In November of 2016, I attended Ela Conf as a speaker, panel moderator and volunteer. To this very day, I still find this shocking because when I attended the first Ela Conf last year, I didn’t see myself attending a conference like this ever again.
Why would I say something like that? Because…I didn’t see myself as a woman in tech. I was just there to support my friend, Lauren Pittenger, who is a fellow member of my local WordPress community. Because…I did not see myself as ever becoming a public speaker. Because…I didn’t see myself as someone that could be a voice for change and a supportive force for others in the tech community.
Things that I did see happening for Ela Conf 2016:
- Moderating a panel.
The Lightning Round.
I knew going in that my involvement in the conference was going to include much more participation, but giving a Lightning Round Talk? Not so much. See…“what had happened was” since I knew that I was going to be a panel moderator, I decided to come up with the bright idea to submit a CFP for my panel moderation so that I’d have some control over what was going to be discussed. Then….SURPRISE! I received confirmation that my submission on Scope Creep: Keep It From Creeping Up On You was accepted for a 5 minute talk. Excited…yes. Thrilled…not so much.
Most of the talks I’ve given in the past have been in front of my WordPress people that I know and love, so I was experiencing a different level of pressure to give a presentation. So much happened to me in my personal life leading up to the talk that everything I had in my mind that I felt was worth cramming into a 5 minute presentation completely went out the window. There was nothing that I could really do but speak from the heart without disclosing too much due to privacy concerns.
Even though I did not feel well physically giving my talk, I felt like a million bucks just surviving it. Just managing standing upright for the whole time trying to pretend that nothing was wrong was a chore in itself. It was hard at first because I was speaking in front of an entirely different group of people that know very little, if anything about my personal journey and the energy that it took to literally get there that night, but I didn’t care. In that particular moment, I JUST DIDN’T CARE what anyone thought. I was conquering more than a basic fear. I was conquering the aftermath of what was probably one of the worst summers that has ever happened to me. And I still am. And I’ll continue to.
On Being a Panel Moderator.
Moderating a panel was a new experience for me. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the talented women that were participating before the conference on a few Google Hangout calls. Our panel was Transitioning Into Your First Job In Tech. Pretty self-explanatory. Not sure why, but I found myself to be more nervous about this than my talk from the day before.
I found myself caught up in worrying about time in the very beginning, and when I saw how well the audience interacted with the panel guests, I eased up a bit and just embraced the moment. There were so many great talking points, advice, and words of wisdom shared — I think that we probably could have had our own conference just on that topic alone. I’m quite sure that the audience felt as empowered as I did as a woman transitioning into a career in tech with all that was discussed. I consider myself to be a tech noob and I often find myself giving advice to others just starting out.
No matter where we are in our careers or on our journey in life, there’s always something that can be shared to help others.
Volunteering for Ela Conf was probably the easiest part out of everything that I was a part of for the entire event. Leading up to it, I helped with promotional content for social media and did some sponsor outreach. When I wasn’t presenting at the conference, I had a few assigned shifts where I live tweeted a few of the the talks. It felt good to live tweet. That’s something that I usually don’t get around to doing these days at events because I am so hands on with other areas of production and coordination.
If you are looking to connect with people at a conference, I highly recommend live tweeting at least one session or a few key highlights that you feel others would benefit from. You never know who you might meet at the venue or just randomly on Twitter.
I really enjoyed being in attendance and being a part of helping with the overall event experience. I was reminded of the importance of having a squad and embracing the love and support that comes with having a support team. I met my long lost soul sister Ruthie Floats, who was also a speaker. While I thoroughly enjoyed her talk on feelings, I was more impressed with how true she was and is to herself. I was really moved by Timirah James’ talk highlighting the importance of investing in relationships and connecting on a deeper level.
Overall, everyone that participated in some way embodied the spirit and theme of what Ela Conf is all about: empowering more women to be leaders in tech. It was a pleasure and honor to be surrounded by so many talented women of all skill levels in the technology field. I can only hope that I can have as much of an impact on others to help them become inspired as I was by such a jam-packed weekend leaving all in attendance feeling motivated, empowered and ready to take on the world.
Schedule permitting, I hope to be involved with next year’s Ela Conf in some way. It’s important to me to find some way to give back to a community that I was a little hesitant to be a part of and embraced me with open arms.