked about how they inspired me in one way or another.
Now that I probably went into much more detail than was actually necessary, it’s important now to talk about the different themes I noted that were prevalent at ela conf.
There’s nobody you’re better at being than yourself. Trying to be anyone other than yourself is just not going to work. Celebrate your own uniqueness and work it!
Have a Squad
Having friends and a support system is so extremely important, and especially so in this field. Whether you call them your squad, buddies, posse of nerds (credit for this term goes directly to Alicia), relish and appreciate all they do for you, and give back what you receive in return.
Celebrate Every Achievement
You’re freaking awesome. Celebrate it. Celebrate every minor achievement, celebrate every major achievement. Celebrate everything!
Ela Conf was an amazing experience and I was so happy and thankful to have gone. Experiencing it with Lindsay and becoming even more close to her in the process was just as amazing. I will try my best to implement everything I’ve learned this weekend into my everyday life and instead of just having one amazing experience this weekend, and try to live out all that I have learned from these amazing women.