AdaCamp SF: My first un/conference! (Day 2)

Sunday started out with twist. I had been staying at my boyfriend’s sister’s apartment in San Francisco and we were going to AdaCamp together. We arrived at the building and took an elevator up with 6 other AdaCampers, totaling 8 people. We carried on with elevator etiquette, smiling and saying out “Good Mornings” and adding a bit of “I’m excited for today” when our elevatory abruptly halted on the 5th floor.

Now, this was my first experience being stuck in an elevator, and let me tell you, it’s not really fun. Fortunately, I was in an elevator with like-minded people so we were able to get along and have our own “Elevator Session”, but I can’t imagine being stuck in an elevator with 7 other strangers.

It took about 30 minutes to get out of the elevator. We had already begun to feel hot in the small enclosure that is an elevator. We threw off our bags and jackets and sat on the floor. It was considerably cooler down there. Then we went into discussions about fandom, journalism, wikis, etc because what are 8 women stuck in an elevator to do? We discovered that there were two birthdays in the elevator as well as two Andreas. We had chocolate passed around and it was a good time despite being in a hot box.

When the firefighters came, we were instructed to pry open the inner doors so they can hand us a tool to get ourselves out. By this point, we were tired and hungry and in need of coffee. But with our powers combined, we managed to pry open the door — and get a cool shot out of it — and they handed us a pole with a hook on it. With a few unsuccessful attempts, Jenny, our hero, managed to hook some mechanism that opened up the doors and we were rescued! Of course, we demanded a picture with the firefighters. All in all, it was in good company and despite the frustrations, we managed to get out and get our coffee, in which, I realized that I didn’t even like coffee.

So, being stuck in the elevator meant that we had missed the opening of AdaCamp. But we were right on time for the first session of the day. I think I went to one about interviewing.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve had a hard time with interviewing. I tend to get overly attached to the companies that I interview at and I end up feeling very discouraged when I don’t get it. One of the things I learned (and am working at) is to let things go. In a world where rejection and failure is expected (constantly breaking code, companies not sure of what they actually need), it’s really important to let things go. Now that’s easier said than done, but I feel like the session really did help me relax a bit and realize that I can’t do anything about not getting the job, I should just move on.

The second session that I went to was about Mansplaining. Basically, Mansplaining is the phenomenon where a man is trying to explain something, usually condescendingly, to a woman about something she already knows or is an expert in. The female equivalent is Femsplaining. I feel like this was a true test of how “radical” something like AdaCamp can get. I mean the session was about how a man is talking down to a woman even though she’s knowledgeable about the topic being discussed.

Something like that is highly likely of triggering blame on how men don’t respect women. But while there were a few instances of ranting (which is to be expected since being talked down upon isn’t the most pleasant of experiences), the tone of the discussion wasn’t as hostile as I originally feared it might turn out. There was a lot of thought put into the discussion. Things like, Are the men really talking down to you or are they just want to prove what they know? (In the case of a subordinate talking to a superior) Do they even realize what they were doing it?Were they just hitting on you instead of actually trying to talk down to you? A lot of interesting reasons surfaced and while are a few assholes who talk down to a woman because they truly believe that a woman doesn’t get it, I think we came to the conclusion that most people don’t mean it in a detrimental way.

So we started brainstorming ideas on how to fix this problem. Because even if they mean well, their approach can still be offensive and can cause women to feel defensive. One of the things that was said was to breathe deeply and don’t let yourself get angry. Once you calm down, you can access the situation a bit better and find a way to explain that you already understand the situation.

The discussion also brought up the point that we do it too. There were several women who admitted to Femsplaining after thinking about it. Things like making their husband do things a certain way in the kitchen because it’s the right way. So, I think it was important to note that we do it unintentionally without spite, but that it’s also important to realize when you’re Man/Femsplaining so you can check yourself.

Lunch came afterwards and we had a build your own burrito line. Everything was so tasty that my burrito was more of a burrito bowl with a tortilla on the bottom. I sat down with some AdaCampers and had some good conversations but after finishing my lunch, I just felt exhausted. From the elevator situation to constant discussions, never mind the fact that I had been waking up at 8am for the last two days to attend the conference, something that I almost never do.

