Thursday, March 31, 2016

Resources for increasing diversity at tech conferences

After blogging about diversity at NDC Oslo 2016 yesterday, I've received many great resources I feel I should share with all of you. I believe these resources will help us improve even further the next time around and I'm hoping they'll make it easier for you to reach your diversity goals as well.

Let's start out by an absolutely amazing blog post called Increasing diversity at your conference by @ashedryden, which focuses on the entire selection process and the conference marketing, and it includes an impressive list of useful resources you should dig into. Thanks for sharing this with me, @ChrisAnnODell!

It's becoming more and more popular to anonymize the selection process in order to avoid unconscious bias. Many have blogged about how they do this and I really recommend looking at the posts written by CSSConf EU and JSConf EU. Another conference that did this was DjangoCon Europe, and 54% of their speakers are women!

CallbackWomen work hard to increase diversity at programming conferences, and they are doing a great job following their mission and helping organizers get in touch with female speakers. Their website contains plenty of useful resources you should check out and they use their Twitter feed to inform minority speakers about open Call for Papers at conferences all over the world.

I want to wrap up this blog post with showing off the many Tech Women Keynoting at Tech Conferences. So don't despair, even if you're having difficulties reaching them, they do exist!

Do you have any resources you want to share? Please leave a comment, and I'll add them to my list.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Diversity at NDC Oslo 2016

In light of the diversity discussion around the Agilia Conference (which I won't care to mention any further as the organizers are making asses of themselves), someone mentioned that the ratio of female speakers at NDC Oslo 2016 is no better. And sadly, it's not.

I've complained about the (lack of) female speakers at NDC Oslo for the last couple of years, so this year, instead of just complaining, I wanted to do something about it. I send the organizers the following email:

"To support the focus on women in IT, I believe all conferences should do everything they can to get at least one women onboard their agenda committee. By doing this, they are positive that the diversity aspect will be taken care of (to some extent). If you agree and would like a woman to contribute, I volunteer.

Please think about it and get back to me"

Pretty naive, don't you think? The belief that bringing a woman on board the agenda committee will magically make more female speakers show up? Right.

Well, I was accepted onto the committee and we had a blast. Before our agenda meeting, I had calculated the percentage of female speakers in 2015, which was 7%. My goal was to bring this percentage up to around 15%. In Sweden, most conferences are able to reach 20%, they have a black belt in attracting women and we'd all like to learn a thing or two from them. But I thought 15% would be doable in our case.

We started out by pre-booking speakers, and all the speakers I suggested (except two) were women. Some did not have a good enough track record to get a vote from the rest of the committee ("I've heard she's alright" just doesn't cut it), and some were invited. Sadly, many of them were already booked or busy... We did this in February, the conference is in June. So, first lesson learnt:

When pre-booking speakers, start early!

We spoke about diversity throughout the selection process, without accepting every single woman and minority speaker, because accepting them only because of their demographics would be wrong as well. Looking at the submitted papers, I was stunned though. I've always blamed the organizers of conferences for not attracting enough female speakers, but now that I was on the "inside", I saw that we (read: women) need to push it to the next level! Because there simply were not enough submissions from women. Second lesson learned:

As a female speaker, encourage more women to speak up! Don't simply tell them to submit, offer to help with writing abstracts and mentoring them. And then follow up, make sure they actually submit. 

After we had selected the right amout of talks, I counted the number of female speakers. We were at about 12%, two tracks not included as those were in the hands of someone else. So we didn't reach my goal of 15%, but we did quite a lot better than last year. Of course, including the two other tracks we're down to just below 8% again...

On the bright side, we did one thing I think is really cool. The pre-party speaker is a woman who originally submitted a regular talk. We found her so interesting though, that we decided to ask her to do the pre-party session instead. Third lesson learned:

If a really awesome woman shows up, don't be afraid to ask her to do multiple talks, a keynote or a pre-party talk. 

All in all, I wish there were more women on the agenda but given our prerequisites and the short amount of time we had, we tried our best. Next time, we'll try even harder! And at some point, we'll have figured out what the Swedes are doing right and we'll reach 20%.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Upskilling your upskilling skills. Part 4: The Goal

Working in an industry that is moving at the speed of light requires a lot from us. We need to stay updated on current technology, while at the same time foreseeing what the next big thing will be and making sure we learn what is needed to join the fun. Not an easy task when you have a full time job, a family and a social life.

I've spent the past three years fine tuning my upskilling skills, figuring out which ways of learning suit me best, looking at the available tools out there and creating a schedule and a set of goals that will fit my daily routine. In this blog series, I want to share my thoughts and findings with you, hoping you'll become as addicted to learning as I am.

