I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Women of Silicon Roundabout conference (#WinTec16) in London last week. This was an important event for the tech industry as a whole and deserved more coverage than it received.
The aim of the event was to inspire the younger generation of women in technology as well as map out the possibilities available in terms of career progression.
However, it delivered so much more.
The speeches were inspirational, the panels were insightful and the workshops were thought-provoking. Not just for women but for anyone who was lucky enough to be there.
Subjects covered included life stories, technical talks (my mind is still blown by the talk about blockchain technology) and ways to improve tech environments for everyone.
As an IT professional (and a man) with over 25 years in various sectors, I learned so much from the day and felt so positive by the end that I am looking forward to returning for the next one.
Here is my review of the day. I apologize to anyone I don't mention or I didn't see. I would have loved to have seen every talk, panel and workshop but the nature of conferences makes it impossible.
The event was hosted at the America Square Conference Centre which offered a comfortable space for the 200 or so delegates.
The registration and welcome breakfast was a productive networking exercise in its own right. In that small window I managed to network more than at any other tech conference. I'm not sure why as I don't think women are friendlier than men but it was rewarding.
The general session before lunch started with Charlotte Briscall (Head of Digital Experience, Sainsbury's - @CBriscall ) and Lan O'Connor (Corporate Vice President Capgemini - @Lanoconnor) talking about their journeys to the top. They were a great choice to start off proceedings and their advice was worth the admission fee alone.
This was followed by Cristina Tarantino (Senior Software Engineer, Elsevier -@CristyTarantino) talking about recruiting attitude over skills and the benefits to development teams. This slightly controversial view caused a bit of a stir with the audience but that was one of the points of this event, to push the boundaries and open up people's minds to new ideas.
Next was Adriana Vasiu (Senior Software Engineer, Sky - @vasiu_adriana) talking about her journey from a tiny Romanian village to Sky. If she ever gets bored with the tech industry, a career in stand-up comedy surely awaits!
My favourite talk of the day came from Dr. Sue Black OBE (Tech Columnist, The Guardian - @Dr_Black) Sue is responsible for setting up the campaign to save Bletchley Park (the central site for Britain's codebreakers during World War Two) and starting #TechMums.
She used the power of Twitter during it's early days to spread the word about Bletchley Park and eventually her campaign raised enough to save the site for generations to come. Her interest in Bletchley Park was first piqued when she discovered half of the workers during the war were women.
She also made a great point during her talk that there weren't enough delegates tweeting about the event as it went on. If you search Twitter for #WinTec16, there's not that many posts. This is disappointing and I think it's something to address for the next conference.
There was a panel hosted by Sky called "Closing the Gender Gap - What Can Employers Do?" As became apparent during the rest of the day, no-one has a single solution for the gender gap in tech. There are a lot of factors as to why only 16% of the industry as a whole is comprised of women.
After lunch the day split into 3 streams. I stayed in the main hall and developed a headache as I tried to understand Michelle Anderson's (Full Stack Senior Web Engineer, Deliveroo) talk about the versatility of blockchain technology. Apparently it's about more than just Bitcoin and Honduras is using it for it's land registry. As hard as the concept is to understand, Michelle's talk has made me curious to learn more.
The Journey of a Coder panel convened and offered some great advice and insight to anyone wanting to move into development. The panel was comprised of women who are successful in this field but their advice was valid for all.
I saw Filipa Moura (Senior Software Engineer, Twitter - @filipam) next and she talked about how she's changed her goals during her career to get her to Twitter. I think this was a message a lot of tech people could relate to.
Before the last panel of the day, Clare Sudbery (Software Engineer, LateRooms.com - @ClareSudbery) took the stage. Earlier in the day, during Cristina Tarantino's talk, Clare had mentioned she was going to change the focus of her talk due to the questions Cristina was getting. So Clare spoke about the advantages of 'mob programming.' This is a new and exciting way to develop together in teams of up to six people. Her company were trialling it and she was very positive about it's future.
The final panel about inspiring the next generation of women looked at, amongst other things, how girls and boys are marketed to differently at a young age and the impact this has on their future career choices.
The day was chaired by Rebecca Muir (Head of Research, ExchangeWire -@rebeccakatemuir) and she said in her closing comments that collaboration and teamwork were topics that kept coming up during the various presentations. This is true for anyone in the tech industry. Working in teams and collaboration makes us all stronger and allows us to deliver better projects.
The balance between technical talks and inspirational stories made this one of the most enjoyable tech conferences I've been to. Purely technical conferences can be a bit overwhelming and story-telling can start to become repetitive but the balance here was good. A recurring theme with people I spoke to was that there should be more men at the event as the gender gap is a shared problem. There were about 20 men and I'm sure they got a great deal out of the day. However, the title of the conference would naturally make you think it's a women-only affair.
At the next event in October, I would encourage the speakers to ask the audience to tweet etc., during their speeches. Posting social media updates during a conference is a proven way to increase it's exposure.
Personally, I encourage anyone in the tech industry, no matter your gender or your level of experience, to sign up for the October 2016 conference. You will learn plenty whilst having your views challenged.
(Thanks Mark! If you'd like to write a blog get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org)