Attend a conference

Being the only Latina, the only trans man, or the only disabled person in the room can be tough. You can feel like an imposter; someone who doesn't belong, who lacks the credibility or connections to speak. When you do speak up, people assume you speak for every Black person. If you're visibily different, other people may assume you're a waiter instead of an ops engineer, or assume that because you're a woman you can't be interested in or capable of programming. Even at the best of times, being a member of a minority group can make well-intentioned people awkward or nervous.

As a gay person, I feel pressure to cover; to prove myself resolute, masculine, and above all, competent around straight men. Stereotype threat rears its ugly head. Conversely, as a white man, I've made no shortage of fuckups which made other people feel less welcome.

We're here to build things, to share our ideas, to seek advice and inspiration, to find jobs. Our background should be secondary to our abilities and passions, but we're not there yet. Women, people of color, and other minorities remain dramatically underrepresented at technical conferences.

And yet we know from decades of social psych research that sustained collaborative contact with outgroup members is one of the strongest ways to dissolve stereotypes and their negative consequences. There's another benefit to a more diverse group makeup, too: you and I will have other people like us to talk to—who reassure us, even implicitly, by their presence, that we belong here.

So let's shift the ratio. If you're a member of an under-represented group, and you can't afford to attend a technical conference, I want to help you get there.

What will you do?

I will register conference passes, buy plane tickets, and make hotel reservations in your name. I'll speak with the conference organizers to request discounted tickets and travel arrangements, and urge them to implement diversity scholarships in general. I will offer whatever advice I can about listening to talks, taking notes, and introducing yourself. If I know an attendee or speaker who you'd like to meet, I'll make introductions. If you'd like to give a talk (which you should! Lightning talks are great and easy!) I'll help you brainstorm, review your slides, and listen to you practice. If you write a blog post about your experience, I can proofread, offer constructive criticism, and get your article in front of readers.

This is all limited by my time and money, but this is important to me, and I'll do as much as I can. If I can't help directly, I might be able to put you in touch with someone else who can.

Who pays for this?

I do, out of pocket. My salary is roughly $100,000. There's no corporate or nonprofit sponsorship involved.

What about an org?

Market rate for backend engineers in San Francisco is something like $80-140K, so there are a lot of folks who can spare a few thousand to send a person or two to a conference. A bunch of engineers have talked about setting up something more formal, so there's definitely interest. I just can't organize it myself—I can barely keep my apartment in good repair and do my taxes, let alone run a company, haha. Interested in stepping up to organize a 501(c)3 or something? That's a great idea and you should totally do it and tell me/everyone.

If you do try to start a nonprofit, talk to BridgeFoundry. They might be able to help.

How long has this been going on?

Since November 12, 2013.

How do you choose who gets funds?

Pretty much first-come-first-served. I'm a big fan of need-blind, in general. That said, I only have so much time and money, and I'm not gonna be able to help everyone. You can help by covering some of the expenses yourself, and especially by choosing smaller, local conferences.

Smaller conferences?

The best conferences I've attended ran $200 to $400. The huge conferences charge $5000 a head because they expect *companies*, not *individuals*, to foot the bill. Smaller conferences are often less formal, which makes it easier for you to meet people and talk to speakers in the hallway. So, if you can, aim for high-quality but small-scale specialist conferences. From personal experience, I can recommend RICON, Devopsdays, Monitorama, Clojure West, Clojure Conj, and Strangeloop.

As an attendee, how do I help?

Pay it forward.

Speak about what you learned to a local meetup. Take a talk and implement its ideas as an open-source library in your favorite language. If you've been trying to break into the field, get job leads and find yourself a position! Write a blog post about your notes; teaching is the best way to learn. Make new friends, people to follow, pen pals. Use your experience to mentor new speakers. Prepare a talk to give, and apply when conferences issue their Calls for Proposals. Discover an exciting new subfield you didn't know existed, and read papers to become an expert. Sky's the limit!

There's a long story here about how much other people have done for me in my technical career, but perhaps another time. Suffice it to say that all the worthwhile stuff I've done in my life has been the product of hard work and helping hands at every turn.

Why don't you fund straight white dudes? They need help too!

Indeed, and I continue to mentor and fund straight white men. This particular effort, though, is about bringing more than class diversity to technical communities.

Won't people abuse your trust?

Probably. I might ask to see some of your writing, work, or for community members who can vouch for you.

How do I apply?

Send me an email at, explaining a bit about yourself and the conference you'd like to attend.

Conferences offering aid

  • HybridConf, in Sweden, has volunteered two tickets for free; email me if you'd like to attend.

Who else can I ask for help?

  • Sam Kottler will cover costs for 10 people to attend conferences this year.
  • Chris Gale will sponsor conference attendees.
  • Michael Ivey will help cover costs for conferences, with a special interest in Chef/automation/devops events.
  • Pycon and PyLadies organize scholarships for Python conferences.
  • GopherCon, the Go programming language conference, offers sponsored tickets for all kinds of underrepresented folks.

Shoot me an email if you'd like to be added to this list.

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