This is a response/continuation of the discussion that Chad McCallum started over on his blog. He wondered what people’s view was on doing live coding within a presentation – for or against.
Where. To. Begin.
There is no right answer to the question. As developers, we like to look at things almost from a bit perspective – 0 or 1, yes or no, true or false. But humans aren’t computers and so to say that yes you should or no you shouldn’t use live coding demos isn’t a worthwhile argument because you’ll never get consensus from the most important group of people for a presenter – your audience.
Consider these two comments:
“I attended this session based on my experience from his other session. Great demos!”
“Number of presenters clearly didn't have any developer content prepared and re-used decks of the web and didn't get into any programming. [Speaker]’s was particularly bad.”
Note the last part of the second comment, about a certain speaker’s sessions being bad because they clearly didn’t have any developer content prepared? Well the first comment is about that speaker’s second session. I was in that session and yes, he showed code but didn’t write any. Huh. Two people, same session, different…expectations?
It’s Always About Expectations
I have learned this through much trial and tribulation – the sure way to ensure success in life is to set clear expectations as early as possible. Doing live code? Showing slides of code? Using copy/paste or snippets? Not having any code whatsoever at all? There is no discussion about whether one of these styles is better than the other. I’ve seen all these styles work and work well (I’ve also seen them all bomb just as well also, but I’ll get to that in a second).
So what we’re really talking about is audience expectations.
A few years ago some friends and I went out for Chinese food. One of our friends decided to buy a lobster for the table. He was invited into the kitchen to see it prepared. He came out pale and a little shocked. Why? Well, he was going to see a lobster get cooked – y’know, dropped in boiling water. Isn’t that how you cook a lobster? Not in this restaurant. In this place, you chop it with a huge knife while its still alive and then throw its pieces into a pan and stir fry it. Now had the cook set the expectation that he’d be seeing something else, he may not have gone into the kitchen.
The same thing happens with presentations. Why do people not like a presentation? Sometimes its because it was just a bad presentation. But most of the time, its because expectations weren’t set up front. If you don’t set expectations up front, you let the audience’s expectations become the baseline and you as a presenter have no ability to meet a room full of different expectations. If you set the expectations of what will be seen and the style, then the audience has two options: accept it (stay) or reject it (leave). Either way, you are in control.
So It Doesn’t Matter What Style I use (Live Coding/Snippits/Slides Of Code)?
Like any presentation, you need to use the best medium for communicating your message and address the risks associated.
Want to do live coding? Great! Make sure you set your font and IDE colour scheme, ensure that it’ll work and compile in its finished state (use the Julia Childe method*), test out the available wi-fi to ensure its reliable if your presentation requires it, ensure all updates and required components are installed to your machine/VM ahead of time, ensure all background running processes (virus scanner, auto updates, etc.) are turned off ahead of time, etc. etc.
Want to do slides of codes? Fantastic! Make sure you’re ready to answer questions about how to do things differently/more advanced than what’s on your slides. Make sure you check that your code is readable on your slides, the background/style doesn’t clash, and remember that if you’re using image snapshots of code that you can’t change the font on it so it better be big enough for the guy in the back row to read. Oh, and make sure that your version of PowerPoint or whatever tool you created your presentation with is usable with the version on the presentation computer (if its different than your own).
Presentations are Tools to Communicate Your Idea
I do a talk on how to give technical presentations as well as a presentation workshop, and the one thing I stress is that your PowerPoint, your code, your demos, your whatever isn’t as important as you. You and your knowledge is the reason people are coming to a presentation. You need to pick the tools and techniques that will ensure that you will communicate your message to the audience.
You won’t every please everyone that comes to your presentations. But if you set expectations and give thought to the tools/techniques you’ll employ, you can limit the negative comments and ensure more people leave understanding what you were trying to get across.
