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

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