Notes from The Lead Developer conference 2017, day 1

I attended The Lead Developer conference last week.

I took a lot of notes, which was quite a pleasant surprise. The organisers recorded the talks, and they’ll be up in the next weeks but here are my notes for day 1 in the meantime (or in case you don’t even know what to watch first when the talks are finally published!). Update: the slides from the talks are listed in their blog.

Also please note these notes are essentially taken for me, not for you. So if something doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry, but there’s not much I will do 😛

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How to make your speaker line up more diverse

An organiser of the London Node User Group requested feedback on how to get more members of minorities to speak at their event. This is my contribution … which happens to possibly apply to any other event who wants to get a bit more diverse:

Hi!

Excuse me for crashing into the discussion, but as someone who’s a “minority” and has also been invited to many conferences on the basis of “being a minority”, I feel like I know a bit or two about this 🙂

(Disclaimer: I’ve been a couple times to LNUG so it’s not a total kool-aid-man convo-crash, ok?)

If you want to get people from minorities to speak on your event, you’ll have to do outreach. It’s as simple as that. Putting an ad that says “hey, minorities welcome” on your site is nice to start with, but having the most previous speakers being white guys will send a message of “oh, yeah, we have a problem, but we’d like you, member of a minority, to fix this for us”. So yes, you need to be encouraging, but you also need to do the hard work.

What this means is that you’re going to have to cultivate your networks and include more members of minorities on them so your network grows. You’re going to put a lot of energy on this. You’re also going to be amazed when this works. And surprised and confused when people tell you to f*ck off—specially if you just approach them because they’re a minority.

Why? Because you really need to learn about them, not take the laziest approach. What are they doing in their professional life? Why should they be speakers? What is it they work on that could provide a unique insight to the meetup? And no, the answer is not that they are a member of a minority.

This is going to take an awful amount of time. But it’s the right thing to do. So—kudos to you for realising you have a problem! Well done! 🙌

And now you need to start the work. Thankfully, the Internet exists and it can help you grow your network and educate yourself:

  • If you don’t know members of minorities, look at the websites of existing conferences or meetups. Look for minorities. See if any of them are in your area. Maybe they are going to speak at a local meetup? Then attend it. Watch their talk. If not, watch their talks online. See if they would be a good match for your meetup. If so, make a note.
  • While you’re on that, also follow them on their blog/twitter/facebook/wherever it is they put their online presence. See what they talk about when they’re not giving a talk. See who they talk to. Minorities tend to talk to minorities (although in their context, they might be the majorities). Learn. Don’t interrupt. Listen an awful lot. Learn more. Maybe the thing they talked about in a meetup isn’t even remotely as interesting as the other things they talk about normally with their friends. You’ll find lots of things you don’t understand if you are not friends with minorities already, so use your favourite search engine to find info about things that puzzle you. Don’t ask minorities to educate you. Do your homework.
  • If you don’t know where to start, there are people on twitter compiling lists like “women in tech”, “poc in tech”, “lgbt in tech”, and so on. Follow a list and also maybe thank the creator because they’ve done an amazing lot of work for you already.
  • Once you know what these new interesting people do, it’s the time to invite them!
  • When you invite people don’t tell them things like the following because you’ll look so freakingly lazy that it’ll be a miracle you get an answer:
    • “hi you’re an awesome female/POC/minority developer can you give a talk at our meetup?”
    • “hi I saw you do node, can you talk about it in our meetup?”
    • etc
  • Instead, tell them what you saw they talked/wrote about and why you’re interested in hearing about it in your meetup. E.g.:
    • “hi, I saw your talk on doing art with node.js and I thought this could be a really interesting topic for our local node.js meetup”
    • “hi, we’ve been running a series of talks on modular frameworks and I thought your talk about frameworks could be a good conclusion to wrap the series”
    • etc…
  • Don’t be fixated on the topic. Make it clear that this is a suggestion, not a requirement. Sometimes people have ideas for a new talk and would love to try them out in a local meetup before submitting to a conference. Tell them you’d be open about this, it makes things more interesting and welcoming!
  • If they say no, don’t be offended. Members of minorities are also at a disadvantage when it comes to things such as free time, so attending a meetup to talk for free is a precious extravaganza few can afford. Some people can barely afford tube tickets!
  • Also, don’t ask them to get you in touch with more people of minorities, because they have better things to do than your own outreach work. If they do offer to do that spontaneously, thank them! Because that is a very nice and expensive gesture on their part.

The above is about people who already have spoken or have put their thoughts online and maybe have got the attention somehow. But you might also want to use your meetup to discover and catapult (not literally!) new speakers. One way to do this is to talk to people of minorities in the meetup, and get to know what they do. Oftentimes you’ll realise that you have amazingly skilled attendees, but you never paid attention to them because your biases were blinding you. That woman sitting quietly in a corner? Not a recruiter–actually the head of development at an agency doing amazing 3D stuff on the browser. The POC nodding as the speaker’s laptop crashes? Lead developer at a company that specialises in aggregating crash data. And so on.