Remember Hello World? It was the program that we all started out with at some point. We did something that would make Hello World display somehow. But as we got older and more into our careers as developers, we’ve forgotten Hello World. Instead, we’ve replaced it with Contoso or Pet Store or whatever large, heavy, complex domain we decided would be a much better sandbox to frame learning a new technology with.
I was talking with an attendee at Prairie Dev Con about this last week, and how we can easily get caught up in fulfilling the domain rather than understanding the underlying tech.
Consider these two scenarios, both related to learning ASP.NET MVC with EF code first.
|A doctor’s office wants a web site to schedule patient visits. This site will use forms authentication and will leverage MVC and Entity Framework Code First. We’ll use jQuery on the front end for the UI and SQL Server in the back for storing the data. The datamodel looks like this…<insert data model here> and the class diagram looks like this <insert class diagram here>. || ||Create a single view in an MVC project that uses EF to retrieve a simple value of “Hello World” from a database table and display it on the screen. |
Now, if we were to do both of these we’d come to the same result of understanding EF and MVC, but with one difference – the example on the left comes with a huge and heavy domain that we’ve added in for no other reason than to feel like we’re building something of value. But here’s the thing – we’re not. When we’re learning a technology, its about the technology. The details of a pretend scenario do nothing but get in the way of the actual learning.
The value is in us understanding how the technology works so we can apply it to domain contexts later. Would we expect an apprentice carpenter who’s just learning to build a house as their first project to teach them framing? Of course not. So why do we expect it from ourselves as developers?
Unburden yourself from complex domain contexts when you’re starting out with something new. Start with Hello World and take it from there.
Go and read this. There is so much win in this blog post its obscene. One of the best commentaries on work/life balance I’ve read ever with loads of great suggestions and insight.
The evening of Tuesday, May 7th is community night! Prairie Dev Con Winnipeg is hosting a free user-group-like event for the Winnipeg developer community!
Mark Stafford, Product Manager at Microsoft, will be presenting on OData – what it is, why its important, and how it can impact your day-to-day development. Pizza will be provided, and again – this is a free event! You don’t have to be an attendee of the conference to come out.
For more information including times and how to register, click the link below!
Tonight, after the Winnipeg Jets game, I was assaulted in downtown Winnipeg walking to my car.
I parked on Carlton right at Broadway. As I crossed St. Mary’s, there were two Habs fans in front of me. They passed two guys, one wearing a Jets jersey, who yelled something like “Habs suck” at them. The Habs fans answered back with “See you in the playoffs” – which is normal sports fan banter.
The two Jets fans took exception though, and began walking behind the Habs fans, taunting them. I was in step with these two, who seemed drunk, for a while until they quickened their pace to catch up with the Habs fans.
Eventually they did, at the corner of York and Carlton. The Jets fans were getting in the face of the Habs fans, and those guys were definitely not looking for any trouble or trying to instigate anything. Then the pushing started – and I don’t mean a little shove, I mean the Jets guys were being very antagonistic and abusive. This had obviously gone too far, so I shouted at the Jets fans – “Knock if off or I’m going to call the cops!”.
This got the attention of the taller of the two, who looked at me as if *I* was nuts. I started walking with the Habs fans. I jokingly asked them if they were from around here, because if not I was going to apologize because Winnipeg wasn’t normally like this.
Then I was on the ground.
I got up, wrapping my head around the fact that this drunk Jets fan had just pushed me to the ground. He said something, I’m not sure what…can’t remember, but the next thing I knew he threw a punch, swinging his arm in an arc so that his fist caught me behind my left ear. I was stunned. Had I *actually* just been assaulted leaving a Jets game?! This couldn’t be real.
But then they turned their focus on the Habs fans again. I watched in horror as the guy who had just punched me threw a vicious punch that knocked one of the guys out – at least I’m pretty sure since he fell to the ground and as we helped him up later he was very woozy.
By this time some people had stepped in to break things up, and the two drunk Jets fans left. The Habs fans were alright – although the one guy is going to have a sore jaw tomorrow.
