Friday, March 6, 2015

Lesbians Who Tech: On Speakers and Surprises

Previously on…“This Blog”, Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) Summit was discussed, with particular attention to networking and the overall value of being in a giant room chock-a-block with lesbos.

Tonight on…“This Blog”, the speaker lineup is discussed. Worry should not be felt, as it is only in the first two paragraphs that the passive voice used. 

Spoiler alert: The speakers were great. Diverse subject matter, and diverse speakers.

I knew virtually nothing about the speaker lineup going in. I mean, the names and titles and blurbs from the program, but that doesn’t do much to get me psyched. What happened next will blow your mind! (Apologies. I got a sudden attack of Upworthy-itis. My bad.)

The thing is that what happened next actually did kinda blow my mind.

The summit opened with a “fireside chat” (though neither fire nor FDR were in attendance), essentially a sort of roundtable discussion with Aliya Rahman (Code for Progress) and Tina Lee (Mother Coders), moderated by Danielle Moodie Mills and Aisha Moodie Mills, how badass women are solving tech’s diversity problem. I don’t remember a ton of this because brain, but I do remember that all four of these women were, in fact, badass and hilarious and brilliant. Oh! And I inexactly remember a quote, the gist of which was “it’s easier to teach syntax than it is to teach racial consciousness.” Indeed. Nice kick off, ya’ll. Hats off.

Overall, the talks surprised me. And that was – wait for it – surprising. I think my main surprise was how much focus on federal government there was. There was no explicit theme around this, and I suspect there was no particular intention by the organizers around that (or maybe there was, I don’t know), but the focus was there.

I am not at all a rah-rah government kind of person, nor am I at all a rah-rah military kind of person, so it also caught me by surprise how engaged I was with all of these talks. But, man, those were some really engaging and compelling talks.

Here’s a brief rundown:

First, Pia Carusone, former chief of staff for Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, spoke about the state of technological steps toward ending gun violence. This talk was alternately moving, as Carusone told the story of Giffords’ – and others’ – shooting, and interesting as she went through some tech hardware innovations to the firearms themselves.

Later, Vanessa Vinson spoke about how her experiences transitioning from years of military experience into a tech career. I was nervous for this talk – nervous about the potential for a jingoism that I do not feel – but my nerves weren’t merited. Instead, this was a really eye-opening talk about an experience incredibly different from my own. And really eye-opening to learn about the ways that the military has (and hasn’t) prepared her for her career, and what assumptions people and employers make about veterans. I’m very glad to have heard her story.

Hillary Hartley, Deputy Executive Director and Co-founder of 18f, spoke about how the debacle of the healthcare.gov site galvanized the federal government into action, in terms of equipping itself with user-centered means of interacting with government, and being able to provide user-friendly digital services. Out of this, 18f, an internal government consulting body, was formed to help agencies throughout the government be able to do this. I gotta say, I think that’s pretty badass.

Closing the day was the last government-y talk, another fireless fireside chat, this time with Megan Smith, CTO of, y’know, the whole entire country. In truth, I hadn’t thought much about the fact the country’s Chief Technology Officer is a lesbian – the extent of my thoughts on the subject thus far were something like, “Huh. Cool.” But hearing her, I was really moved by the significance of this (because, dude. The CTO of the US is a lesbotron. Appointed by the president). And I was really moved by how truly genuine and integrous Megan Smith seems to be. She seemed like someone I would like and respect and trust in real life, and this in turn makes me feel good that she is advocating for tech at the highest level. Jesus, listen to me. I sound like a 12 year old at a One Direction concert. “OMG, MEGAN SMITH!!!!! Will you sign my boob  president obama paper dolls book  wonder woman t-shirt  very sober and normal autograph book?!?!?!


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