Take-Aways From Alterconf

My biggest take-away from AlterConf, a conference on diversity in tech and gaming, is the profound realization that I am embarrassingly ignorant of the issues of other underrepresented groups.

I know intimately the issues of Women in Tech. I live them, I overcome them, and I am in the loop when something happens–good or bad–to Women in Tech.

I can rant for an hour about the “Barbie: I Can be a Software Developer” debacle or “Gamergate”. Another woman doesn’t have to tell me that women in tech walk a gender tightrope–careful to be neither too feminine nor too masculine, too bold nor too passive, simply so that we can be taken seriously in our careers. I know these issues because I am on the inside.

What really hit home at Alterconf was how little I understand about the issues I’m outside of.

I never imagined how frustrating it must be to wait 20 minutes to use the bathroom because there’s only one accessible stall. Or to be of a non-binary gender and, perhaps, not have a bathroom to use at all.

I would have never thought to ask a transgender person about their pronouns, much less understood that saying “preferred pronouns” instead of simply “pronouns” might be insensitive. I’m also acutely aware that using the wrong wording is probably the least of the insensitive things I have inadvertently said or done.

Every person that spoke opened my eyes a tiny bit further, but what I saw most was how much more I need to learn and how much more we need to amplify these voices.

The Unlikely Role Model

When I first started blogging, I had a vague idea that real, live people might read my blog. Perhaps 3 or 4 people would type in a random URL, end up on my page, and spend a few minutes reading about Yak Shaving.

For the most part, though, I expected that my writings would float out into digital space, bouncing around in zero gravity with all the other unloved bits and bytes of the universe.

What I did not picture was that I would ever get the beautiful opportunity to be a role model for other Unlikely Developers.

When I say “Unlikely Developers”, I’m talking about people who don’t fit the mould: people who, by not fitting the stereotype, are constantly at risk of convincing themselves–or being convinced by others–that they are not cut out for this.

Writing has always been cathartic for me, but what has been even more cathartic is connecting with my readers.

Through my blog, I’ve met several people who were just beginning their journey–women, parents, low income and minority coders-in-the-making who are so passionate about learning to code, and so worthy of a spot in the tech world.

They’ve shared their joys with me as they get their first job or get accepted into their school of choice. They share their frustrations when they can’t get past a problem and wonder, “Am I kidding myself to think I could really be a developer?”

It is such an honor to be a part of these wonderful people’s lives, and to be the one to tell them, “That’s normal. I felt it too. You CAN be a great developer.”