Ela Conf was hands down my favorite unexpected thing to happen this year.
Friday evening started out with snacks and a few planned lightning talks. Joni and LeeAnn then asked the crowd how many of us had never spoken into a mic before, and a bunch of people raised their hands… and then gave their first lightning talk! It laid a great foundation for the vibe for the rest of the conference.
Saturday morning started off with a keynote by Saron Yitbarek, of Code Newbies. She’s gone from new developer to podcast host, big awesome conference speaker, and Ruby Rogue. I identified really strongly with a lot of what she had to say. Like her, I’ve had a smattering of jobs before landing one as a web developer. Like her, I struggle to be as assertive as I should be. She shared her long and uncomfortable journey of consciously training herself to be more assertive and to not be afraid of negotiation. She focused on three key areas during the talk: money, power, and voice.
Highlight: “Don’t think of the pay gap in terms of money. Think of it as the difference in freedom.”
Money shaped up to be a pretty consistent theme throughout the morning talks. Tracy Osborn of Hello Web App & Wedding Lovely shared her most uncomfortable career moment, and how she and then listed resources for gathering info to prepare for your own negotiating or asking for a raise.
Highlight: “Don’t wait until you’re unhappy to become informed. Always know your position.” | “Reduce your excuses about asking for more money. Your excuses are keeping you in a comfortable but underpaid position.” | Slides
Eleanor Whitney shared a bit about her path and how to leverage your side or passion project in your work life. I’m forever looking for ways to do that better, or at all. There are so many aspirational talks and articles written about this, but Eleanor really got down to the nitty gritty on how to make this happen. She finished by listing some questions we should be asking ourselves:
What is your passion project?
What is your vision?
What is your goal?
What is your next step?
Who is in your support network?
Highlight: “Work does not speak for itself. You have to share it.” | “Your experience is yours. No one will take that away from you. Own it. Make sure you talk about it.” | Slides
I moderated a panel during the first of the two breakout sessions: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with Briana Morgan, Arti Walker-Peddakotla, and Elise Wei. It was a real pleasure to chat with these women. As the moderator, it felt more like a nice, honest conversation among friends… with an audience. I loved it. Attendees were also really comfortable spekaing up to ask their own questions of the panelists and to weigh in with their own experiences and suggestions. A+ for everyone, all around.
My FOMO got the best of me during the second breakout session, so I didn’t end up staying put in one session. I mean, how do you choose between Choosing Your Own (Career) Adventure, a Getting Started Speaking workshop, and a panel called Redefining Women in Tech?
Katherine McClintic shared a really interesting interdiscplinary look at how building software and thinking about user experience is a lot like instructional design. I was having some painful flashbacks to my student teaching days when she mapped out how to think about planning a new project can be aided by thinking of it as a unit plan made up of lesson plans. But it makes sense. We want to think about what the users are going to know, learn, and be able to do in any experience we provide, much like teachers plan what their students are going to know, learn, and be able to do at the end of a teaching unit. Slides
Yash Prabhu gave us all an in-depth look at how she prepares for talks she gives. She kept mentioning how meta it felt to be preparing to give a talk on how to prepare to give a talk.
Highlight: “Think of public speaking as nothing more than a large conversation. It doesn’t need to be scary.” | Slides
I’m pretty sure we all wanted to be BFFs with Adrienne Lowe after her talk, Bake the Cookies, Wear the Dress: Bringing Confident Authenticity to Your Tech Talk. I know I did. She’s got an amazing story, from being a personal chef to leading Django Girls workshops in Atlanta. I tried to take notes during her talk, but she was mesmerizing. I think I tweeted some lines, but honestly I was just rapt the whole time. Adrienne is the kind of person who makes you feel like you have something to say that needs to be shared with the world in the way that only you can.
Highlight: “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s… hard work and a lot of tears?” | “You’re already good enough. You’re so much more than ‘good enough.'” | “Sharing your life outside of tech makes you so much more approachable to beginners.”
I was really excited to see a talk on self-care and handling burnout on the agenda. These are things that I struggle with constantly, and though I do think I’ve been getting better at this, I apparently need to be reminded over and over again. Alicia Raciti also wrote a great post that includes some additional resources. Slides
Chanelle Henry, who had MCed the whole event throughout the day, also gave the closing remarks. She gave a talk based on a Medium post she’d written awhile ago, called Is it Too Late to be Awesome? Spoiler alert: no.
Highlight: “Just because I didn’t complete something doesn’t mean I’m not finished with it.”
At the end of the day, I was struck by how the most powerful talks for me were all the most vulnerable. They shared embarrassing, difficult experiences, as well as triumphant ones, with such grace and candor. It’s really got me thinking about what sorts of ways I can contribute in an equally vulnerable and significant fashion in the future. I’m not sure what it will look like, but I have these speakers and the organizers to thank for it when it happens.