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Philly’s Women in Tech Summit at Wharton: Better than expected!

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I hate women-only conferences and networking groups.

The reason is that while all the women are together at one conference, all the men that make decisions are at another, and the women don’t have acces to them.  You also start to get scope creep, like where you have panels called “Social Media Magic: A Woman’s Touch.” Then,  women start talking to other women about clothes instead of their industry.

So it was with hesitation that I signed up for the Women in Tech Summit. I did so for a couple reasons: one, it was at Wharton, which, as you may recall, is my mother ship. I was really hoping if I stayed there long enough, they’d take me.  Two, it was part of Philly Tech Week on a weekend, and I didn’t know if could make any of the other events due to my crazy work/school schedule. And three, well, yeah, I was interested to see other women working in technology.  I’m one of just a few at my job and I wanted to catch a glimpse of my species in the wild.

I was expecting the worst when I saw that the website was pink.  Because women are pink, right?  I also braced myself for impact when I saw women entering Huntsman in full-on business suits. No one ever goes to regular tech conferences in business suits unless they’re trying to sell you something.   The third sign was when, as soon as I got in line to find my name badge, I overheard one woman telling another, “Oh, I like your necklace.” I realize this is the female equivalent of, “Oh wow, that’s a really cool [insert gadget here].” But why can’t we be complimenting each other on our gadgets instead of our necklaces?  I love your browser. It’s so sleek and sexy.

Luckily, the conference went way uphill from there:

 

Once I registered, I wandered around.  Most of the women were already talking in groups, and I HATE, HATE, HATE having to but tinto conversations.  But I did it anyway, and I ended up meeting someone who’s starting her own coworking space with childcare in Philly (this is really cool), someone curating women writers online, someone who’d just launched a digital branding startup with her husband.

I got to meet Gloria, one of the people at the center of the Philly social media scene, who I’ve been following on Twitter for a while, as well as Yael , who writes for Technically Philly, my favorite local tech site.  I also got to practice being socially awkward.  “Are you Israeli,” I asked Yael immediately when she introduced herself.   “Yes,” she looked pained. “Because I love the name Yael,” I said, dying slowly inside.  And, “You’re different in real life than on Twitter!” I exclaimed to Gloria, getting ready to dig a nice neat hole for myself.

Like most introverts, I HATE networking with a passion.

After forcing myself to be social, I went to a couple of sessions that were really interesting: one about test-driven development, led by Audrey. (Here’s more detail if you’re interested)

 

and  one about working with open data, led by Dana.  Here are some pictures from that workshop.  These were both really interesting, especially the second one, because I work in data, and it was fun to complain about data issues:

What was more interesting was the twitter feed of the sessions I wasn’t in.  At the workshops, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were not covering anything related to equality, or why there aren’t enough women in the workforce, or work/life balance.  The women presenting and attending were women were actually just…doing it. There were Android developers, project managers, and, in the case of Audrey, new moms.  They were  leading by example.

The generalist sessions focused more on how it felt to be a woman in the workplace and what to do about it. Well, I already know how it feels to be a woman in the technical workplace. I’m sure most of the women at the conference did, too.  Since my boss hasn’t taken me aside and told me, “Gee Vicki, we’re really going to need you to ramp down being a female because it is just affecting your work in crazy ways,” I think I’m doing pretty well.  In fact, 90% of the time, I don’t think about being a woman at work because I’m….working.

So you could easily tell the tweets coming from the generalist and the non-generalist sessions apart:

 

This is one of my other favorite tweets:

 

Probably my favorite session was Joanne Lang’s.  She’s the CEO of AboutOne, which just launched at 5:30 the morning of the conference, but she didn’t skip a beat in talking about how funding and running a start-up works. Start-ups as portrayed by the tech media always seem so glamorous and cool.  Joanne broke it down for what it was: hard work, and having enough business savvy to understand where to cut costs, and constantly not knowing if you’re on the brink of succes or failure.  Her session was really great for me and, in forty minutes, taught me more about business than my MBA has all semester. Hey-o!

Although there were a few “pink” moments, and unfortunately as of now I am still not a Wharton student, I did enjoy the conference.  It was helpful to see some of the career paths in technology that women had mapped out for themselves, and it was fun to see people into data as much as I am.  One of my favorite parts was meeting Marina, who’s currently an artist of pretty stuff, but is making her way into the tech sector. There’s not a lot of guidance for people that want to transition into tech (as I found out recently,) so this conference served yet another purpose.

I came away with two prevailing thoughts that wrapped the whole thing up:

and, most importantly:

Thanks to everyone who organized the conference for making it happen.

P.S. I also  really liked tech conference organizer Yasmin’s post about becoming an American citizen recently.

5 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Thanks so much for the really honest and insightful observations! It was great getting to finally meet you too. Don’t worry, some of us who look like extroverts are really introverts too. Looking forward to seeing you at other events soon!

    Reply

    • I agree with Gloria that many of those who appear to be extroverts are introverts! My way of dealing with the awkwardness is to have a role – either working a desk, or greeting people (see, then you’re not interrupting, its your responsibility!)

      I thought it was a great conference; enjoyed participating. And I like your observations, Vicki.

      Reply

      • Thanks for the encouragement! Ellen, I agree. Even if I’m hosting at my own house, it always helps to be cooking, moving something, etc, just to be busy. It’s a really great tip.

        Reply

  2. Thank you so much for this write up. As we were putting the conference together, we struggled with providing content which would appeal to the broad swath of women in tech. I am glad you found value in the day.

    Tracey

    Reply

    • I can imagine how hard it was to pick talks for both a generalist and specialist crowd and I think you walked that line well. It’s always hard to visualize an audience.

      Reply

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