I tried to take a photo, but the supposedly reliable Nokia camera on my Windows Phone took this…
The guy in the middle, he’s the tall Jets fan that was throwing punches. He was with a shorter little douchebag in a signed Enstrom jersey.
So that’s what happened. Now…some thoughts on this new life experience.
Where the Hell were the Winnipeg Police?!
So a sporting event with tens of thousands of people, most of whom have had at least a few beers in them, isn’t reason enough to have a larger police presence throughout the downtown?! Thanks Winnipeg Police.
Where the Hell were the Winnpeggers?!
I am so disappointed with my city tonight. Roads packed with cars, streets packed with people, yet…
NOBODY stepped in to try and stop this except for 1 or 2 other guys.
NOBODY pulled over to offer help. And the one woman in a vehicle who I asked to call the police, not sure what happened to her – I guess it was easier just to continue on home. Same goes for all the others driving by.
These two guys had done *NOTHING* wrong – they were just walking back from a hockey game when they were mugged – plain and simple, this was a mugging. And everyone just stood back and watched it happen. We’re a city of fucking cowards.
Speaking of Cowards….
Downtown Winnipeg has a bad reputation, and there are stereotypes that go with that. Let me point out that the tall guy throwing punches was Caucasian, seemed clean cut, with a quality brown leather jacket. This was not a gang member, this was not a street thug. This was a drunk 20-something who was looking for a reason to go off on someone.
Who are these people? Who believes that its ok to assault someone? It’s assholes like these that destroy all the good work done by those trying to change our city’s image for the better.
What if I had one of my daughters with me, and she had seen her dad assaulted – or worse, what if she had gotten hurt somehow? What if one of them had a weapon? What if things, as they were, escalated way out of hand? What if I had thrown myself at this idiot and hurt him – would then *I* be on the receiving end of our legal system that coddles the criminal and persecutes the victim?
I’m still processing this. I’m not trying to be a martyr here – I got shoved down and I took a punch. The Habs fan that got knocked out had it way worse than me, and there are others in our city that are the victims of much more violent crimes. But still – walking downtown with crowds of people all around, I was the victim of an physical assault. Maybe Winnipeg does deserve the reputation it has.
Anyone can be a programmer. Go to school, self-teach through books or videos, etc. The industry isn’t regulated like some other professions like engineering, trades (plumbing, carpentry, etc.) or architecture (the building type). But to be a programmer, someone that can make a computer do some useful stuff – it really doesn’t take much. And there’s a whole bunch of reasons why that’s a good and bad thing. Good in that there’s a low barrier of entry for people of any age to get into programming. Bad in that there’s a lot of people out there who really shouldn’t be programming for a living, but get away with it because there’s no agreed upon standard (and how we’d even implement a standard like that could take up a whole series of blog posts).
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a new movement emerge. If 2000 marked the decade of the Programmer, then 2010 kicked off the decade of the Entrepreneur. Where we had code camps we now have startup camps, bar camps, hackathons – events that, while they may include technology, have a decidedly business slant to them. We’ve moved from “anyone can be a programmer” to “anyone can own and run a business”. You don’t need experience or schooling; you don’t even need a business plan! Just follow some steps to register your business. It’s like hobby farming, but with businesses. StartupWeekend even states on their website:
No Talk, All Action. Launch a Startup in 54 Hours!
There’s this allure of what I call “The Startup Lifestyle”. It’s all about young, fun, passionate people making money on ideas that are realized at mile-a-minute speeds. It’s wealth generation on steroids – the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme but with way more cred. If this sounds like the plot of a TV show to you…well, in part its because it is. But it’s also the pipe dream that draws in people to the “startup lifestyle”. Note I don’t say the “entrepreneurial” lifestyle, because the reality of owning and running a business is less glamour and a hell of a lot of hard work.
