Welcome to my first official professional blog post that ingrained with a bit of wisdom and self-satisfaction. Or an incredibly long winded recount of my awkward shuffling around my first ever technical conference: ngAtl 2018 . Hopefully my account of my time there will resonate with some other fellow awkward girls out there who also feels like an infant crawling and gibbering around a room full of well spoken adults.
So to give you a little background about me, I come as a career shifter assimilating my foundation in web development. My repertoire includes attending health and nutrition conferences during my undergrad years, along with coveting a voracious medical vocabulary and mad mixologist skills (I have an honorary degree bar psychology). The initial idea of me choosing to go to a conference that I knew I was going to be grossly overwhelmed at, filled my stomach with butterflies. And not the cute, whimsical delicately fluttering butterflies, but the clunky, clumsy, keep colliding with each other type of butterflies. How little I knew about the coding world to actually carry a conversation that didn’t result in me sounding like an bumbling idiot was my main fear that was most prominent.
But, something else you should know about me, is that along with the shifting of my career focus, my perspective has moved in the last year as well. In my year plus (and counting) journey of self-analyzation/spiritual enlightenment/finding myself/trying to figure out my life and place in this world, I discovered a correlation between the lack of action executed in benefit of my internal desires, and the weight of the fear I was buried under in relation. For example, my desire is to transition into a career of software development. However, the fears that I was buried under were rooted from insecurities of things that for the most part I could not change: the mindfulness that I was a mid twenty something minority woman transitioning into an industry field that has been persecuted in the media as not being non-inclusive of women my caliber (for good reason). The idea of being round a bunch of people that I felt initially were going to make me feel horribly inadequate (this may sound horribly overzealous or jaded, but it was honestly how I felt weeks prior) was less than thrilling.
I remind myself everyday to be aware of my insecurities and fears especially when they affect my execution of action in my daily living. And so, in a move to rectify my commitment that I made to myself towards the end of last year (and no, this is not one of those ‘new year new me’ colloquialisms), I decided to take the biggest gamble by investing in MYSELF to cultivate the life that I want. So to speak, I promised that 2018 would be my own year of yes (seriously, you should check out Shonda’s book if you haven’t read it already) and found myself on the happy end of an email from WWCode (Women Who Code) announcing that I had procured a ticket to ngAtl. This was the first big outward move that I was making in pursuit of my development passion (walk the walk, ya’ know?), and I took it as an ultimate sign from the universe that I was making the right move. I called up my best friend (who saw a venture to Atlanta as prosperous for her to score some fabrics for her upcoming fashion show) and told her we were hitting the road.
I told myself on the drive from Louisiana to Georgia that as soon as I got there, all nerves would evaporate and I would be completely in my element.
Well about the my nerves evaporating part. Because as soon as I arrived at the hotel where the conference was, I was a bundle of nerves on top of nerves. I drove around like a derp around the hotel about 6 times before I found the parking garage due to being blind to the street signs on account of being distracted by the inner voices telling me to abandon ship. I sat in my car an additional 10 minutes as I watched all the professional techs spill out of cars, cabs, and on the streets into the conference center an assortment of neutral and grey toned backpacks and cases. I counted in my head how many women I saw walk into the center. More men than women obviously, but all with heads equally as high and eyes fixed determined forward. My fear of imposter syndrome (more on a story about that below) kicked into high gear and I already felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb with my blue and pink sparkly backpack (I’m such an adult ) and I wasn’t even inside yet. I remember actively wanting to run up to every single woman I saw and wanting to attach to their sides pleading to show me their ways (I vetoed this idea immediately since the scenario in my head and what would actually play out both vindicated me as looking like a crazy woman).
Well, I did eventually get out of the car, and managed to get myself registered and checked in with minimal awkward issues. And as I stood in the back of the room trying to be quiet as I rustled through my backpack for my notepad, painfully obvious of every little crinkle and scratch of the plastic on my welcome packet in the otherwise quiet room minus the opening speaker. I let myself be in the moment and took a look around at all the people in the room, all of different backgrounds, all with different stories that I immediately felt a desire awash over me of wanting to know. Even though I had barely been at the conference for a substantial period of time, my presence being there fell so utterly right that moment of the universe.