The quiet room was amazing. It was a great place to just kind of get away from the conference for a while and recharge. I plugged in my computer and surfed the web mindlessly for a bit. It really helped rejuvenate me and geared me up for some more AdaCamp.

After lunch the conference had died down a bit and some workshops were being held. I came out of the quiet room in the middle of it all and decided to look for a friend. She was showing off a robot that she built out of a cardboard box and some cheap parts. It was really cool! I’ve never really got into robotics and I’ve only had one experience with some kind of LEGO robotics (I don’t really remember what it was). It was sooooo cool. I feel like a kid saying it, but I’m so excited to try it out myself.

I also took a self defense class for the hell of it. It was really fun (in a I hope I never have to use this way) and informative. The class was taught by someone who was well versed in martial arts and another martial artist came to help out. It was kind of scary to see them do the more intense reenactions but it was really awesome too. We learned a few moves to get us out of hairy situations that I hope I never have to use, but it’s good to keep that knowledge with me.

And that was AdaCamp! We ended with a closing and everyone said their goodbyes. We got some swag at the table and things kind of just petered out. I wanted to do more, but my body and mind was so exhausted from the intellectual conversations and activities. I felt that the conference was much more than learning about open source and open culture, it was a bonding experience that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. It was amazing to see so many women who have the same interests as you and since we’re so outnumbered, if it wasn’t for AdaCamp, it would have been hard to meet up on a scale like this.

I think it’s important for women to have a space like this where they don’t feel like they’re being judged for what they say based on their gender. There is so much hostility towards programs geared towards women in tech. Having a safe space for us to rant, discuss, solve, create, invent, and bond is so important. It’s been more than a week post conference and I still feel the effects of being there. I have to say, it was such an amazing event. Thank you to everyone who came, thank you to the organizers and volunteers who made it happen, and thank you for all the love, hugs, and advice. <3

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AdaCamp SF: My first un/conference! (Day 1)

I’ll be the first to admit that blogging isn’t my strong suit, but when things are so overwhelmingly exciting/positive/supportive/awesome/etc, I feel the need to shout from my tiny step stool of a blog and spread the word! AdaCamp is one of those things.

I’m not the best at explaining what things are so here’s AdaCamp’s description of what AdaCamp is:

AdaCamp is a conference dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture: open source software, Wikipedia-related projects, open data, open geo, fan fiction, remix culture, and more. AdaCamp brings women together to build community, discuss issues women have in common across open technology and culture fields, and find ways to address them. – http://sf.adacamp.org/

What is probably the most fascinating thing about their description is that it’s overwhelmingly true. The experience of coming to a conference focusing on tech and seeing that it’s almost 100% women is incredibly moving. There’s an ache and a cry for this sense of community in a world that’s primarily male.

Although everyone is different and many of the issues we discussed could be experienced by males as well, many of the topics resonated with so many women that it was almost unbelievable.

Friday started out with Google SRE hosting a reception for AdaCampers. It was such a nice little gesture for people to meet and greet. I met some fantastic people that I hope to maintaing some long term friendships with. The food was great and the company was bustling. Thank you Google for hosting us, and giving us swag. :)

Saturday morning was the official start of AdaCamp and it was really early for a night owl like me: 8:30AM! I have this tendency to wake up multiple times during the night for things that I am super excited for (sometimes, I don’t even sleep), and I definitely woke up a few times to check if I had suddenly missed out on AdaCamp all together. Cue reoccurring nightmares of missing finals despite the fact that I’ve graduated over a year ago. I did manage to wake up on time (it helps when you’re staying at a fellow AdaCamper) and dragged myself out of bed in a rushed attempt to look presentable. I did bring some makeup, but I figured I should sacrifice painting my face for brushing my teeth.

