Category Archives: Get Involved

On Why Women Should Attend Conferences

quotation-mark-women‘Tis the season … for conferences, that is. This is when I start racking up the frequent flyer miles and seem to have a permanent backache from sitting in airplane seats and conference sessions week after week. I also get to absorb a lot of information from some very smart speakers, listen to industry trends, and learn what the folks on the ground are most worried about these days. It’s invaluable for someone like me, where a big part of my job is feeding industry information back into my company so we can meet our customers’ needs.

And, as always, I spend time talking with people about why there aren’t more women at tech conferences – what keeps them away? Or is it just that they have no inclination to attend to begin with? I admit that I found my way into the conference circuit late in my career – for the most part, I was just heads down, doing my work, and not paying attention to the industry at large. I wish I had been more aware. I realize now how many innovations are born over late night conversations in hotel lobbies, how many professional relationships are forged during conference “happy hours”, and how important it is to know what your colleagues in the industry are talking about.

For my job, I wander from developer conferences to tester conferences (and rant about why we keep them separate). Most recently I was at STPCon (Software Testing Professionals Conference) in New Orleans (ah, warm beignets and chickory coffee!) where I had the chance to sit down with Mark Tomlinson, one of our most enthusiastic supporters and also a frequent attendee of tech conferences. We talked about the lack of women at conferences and, more importantly, why it’s so important for women to break that trend.

I feel WITty: Sallyann Freudenberg

There is an underground movement within Women In Tech… it’s called joy. Some of us have found joy in our jobs and our workplace, and we want to share it. To that end, we’ve started a new blog series called “I feel WITty”, where women who love their lives as geeks can express themselves and tell their stories.

Our first post comes from Sallyann Freudenberg, an Agile coach in the UK who loves to learn. :-)



I have the best job in the world.

When I was a kid I loved to learn. Like REALLY loved to learn. So much so that my teacher asked me to bring my dolly to school and do my work twice – once for me and once for her – because I was so voracious. So much so that I used to get my Mum to make me a mini-school in the garage in the summer holidays and set me Maths questions.

Somewhere along the way I lost that love of learning for a while. I hid it away and made up a fictional version of me. A version that I thought would make me popular. A version that cared more about fashion, smoking and punk-rock than maths and logic and learning. Turns out that was the most unpopular I have ever been.

Somewhere around 17 I had an epiphany. I decided to take down the barriers and let the world back in. Having flunked my A’Levels I found myself at Staffordshire University (then North Staffordshire Polytechnic) being interviewed by the wonderful Dr. Zambardino. We chatted about my love of languages and logic puzzles and he must have seen some kind of potential in me because he managed to persuade me that a degree in Information Systems with French would be a good fit. I think I maybe only saw him again twice, passing in corridors, but I have never forgotten his name.

I honestly believed I was going to be doing some kind of French and Business degree. I was utterly stunned when I found myself sat at the front, one of only 4 or so girls amidst 100+ boys, listening to the lecturer say what sounded like “blah blah buffer blah blah accumulator”. With no computer background at all I was that annoying dork at the front that asked stupid questions that everyone else sniggered at. I kept asking the questions. I started learning again. The first programming language I learned was 6502 Assembly language. I hated the language, but fell in love with the logic and nobody was more surprised than me when I left with a First Class Honours degree.

I got a job as a programmer with a software house.  My interview technique then was the same as it is today. Be me. Be honest. If I am not enough then this is not the gig for me right now. I learned object-oriented programming from the talented guys at the IBM Object Technology Practice. I had imposter syndrome about a thousand times. I worked my way up the traditional career route from Programmer through Designer to Project Manager. Then I had another bit of a crisis. I didn’t like Project Managing very much and I wasn’t very good at it. It brought all my carefully unlearned behaviours flying back to the surface – I was the worst kind of command-and-control micro-managing PM. Plus, I was about to turn 30. I fled I.T., left the country, retrained as a scuba-diving instructor and travelled the world for a couple of years.

Then something strange happened again. I got bored. I yearned to use my logic brain. I found myself designing course scheduling software for scuba schools on little scraps of paper for fun. I realised I had to go back to my real passion. I started a PhD under the guidance of two fabulous supervisors, Prof. Benedict du Boulay and Dr. Pablo Romero at the University of Sussex in Brighton. I knew I wanted to look at psychology, expertise and programming and this thing called Extreme Programming/Agile had happened that looked fascinating. I got in touch with a bunch of organisations and asked if I could go and see what the heck this thing was that they were doing, meanwhile I learned about academic writing, attended the lectures and seminars for a Masters in Cognitive Psychology….oh…..and I had a baby.

