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:


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:

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 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!
Continue reading “Notes on CSSConf Australia 2016”

Two for one

I attended Web Progressions in London last week. But before that, and before the break, I also attended JSConf Uruguay. So what could be better than two conference posts in one?

None of the conferences have posted the videos of the talks yet, but here are my highlights of both events, just in case you wondered:

JSConf Uruguay

This was my first time in South America so everything was unusual and new but also familiar at the same time, like a mixture between Spain and Italy, e.g. when waiters would reply with “¡Por favor!” which sounds like a literal Italian-to-Spanish “Prego!” 😀

I liked the meats, but utterly despised the coffee. Pretty sure I got caffeine withdrawal during that trip. The lack of punctuality also got on my nerves; nothing happened at the time it was supposed to be happening, much to my dismay. It was joked that I might have become “too English” 😒

I talked about MediaRecorder, in a demo-filled version in Spanish of my Hacks article: Record almost everything in the Browser with MediaRecorder. Since I am a native Spanish speaker I thought it would be a bit silly to give the talk in English and have it simultaneously translated to Spanish to a Spanish speaking audience (there were interpreters on the conference as most of the speakers were not Spanish speakers), so I did the talk in Spanish. I think it went well even if I get a bit confused with some terms in Spanish 😎

My favourite talks were not really on JavaScript per se but applications of it. Which makes sense if you think of it; you don’t generally get excited talking about dictionaries or grammars, but you do get excited talking about books, poems, plays…

The top talk for me was decidedly Irina Shestak’s talk on cellular automatas. It was super inspiring and got me thinking about a number of ideas. They will eventually materialise into something, but I can’t quite predict what. The other thing I liked was how she talked about finding inspiration not in front of a screen, which I think is something we all should practice more often. Not finding inspiration, because you can’t force it, but you can set the conditions by getting out of your usual habitat…

I also liked the talk from Ben Vinegar on collecting JS errors–it made me realise we’ve come a long way on catching and debugging errors.

The talk on building “UI” apps with “Blessed” (it took me a bit to realise the meaning versus the classic UNIX “curses”) made me want to build a CLI-UI app even if I have no need to, so that was good, I guess? (or maybe not).

It’s not because he’s my colleague, but I also enjoyed Mike Taylor’s talk on web compatibility and “why everyone deserves orange juice”, with a number of suggestions for building sites that don’t break in systems other than the developer’s. But the question on everyone’s minds (including mine) was: why “web compat” and not “web compatibility”?

Another cool talk was Alan Souza’s React + SVG accessibility talk. So cool to see React used to build SVG which is in turn used for more than just icons! I was also deeply embarrassed/irate that some people were making fun of the screen reader each time Alan showed a demo. Really? What a lack of respect and empathy for people with disabilities.

Myles Borins’ talk on node.js releases was a good introduction as to how is it supposed to work now that there’s a foundation and it’s all ‘srs bsnss’. I also asked him lots of questions before his talk so maybe I knew more than the audience. But I’m sure he’d love to answer your questions if you ask him because he’s a nice person anyway.

Rod Vagg’s talk was good as well and since it was a keynote, it was meant to have a Q&A bit, but instead of handing a microphone to the audience, they would use a moderator tool. I had high hopes as I had what I thought would be good questions which I submitted through the tool, and they were voted up by people (proving that they were interesting). But come questions time, they projected the tool on screen and some cretins thought it would be the perfect trolling time, and started submitting stupid questions, and other simplistic people voted for them. In a futile attempt to stop the trolling, the moderators deleted the stupid questions… and accidentally also some of the good questions including mine. Bah 🙁

Web Progressions

And now we fast forward to last week and London, exactly to Web Progressions, held in fashionable trendy Shoreditch, home to the highest number of pop up everythings and probably the most rolled-up jeans per capita in the entire UK, amongst other things such as delicious coffee. Yum!

My talk was about HTTPS, why it’s important to serve content securely for progressive web apps, and how to use Let’s Encrypt to get free certificates. People seemed to like it quite a lot and many told me they were looking forward to implementing it, which was very cool. Others said they wanted to build something that required https only so they could use Let’s Encrypt! And finally, others pinged me a couple days later confirming that they got so excited after the talk, they followed my guide and got it working already! Yay!

I was late to the conference so I missed the first talks. From what I saw, my favourite was perhaps Natasha Rooney’s on a future web without passwords, although it’s not clear to me how we will be able to migrate the one-time password “token” between browsers. It sounded a bit like a vendor lock-in in the horizon.

Jonathan Fielding’s talk on building responsive apps had also a bunch of good advice that should be common sense already, but sadly is not. I’m looking forward to seeing more talks from him! He had also volunteered to build the conference website! So thanks for that, Jonathan 🙂

The talk from Alex Sanders, on insights on building real-life progressive web apps at The Guardian, was super interesting and confirmed what we also suspect: Safari is slowing us down, as it doesn’t implement many of the features required to build fully capable web apps. Features such as, for example, Service Workers! Which are essential if you want to add push notifications, offline, background sync (in the future), etc. Boo Safari, but specially boo mobile Safari because users in iPlatforms cannot choose an alternative, more capable engine (whereas users of Android can switch to different browsers with entirely different engines–although… would the majority of not-tech-savvy users do it?).

The other issue is that there doesn’t seem to exist a progressive enhancement path for these features, so it is often not feasible to maintain two different codebases (or code paths) just to cater to all users. E.g. an appcache path and a ServiceWorker path.

I was also glad that Ruth John could finally do her Web MIDI talk without the projector going bananas and randomly flashing white noise for 10 minutes, as it happened in another conference recently. Yay MIDI and real time music on the web!

Belen’s talk on game development made me curious about playing with Phaser too, for no real reason than that it looks fairly easy and you can focus on building your game and not a game engine. It was also interesting that she gave “motivational” resources for people who cannot finish things or who think are not good enough to make a game.

Another thing that was cool was to meet old friends (hi Alastair!) and new old friends which I had only spoken to through via the Internet before (hi Charlotte!), and new people who I hadn’t met before at all. Overall a nice conference and I hope it keeps happening next year, so thanks to Daniel, Natasha and Bruce for putting it together!

If you want me to send a proposal to your conference, provide an English version for your site

When I get a request to send a proposal to a conference, I go to the website and have a look at the previous edition to get an idea of how was it, what topics were discussed, who went there, etc.

If the website is in a language I don’t understand, I feel extremely discouraged to send anything at all. This tells me that the organisers are not interested in international visitors, and that if I have an issue or a question I will have serious difficulties making myself understood.

I do not want to be in this position, hence I won’t send a proposal.

PS: No, using online translation services is not the solution.

Nodevember 2015: my keynote, and a novel in four chapters

I keynoted at Nodevember 2015, last November in Nashville, Tennessee. There were some technical issues with the audio and video not being very much in sync I think, and that’s why the video has taken some time to be published. Thanks to the organisers for recording it! It has been made available just today 🙂

What you might not know is that I almost didn’t make it to the conference. And I also had written a sort of novel detailing what happened before, during, and a bit of after. So, without further ado, here it goes:

Continue reading “Nodevember 2015: my keynote, and a novel in four chapters”