My morning was a blur of talk after talk in between the intermittent coffee breaks where I happily supplied my body with all the various brews of Tazo Tea. To be honest, although some of the talks were a little more advanced than my brain receptacle was capable of deciphering (I have a LONG way to go in my Angular journey), my ability to follow the talks that I did enjoy showcased my progression in learning about front end development since I embarked on this self-learning journey almost 5 months ago. There was no way I would have been siting at the same conference back then and not only understand the lingo, but actually be intrigued by it. In that moment I felt the thrill of my leveling up in adulating as well as my geeky inner child peeping through. But even as I celebrated those minor successes, another blatant issue that was bothering me since I first walked through the door was how AWKWARD I felt as I bumbled around trying to make small talk with people and the vendors. I discovered that I completely lacked the social skills of conversing with people like I’d been adeptly trained during my stint of working in the hospitality industry for the past 10 years. Now how could that possibly happen? Could it simply be because I was too caught up in my head and being held prisoner by my insecurities once again, fixated on all the things that I did not KNOW?
I remember every girl I saw at the conference, and felt an inner empowered fist pump in my soul elude, that made me want to run up to them like I was once again in kindergarten with the equivalent of crayons in my hand, excitedly yapping “wanna be my conference friend?” The idea, as cute and appealing as it seemed in my head, I did not act upon at risk of terrifying said women. Also, I was going to be a calm, cool, collected adult and have intellectual stimulating conversation that I could contribute to. At least that’s what I told myself to address my questionable expectations.
Well, its a funny how life works out. As I sat at my empty table shoveling my (delicious) lunch, 3 gentlemen joined me at my table. Now these men I did’t know from Adam (heck, one of them could have been named Adam), and I instantly felt myself internally subdue under the weight of my insecurities. At first I thought they were going to continue on their conversation, not including me. Until the guy to my right turned to me with an earnest expression and a friendly face asked me plainly, “So what do you do?”
Now, before when the question was asked of me in my past career lives, I always had a ready answer reflective of my current occupation. And when I didn’t have a job, I was simply just a student. But now, my occupations had changed. I realized I didn’t have a ready answer to the question, so I blurted out the first choppy phrases that came to mind: “I’m new. To coding. I’m still learning.” My nerves had me babble out a few other phrases that I don’t remember, but I could tell by the play of emotions on his face that the answer was not what he was wanting to hear, and my fear multiplied catastrophically at the fact that I had now made and utter and complete fool of myself. But before I could officially check myself off as officially putting my foot in my mouth, the quirk of his smile became my redemption as I listened to his next few words which changed the course of the conference for me thus forth:
“You want a bit of unsolicited advice?”
I held my breath internally, bracing myself for whatever advice this was going to be entail of as I nodded my head. The idea that all attention was on me at the table, which was now 6 people deep, was an uncomfortable feeling of being on the spot. Was I gonna be berated? Told that I’m out of my league? But his next words surprised me and I felt the ends of the ball of nerves in my stomach start to slowly unravel:
“Don’t ever apologize for what you know or don’t know. And don’t ever start off with I’m new. You made me less interested in you (no offense) in you starting off with that as your introduction.”