Ten years on, I still love agile. I work as a consultant. I help people and organisations to make changes that I truly believe transform their working lives. Changes that I hope make the world of I.T. a little more ‘human’. Sometimes it’s pretty hard. Often it’s frustrating. However, it turns out through lucky coincidence that when people are happy they are more productive and vice versa.

Oh, and I have three children under 9. I’m militant about my work-life balance. I am lucky enough to have clients who understand when I won’t work full-time or holidays and a partner who understands that I sometimes need to disappear for days at a time. It’s all part of the package. I can never, ever give up learning and it turns out I can use that passion to help others and we can co-create organisations that flourish through learning as they go.

Did I mention that I have the best job in the world?

Musings about mentors

fancyladiesI am not a fan of separate women’s groups for just about anything – anyone who knows me is well aware of that. I just don’t get the need for it. My perspective may be skewed by my exposure to men over my lifetime – I had only brothers, I raised only sons, I worked with mostly males. “Women only” conferences, classes and organizations baffle me, especially because they are all driving toward the same thing – balancing the gender gap. I find this need to segregate an odd by-product of our desire to integrate. Why do we need separate technology classes from the men? It sounds like we need the teachers to speak slower and spell the big words for us. When I ask this question of other women, I often hear the feedback that it’s because women want a safe environment to ask questions and learn things without being intimidated. But that doesn’t resonate with me either – why do we get that luxury when men don’t? And how does that teach us how to navigate in an integrated office setting?

Lately, I have been pondering some of the dynamics that have been in existence for so long and why we haven’t managed to change them. One of those is what has been referred to as the “boys’ network”. For those of us women in a male-dominated industry, we feel that network all the time, cheerily bonded together and oblivious to us outsiders. But I believe we have unfairly demonized that network, giving it ulterior motives and suspecting it of cult-like secrecies we women aren’t privy to. The reality is… the guys just know each other. We’re busy networking in our own little secret societies and ignoring the larger fact that, by doing this, we aren’t interacting as part of that network. They go to the conferences, they sign up to speak or lead workshops, they gather at venues where they can meet, learn, and develop connections. They aren’t excluding us… we just aren’t showing up.

And then we end up with a self-perpetuating problem: women don’t go to conferences because there are no other women there and they feel intimidated. I blame part of that feeling on the fact that there are so few female speakers on stage – women can’t identify with the overall tenor of the conference when it is primarily male speakers. Hence, the launch of the @WomenInLine mentor program, where we try to match aspiring female speakers with coaches who can help them find the right conferences to submit talks to, prepare their speaker submissions, and put together their talks. The goal is to provide a male or female mentor for women who want to speak. Yes, I repeated myself. Because I violated my own principle of integration by focusing specifically on aspiring female speakers instead of just aspiring speakers.

And a close friend called ‘bullshit’ on me. :-)

I’m paraphrasing here but he basically said: “Don’t you think you are implying that women are weak and therefore they need mentors to help them and men don’t? Don’t you think the perception is that men can manage without help and women can’t?”

Yep, this is exactly what I have been railing about for decades now (and he’s been listening all these years). I’ll admit he gave me pause and made me reflect harder on what we’re doing here. So what led me to using @WomenInLine this way? Let me see if I can explain (and in the process remain convinced that it’s the right thing to do).

This blog has mentioned #WomenWhoTest before – a group of us who all want the same thing (more women in tech) and occasionally get on the phone to figure out how we can make a difference. In one of our calls, we talked about why there are so few women speakers at tech conferences. I pointed out that I talk to conference organizers who are all saddened by this as well and tell me that they want more women and often have more women on the agenda… but women either don’t submit or worse, tend to cancel more than men so the conference ends up losing the few women they schedule anyway. We talked about why that may be and theorized that, while public speaking is terrifying for men and women equally, women feel more comfortable bowing out of hard professional situations. I remember attending a “women’s leadership” talk at one company I worked at where a high-ranking woman at the company told us that it was okay to step down the ladder occasionally so you can work your way up again. I couldn’t imagine a man giving or taking that advice but it seems more acceptable for women to walk away from professional challenges and do something ‘easier’ for a while. Like getting the professional vapors, I guess, and fainting gently on the corporate veranda until it passes.