Having more people engaging in the economy through commerce is, in and of itself, a good thing. But, like programming, we seem to be minimizing or trivializing the effort required in engaging in business professionally. Businesses have real implications: revenue, profit, taxes, insurance, liability, investment. There’s also the aspect of viability. Not every idea translates into a valid business. I’ve come to appreciate “Mr. Wonderful” Kevin O’Leary from Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank fame. He never holds back asking the tough questions around sales, profit, and market size. Too many buy into the romanticism of business and ignore the serious and sometimes harsh reality.
Technology companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft don’t help any by pushing the pipe dream of success through their respective app stores. The message they all send is “If you can code it, you can sell it!”, yet they do nothing to help support their developer base emerge as smart business people. I approached one developer, who wrote a simple yet successful iPhone app, about speaking on his experience at one of my conferences. He declined, saying his experience was an anomaly and was not how people should go about building a software-based business.
In a perfect world, we would strip the word “startup” from our vocabulary. We’d replace it with “business”. Every business is a startup – in that it has to start somewhere. But an idea alone is not a business. A business is an organized plan and strategy to monetize an idea. In my experience with startup weekend-type events, I’ve never once heard the term “business plan” used. The focus is on the idea, the rush of creating and basing decisions on assumptions instead of analysis and research.
“Of course people will buy this!”
“Of course this will work!”
“No, we don’t have any competitors…I think…we’ll be better anyway!”
The allure of the life and overpromised success in a startup overtakes the serious considerations creating a successful business requires.
There’s also a personal danger that I see in pushing the startup lifestyle. Recently I met a young entrepreneur. Passionate about the local startup community, passionate about building things and creating businesses. A poster-boy for the entrepreneurial movement! I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that he burnt out – to the point that he tried to disappear: changed his cell phone, stopped answering emails, was impossible to get in touch with. The rise and fall of such young promise is disheartening to witness, as is the residual damage that goes with it.
We need to foster business development, but we have to acknowledge the responsibility that goes with it. Mentoring from experienced business leaders is crucial to ensure that we minimize the damage the startup lifestyle can cause. We need to balance passion, desire, and excitement with sober thought, reasoning, and discussion. We need to stop pushing short timeframes to startup success and embrace reasonable expectations and longer term business goals.
We need to talk and teach business, not wealth and fame. Otherwise, we’ll never see the long term economic impact that all these new businesses could provide. We’ll just see more casualties from the startup lifestyle.
Sadly, we’re going to have to cancel the Winnipeg Code Camp that was scheduled for late April. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t have a code camp this year though – it’s really the community’s call.
We’ve always had strong turnouts for the code camp, so attendance isn’t the issue here. I also lined up sponsors, so cost isn’t an issue either. No, the issue is SPEAKERS!
I put out a call for speakers and only 2 people submitted sessions. And while I could have pushed to hunt down speakers, I don’t feel that’s a good way to fill a code camp schedule; I want people who *want* to speak, not who are forced into it.
So, here’s the deal: If you want a code camp in Winnipeg this year, then I need to see people submit talks. Keep in mind that the code camp is supposed to be an opportunity for those who *haven’t* spoken before or who have done limited speaking to get presentation experience!
I’ll keep the online session submission form open through April and May. If by the end of May we have enough people willing to speak, then we’ll look at scheduling the code camp for the Fall timeframe.
Here’s the link to the session submission form.
To get on the Code Camp’s mailing list, regardless if you’re wanting to speak, sponsor, or just attend, fill out our mail list form here:
or enter your email below:
I really like Windows 8, and while many have bemoaned it I enjoy working in it both at home on my Dell XPS 12 and at work on my non-touch laptop. But I will definitely count myself in the number that do miss the traditional Windows start menu. Also, as much as I love the idea of the Modern UI applications, I work 99.9% of the time in Desktop mode.
For those that can relate to how I use Windows 8, I wanted to share two utilities that I’ve found that fill the gaps in how I want to use Windows 8.
The first is StartIsBack, which brings the traditional start menu and search capability back to Windows 8. You can download it from the link below and get a free 30 day trial.
