Women Should Go to Tech Conferences

Am I naïve in hoping this will be just one of a hundred blog responses to Susannah Breslin’s blog post Why Women Shouldn’t Go to Tech Conferences?

I think women should go to tech conferences for reasons that are precisely the same as why I think guys should go to them. There’s a lot of information in sessions and on the show floor, great networking, and an amazing amount of cool discussions about topics you’d probably miss otherwise. Oh and did I mention they are a lot of fun?

I think a lot of value in tech conferences is reaching out; getting to know people that you might not otherwise meet. It’s rare that I don’t learn something in every three to five minute conversation. Maybe it’s a perspective, maybe it’s a question, but most often I’ve met someone that knows a lot more about something than I do. I’ve only done one conference I hated. It was a video conference where I flew to sit in a room alone without even an online audience. Blech!! I think I go to conferences for hugs and handshakes and mostly conversations. Well, hopefully to also teach people some stuff because I’m a speaker.

I think going to a conference is a slightly different experience for a woman, even though I think the goals and outcomes are the same. It’s harder for women to walk up to strangers and start a conversation. It’s also harder for people that are shy, uncertain of their English, non-white, handicapped, non-gender standard, from a different culture, tired, distracted by a crises back in the office, or ill.

The easy thing is to gravitate toward people that are like you – the same technical field, the same vertical or the same gender/race/age/whatever. Don’t get stuck only in that. Sure it’s great to find someone that understands some super geeky things coming in a product you care about, but you’ll eventually find out about that stuff through normal channels.

What you can’t do easily without going to a conference is to get outside those channels and outside your normal thinking with higher, more detailed, orthogonal, or completely unrelated views. And in the breadth of people at a big tech conference there are people everywhere from the cutting edge to legacy technology. That’s the magic of tech conferences.

It’s harder for women because if you don’t have your badge on and you walk up to a guy you saw in a session and introduce yourself, he might first wonder what’s going on. It’s just not in our habits to walk up to strange people and say “wow, that was an awesome talk, it made me think about…” Just do it (regardless of your gender).

Almost every person in this industry is fantastic and respectful (at least when they are sober) and they’ll probably be happy you started a conversation. If not, well try someone else. Wear your badge if you want to be associated with the conference – you can turn around the nametag in public. Talk to people before and after sessions. Talk to people in the hallway. Talk to people at lunch. Be smart, be safe, but reach out and you are almost certain to get more out of the conference.

Which, yes, of course, you should go to.

Personal News!

I decided to wait until I was actually sitting at my new desk before writing to say that, well I have a new desk.

After 22 years independent I’ve got a real job. Naturally I would not have taken this job if I wasn’t lucky enough to have been offered a job even more fantastic than the jobs I could think up for myself.

I’ve joined Digital Folio. It’s a fantastic group of people using cutting edge technology to solve real world problems to make shopping easier and a lot more fun. As Technical Evangelist, my job includes new technology – including Azure and Windows Phone (of course with some Silverlight and MEF behind the scenes).

Digital Folio is based in Denver and my job will be based part time in Denver and part time in Seattle – current plans include moving to Seattle in November. Right – not Vermont. I love Vermont, had a fantastic time when I visited in February and May and really appreciate all the love I got from folks there. But this job offer was exciting enough to change plans – I’m going to miss living in Vermont, at least I can sea kayak both places.

I’m looking forward to so many things about my job with Digital Folio. I’ll have technical responsibilities for part of the product. I’ll interact with the BizSpark One team. I’ll spread my wings and moving into new Microsoft technical communities for Azure and Windows Phone. I’ll help Microsoft teams understand our needs and how they parallel needs of the broader community. I’ll be working with Digital Folio to identify how to best share our knowledge and experiences with the community, especially with Azure and Windows Phone. I wouldn’t be happy with a company that wasn’t committed to the health of the broader community and Digital Folio is committed to the success of technologies like Windows Phone 7 and Azure.

Digital Folio is a Denver-based customer experience innovation firm focused on leveraging new domain technology and a strong customer perspective to dramatically improve the shopping experience for consumers and retailers alike. Digital Folio, a cloud-based shopping tool powered by Microsoft Azure, offers the first seamless, multi-channel retail shopping experience that allows consumers to shop the entire web at home on a computer, anywhere on a mobile phone, or in-store on an interactive display. As the industry’s first “always with you” shopping resource, Digital Folio allows consumers to compare products and prices and receive dynamic money-saving offers from retailers — all based on their own shopping behavior and in real-time.