In her insightful article about raising boys vs girls, Jump! Magazine founder, Lynn Schreiber, talks about how we raise our boys to stay and fight in the face of aggression but we raise our girls to walk away and avoid situations that smell of danger. Nothing smells of danger more than public speaking or professional politics… and my feeling is that we are so busy raising nice girls that we have inadvertently created nervous women. To be fair, women have not had the opportunity to rise to high corporate levels or speak at conferences until this past generation so it’s not like we’ve had time to incorporate it into our DNA yet. We’re still learning how to do this.

I certainly don’t want to portray women as needing help more than men. I do, however, want to provide women with whatever safety net and encouragement they need to face the challenge and be a role model to other women. We need to learn to stick it out when the going gets harder, not walk away. And we need to learn how to be powerful professional voices so it comes naturally to our daughters.

I guess that’s why, when #WomenWhoTest started mulling over what we at the ground level could do to help, it seemed natural to open @WomenInLine to providing mentorships. My hope is that it’s temporary… that in another decade, people won’t even remember that we had to go to extraordinary measures to get women on conference agendas. My hope is that we stop even thinking about conference rosters in terms of gender ratios because it’s become a non-issue.

Until then, a little leg-up is okay.

Women Who Test: A Gathering of Geek Girls

This guest post is from Smita Mishra. Smita is the Chief Test Consultant for QAzone Infosystems based of India and the US. Follow her on Twitter @smita_qazone.

Lorinda’s email was sudden. It had multiple recipients: Anna Royzman, Meeta Prakash, Emma Gray, Leah Stockley, Rosie Sherry, Betty Zakheim, Lorinda Brandon and Smita Mishra. She mentioned that she received our contacts from Keith Klain, who is a chairperson on the board of the AST (many thanks for connecting us!!), and that she wanted to bring all of us together to “tell our stories and figure out how we get more young women into the technology world.” It appears that we were chosen to represent the “Testing” part of the technology world.
After initial introductions via email, we finally had the kickoff call which was quite interesting. Betty informed us of Lorinda’s absence, which left Anna, Meeta, Betty and me – we all knew we were there to talk about number of women in technology. And we all had the same questions – why are we here? What was the original idea all about? What did we want to achieve through these meetings? What is Now that we are here – what next?

There were various experiences shared by Anna and Meeta. It appeared that Meeta had come across many females who had the potential to do better but lacked confidence. And Anna felt that the women around her were working well for their potential and achieving good things too. What was encouraging though was that we all felt that the testing world had a good representation of women in most of the geographies. But the fact remained that we still don’t see as many women in the conferences at the either side of the dais. We honestly didn’t know the reason to this. We were among the fortunate few to have attended some conferences and be a little more active than our peers in this small community.
Therefore, we from the other side of the spectrum were trying to understand as to how we could get more women to cross the bridge and join this smaller community.

My initial thought was that senior women testing professionals should coach the junior talent and encourage more women to take up testing roles. However, on second thought, we felt that considering the greater availability of our male colleagues, and the compassion that they share with their female counterparts, it makes great sense to seek their support in this initiative. We also felt that making this an all-women initiative may actually backfire due to creeping in of gender bias and lesser availability of leaders and mentors.
On a side note – I came across a term “Space Chauvinism” which represents the highly skewed gender ratio in the space exploration programs. 56 out of 525 total space travelers were women. I think no area under the banner of technology is spared from the imbalance.

Sarah Milstein points out an important cultural issue in getting women on stage at these conferences:
“If your system of finding worthy students or speakers to promote is to have them come to you and ask, but a solid body of research shows that women won’t do so, you’ve institutionalized a gap”

Courtney Stanton is one woman who defied the gender gap by achieving a 50/50 gender ratio at a tech conference focused on game development. She admits that it was more work than she expected because women lacked the confidence in their own knowledge and ideas.

Maybe we can learn a few lessons from these transformers.

Though no major breakthrough was achieved in the first call, but at least we got the ball rolling. This in itself is a significant milestone, and we need to take this initiative further and actually start the counter to see how much of a difference we can make.
After all, a spark is what is needed to launch a spaceship!!

So excited and looking forward to decoding the secret of how to make a difference with our joint efforts – for the “Women who Test”.

