This is an example of how devchix can work as a resource to connect events with developers. If the organizers of this conference hadn’t reached out through this group I’d never have heard that it was happening, and I’m certainly glad I did.
Last weekend Greenhorn and Thoughtbot put on the D8 event (which stands for Developers x 4 & Designers x 4) at the Microsoft Research Center in Cambridge, MA. It was a collection of 10 minute of presentations designed to introduce high school and college students interested in web design and/or development to the tools and workflow used by local start ups. The website has lists of speakers and a collection of other resources for further reading on the topics presented. 320 students had registered and the turn out looked pretty good, though I don’t know the exact numbers.
I got involved when the organizer had an email fowarded to devchix during their search for speakers. The story I heard yesterday was that they had opened up registration and of the first 100 registrations somewhere around 40% were women, which prompted them to reach out to women in particular. They ended up getting three women of 17 speakers, including me. Of those I was the only developer. I’m not sure whether that’s a success or not for their goal, but it was definitely more than zero and came about in part because of the specific effort they’d put in.
In the end, the audience was probably about 30-40% young women, and even the “have you used X development technology?” hands seemed to be about a quarter women. I also noticed more racial diversity than when I went to similar stuff as an undergrad a decade ago (though those were on a different coast and didn’t set the bar particularly high.) On the other hand, most of the representatives from the start ups were men and despite the idea being developers and designers, there was more focus on, and demand for, developers and development tools. Only one presentation was really about the intersection of the two domains, the awesome opening talk given by Caroline Hadilaksono.
My talk was on text editors, and I tried to approach it as a technical marketing pitch rather than a demonstration or pure information dump. I wasn’t completely happy with my slides and I talked too fast, but I think I was able to communicate some of what makes text editors useful without loosing people who aren’t already used to scripting and automation. The slides, without explanation or notes, are here if you’re curious. The only one I love is the illustration of the keyboard and mouse and the vast distance between them. I purposefully limited the effort I put in, because I didn’t want it to become something I went perfectionist over. Now that I’ve delivered it once I can do feedback-informed improvement if I give the talk again. It was my first time giving a technical presentation to a public audience, and the major things I’d address for next time would be better pacing and ditching the notes for a 10 minute presentation. I ended up not looking at the cards, even though I had them in my hand. My slides also don’t have the Keynote polish or pure originality some other people’s had, but I figured that I was there as a developer, not a designer, so that’s probably okay then.
The technical difficulties were educational. When I went to plug my machine in it didn’t work, and after a minute of fiddling around I couldn’t get the resolution right, so I had someone else present and waited until I could set it up during the break. It turned out it was the projector, not my computer and it took someone who worked there to doing some magic to make it work. When the same thing happened to other presenters later, they immediately asked the person who knew the projector for help. It was a lesson in not trying to fix everything myself! I had brought a backup slides on a USB, but the main computer available only had Keynote, which can’t handle OpenOffice files. In the future, in addition to back up slides I will try to arrive at the venue early and make sure I know how to work the projector.
I found several of the other talks super-fun, even though I’m familiar with the technologies already. I thought the presentation on minimum viable product and lean start up ideas was a fantastic 10 minute sales pitch for “ship early, ship often”. The technology walk-throughs (of which they were four) were entertaining, but a couple twitter comments suggested they went straight over some attendees’ heads instead of making the technology feel use-able.
The after party was also fun, though less gender-balanced than the conference as a whole. I wonder if there is a better venue for social networking that migh change that dynamic, because it’s one I observed before. On the other hand I heard that bringing a resume and following up with startups that you were interested in the next day was an effective approach, and it doesn’t involve any casual networking at a noisy bar.
I came out of the event personally energized. The students I talked with were excited about both their work and the field; it was great to see the optimisim and enthusiasm they are bringing with them.