Thoughts on my first programming conference

Wrighting April

I went to SciPy this week. I'd never been to a programming conference before, and they featured a lot of education talks.

I wish I hadn't.

Last night, at the Software Carpentry mixer, a grand total of 5 men shook my husband's hand and ignored mine. My total of new people met is a dismal ten. Compare it to the Evolution meetings, which is 'my' meeting, where I met upwards of 40 new people, had a blast, and was treated by all participants like a member of the community.

I was reminded of a question my friend Steve Young asked me a while back: "What makes some women stick it out and be awesome [in tech]?" I'm going to turn the question around a bit. It's easy to be 'awesome'. Lots of women are doing 'awesome' things. But I could have sat in my office and worked all week, rather than attending this meeting. I could have done far more 'awesome' alone, and I wouldn't have had my face rubbed in the fact that I'm different. I'd feel a lot less alone had I spent the week hanging out alone.

I think the real question is :

What to tech conferences have to offer to diverse participants?

For the record, I hate the term 'diverse participants'. It doesn't make sense, as a term. And I'm not diverse. I'm middle class, educated, straight and white like almost anyone else at the meeting.

As I was crying myself to sleep last night, my husband asked me a very good question: 'Why do you hang out with these people?'. And I don't have an answer for that. I don't really know what I expected. I know tech is really sexist; I've heard all the anecdotes and seen the numbers and figures. But we have such good female participation at UT in our course. I guess I thought I could be different and I could make this be fun and exciting. I'm young and naive and bull-headed and I thought I could break the mold.

And of course I couldn't.

And that's the kicker. I didn't have a good time and I won't be attending future programming conferences, unless they're explicitly for women. I have no incentive to. I didn't feel lonely as a pythonista until this week. I didn't feel like I didn't belong before this week. Before this week, I had a lot of friends who like what I'm doing and think I'm cool. Now I know that's an isolated thing.

When I go to the Evolution meetings, I'm greeted by people like Natalie Cooper, Rich FitzJohn and Tracy Heath who are eager to reach down and help people up. People who make opportunities and build communities.

In programming, I'm greeted by people who don't want to shake my hand.

Note: This year, SciPy had a Code of Conduct, which is great. And there was a women in science luncheon, which was also good, if too short to allow actual networking and conversation. I do think there are some good people working on this issue, and maybe it'll be better in the future. But I have a strong prior against that change being big enough to get me to come back.