A Girl Guide to Tech Conferences

Written by Lorinda Brandon (@lindybrandon)
I’ve been contemplating the dearth of women at tech conferences – I realize that the most obvious reason is because there is just a general dearth of women in technical roles. But it also occurred to me that possibly it’s because going to your first tech conference can be intimidating and women don’t have a lot of role models to ask for advice.

"Dogs Not Allowed" - we assume this means the animal variety

“Dogs Not Allowed” – we assume this means the animal variety

So, as a public service to girl geeks everywhere, I’ve put together a little first-timers guide to help you out. Lucky for us, manufacturers the world over have been thinking about the best way to assist us women in navigating the often too manly world outside our homes. Here are a few items that can help you embark on your new tech conference experience:
ePad Femme: Everybody has these fun gadgets at tech conferences. They’re not only handy for taking notes but also for looking up big words (or just playing games when your brain needs a rest). With its pretty pink background, it’s easier to tweet to that cute guy in the corner.
Bic Cristal For Her: Yes, it’s a ballpoint pen that fits neatly into our tiny hands and allows us to deftly put those little hearts over the I in API (we don’t care if it’s capitalized! Everything’s better with a heart on it, right?). I ordered mine in a lovely range of pastels that easily match whatever outfit I’m wearing.
Nestle Resource: Sounds technical even, doesn’t it? Water just for us! Full of those tasty electrolytes and priced high enough to make us feel pampered. Tech conferences can be long and they don’t offer a lot of herbal tea breaks so pack some nice feminine water and keep those lips moist.
Ladies’ table: If you picked the right conference, you could get lucky and have a “Ladies’ Table” set aside just for you at lunchtime. This will give you a much-needed break from those brainiac conversations and let you share some of the latest celebrity news with all the other grrrls at the conference.
Pretty paper: Okay, lunch is over and now it’s time to take notes again. Best to bring some notebooks to go with those pens (turns out the battery runs down on that ePad Femme and I have yet to figure out how to put new AA’s in it). Carrying a nice tapestry notebook or, better yet, a Butterfly Journal will help you concentrate on the hard stuff while still feeling feminine.
Bathroom breaks: Here’s the best part. You never have to wait in line AND you get to make condescending remarks about how guys always seem to go in packs. But that gives you a chance to loiter in the empty girls’ room and surf for some beauty and fashion tips on your smartphone.
Nokia N8: The pink one, of course… with the Little Pink Diva Theme and pre-installed Elle fashion app. You will need this to while away the time in the ladies’ room since there won’t be any girls to gab with and by mid-afternoon, you’ll be missing your gal-pals from the lunch table. Text them and invite them to ladies’ lounge for some dish!
Pink Box: They give you a lot of fun swag at these conferences (and maybe you’ll get lucky and get some boys’ phone numbers too). Best to label and store all of it as part of your Tech Conference Memory Box. Nothing does the trick like this pseudo toolbox, which also has plenty of space for storing extra Cristals and Butterfly Journals for all your future conference needs.
I hope this little guide gives you more confidence and gets you out of the office and into the next Tech Conference that comes to down. I don’t need to tell you how to register for one – you can do it online, and it’s as easy as buying shoes from Zappo’s!

What I learned from the women (and men) at Gluecon 2013

Written by Lorinda Brandon (@lindybrandon)

I never saw another soul in the ladies' room in my 2 days at Glue

I never saw another soul in the ladies’ room in my 2 days at Glue

I can tell you that Gluecon 2013 was a great experience. I love just about everything about software, from thinking about it to building it to talking about it. So, anytime I get to go to a conference that is devoted to the art, strategy and future of software is like Christmas and my birthday rolled together. And the nice thing is, most of us at these conferences aren’t there because our management asked us to go – we’re there because we asked our management if we could please, pretty please, sugar on top go?

It’s the kind of conference where people walk around with Google Glass on, listen to GM talk about their technology without ever describing the car itself, and spend hours coding after the sessions are over. It’s also the kind of conference where you can be in a room of 80 men and see so few women, you can count them on your fingers. In fact, of the 458 registered attendees, only 39 were women. Now, before you assign blame on the conference organizers, I can tell you for a fact that they are as disheartened and befuddled by this as I am. But I cannot help sending up a despairing tweet or two when I am in that situation. Interestingly though, I got no comments back about the lack of lines at the ladies room. That’s a first. Seriously. What happened was a bit more encouraging than anything I’ve experienced before.

First, came the retweets… mostly from men. And replies from people in other sessions who counted the women in their room and reported back. And then the women started coordinating – within an hour, we had organized a women’s breakfast the next morning.

