Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Geek Girl Tech Con - Getting Out There and Doing It

As I wrote in my last post, there were 13 different simultaneous events going on at any one time for most of the day during the San Diego Geek Girl Tech Con. There was of course the Sharkette Tank, (see that last post), but also a slew of workshops, a Hackfest, the Vendor Marketplace, Demos, and a few other interesting odds and end (which I'll get to shortly).
The Technical Help Desk At the Ready

Workshops were what most people were after and the number and variety of them was staggering. At any given time there were on average 10 workshops, changing every hour on the hour. They ranged from beginning technical topics (e.g. HTML and CSS for Beginners) to intermediate (e.g. JavaScript) to advanced (e.g. Programming with Python III). There were also workshops to help advance your career such as Resumes 101: Leverage Your Strengths to Land the Job and Job Seekers: Learn the Secrets to Being Discovered by Recruiters, and for running your business such as How to Write About Your Business Online and Social Media Analytics: Yes, they Really are Important.  As I staffed my post at the T-Shirt table in the main lobby, more than one attendee lamented to me (while picking out their spiffy T-shirt) they were having a really hard time deciding where to go!

Despite my best intentions (and the lure of the Sharkette Tank) I didn't make it to any of the workshops, but I did visit the Hackfest where I had an interesting experience. The Hackfest was a drop in as you like event with people popping in and out all day. Teacher/tutor/speakers addressed various coding topics. During the afternoon, when I popped in,  there was a large group in the back of the room learning how to create iOS apps. In the front of the room I found June Clark, lead teacher for the "League of Amazing Programmers"*. As there was no one with her at the moment, we compared notes about the importance of providing explicit and ongoing encouragement to girls who might be interested in coding so that they don't feel marginalized. We talked about the research that clearly shows how important events like the Geek Girl Tech Con are for contributing to the creation of an ecosystem where girls will feel empowered to pursue coding.

Just then, two girls came running into the Hackfest room and practically flung themselves into chairs in front of open laptops at our table. Their fingers took off on the keyboard. As I peered over and saw the Java code appearing on the screen, I asked, oh so casually, about their prior programming experience.
Way to Go!

None. Absolutely None. They had come in to the Hackfest room earlier that day, never having coded before and with June's help had learned enough to create simple animated programs - which they proudly showed me. No fancy IDE layered on top of code to do it for them - they wrote their programs line by line in a no frills editor and then ran them. They had enjoyed it so much they were back for more. They barely glanced up to tell me how cool this was. I was momentarily at a loss for words. What a great example of everything June and I had been talking about.

It was hard to beat that experience, but I would be remiss not to mention the fun adults were having at the Con. Next to my T-Shirt distribution table in the lobby was the free headshot station, where attendees could have a formal or not so formal photo taken by professional photographers. On the not so formal side I could have sworn I saw Princess Leia (aka one of the Geek Girl staff) , and two members of Star Fleet (two of the workshop instructors) offering to pose with anyone who wanted to - as many did.
Live Long and Prosper Geek Girls

All in all, the Con was a nicely balanced blend of high energy learning and fun. If the Mission, as Geek Girl Tech Con founder Leslie Fishlock said in her opening remarks, is to get more girls into tech, what I observed all day is that things are moving in a good direction. But we have a long way to go, as anyone in the tech world knows. We have to keep on working to build that equitable ecosystem.

Leslie also said that it's about doing it; taking the time to get out there and do it. Geek Girl is more than a conference; they have a Meetup (San Diego incarnation here) and do a variety of activities throughout the year and around the country. Hopefully the momentum generated by this day will keep those girl's and women's fingers coding joyfully.

*June told me the organization has been known as Wintriss Tech, and is in the process of transitioning to the new name and a new URL (although not functional as I write,  the new URL will be jointheleague.org) 

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