This past Friday, September 19th, I attended the first ever Beyond the Code conference in Ottawa, Ontario, sponsored by Shopify. The event was absolutely wonderful.
Every detail of the event, from the speaker’s topics, to the workshops, the healthy lunch, delicious coffee and snacks came together to show the organizer’s attention to detail and passion for creating an accessible, amazing day. The affordable ticket ($75 – 100 – including any workshop) cost ensured a wide variety of people were able to attend.
Beyond the Code was different than any other tech conference I’ve attended or even heard of. The most obvious difference?
All fifteen speakers and panelists at Beyond the Code were women.
— Pearl Chen (@PearlChen) September 19, 2014
A Different Kind of Tech Conference:
Focused on Diversity, Inclusivity and Empathy
Anna Lambert from Shopify organized the event and her efforts to create a diverse, inclusive environment were amazingly successful. She kicked off the day and discussed how three major issues at tech conferences motivated her to organize and create Beyond the Code.
- Women are underrepresented
- You need to be technical to understand and participate
- They are intimidating because topics are often extremely specific
These systemic issues put together create a difficult environment for those simply looking to learn, connect with others, or find out more about opportunities and careers in the tech industry. I completely identified with these issues, and couldn’t be more pleased that someone took action.
When Anna closed her introduction by saying “Beyond the Code is about promoting diversity, inclusivity and empathy in the workplace” and “badass women“, I knew Beyond the Code was going to be amazing.
The Best Part: Real Discussion of Solutions to Issues
It’s easy enough to discuss a problem, but you need to take action to make a difference. Throughout the day, speakers discussed common barriers to entry, and shared solutions for personal and systematic changes.
Highlights of the Talks at Beyond the Code
Kronda Adair: Expanding Your Empathy
I’ve been a fan of Kronda Adair’s writing ever since I read her blog post titled Why I Don’t Use GoDaddy (And You Shouldn’t Either). I loved her honest yet assertive way of explaining why no one should use GoDaddy.
Her talk, Expanding Your Empathy, was the first talk of the day and it set the tone for the entire conference. Throughout the talk, Kronda combined stories and powerful metaphors to communicate her message. I love her definition of empathy:
Privilege & Web Browsers
While discussing how privilege affects your perspective of the world, Kronda compared privilege to web browsers. Depending on your level of privilege or the browser you’re using, you may have a very different experience accessing information. Using the latest version of Google Chrome? Equivalent to a white male’s experience in life. A middle class black lesbian like Kronda? Experiences life a lot more like IE7. You still view the same content, but you might have to try harder to access it, or it might be a little wonky.
Kronda’s talk was powerful. I don’t want to repeat everything she said here. You can check out her from the Expanding Your Empathy talk, or her blog post titled Diversity 101 to read more about her advice on empathy and social justice.
The most important take-away from Kronda’s talk was to take action. She shared advice on dealing with common issues like derailing, tone policing, and splaining. Her method on responding if you have offended someone:
- Stop & take a breath
- Apologize – do not get defensive
Further Reading: Articles on Social Justice, Racism & Empathy
- Anger as a Tool in Social Justice Movements – Kronda Adair
- Five Stages of Unlearning Racism – Kronda Adair
- I am racist, and so are you. – Rachel Shadoan
- A Better Way to Say Sorry – JoEllen cuppacocoa.com
Sabrina Majeed: Design is for Everyone
Throughout Sabrina‘s design career, she has worked in the entertainment and financial sectors. Currently at Buzzfeed, she discussed the design industry as a whole, its strengths and its faults.
Sabrina discussed the recent tragic event in Ferguson, Missouri where an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer. Soon after the shooting, high school students in Georgia created an iOS and Android app called FiveO. The app allows users to document interactions with police and share experiences amongst one another.
FiveO was inspired by the students’ own experiences. We all experience life differently and naturally come up with solutions to our own experiences. This is one of the reasons why the design industry needs a diverse workforce. We need to develop solutions to issues that all people face – not just the white upper middle class.
The Future of Beyond the Code?
This was the first Beyond the Code conference, and I hope it will become an annual event. I chatted and connected with more people than I have at any other conference. I often leave conferences feeling overwhelmed with how much I still need to learn. At Beyond the Code, I left feeling excited and empowered by all the knowledge I gained from the fantastic speakers and panelists.
Links: Talks & Resources from Beyond the Code
- Press Start Beginning a New Adventure (Job) – Katherine Daniels
- Turtles All the Way Down – Platform Ops in Public Cloud – Bridget Kromhout
- Product & Art – Ellen Chisa
- Learn to Search – Project by Joanna McNeil, panelist at Beyond the Code
- Ascend Project by Mozilla – Kronda mentioned this amazing program during her talk. It is a full time training program that provides resources (financial, education, equipment, and more) for those interested in developing a career in the tech industry.
- Kronda Adair‘s slides on Expanding Your Empathy
- Twitter List: Beyond the Code speakers & Attendees
- I created this Twitter list to connect with all the amazing people from Beyond the Code. If you were there and I missed you, let me know and I will add you to the list!