The ultimate goal
Continously setting yourself goals throughout your learning experience and altering them as you move along is how you keep track of your progress. What your ultimate goal is, that's up to you. Maybe you want to land a new job or become unstoppable at the pub quiz? My goal has always been to maintain happiness through accomplishments. Ever since I was a child, I've had an urge to learn new things. If I don't develop and challenge myself, I become unhappy. I pretty much become a real pain in the arse if I don't upskill, so my ultimate goal is to keep myself (and those around me) satisfied.

You might not have one almighty goal for your upskilling, but you should have separate goals for each topic you dig into. Knowing why you want to learn something helps you determine when you've learnt enough and are ready to move on to a new topic. 

When can you move on?
When have you learned enough about a topic to move onto another one? This is a difficult question to answer as you could keep going forever and ever, ultimately becoming the expert in the topic you're covering. But most of us don't want or need that. Most of us wants to go from the beginners to the intermediate level, so that you know all the basics and the outline of the more advanced topics.

When I first began upskilling, I thought it would be hard to know when to consider myself finished with a topic. I was surprised to realize it all came quite naturally though. Imagine you're eating a meal, and after a while you can feel yourself becoming full. I feel the same sensation when upskilling. After focusing on a topic for a while, I feel full. I reach a point where I know that focusing further on the topic wouldn't leave me with anything extra. I've learnt enough to reach my goal and I'm not hungry for more. There are times I'm not quite sure though, and that's when I put my newly gained knowledge up to the ultimate test: Can you teach it to someone else?

The responsibility of learning
In my opinion, upskilling is not just a matter of improving yourself. It's also a matter of helping those around you improve by spreading your knowledge and the motivation you gain from it. And let's face it, there's no better way of learning something or proving that you've learned something, than teaching that topic to someone else.

You can start by casualy telling a friend about the topic over dinner: "I read something really interesting the other day...". You don't have to reveal that you've spent weeks learning about this topic, simply bring it up as if it's something you've come across in a newspaper. Are you able to outline the basics in a way that your friend easily understands? Are there parts you're unsure of? If so, make a mental note of it so you can look into that later on. Also make a note of your friends reaction, are you able to portray why this topic is so interesting? Do they seem intrigued or are they just waiting for you to change the subject?

You can repeat this exercise with more friends, preferably adding more and more as you go along. After a while, when you're able to discuss this topic with a group of friends and spark their interest, you know that you've most likely moved past the beginners level. If you're up to it, this is where you can go big! Can you present this topic as a talk to your colleagues? Or at a local meetup or a conference? Can you write a blog post about it?

Reaching the level where you are able to teach it so someone else is usually where the fun begins, in my opinion. Suddenly your boss is willing to let you spend time upskilling at work, because she knows that it's an investment not only for you, but for the whole team. You become a learning asset, someone your colleagues will go to for help because they know you're alway eager to share what you know. This is ultimately how you find motivation and inspiration through knowledge: You share it with others.

Wrapping it up
Setting yourself goals while upskilling is important as you'll be able to track your progress and determine when you're ready to move on to a different topic. Teaching someone else what you've learnt is often a great way of seeing how much you actually know, and this way you're also living up to the responsibility of learning. You're spreading your knowledge and inspiring other along the way.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog series as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I'm grateful for all the feedback I've received, please get in touch if you want to share your upskilling tips! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Upskilling your upskilling skills. Part 3: The Schedule

Working in an industry that is moving at the speed of light requires a lot from us. We need to stay updated on current technology, while at the same time foreseeing what the next big thing will be and making sure we learn what is needed to join the fun. Not an easy task when you have a full time job, a family and a social life.

I've spent the past three years fine tuning my upskilling skills, figuring out which ways of learning suit me best, looking at the available tools out there and creating a schedule and a set of goals that will fit my daily routine. In this blog series, I want to share my thoughts and findings with you, hoping you'll become as addicted to learning as I am.

Upskilling should be voluntary
Many believe that upskilling is all about becoming better at what you do and to some extent that is true, but upskilling is also about a lot more than that. It's about finding motivation and inspiration through knowledge, and letting that knowledge motivate you even futher. This will only be possible if you're able to create a schedule that fits your daily routine and doesn't make your life off-balance.

Done incorrectly, upskilling will drain your energy and leave you gutted with guilt for not getting things done. However, if you're able to upskill correctly, it will boost your energy and leave you wanting more. For this to be possible, upskilling has to be voluntary. Don't do it because your boss tells you to or because your colleague is doing it, do it because you genuinly want to learn and improve. 