The second is ModernMix, which gives you the ability to launch Modern applications in Desktop mode – complete with windowed functionality (read: maximize, minimize, resize, dock, etc.). ModernMix is made by Stardock who is behind the popular Window Blinds utility. You can download a 30 day trial of ModernMix from this link:
Here’s a video I put together showing how each of these tools work:
(Note: Cross-posted from the Prairie Dev Con Blog - http://prairiedevcon.blogspot.ca/2013/03/two-free-microsoft-workshops-saturday.html)
Microsoft, our Platinum Sponsor, is providing two *free* workshops on the Saturday before Prairie Dev Con in Winnipeg!
Windows 8 for Web Developers Workshop
Click here for more info and to register!
.NET Developer Workshop
This one goes out to all the .NETs developers! In this workshop, you'll learn about XAML (beyond basic layout), targeting multiple screens with MVVM (keeping your code DRY), Windows Azure Cloud Services (web scale!) and Windows Azure Mobile Services (so easy to build connected apps) and best of all, each session is geared for you, the .NET folks.
Click here for more info and to register!
Register early as we need a minimum number of attendees to guarantee the workshops!
The 6th annual Winnipeg Code Camp will once again return to Red River College’s downtown campus on Princess for 2013!
Here’s the details:
When: Saturday, April 27th 2013
Where: Red River College – Princess Street Campus
How Much: FREE!
Food: Of Course!
What we don’t have yet are speakers and sessions! If you’re interested in speaking at the code camp, please submit a talk! We want the code camp to serve as an opportunity for new and inexperienced speakers to gain valuable presentation experience while sharing technology topics they’re passionate about. Of course, those of us who have spoken and are experience presenters are able to submit as well!
Just visit the link below to submit your talks! Deadline for talk submissions is March 31st.
If you have any questions on the code camp, please let me know!
“Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer…because it teaches you how to think.” – Steve Jobs
That’s the starting frame of a fantastic short vid introducing the code.org website. Check out the video below:
There’s been a lot of drum beating around the lack of STEM enrollment (that’s Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) at universities and colleges. Computer programming is part of that, and it’s definitely still an issue. As the video shows, we’re heading to a huge gap in available professionals to fill over 1 million programming jobs (and that’s just the US, never mind other countries like Canada).
But why is this? What is stifling interesting in STEM professions? Before we look at the post-secondary level, we need to take a step back at the high school, middle school, and elementary schools. What we find is very disturbing.
I live in Winnipeg, in an area called St. James. We have a number of high schools in our area’s division, including my old high school. Below are the key focuses from each of those high school’s “computer” classes.
John Taylors Technology Program Grade: F
Westwood lists Technology Education as an option for areas of study students can take on. Unfortunately, they don’t list what their programs & courses are beyond that. Also, that page hasn’t been updated since 2010.
Westwood Technology Program Grade: Incomplete
St. James Collegiate (Academy of Science & Technology)
Alas, no programming. At the “Academy of Science & Technology”.
St. James Collegiate Technology Program Grade: D
First up under Sturgeon’s “Technical Vocational” section, Computer Applications 20S. Unfortunately, more of the same – graphic design, Flash, animation. Then I see this for one of the assignments.
You are to create a Childrens Story (or Re-Create) using animation features of PowerPoint
You’re kidding me.
Things are looking very bleak early on here at my old high school, but there’s also an “Interactive Technology” area. Looking through the courses, we finally hit gold! Mr. Wachs’ 20S (grade 10) Computer Science class…
You will be introduced to the discipline of programming through introductory software like Scratch and/or Alice. Once established, formal programming instruction will take place starting in the C Sharp (C#) programming language. If time permits, instruction will possibly look at languages like Java, C++, or Flash’s ActionScript. Students will learn important concepts like variables, conditional statements, loops, and methods (functions) . Students will work on practical programming problems, games, and have practical assignments. The course will end with students working on a major project of their own choosing.
And then in the grade 11 and 12 computer science courses go on to mention object orientation, methods, arrays, classes…this is actually a computer science program!