Speaking to people of minorities at meetups without appearing like a total weirdo is quite hard, it turns out. But you could start by bias-checking yourself, and doing simple things such as welcoming visitors if it’s the first time they join you, introducing yourself, asking them “what do you do?” instead of starting with a bias-loaded question like “so, are you a designer?”. And then make a mental note of that, don’t force the conversation too much, and try to remember next time you see them. And build a network gradually. You don’t want to freak people by interrogating them the first time you meet them, or they’ll never go back.

The more varied and diverse your meetup is, the more attractive it will be for people from minorities.

Jed also wrote a very interesting guide about how they have grown their meetup to be welcoming and inclusive: https://github.com/jed/building-brooklynjs

Phew! This is a lot of text already and I have barely started. I hope it gives you some ideas. Also hope to be able to join the meetups some time this year! I’ll be observing to see if you’re putting this in practice 😉

Notes on JSConf Australia 2016

I spoke at JSConf Australia in Melbourne at the beginning of this month. Like in CSS Conf Australia, the videos haven’t been published individually yet, but the event was streamed live, and you can watch it again… and again… and again…

My brain got into one of those intensely obsessive focused moments pre-talk so I will admit I could barely pay attention to the talks prior to mine—I’m really sorry, specially because I heard so many good things about them!

These notes will be shorter because of that. Apologies if you were expecting a full conference review… but sometimes you cannot get everything you want! 😔

And now to the talks!

Jessica Lord: “Electron: A Tale of Two Processes”

This one was a really enlightening talk about Electron’s architecture. I had no idea it worked that way, and my assumptions were basically wrong. It was good to be shown the truth in an amicable way—like Jessica’s! I really enjoyed this talk and that’s big, considering it was right before mine!

Ruth John: “How to be a Web A/V Artist”

Ruth explained the secrets behind her “Web VJ*” set-up and also managed to produce an even smaller MIDI controller than the last time I spoke to her. It’s as if she kept getting Bluetooth miniatures!

She introduced some comedic elements into the talk but I’m not quite sure they worked for everyone… I felt some of the “funny samples” (like the Windows 9x error sounds) were lost on parts of the audience… that were younger than expected!

*Web VJ sounds so much like a new and upcoming API. Maybe… maybe… navigator.webvj.... 😏

Michaela Lehr: “An Introduction to WebVR”

She had an slightly different take on WebVR, which was really refreshing. She also mentioned things rarely mentioned such as the fact that VR can cause strong psychological and physiological responses on some people, and we need to be mindful of that when we design the new experiences in the web. If certain things are VR only, are we going to exclude some people this way?

Lena Reinhard: “Debugging the Tech Industry”

I have huge respect for Lena—she’s always delivering these immensely difficult talks. It’s hard to be the bearer of bad news. And there are plenty in tech!

Weeks after the talk, I’m still thinking about the message, and trying to come up with ways in which we can build tech that is not “accidentally” hostile to everyone who is not the creator of said tech.

Live.JS + Karaoke(.js?)

After the talks were done and we took the “family photo” and announcements were done, the room was cleared and Matt McKegg and Ruth John set up shop to have one of their Live.js events, like the one in Singapore.

I challenged Matt to “dubstepify” his act, which sort worked because his music is super improvisational.

Once they were done, an impetuous bunch of karaokers took up the stage and starting singing with lots of energy and heart and soul, but also lots of misplaced notes. I described this as “this is when the bar is closed, the last patrons get out and they really want to keep singing the last song the bar was playing, and so they keep singing it in the streets”…

This is when I left—and I was so tired anyway, I could barely stand on my feet, no energy left to listen to extremely eager karaokers—let alone join in the party 😜

Overall

Like CSS Conf, this was a really chill and enjoyable conference. I had again lots of interesting conversations–more so on this day because people had seen me speak, so they wanted to ask me questions or just discuss ideas they had had!

I also learnt a few things. All good stuff!

If you are ever faced with the possibility of submitting a proposal for this conference, don’t even think about it—do it! It was really lovely and well organised—I’m very glad I was invited to apply and my proposal was accepted!

Also: Melbourne is such an interesting city… lots of things to look at and explore, from street art to museums to neighbourhoods to just buildings, and of course great food and coffee, although I still can’t stop feeling so confused with “Jingle bells” playing on the background while signs for “Happy summer!” and “Merry Christmas” live side by side on the storefronts!

I feel like I’m missing out on the part of Australian culture that has warm reggae Christmas songs instead. If that doesn’t exist—it MUST be invented!

And this is the last installment of “notes on…” for this year, at least!

Notes on CSSConf Australia 2016

I attended CSSConf Australia in Melbourne on the 30th of November. A couple days ago, I wrote some generic notes about my experience in this conference and JSConf. This post covers specifically my notes for CSSConf.

The videos for the talks have not been published individually, but the conference was streamed live via YouTube, so you can watch the archived stream (you will have to “jump” to each talk):

And now, to my notes!
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