How on earth do I fit one more thing into my schedule?
Being a mother with two children, two dogs, a full time job, voluntary work, and a social life, I know all about the difficulties of keeping a household on track while delivering your best at work and spending time with those you love. Exhaustion can sometimes be an understatement.

So how do I make time for upskilling? I don't. I don't make time, I spend the time I usually waste on nothing.

Think about how much time you waste every day. Those 15 aimless minutes of surfing while eating breakfast, 20 minutes on the bus on your way to the office, 10 minutes waiting for your kids when you pick them up from some after school activity, 15 minutes sitting outside their bedroom door trying to get them to go to sleep. That's an hour of "wasted" time every day. That's an hour you could spend on upskilling. And it doesn't have to be as much as an hour a day. You can spend 10 minutes a day and still achieve a lot, as long as the time you spend fits into your daily routine. 

Don't overdo it
These days, it sometimes feels like everyone is overachieving, giving 110% of their effort all the time. They're running from one project to another, from one meeting to the next, bragging about everything they got done, complain about the things they didn't. The good thing is: That won't work when it comes to upskilling.

Overachieving when upskilling will leave you learning A LOT the first couple of weeks or months, and then the learning experience will end completely as you won't be able to stay motivated when pushing yourself too hard for extended periods of time. A great learning experience should leave you wanting more and you should look forward to picking up where you left off. That is only possible if you know your limitations and take things slowly.

When the schedule falls apart
I've had times when I've overdone upskilling. Suddenly it feels like a chore, something that has to be done, not something I want to do. When this happens, I take a step back and I take a break for a week or two. I hit the pause button, and I alter my own expectations before I pick up where I left of.

At some point your schedule will fall apart. The entire family gets the flu, you have an important due date coming up at work, your extended family needs you to be there for them. When this happens, you hit the pause button on upskilling. And you don't feel bad about it. Your hear that? Don't beat yourself up for not being able to upskill as much as you'd like. Because life happens and you should let it. Hit pause on upskilling and when you're ready, you can keep on going. Hopefully, with new energy and motivation. 

Wrapping it up
Upskilling is not something you make time for, instead you spend the time you're currently wasting on unimportant things. As upskilling should be voluntary, it's up to you to decide how much time you'd like to spend without having to alter your daily routine too much. Knowing your limitations is key to succeeding, and if you're able to do that, upskilling will give you motivation and inspiration to keep on going. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On the inside of the NDC Oslo agenda committee

How many developers do you need to create the NDC Oslo agenda? 
You need 7 developers locked in a room for ~22 hours, spread across 2 days (yes, we needed to sleep). 
We started out with ~800 abstracts, which meant we had to cut approximately 9 out of 10 abstracts. Yikes! Armed with lots and lots of strange, British sweets (thanks, Liam) and coffee, we started out highly motivated and ready to make some difficult decisions. It turns out, round one does not include that many hard decisions. 
Round one consists of reading all the abstracts (yes, all ~800 of them...) and vote as we go along. If most or all of the committe say yes, or if a couple of committe members really want to fight for this abstract, it's put on "the wall". "The wall" is a large empty wall that slowly fills up with abstracts placed into columns based on categories. Apparently, we're not that good at creating categories as our wall ended up looking like this: 

So far, so good right? Except when you realize you've been at it for 8 hours straight and you still have 502 abstracts left to read. Ouch. That's when you start to work faster, become A LOT more critical and Niall becomes bossy (in a good way, of course).
Four more hours, and we're back on track again: 

The second day was round two. It was spent tearing abstracts off the wall, and this is where is started to get difficult. Not only do 7 developers have to agree, but you need to find the right balance between the different categories. Not too many overlapping subjects, not too many talks by the same speaker, not too many VB talks (kidding...). And then you need to make sure you include the right amount of new speakers, female speakers, funny speakers, known speakers etc.

So what have I learned from all this? I've learned never again to be disappointed if I don't get accepted to speak at a conference. Being cut does not mean that your abstract sucks and it certainly does not mean that you're not a good enough speaker! It's simply bad luck.

Creating an agenda for a large conference such as NDC is hard work. Imagine you're given access to the greatest minds in the industry and you're told to build a robot. The possibilities are endless, and while we ended up with a robot we're extremely proud of, someone else might have created a completely different robot using the same tools.

The agenda is to be released today. So don't be bummed if you're not accepted, instead you should submit your abstract to several more conferences and your luck will come.

I'm very grateful for being allowed in on the committee (I kind of invited myself), and I'd like to thank Programutvikling for making this awesome conference come alive. I'd also like to thank the rest of the agenda committe for making 2 days stuck in a room with 6 guys such an enjoyable experience!