Sturgeon Heights Technology Program Grade: A- (because I can’t ignore that PowerPoint thing)
But Things Are Still Grim…
So out of 4 high schools, only 1 actually offers a true computer science course. Only one teaches programming languages and concepts; and let me point out, only one teacher is doing this. Extrapolate this across Canada, across North America, and its easy to see why computer science isn’t on the radar of most students.
This is a problem folks. This isn’t a trend we want to continue. We need to push our schools to offer computer technology courses throughout elementary, junior high, and high school. We need to hold our teachers to a higher standard, that if they claim to teach technology they teach relevant, meaningful technology topics. And as parents, we need to encourage our kids to investigate computer science.
Ensuring our schools are ready to support us in that endeavor goes a long way though.
I got back on Thursday last week from the Microsoft MVP Summit in the Seattle area. MVPs are tech community leaders who are awarded annually by Microsoft based on their contributions and leadership. They throw a big
party conference in the Seattle area every year for MVPs, who come from all over the world. It’s like a big geeky Folklarama.
MVPs are slotted based on a Microsoft product group. I’m in the ASP.NET/IIS group, others might be in the ALM (TFS) group, Windows Phone, Languages, Office, etc.
This year was a great summit. Lot’s of great stuff coming out of the ASP.NET team moving forward, although I can’t really say anything because I’m under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). But trust me – kewl things are a comin’.
So since I can’t tell you about what I learned or heard, I’ll show you pictures of what me and my friends did while down there. This year was a banner year for new Canadian MVPs. I was actually surprised that some of these guys were only first year rookies to the program:
David “Canadian Julie Lerman” Paquette (Go EF, Go EF!)
So…what did we get up to? Well…
Check out my photos from the week here.
Unfortunately, they tell a story like this: drunk geeks, drunk geeks, Dick Tracey, bald guy with Brazilians, bald guy with another bald guy, burrito, football stadium, drunk geeks, drunk geeks playing with lobster, lobster.
Well, pics of non-drunk geeks typing on laptops wouldn’t be much fun would it? And again – I’m under NDA at the sessions.
How about some video?
At the attendee party, which was at the Seattle Seahawk’s stadium, they had a bunch of events including a field goal kicking station. So Chad McCallum…from Regina…decided to show us all how it was done. (For those that don’t get the reference, see here.)
And an MVP Summit wouldn’t be complete without some karaoke. James Chambers decided to wow us with his mic skills (see this video for last year’s masterpiece! He’s at the 6:55 mark.). Here he is hitting us one more time:
Fantastic time, looking forward to next year!
Thomas Larock blogged about the impending uncertainty/doom of the MVP summit; the topic isn’t new, as all of us as MVPs can remember the various glory days of only a few years ago compared to today. For instance…
| ||2008 ||2013 |
|$150 MS Store Credit ||Yup ||Nope |
|Keynotes (Ballmer, Toby, etc) ||Yup ||Nope |
|Cross-MVP Group Access ||Yup ||Nope |
|Hotel Location ||Seattle ||Bellevue |
|Session Locations ||MS Campus ||Hotel/MS Campus |
|Prod Group Event ||Dedicated Day ||Combined with Attendee Party |
Yup, we used to get Steve Ballmer delivering a keynote for us. We’ve also had the guys from Pike’s Place market throw fishes for us. Ray Ozzie delivered a keynote and Q&A I believe as well at one.
We also used to get some nice perks, including $150 credit for the online Microsoft store – shipping was free.
Also, before MVPs got stupid with breaking NDAs, we had more freedom to explore beyond our designated product group. But over time, we couldn’t get into the Silverlight, Windows Phone, SharePoint, and other key product groups unless we were part of them; the ranks were closed.
We used to be housed in Seattle and bussed to Redmond where the majority of our sessions were held (they had a day or so at the Seattle convention centre for registration and such). This change I’m actually really happy with. Bellevue has more to offer than Seattle from a restaurant point of view, and I totally get that logistics wise it’s easier to move people from Bellevue to Redmond if needed.