The morning started off well, we had a welcome speech and some breakfast. Let me say, the breakfast was pretty amazing. As a carnivore and as a person who doesn’t have food allergies, the spread of food was amazing. I’m used to meetups that just order in pizza, generally ignoring cries of vegans and people with gluten allergies. But there was so much variety in food that I was honestly so impressed with the organizers. I think the type of food and policies really reflect on the core values of AdaCamp. They really want to welcome everyone who wants to participate and create a space where you don’t feel like your dietary restrictions or disabilities make any difference at all.

I had applied to AdaCamp thinking that everyone was going to be in open source and a programmer. But I was so wrong. There are so many diverse people attending this unconference: professors, activists, students, journalists, feminists, fandom contributors, project managers, etc. There’s such a variety of people and they all bring something different to the table. And having this diverse set of opinions and values really prompt an interesting discussion. And  I’ve come to learn that I have a unique perspective as well. It’s such an empowering feeling to know that everyone has a say and that we can be adults and discuss important aspects of being a woman in tech.

I’ve gone on a tangent as I often wont to do. After the intro, we had a lovely discussion on Impostor Syndrome[1]. I’ve heard of Impostor Syndrome a few times and I’ve definitely dealt with it before, but having a room of 200 women discussing their internal struggle with not feeling like they’ve accomplished something amazing or wanting to downplay their achievements is just short of life changing. It was just so amazing to see women who I would consider role models or have such an air of confidence speak up about feeling or once feeling like they weren’t good enough. It really helped me put my own gripes in perspective and hopefully, I’ll be able to overcome this annoying voice in the back of my mind.

After the large group discussion on Impostor Syndrome, we broke into discussion groups. One of the cool things about an unconference is that you get to vote on what kind of sessions you want to talk about. There were so many good topics that I had an awful (in a good way) time of trying to choose where to go. I liked that there was a “no guilt” policy in place, that is, if you wanted to leave a discussion to go to another one, you are more than welcome to and no one will be offended.

I decided to join the “What is this HTML5 thing everyone is talking about?” and one dealing with the Likability Paradox. I thought the HTML5 introduction was really well done. I’ve heard of HTML5 for a long time, but it was always one of those topics that I felt a bit embarrassed to ask about since HTML isn’t the most complicated concept in programming. The woman who lead it gave such a good history on it and explained it in a way that anyone could understand it. I didn’t feel like I was patronized for asking simple questions and the discussion was very much encouraged.

The likability paradox was also interesting. I’ve never personally heard of the term before and haven’t experienced it enough to be able to identify it. Basically, there seems to be a problem for women to be both likable and respected. We’ve all heard of a woman being aggressive/assertive/ambitious and then being labeled as a “bitch” or other not so nice words. Whereas if you’re nice, people seem to get the impression that you’re a pushover and don’t really care about advancing your career or whatever. I thought it was interesting to see people talk about their experiences and kind of vent on their frustrations. But I was also impressed to see that the discussion wasn’t just focused on “oh woe is me, I’m being treated differently as a woman” it was more focused on what we can do about changing other people’s perspective. There were even a few times where people realized that they weren’t being unfairly disrespected, but that they were just misinterpreting someone’s actions. I thought this was really important because I feel that AdaCamp isn’t a place for women just to vent about how the world is being unfair to them, it’s a safe place for women to share their experiences and try to find solutions to the problems as well as a place for us to support each other.

Lunch was a build your own sandwich deal. Personally, I’m a carnivore. I don’t seem to find vegetarian meals filling most of the time, but it was nice to see that people who don’t eat meat or have allergies had a selection of food that would parallel my own selection of food in the real world. The food was good and the company was even better.

Post lunch, we broke for more discussion sessions. I decided to go to one about Hobby Level Open Source. I think I’ll write a longer blog entry about this later on, but I received some good feedback and why it’s hard for some people to get into open source.

After closing, AdaCamp had unofficial dinners set up where people can sign up for dinners at restaurants around the city. I decided to sign up for one on mentorship. There’s not much to say, but the dinner was delicious and there was such a variety of conversations that were to be had.

Day one was amazing and I feel like this is way more than I would normally want to read about a conference, but I just have so much to say and I am so excited to blog about it.

PS. With all the amazingly colored hair at this conference, I really want to dye mine. :D

[1] http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Impostor_syndrome