Event Reflections: Women Who Code CONNECT 2017

What is Women Who Code (WWCode) CONNECT Conference?

WWCode is changing the face of tech, creating a more inclusive and diverse industry, and helping women to connect with professional opportunities that propel them into positions of power. Our premier developer conference, WWCode CONNECT 2017, does just that.

WWCode CONNECT 2017 brings together speakers from around the world to share their stories and expertise about technology. Join the Women Who Code community for in-depth panels, technical workshops, keynotes, and actionable advice on advancing your career.

CONNECT is an event designed to inspire and empower attendees to achieve the next level in their careers while arming them with the tools that they need to achieve success. By celebrating the talents and accomplishments of a diverse range of industry leaders, we hope to create an environment where everyone feels that they can succeed. This is the new culture of tech, where inclusion and support drives innovation and industry.

More information about the conference is available at http://connect2017.womenwhocode.com/

Location

This year, the WWCode Connect conference in San Francisco took place in the Twitter office on Market St since Twitter is a Platinum level sponsor of this event. Now, for anyone who hasn’t been to this office before, it’s certainly a sight to see with multiple cafeterias, large common areas, lounge spaces, TVs, outdoor seating/dining with a (fake) grass lawn, the list goes on… Previously, I’ve only been here during weekday lunch hours, so it was a different feeling this time, but not any less exciting.

The photo below shows only a portion of the Partner Pavilion in the main hall. To the left (unfortunately, out of sight here) is the main cafeteria with multiple buffet areas as well as coffee and water stations. To the right, through the glass doors, are the outdoor seating/dining areas and lawn. Through the far door is the bridge to another area of the office with another cafeteria and another dining area (though these weren’t really being used at the time for food, unless you count coffee); this is where the keynotes and larger-audience-size talks took place. Finally, behind me (when I was taking this picture) is a staircase leading to the 10th floor where some of the smaller-audience-size talks and workshops took place.

partner

Starting the Day

The place was teeming with attendees, company representatives, employees, volunteers, organizers, etc. It definitely took a large group effort to get something like this together, but it paid off. Even early morning on a Saturday, I could feel the excitement and anticipation in the air.

In the main lobby of the building (Twitter only occupies the 9th and 10th floors, as far as I know), there were registration tables, programmes, and even a bag of goodies (with a WWCode t-shirt and some company swag) to help kick off the day. Then I (along with a group of other attendees) was asked to proceed to the 9th floor where breakfast and coffee were served in the main cafeteria. The Partner Pavilion was already set up right from the get-go and company representatives were ready with their spiels and swag. And, of course, it was never too early to start networking, though my coffee hadn’t quite kicked in yet so I was a little less talkative than I would usually be.

Welcome to CONNECT 2017!

After some quick intros, the conference was kicked off with a welcome from Alaina Percival, CEO and Board Chair of WWCode. One really exciting thing that she mentioned (that I didn’t know about previously) was that this year there were actually THREE WWCode Connect Conferences scheduled – Bangalore (earlier this year), San Francisco (yaaas!), and Atlanta (coming up in June). It was definitely good news all around.

alaina

Rising in the Pursuit of Equality

Next, there was a truly inspirational talk by Dr. Mona-Lisa Pinkney, Senior Director, Governance, Risk, Compliance and Engagement Management Corporate Information Security at Nike, Inc. She talked about her interests, career, and most importantly (to me anyway) the lessons she learned along the way. She also mentioned some of the people – including some famous athletes and artists! – she met and/or worked with along the way.

Mona-Lisa spoke to us about one of the quotes she lives by: “Work hard. Play harder.” And she summarized her “lesson” points as five Be’s:

  1. Be relentless
  2. Be fearless
  3. Be connected
  4. Be global
  5. Be authentic

I think we may all agree that these points provide some great advice, though we may also agree that they mean different things to different people, so it’ll take some further reflection to figure out what it means for me.

monalisa

Security

The next talk in the Keynote Commons room was a fireside chat about Security with Mary Ann Davidson, Chief Security Officer at Oracle, and Zassmin Montes de Oca, Board Vice Chair and CTO at Women Who Code. Mary Ann had a lot of interesting lessons and insight share from her career, and she was certainly an entertaining storyteller. One story I remember her telling was about a camera inside the fridge that was accessible via the internet, to let people know when they were running low on eggs or milk, for example. Then she went on to tell us about allll the potential security risks with this idea; for comparison, I didn’t see many and overall thought it was a good product idea. Personally (perhaps clearly), I don’t have a strong interest in Security as a primary function of my career. Nevertheless, as someone who works in tech, it is important to be aware of it and open to discussing it.

fireside

Understanding Performance at Scale

Personally, I like going to talks where people talk about the lessons they’ve learned with their work and/or their careers. I guess it’s because it shows the presenter has had real-life experience in the field and not just ideas or theories. Alice’s talk was one of those. Plus, she’s a Software Engineer at Pinterest – how awesome is that?!