So when you look at the trend, we’ve been seeing a steady evolution of the MVP Summit and the MVP program itself. But that’s not necessarily meaning we should assume the program is going away. The MVP program is more than the Summit – that’s just one factor. Microsoft has invested in MVPs and they’ve seen the return on that investment through community activity, product feedback, and (let’s be honest) unpaid evangelists. An entire army of product supporters who actively promote and encourage the use of Microsoft products with no payroll cost required. And in exchange for a yearly conference, a free MSDN license, and access to product group events throughout the year? Very good deal!
Because of all that, I don’t think the MVP program will be going away anytime soon. I do think that we’ll see it continue to evolve though as all businesses, not just Microsoft, evaluate the ROI on any investment dollars that are spent in any program.
I totally agree with the tips Thomas gave for attendees:
Here’s a few tips for those of us attending this week.
- Pay attention. Close the laptop. Shut off your phone. Microsoft asks us to come here to engage with them, not so you get a four day holiday from your regular work schedule.
- Meet with the folks that work on the product teams. Make a connection with them. Give them feedback. Ask them how else you can help them continue to make tools that we all use and need.
- Say thank you. Then say it again. Be grateful for what we have, not just here at the Summit but the tools themselves. Go find the person that made the widget that you enjoy using over and over and tell them how much you appreciate their effort. Find your MVP lead and thank them for all their hard work as well.
So don’t worry about the end of the MVP program, just enjoy what it is today.
I’m a conference organizer. I’m also the father to two daughters. Over the last 11 years that I’ve been in the IT industry, I’ve seen and heard the cries for more women representation. It’s not a secret that IT is a male dominated industry. Heck, most of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is male dominated! And for some reason, people have taken it upon themselves to make conference speaker rosters the key issue at the heart of this problem. This has caused event cancellations (in the case of Brit Ruby) and general nastiness for others (in the case of the Edge conference).
And its bullshit.
Conferences are a reflection of our industry. They reflect technology trends and interests in the session topics presented. They reflect the level of interest in professional development by how many attendees employers are willing to send. And they reflect the demographics of our industry, which includes a lack of women. But that’s not a fault of the conference. That’s a fault of the industry. It’s easy to attack conferences though. It’s easy to pick at the scab you see rather than dig out the cancer that you don’t.
So we get blog posts from Matt who calls out the organizers of Edge (note that in a buried post-post-postscript he basically says “My bad, these guys are cool”). This leads to more blog posts like this one from Aral, and this one from Martin, and others from those who pick up on the sentiment and fan the flames.
But if you think that getting more women to speak at conferences will help the women-in-tech movement you’re wrong. It won’t. And if anything, it will make conference organizers more skittish about ensuring that their events avoid the anti-diversity label while sacrificing on quality of content.
So what are the issues?
Grade School Computer Programs
My oldest daughter is just entering junior high, but I’m already thinking about high school for her. My old high school is close by, and I was curious about what they offered for computer science. To my utter horror, their entire computer program is based around teaching students how to create 3D games in Flash! I checked another high school in the area, and found that Information and Communication Technology equated to graphic design! Third time must be the charm, but unfortunately I found similar course descriptions at the third local high school.
You want more women in technology? You need to get them excited about technology at the grade school level! That’s not just women, that’s boys too! We are failing our children at the lowest levels, where their interest needs to be captured and opportunities need to be provided.
If you hate all male speaker rosters at conferences, you better get damn mad when the McDonald’s drive thru person asks if you want a “girl toy or boy toy” in your kids happy meal, or how girls and boys are portrayed on Disney shows, or toys marketed to kids that enforce gender stereotypes. If I think of all the shows my daughters watch, the movies they see, the books they read…*NONE* of them contain a strong female role-model that encourages STEM engagement. This is a challenge for us as parents, because the media can be such a powerful force in our children’s minds. We need to work extra hard to break these stereotypes at home.
