Most speakers at tech conferences are men. This isn’t a surprise but a lot activity is going on to change this because diversity increases the bottom line. I spoke on a panel held by Women Who Code to discuss how to get more women to submit tech talks to tech conferences. After speaking, we provided 1:1 mentoring with attendees and several of them submitted video talk proposals to upcoming O’Reilly conferences.
The panels speakers included:
- Suzanne Axtell Marketing Operations & Diversity Outreach for O’Reilly Media
- Sarah Mei Developer at Pivotal Labs and co-founder of Railsbridge
- Pamela Fox, Front end developer and SF chapter founder for Girl Develop It
- Adria Richards, Developer Evangelist at SendGrid (Me)
- Ipsheeta Furtado, Co-founder of FTW Group and SF PyLadies chapter
- Tracy Osborn, Founder of WeddingLovely.com
In the video we discuss and answer audience questions about:
- How tech talks are structures and how to pick a topic
- How to polish your tech talk before you go on stage
- How conference organizers select speakers and how to gain visibility with them
- How to talk about a subject you feel you’re not an expert in (Imposter Syndrome)
- How to get the most out of attending tech conferences
- How to negotiate travel costs as a speaker
- What to wear as a woman when speaking at developer conferences
What I see here in Silicon Valley is that there are technical women out here but they’re not submitting talks. This is also true of men I’ve met who grew up developing on Java but now want to learn node.js and cloud technologies.
After our panel, we mentored women to help them brainstorm and select a topic. I mentored Shiney, a female developer of 15 years who has been building native iOS apps for the last four years. I sat down with her to brainstorm aspects of her job she was passionate about and we narrowed it down to bandwidth management awareness for mobile developers and building iOS apps with Appcode instead of Xcode. Both of these were fantastic topics I told her and we narrowed it down to the first one because Smiley had a lot more to say about it. I helped her identify target groups that would want to see her talk (developers, telecom providers like AT&T and Verizon plus smart phone users), why they should see her talk (build apps that work better by consuming less resources and battery power) and then include a concrete example in her CFP submission (developers should take advantage of caching so their app doesn’t have to constantly poll for new data for each user request). In fifteen minutes we had her talk ready to go and she recorded a video with O’Reilly for the submission.
I get it because I’ve lived it. Women and underrepresented groups need encouragement and coaching to get started but we have just as many good ideas, solutions and the ability to execute successfully. Eric Ries and Sarah Milstein did something phenomenally different this year in finding speakers for The Lean Startup Conference and I look forward to more organizers taking the same approach. We must fill the pipeline by raising awareness of the opportunity, making explicit asks for women and minorities to participate and be aware of our subconscious biases.
If you have suggestions for women submitting technical talks or how you ended up doing your first tech talk, please share your experience in the comments.