The bullets below (in which I highlighted key words) show a only sample of the points she made about “Understanding Performance at Scale”:

  • Define a consistent language to measure all performance metrics
  • Enforce metric ownership to ensure metric confidence
  • Allocate time to find the right tracking solution

alice

Rapid Prototyping with Sketch and Framer 

As a developer with limited design experience, this demo (presented by Caterina Paun, UX Designer at Vega and Director of WWCode Portland) was of particular interest to me so that I could learn ways to rapidly create low fidelity mobile app prototype. I had heard of Sketch before (though I haven’t yet used it), but not Framer. In short, Sketch can be used to create UI layers and Framer can be used to make these layers interactive (animations, anyone?). I’m sure you can understand the usefulness of combining these two applications when designing an app. It’s a great way to test out an idea or a feature without spending too much dev time on it, once you’re over the initial learning curve.

Caterina is clearly an experienced designer. She built the Twitter birthday balloons feature which animates a series of balloons from the bottom-up; it took less than an hour. The demo was, unfortunately, shorter than I would have liked as I would have preferred to see more features and functionality, but it did give a good intro on how Sketch and Framer can be used and, even better, how easy these applications are to use.

caterina

Lunch/Break

If, like me, you have a tendency to schedule talks back-to-back with no breaks because you don’t want to miss anything good, then this scheduled 30 minute break between all the talks was perfect! Food was served in Twitter’s main cafeteria; it included vegetarian and vegan options, and there were even two types of brownies for dessert. During the break, the Partner Pavilion was in full swing (as you may see in the photo below) and everyone seemed to be in high spirits.

above

The Ship! Culture

Fast-forward to the next talk I attended: The Ship! Culture. Prior to attending, I wasn’t entirely sure what the talk was about based on the title alone (and the unfortunate lack of description on the WWCode CONNECT website). However, I’m glad I went since shipping is an area I am generally looking to improve on. The talk was presented by Stacey Yan, Senior Manager and Mobile Delivery Lead at Capital One, who summarized her main points at the end of the presentation for shipping mobile at scale:

  1. Foster deep partnership
  2. Don’t be afraid to ship
  3. Dare to disrupt and ship a different way
  4. There is always a better way
  5. Test. Learn. Scale. – through orchestration
  6. Demand system awareness
  7. P.L.A.Y.
  8. Give people the opportunity to grow

stacey

The Future of Women in Tech

Amy Gershkoff, Chief Data Officer at Ancestry, mentioned that she usually talks about data and/or data science when speaking at conferences. This time around, however, she decided to speak about her experiences as a woman in tech and what this may mean for our future. She was an entertaining presenter, although some of her stories left something to be desired when based on gender bias and false expectations. There is hope that the tech community as a whole grows in the right direction and, in some ways, it’s our responsibility to help and work with other people to overcome the obstacles that limit inclusion.

amy

Empathy – The Unsung Hero of Leadership

Kallol Das, VP of Engineering at Invoice2go, is the only speaker I knew prior to this conference. From feedback I’ve heard from his team (as well as from my own experiences), sharing the importance of empathy in leadership seems natural for him since it is something he uses in his own leadership practices. However, even if I didn’t know him previously, I would likely still have come to his talk since I’m always looking for ways to grow into a better leader as part of both my short- and long-term goals.

Kallol made six main points in his talk about empathy:

  1. Don’t confuse empathy with agreement
  2. Start with yourself
  3. Ask why as you decide how to get agreement, consensus, or approval
  4. Ask why when others are convincing you
  5. Have a realistic bar for the answers to the why questions
  6. Look around you for opportunities to sharpen your empathetic skills, your ability to both ask and answer the why questions

kallol

Closing

The conference ended (sort of) with a closing talk – “Thank You Leaders” by ​Joey Rosenberg, Global Leadership Director at Women Who Code.


After that, there was the #WeRise Celebration and happy hour featuring Prince’s DJ, Pam the Funkstress! The photo below shows Twitter’s main cafeteria and dining area (although the dining area was transformed into the Partner Pavilion for the conference) from the opposite side; a small portion of the 10th floor is also visible.

The event featured yet more food and desserts. There were even a variety of WWCode cupcakes!

Here’s a photo of Twitter’s outdoor area, just as the sun was starting to disappear behind that apartment building. Everyone is chatting and winding down after a long – and educational – day.


I think this is my favourite kind of environment for networking. This section of the #WeRise Celebration was low-key, an area where people were just relaxing and hanging out (and maybe eating/drinking something). In this environment, I feel like there are no expectations to talk about anything work- or career-related, so there’s no pressure; yet if there’s ever a shortage of topics, talking about the conference (or work- or career-related topics :P) is also available.

Being around people at events that celebrate women (and/or other underrepresented groups) in tech is more comfortable for me than being around people at traditional tech events. I have a stronger feeling of community and understanding here since we are all working towards the same goal of reducing gender bias and false expectations based on anything that’s not performance-related. It looks like we still have a long way to go, but hopefully the fact that more and more of these types of events are popping up is a sign that we’re heading in the direction of inclusion.

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