The unsolicited advice turned into a frank table talk discussion about something that I thought I was experiencing individually alone, was in fact some of pretty much everyone’s fears: imposter syndrome. Me starting out by showcasing my negatives to someone as a form of introduction achieved nothing but to make me look like I know nothing and likely to disinterest the other party immediately. The guy in question turned out to be Scott Hanselman (someone I did not know before the conference but a quick Google search after our lunch time soiree got me quickly acclimated), a popular individual given the amount of directed attention and conversation passerby’s threw his way, and one of the speakers for one of the afternoon talks I was interested in hearing. His offerings of constructive criticism helped to put myself at ease and instantly in a better mood: simply because I was unaware of my nerves changing the course of what I thought was a positive introduction into a negative, self deprecating one. He, along with the other four members of our little lunchtime group, helped me to realize it didn’t matter what I did or did not know, but in fact that I made the commitment to actually attend the conference and place myself in that environment. They also offered some early career advice to help me quell my insecure thoughts that stemmed from just my lack of experience, and not my lack of ability. I belonged in that room along with everyone else there: no matter my my race, gender, sexuality, level of knowledge, occupation, or whatever other justifications that assist in the subduing of individuals in different industries.
Coming from someone who has worked in establishments that are proliferated by misogynistic, asinine men that profit on the exploitation of the female form mentally and physically (not all, but some), it was refreshing that my one of my front runner fears of encountering the same thing in a different industry (at least in my first infantile steps into this industry) was grossly inaccurate and squashed on the first day. I spoke with a lot of men and women that day, none of which spoke to me like I was less than them. But in fact, offered me tidbit pieces of advice along the way. The conference also took a humorous turn as I found myself at the table of one of the morning’s speakers that day, Bonnie, who exclaimed how she loved my outfit (twice, as I passed her by), and had me turn into a MEGA VIRAL FASHION SENSATION (just kidding, but my new friend and I’s outfits did end up on Twitter).
What captivated me most about Bonnie was not just her tech talk or her complimenting my outfit (hey, its the small things that give you little zaps of zing), but her energetic spirit and the ease at which she help me to feel more and more comfortable and less like an outsider. The confidence she exuded in her speech, and her genuinity in her compliments and comments. That little compliment ( which may seem mundane since fashion shouldn’t regarded as the focal point of a tech conference) was the undoing of the wall that I held up and gave me that last dose of dopamine that I needed to relax. Having that ‘women uplifting women’ moment put myself back in perspective I was exactly where I needed, and welcomed, to be. All differences welcomed.
My second day of the conference went a whole lot smoother than my first. I talked a bit more with purpose and confidence with the vendors, exploring what products they had in offering, and learning about the industry a bit more as a whole in the Atlanta region as well as worldwide. I took Scott’s advice to heart that people wouldn’t just automatically hit me with the Gretchen Weiner if I just walk up to them and started talking to them, and it made all the difference for that second day.
In hindsight, I learned a lot at ngAtl. Overall I was very impressed by the conference, especially considering that this was the first annual Angular conference. I learned a lot more about the Angular concepts that I originally knew when I first arrived (jQuery is looking less and less desirable). I learned that the only people that were fixated on my awkwardness or my lack of what I didn’t know, was myself. I made some awesome connections with some people from all walks of life and realized we’re all just trying to figure it out: doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the industry. I learned that technical conferences just aren’t 100% dry technical speeches (which was a pleasant surprise to experience talks less on the technical side such as talks on emotional intelligence for engineers). I learned that I’m borderline kinda obsessed with Tazo Wild Sweet Orange tea. I learned from drinking so much tea and going to the bathroom 458 times throughout the conference, that waiting in line for the women’s bathroom is pretty much non-existent (the small pleasures). I learned that there is so much of me that I saw in others that were represented at the conference, and I felt included. I learned that tech conferences are actually pretty fun and not at all as intimidating as I was making them up in my mind considering that everyone that I had even a half a second connection with, were pretty relaxed and chill. Plus, you score some nifty free gear and stickers (which I kinda went overboard with).
Most importantly, I learned that every move that I am making is an investment in myself. I made a pretty big accomplishment by my own volition. I got out of my comfort zone and explored what I wanted to learn and know about in spite of my fears telling me that I wasn’t ready yet. I got to bear witness to the many, many different pathways that people have embarked on in the world of tech, and the possibilities for my future and what I want to do are not subdued by the proverbial glass ceiling.
Universe is the limit.