Major disclaimer here: I don’t like women’s breakouts. I want us to be part of the mainstream in technology and I think having women technology groups (or breakfasts) just emphasizes the “otherness” of us. It says we need to congregate together because we have different skills, different concerns, different conversations. But I felt somewhat responsible for this one so I jumped in as well. And I will admit that it added a small subversive undercurrent to the rest of the day, like somehow having breakfast together made us activists.

The next morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up. But I was happy to see there were enough of us that we had to drag three tables together… and discouraged to see that even so, we didn’t even hit an even dozen. 11 women gathered and shared the same concern – why were there so few of us? Of course, we weren’t the sum total of the women at the conference – we were just the ones who found each other on Twitter. We weren’t the same age and we didn’t have the same technical skills. But we had a common bond in that we knew what it was to be isolated at work and we had read all the same articles about how young girls don’t stay with math and sciences at the same rate as young boys do.

I would not have suggested gathering together. I credit Mary Thengvall (@mary_grace) with that. It figures – she’s a community manager for the Velocity conferences so she naturally wants to bring people together. But it was more than that. She struggles with this in her work – how to get women to the conferences? After the introductions, I made my opinion known right away that I don’t like the separateness of women’s organizations. Some of the women agreed with me, some didn’t.

And here’s where I started learning things:

1. Just because we want the same thing doesn’t mean we approach it the same way.

I’ve been at this a long time – I started in software 30 years ago, before there were women’s groups. I have not had good experiences with the so-called ‘women’s leadership’ groups at the companies I’ve worked in (I recall one painful meeting where a female exec lectured us about not being afraid to take a demotion in order to move ahead and not undermining your upward progression with silly things like salary/title negotiations). But that’s not universal. And the women at that breakfast who defended women’s tech groups had a valid perspective – they want to learn and explore technology in a safe environment where their male peers wouldn’t unfairly judge their skills. For them, the ability to develop their skills together and support each other in their quest for improvement was an invaluable opportunity that they did not want to give up.

2. Women don’t have the answer either.

I can’t stop asking the question – WHY aren’t there more women in technology and WHY aren’t the ones who exist coming to the conferences? I asked all of these women, especially the young ones. We have the same facts everyone else has about girls in STEM and percentages of women in the tech workforce, but we don’t know why either. Obviously, this is the wrong group to ask because we chose this field. In fact, two of the women held successful technical sessions that afternoon – Michelle Wetzler from and Christine Yen from parse. And a third member of our group, Jennifer Davis from Yahoo!, is slated to speak at Velocity later this year. I have spoken at conferences like EclipseCon and API Strategy Conference. So we are most definitely the wrong people to ask. At one point, a couple of us just looked despairingly at each other, at a loss for what to do to change things. I know some of the men who organize these conferences and I know they try everything they can think of to draw women into the events so attendance and speakers are more balanced. They want it to change too. I’m sure it’s terrible news for them that women don’t just have an easy answer for them.

3. There is power in connection.

I told you, I wasn’t so into the idea of the breakfast. That is, until we started talking, really talking. We talked about technology, we talked about girls and science, we talked about Gluecon and its scholarships, we talked about what it was to be the only woman on a team or in a meeting, we talked about what to do about it all. Then we passed our business cards around, took pictures, and went en masse to the first keynote talk. As I said, there were only 11 of us. But when we all walked together into that room filled with our male peers, we felt like an army. And suddenly, the conference seemed full of women. Where I felt isolated the day before, I felt like I was bumping into one of these women everywhere I went. We had lunch together, we sat at sessions together, we all followed each other on Twitter. We were still only a tiny fraction of the population at that conference, but we felt so much larger than before we knew each other’s names and stories.

4. It’s not just about women.

Okay, this is something I knew about men but it was reinforced at Gluecon. In this industry at this time, the men welcome us. The men at this conference cheered on the women presenters in social media, they retweeted our despair and then later our triumph, they talked with us and included us and generally made it very obvious that this was not THEIR conference that we were crashing, but this was OUR conference and they would welcome a better balance.

We left the conference feeling determined, though. And not only determined but with some concrete ideas we’d like to try. One idea is to set up a database of women technical speakers that conference organizers can use as a starting point. Another idea is to create an evangelist network of women who can influence the female technical community not just to lean in but to show up as well. Keep an eye on us – we’re on the move!

You can see more of this story here