This blog post originally appeared on my other blog,
but I decided to move it here to keep all my IT blog posts in one place.
I had a very interesting conversation with Florian Gilcher
a couple weeks ago. Florian – one of the eurucamp
organizers – shared his experiences on how hard it gets sometimes when you want to show how useful Code of Conducts are. Sure, you hear about People Doing Bad Things And Being Thrown Out For Them, but do you hear stories about how CoCs actually make the events more diverse? You know, the thing that’s missing is voices coming from people that started going to conferences, became active in a community thanks to being provided a safe, welcoming space.
I thought I could share my story, then.
Let’s go back a couple years. I’ve been trying to learn how to program two or three times. Each time I started getting it, some sudden Bad Experiences held me back. It started over ten years ago, in high school, and continued for quite some time (I don’t want to write about these experiences here, but if you really want to know, write me, and I might share). If you’ve been there, you know it gets a little harder to come back to it each time stuff happens.
Fast forward to a year ago. I became a software engineer. I slowly started giving talks at Ruby user groups, plus a lightning talk on an occasional bigger conference. I had ideas, but never submitted any actual proposals, for, you know, real
talks. I’d say impostor syndrome
might be at fault here. Not shyness – as a campaign manager in an NGO for a couple of years, I’ve been in the media more times than I can remember. Public speaking was a natural thing for me. And even on my worse days, I still considered myself quite a smart person. Public speaking at conferences, where almost everybody was different from me, where I stood out, about a topic I felt uncomfortable in, was a bit mesmerizing. Scratch that: it had significant panic potential.
Last year’s eurucamp was the first conference with a code of conduct I’ve been to. The organizers not only implemented one, but they also went to great lengths to invite a diverse audience. They did outreach to women and other minorities. They designed a blind selection process, to make sure their own biases do not get in the way of picking great speakers. They made it clear that everyone should stick to the rules in the code of conduct and were ready to take action and apologize for any misconducts.
I decided to give it a go. I got a ticket.
When I entered the venue on the first day of eurucamp, I felt… weird. Uncanny. “Am I really on a programming conference? There’s, like, so many women here!”
Yep. About 30% of the people in the hall were women and that was the first thing that came to my mind. And I’m a diversity advocate. Good job, girl. Seeing mostly white men at every programming meetup I’ve been to made me internalize this picture so much that entering a programming-related venue and seeing a group of people that resembles the society I live in a bit better gave me a genuine wtf moment. I’ve worked it through, but I honestly find my initial response a bit embarrassing.
eurucamp topped it this year with their mentorship program, where each chosen speaker received a mentor by default. Sounds perfect for people like me: scared to ask for help, sure to consider all their questions silly. A code of conduct, an outreach program, mentors – and, what was surprising to me, at one point I thought it’s time to (gasp!) submit a talk proposal. For a real talk.
So eurucamp was the only big conference I was able to send a talk proposal to. I was also confident in them enough to ask another friend to submit a talk – a friend that never goes to any user group meetings because she just doesn’t feel safe. I was pretty sure she’d feel safe at eurucamp. It’s horrible that smart people like her (or any people, for that matter) have to skip community events because some other people sometimes cannot into decent person.
So what did I want to talk about? Well, I wanted to talk about how the stages of development in literature can apply to the stages of development of programming languages. You know, how these two processes are actually similar to an extent. Weird? Yeah, but for someone with a literary studies background – extremely interesting and doable. When my talk proposal ended up not being chosen, but was rated very highly, a number of people encouraged me to brush the proposal up a bit and submit it somewhere else. I started doing that, but I finally quit. Silly or not, I guess I just still felt too scared. I feel it’s slowly changing though. Thanks to events like eurucamp, where organizers realize the process of getting great speakers at a conference does not end with announcing a call for papers, more people feel safe. People like me feel what they find interesting might be interesting and valuable for other people. People like me, who feel they might actually be smart. That can be a valuable part of a community, but have a limited chance without a safe space. And yeah, people that feel if anything goes wrong, someone will help them.
So that’s my two cents.