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Things I learned from We Rise

June 27, 2017 · 4 Comments

Over the weekend, I attended We Rise, a conference that focuses on women in technology. It was my first time at a tech conference, and I didn’t know what to expect from that experience. In fact, the night before, I was anxiously telling William, “what if I don’t know who to sit with at lunch? What if I don’t have anyone to talk to?” (and he was just looking at me like, “really? that’s what you’re worried about right now?) I went in not knowing what to expect and feeling terrified that my socially awkward introversion would take over. I came out of the conference feeling the complete opposite.

Here are some of my take-aways and highlights:

  • Meet five people. Jen Bonnett sets a special rule for herself every time she goes to an event or a conference: meet five people. Then you can go home, relax, and do whatever you want. It’s not enough to just show up, you have to be vocal and visible. For introverts like myself, the idea of going up to one stranger, let alone five, is daunting. But if I allow myself to stay in my own bubble, sit in the back, stand in a corner, then nothing happens. There is no progress. I might as well not have come, because my presence there has made very little difference, and I’ve learned very little from my experiences. One of the greatest messages I took away from this conference is that you don’t get anywhere by being comfortable. You don’t accomplish anything or go anywhere if you’re comfortable. But you can do great things if you’re uncomfortable. I met my five people at We Rise, (actually, I met way more than five!) It was incredibly difficult, but it became easier with each new person, and I came out of it a better person with new friends. So yeah, get out there, and meet those five people, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. It’ll change your life. (For the better, promise.)
  • Not enough to be the first if there’s no second. Jamie Harrell referenced an interview with Charles Boden, the first African-American administrator of NASA, where he says, Being first is OK. But if there is no second, it doesn’t count. It’s not enough to pave the way for yourself, you also have to help those around you. So many people think of success as a pie: there’s a finite number of slices, so it’s a race to see who can get a slice before it’s all gone. But that kind of thinking is toxic and wrong. Success isn’t finite, and it’s not an every-(wo)man-for-themselves scenario. We Rise is such a great example of people coming together and lifting each other up; everyone benefited as a result. If you have privilege or success, use it to help others succeed as well.
  • Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. All too often, we see tokenism. We see examples all around us of having one of the Others category and thinking that’s enough. This TV show has one person of color, we’re so diverse! Our company has one LGBTQ+ person, look how accepting we are! But having one of the Other doesn’t really matter if that One has no voice. There’s a difference between allowing someone else to sit at a table, and listening to them talk. It’s not enough for them (for us) to be present, we need to hear the voices of those who are different than us. Time and time again, studies have shown that diverse teams get better results. When there are multiple opinions and ideas, everything becomes better. Speak up! Help those around you speak up. Invite others not only to the table, but to have a voice.
  • Channel your inner mediocre white man. Typically, a man will complete about 80% and publish; a woman will wait until 100% to publish, and as a result, may never actually publish anything. I can relate to this statistic, because I’ve been sitting on this blog for months. (My last entry was in January, oh dear.) I’ve made excuses for myself on how I wouldn’t do anything until everything was perfect: I want a new layout, so I won’t post any more blog entries until I’ve got that up; I want to write about my cool experience, but I haven’t had time to edit the pictures I took; the wording on this entry isn’t perfect, I’ll have to do some more thinking. Etc. Etc. Etc. The result is, I accomplish nothing. This blog will continue to sit here and accumulate dust, because I intend on updating it, but don’t have the time, haven’t found the right resources, don’t have the right words… But as Scott Hanselman beautifully said, “channel your inner mediocre white man.” Ship it at 80%. If you wait for everything to be perfect, not only will nothing ever be perfect, it’s likely nothing will ever be. Just do it. (Get uncomfortable!)
  • Be yourself. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this weekend was to be myself. More often than not, we’re faced with wanting to or needing to fit into a box or a profile. I’m a programmer, so I should act this way. All my coworkers are this way, and I don’t want to stand out. But as we’ve learned from the previous points, diversity matters and you don’t get anywhere by being comfortable. Challenge the box that has been placed around you. Step out of it. Be honest, be yourself, be proud.

I walked into We Rise thinking that I wasn’t a participant in the tech space. I was just a visitor, who was interested, but not an active participant. My boyfriend is a programmer, he went to Georgia Tech, he codes things at work, he goes to hackathons. That’s the vision I’ve held of “person in tech” up until this point. In fact, whenever anyone asked me what I did, I was always quick to respond with, “I don’t actually do much tech at my job.” (Which is kind of true.) But I walked out realizing that, yes, I am part of this space. I am a woman in technology. Maybe I don’t code at work. Maybe I didn’t go to a tech college or major in computer science. Maybe I’m still just learning and dipping my feet in. But I’m still a woman in tech. I go to events, I do code, I’m actively learning, I’m encouraging others to learn. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned was that this space is so incredibly welcoming, and I’m part of it.

(Excuse the dust. This entry was posted at 80% :))

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4 thoughts on “Things I learned from We Rise

These are such great tips! Applicable both to women in tech and also in other industries (like academia!). Especially the Meet 5 People thing. I was just at a conference, too, and although my natural tendency is to wallflower it up, that’s not the thing to do when you have the opportunity to be at a conference and really make the most of that. I love “Channel your inner mediocre white man” tip, too, ahahaha. So true. I’m glad We Rise was such a good experience for you!!!!!! <3

Your 80 is better than your 100

Thank you for this wonderful post, covering many of the key messages that were shared… and hope that you don’t stop here!

I’m glad you went to a conference for women in tech! I think it’s great that there are more of those now, and the last time I went to one, it felt pretty empowering. I’m also glad you met new people there!

I like the take-aways that you mentioned, especially the second one about how it’s not enough to pave the way for yourself. It’s a good point that it’s meaningless unless we help others do the same. The third one is great too. I totally agree that diverse teams can achieve more, so it’s important that everyone has a voice.

haha, I think “channel your inner mediocre white man” is a funny way to think about it. I guess it didn’t occur to me that there was that difference in completion. At work, we push people to release incomplete things because it helps us gather data sooner, which lets us make decisions moving forward. If we spend forever making something perfect, we will never find out if we were truly building the “right” thing.

Sounds like this conference was a really good experience!

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