HR at Your Workplace
You may think that conferences have a responsibility to fill slots with women, but have you asked your own workplace if they feel that way? Does your HR department ensure that they promote a diverse work environment that has a balance of gender, race, and sexuality? Do you know how many women have been hired in the last year compared to men, and do your C-levels (CIO, CEO, CTO, CFO, COO, etc.) make diversity a priority? If your organization doesn’t make diversity a key HR issue yet you throw stones at conference organizers, that sounds a little hypocritical to me.
So What’s The Solution?
Look, these are just a few issues that make up this complex problem of gender diversity in IT. I need to reiterate my point through all this – conferences reflect our industry, but they aren’t the root problem. Calling out a conference for having too many men on a speaking docket doesn’t do anything but screw over conference organizers and hurt the community.
You want to really address this problem?
Get involved with your local high schools and find out what their computer courses look like. Offer your time to mentor students who show interest in STEM areas. Start up an event or a camp – one local college teacher has been running a summer coding camp for girls over the last few years, and she sells out every time with a waiting list! Also get involved at the college level as well – all students can benefit from industry mentors.
Get involved at your workplace. Find out if there’s already a committee tasked with increasing diversity and if not see if you can start one. Discover what your employer’s thoughts are and educate your HR department on the importance of diversity in IT.
Speak at conferences and events! I had a young women tweet her displeasure at the lack of female representation at one of my conferences. I tweeted back that if she was interested in speaking she should send me her session abstract. At that conference, she spoke. Instead of being a hindrance, help the organizers – submit talks, get involved with local user groups, make a name for yourself in your local community; these are all things that colleagues of mine who are regular speakers have done. As an organizer, I don’t care if your male or female – if you or your proposed talk don’t measure up to a certain standard, I probably won’t pick you. And hey, if you really feel strongly why not start your own conference and invite whoever you want to speak?
Martin, who’s blog I linked to earlier, wrote this:
If my daughter grows up and wants to go into tech, and is still faced with events where organisers think it is OK to have 22 male speakers out of a possible 22 speakers, she’ll be entitled to turn around to me and ask why I didn’t make a fuss when I could.
To all those that echo his sentiment, let me be clear: if the number of women in tech hasn’t increased by the time our children are in the workforce, it has nothing to do with conference organizers and everything to do with our inability act on the real root causes. I’m all for making a fuss, but how about we make the right fuss.
Brit Ruby was scheduled for 2013, but upon releasing its speaker list the organizers were challenged on Twitter by Josh Susser about the seeming lack of diversity in their speakers.
Laura Beck’s blog that details what happened (and her slant).
Brit Ruby organizers response on why the event was cancelled.
Edge is a web conference put on by Facebook, Google, and FT Labs in London. It caught the ire of numerous bloggers when their speaker list was released and it was all male. Note that they have since updated it with female presenters.
Matt’s blog post that started the whole discussion around Edge.
Aral’s blog in response (and support) of Matt’s.
Had a dream last night. In it, I was in a packed diner when two guys brandished knives and started collecting people’s wallets. They instructed everyone to sit and stay calm and nobody would get hurt.
Realize there were like 30 people in this diner, and there were 2 guys with knives holding everyone hostage. I started asking people around me why we wouldn’t just overtake them.
“But if we just do as we’re told they said they’d let us go.”
“What if they have guns or something?”
“What if some of us get hurt?”
Nobody would take action. In a weird turn, as dreams tend to go, they let people out to run errands but made them promise that they would return “or else”. In the car I was in, I pointed out that we could go to the police or run or not go back.
“Oh no, something terrible might happen!”
This dream echoes so many real life situations. Maybe not in the “I’m held hostage by a knife wielding 50ish year old man and his son” way, but in many ways we limit ourselves due to fear. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, its that the old saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is very true. It’s through taking risks in our lives that we grow the most.
Otherwise, you’re just being held hostage in a diner by an old guy with a knife. Or something like that.