I go to tech conferences like it’s my job. (Since I do tech advocacy for Cloud Foundry at Pivotal, technically it is part of my job these days.) At these events I tweet a lot, to the point where people notice and ask me about it. Sometimes I tell the curious a little about my process; their reactions range from “lolwat” to “you should write that down”. So, here is how I livetweet tech conferences.
“stretching out and touching the unknown, the real unknown, the unknown unknown.”
— D.H. Lawrence
Much like knowing the right keywords to google when troubleshooting, it takes experience to know the right questions to ask when speaking at a conference. We encourage new speakers at devopsdays Minneapolis, which means I attempt to present all speakers with answers to questions they haven’t asked.
This year, I started writing the email for our speakers, and it got long. I decided that nobody would read that long a narrative, and broke it down into bolded sections and numbered lists labeled by when they require action.
“A+++ excellent email. You’ve done this before, I can see,” said our closing keynote speaker Charity Majors. She later added, “And one well-formatted email is so much easier to keep track of than half a dozen.”
Trufax! I’m going to keep improving it; meanwhile, I’m posting this to inspire other organizers with what info to provide, and to help other speakers know what to ask.
Snow, sky, and frozen lake are painted the same color, pine boughs laden with white, icicles hanging from the eaves reaching towards the busy bird feeder outside the cabin window. The larger pine grosbeaks are moving in on the black-capped chickadees, a silent drama playing out in ruffled feathers and dropped seeds. Aggrieved, the chickadees perch sideways on the icicles.
At this point, you’re wondering when I started paying attention to birds. Well, Occam’s razor tells all: this dogeared copy “Birds of Minnesota Field Guide” has forgotten more about birds than I’ll ever know. And Gabe looked those up while I tried to take pictures of birds through glass and pondered the shadowless expanse that is the Boundary Waters on a cloudy winter day.
My 2015 is ending as it began, in the far reaches of northern Minnesota’s lake country near the Canadian border. The cell towers haven’t reached this far, but this cabin has internet (unlike last year’s rental). Snowshoeing, playing board games, and eating Christmas cookies in front of the fire leaves plenty of time for contemplation.
The quiet of these few days casts my hectic 2015 into sharp relief. This year I spoke at a company’s internal devops event, eight meetups, and eleven conferences in three countries (not counting two other conferences where I gave a vendor talk). By miles flown, I circumnavigated the globe more than three times. I joined the devopsdays core organizer team and put on the second devopsdays Minneapolis with our great local crew. I joined the Velocity program committee and read so very many talk proposals that I think I could now write (and possibly have written) them in my sleep. I changed jobs from one I loved to another that’s the definition of exciting new challenge.
It’s been a stellar year, and I’ve tried to identify why: I think it’s because I defaulted to yes.
Late-night after Velocity Santa Clara, the crowds filling the hotel lobby bar earlier in the day have scattered. A few conference-goers with morning flights remain, ranging from speakers to conference committee members to attendees taking it all in. We decompress, talk tech, play games, drink, and eat ridiculously rich Nutella chocolate cake. We enjoy these last few hours with new friends and old.
After midnight, the discussion takes a serious turn. One pretty awesome guy who’s been waxing poetic (tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow) in his Werewolf defenses says, “I want to ask women in tech about being women in tech, because you’re the ones who know the most about it.”
Katherine Daniels and I look at one another before simultaneously saying, “No.”
Yes, it’s funny, but there’s also a fair amount of truth there. Most people I know who work in any kind of technical operations didn’t start out intending to do that; it just happened. In my case, I got a campus job with the computer science department, and apparently giving root to undergrad student workers was a reasonable solution to being understaffed. (It was the 1990s. Many things seemed like a good idea at the time.)
Fast-forward twenty years, and I get an out-of-nowhere email from a young man who’s graduating from college in a few months and wants to know how he can be me when he grows up. (Obviously he doesn’t think he’ll be me me, but, you know.)
Since I didn’t follow a plan, I can’t lay one out for him, but I can point to a few things that will probably help. Maybe. Possibly. (You realize that I’m pretty much just faking being a responsible adult, right? As long as we’re all clear on that.)
Heard last week at devopsdays in Ghent, Belgium:
“I’m just in marketing, so I don’t count.”
“I’m just a student, so I don’t have anything to add.”
“I’m just a developer, so I don’t really devops.”
“I’m not really in the devops tribe; I’m just on the outskirts, but I’m trying.”
Whenever I thought to, I tried to assert both in word and deed that the speaker is in the club. They’re participating at a devopsdays; they belong.
I go to a lot of tech events, which means I meet a lot of people in tech. Most of you won’t be surprised to find out that many of them are dudes, and awesome dudes at that. And way more frequently than I’d like, I also find myself in the most tedious conversations.
If you’re wondering why women don’t attend the conferences, unconferences, meetups, or hackathons you enjoy, or why you don’t seem to make meaningful professional connections with the ones who are there, maybe they’ve been having these conversations often enough that they’re tired of it, and would rather spend their time doing anything else at all.
So, here are four recent real-life examples of opening lines that didn’t start off the interactions in the best way, followed by four ways I think they could have gone better. Not a comprehensive list, because none of us have that much time. :)
On February 20th I emailed Michael Ducy, one of our local devops meetup organizers, and agreed to be the head organizer for devopsdays Minneapolis. The conference occurred July 17-18. Protip: 147 days isn’t as long as you’d think listening to Spike’s monologue in early BtVS S6. (We’re all nerds here, right?)