That Diversity

The last session of That Conference is about to begin. I’ve been steeped in technology for three days. I oscillate from confident and excited to overwhelmed and tired. There is so much to learn. I want to play with my nascent Swift app, but another talk beckons…

And then it’s over. It echoed a common theme– be nice. It seems obvious, but it bears repeating because some people just aren’t listening. There’s such a positive vibe at That Conference that harsh comments stand out— a snide tweet about the registration lines and a casual “worst ever” dismissal of a talk.

The organizers, counselors, and campers are doing what they can. Clark reminded us it’s a family atmosphere and encouraged us to get uncomfortable— in a good way— and get to know our fellow geeks. A session on team building explained how to build trust with empathy and listening. Another explained how withering code reviews and post-mortem witch hunts destroy spirits and encourage hiding mistakes. There was even an open space to discuss our aggressive developer culture.

I’m confident that conferences, user groups, and anything else which gets us out from behind keyboards and in front of each other will have a chilling effect on chiding. It’s easy to snipe at pixels or talk behind backs; a face makes it real.

I also believe that increasing the diversity of our community will force this issue. Diluting the monoculture will help dissipate its caustic effects. Here again, That Conference is fighting the good fight. Their efforts brought in 42 women speakers this year, and they have a goal of at least half for next year. There’s still room for improvement— my scan of their website found only a handful of speakers of color— but they’ve taken good steps with a public commitment, outreach, a code of conduct, and women’s t-shirt sizes.

They also gave me a chance to talk about this issue last year, and yesterday one of the attendees of that talk came up to me to thank me for giving him something to think about over the last year. So it’s working. Our culture is evolving, but we need to keep pushing.

Thank you to the organizers of That Conference for bringing us together to share knowledge and build our community. I hope to come back next year and continue to grow and make connections.

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