Chromatic at the Girl Develop It Leadership Summit 2015

Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers and their everyday lives.

I’m currently one of two chapter leaders for the San Diego chapter of Girl Develop It. Chapter leaders organize all of their chapter’s classes and events with support from GDI Headquarters, and once a year, there is a Leadership Summit where all of the leaders get together and share their knowledge and experiences.

From Nov 6-8, 2015, I went to my hometown of Philadelphia for the Girl Develop It Leadership Summit. Having only been a chapter leader for a few months, I didn’t know quite what to expect. There were 87 leaders there. Some highlights of the weekend:

Friday night, we all got to meet each other, and had a series of about a dozen ignite talks (15-20 slides at 20 seconds each). I kicked it off with the first talk of the evening. I was nervous, as it was a very personal talk about my health problems and how I handle them while also working and volunteering, but it was really well-received. Throughout the weekend a lot of people told me it meant a lot to them because they or someone they loved had dealt with something similar. Some of the talks were funny, some informative, and some had really on-point lessons.

All of Saturday was spent hearing from leaders all over the country, beginning with the central leaders of GDI giving a summary of the past year’s growth. From January to November, membership across the country grew from 34,652 to 57,234 - on track to double by the end of 2015 (it is over 60,000 as of this post!).

One question that was raised was that of why women are left out of tech, and how we can get more women into tech. The answer that GDI operates by is that we need to challenge assumptions that women aren’t interested or don’t want to learn.

We talked about how the narrow focus of GDI makes us so effective. We absolutely believe that everyone should learn to code, but by keeping our organization dedicated to adult women, we are actually more effective.

One of our leaders talked about how events like this, how getting together, sharing our stories empowers us and helps us empower others.

I really like one of the ideas that was presented about how to think about fixing the issue of women in tech. There is so much to be fixed and changed in our industry, but the way GDI approaches the issue is like thinking of it as a bad UI - we do want to fix the spaghetti code and horrible legacy code, but we can do a lot for the end-users by fixing the interface first.

On Sunday morning we had some excellent breakout sessions, the most memorable of which was about saying no. As people inclined to volunteer and get involved, many of us have a lot of trouble saying no to events, opportunities, requests, etc. We wind up with a pretty lousy work/life balance, which doesn’t do any of the people we’re trying to help any good. The solution here is to learn to say no. We have to learn to focus, to realize that we can’t do everything for everyone.

Some of the presenters brought up things I hadn’t really thought of before. In many cases, women in tech are asked to participate in things as a token woman - this is something we do not have to agree to or participate in. We’re not responsible for representing all women in tech just because a conference organizer only has one female developer in their contact list. Of course, if an engagement is worthwhile and interesting, go for it! But we talked about not feeling obligated to attend everything we are invited to just to represent “women in tech.”

Many of our chapters require allyship training for sponsors before becoming involved - a short training making sure that any other companies or organizations with which we engage know what we do, what we’re about, and that they abide by our code of conduct. Our code of conduct is central to GDI, and this can help ensure that anyone we work with follows it. I didn’t know about this training, and our chapter will definitely be requiring this as we move forward with more sponsors and venues. One of the most important things that Girl Develop It provides is a safe space, and if this training can help us make that possible, we’ll do it.

We also gained a lot of inspiration, ideas, and information specific to running our GDI chapter, as it’s fairly new, and both myself and my co-leader are new to the organization. We got a nearly overwhelming amount of notes and ideas, and started immediately organizing them into Trello, GitHub, and Google Docs. One of the things I hadn’t been totally aware of was how great the GDI curriculum is - it’s worked on by the entire organization, and classes are reviewed, worked on in sprints, and vetted. This helps us to recruit teachers, because for many classes, we don’t need any input from them at all for the curriculum/slides - we just need them to be knowledgeable on the subject matter and able to present it well and help students. More curriculum subjects are constantly being written, revised, and updated.

It was a short weekend, but a really informative and fun couple of days. We came back with more information than we knew what to do with. One thing I’m really thankful for is that everyone’s presentations were made available online almost immediately, along with videos, so we didn’t have to worry about taking tons of notes. More and more conferences are going this route, and it’s so helpful! We’ve spent the past few weeks kicking into high gear in terms of organizing and planning, and applying as much of the knowledge we gained as possible. It was great to meet so many of the women I’ve spoken to on Hangouts or in Slack, and it really helped feel like we’re all part of a big community. I’m excited for the year to come, and for next year’s summit!