The second week of June hosted the Women in Tech Global Conference for 2022, and SolarWinds graciously sponsored attendance for a large group of employees, myself included. You may be wondering why I'm sharing this so long after the event, but the answer is other things got in the way, like other events and vacation, yet I feel sharing this is still valuable for everyone. The event was a couple of days of inspiration, tech talks, advice, and networking. Today, I thought I'd share insight gleaned from the event by myself and other members of our internal Women in Tech community. It was an uplifting, insightful, community-building good time. These are snippets from the conference and our interpretations, but hopefully, they will be just as valuable to you as we felt it was for us. There was so much going on that no one among us could watch everything, so having a shared experience really helped the group.
It should be no surprise if you've listened to or read any of my work that I'm passionate about learning. As I'm fond of saying, one of the most wonderful things about working in tech is there's always something new to learn. It's a field that requires continuous learning and adaptation, providing opportunities for personal career growth and even full pivots to other tech segments. It was wonderful to hear so many women in tech promoting the celebration of learning no matter what level you're at in your career. Desiree Young had a great session called Equity in Access in Action that fully embraced this mindset. Encouraging us not to be afraid to be challenged or questioned but instead see that as an opportunity to grow and learn, to embrace opportunities everywhere, not just as they come up in our day-to-day jobs, and to upskill and reskill to propel ourselves forward in our careers. She spoke about supporting ourselves and others' learning through mentorship, allyship, and sponsorship—sentiments others echoed throughout the conference.
Speaking more specifically in Skills for the Future of Work, Gladis Araujo pointed out several skills (you'll notice these aren't necessarily technical), including lifelong learning, self-leadership, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and project management. Half of these are not traditionally skills you would see even on a resume, but it's time for that to change. These skills are vital components of success. Often, companies are willing to teach technical skills or allow you to learn on the job, but during the interview process, they look for evidence of these non-technical skills. They help you stand out in the crowd and will help you on your way to advancement. I want to share two other sentiments that really hit home for me on this topic before I move on:
"Success is a feeling, not a destination," from Brooke Taylor.
This mindset can change the way you think about continuous learning. Define success on your own terms. Maybe today that's learning how to make that SWQL work for you, or perhaps starting that Python course you've wanted to, or even something as simple as ending your workday on time. Set your own parameters for success.
"Trying new things together creates a basis for accountability and builds understanding," from Jess Vice.
She brought this up during her session on accessibility, but I think the sentiment can be more broadly applied. We learn better by having more diversity of backgrounds and thoughts around us. People with different experiences look at things differently, and by talking to people about any subject, you'd be surprised what you learn. This can help to learn – just look at forums or chat groups for online classes as an example. You can take those from anywhere with the internet, and many people have different perspectives on how to remember things, why those things are important, etc.
Another theme I noticed throughout the sessions touched on accessibility, empathy, equity, and inclusion. No matter what you're doing, implement with intent. Natalie Egan bravely shared her journey to Natalie and shared this thought, "We can't understand each other better until we understand ourselves first." Natalie had us briefly go through a walk of privilege exercise through the Translator site, which was eye-opening. There was an entire conversation about assumptions about ourselves and others that forced you to think about things differently. Things we take for granted as truth based on our experience are not the truth for someone else. Let's build and use tech designed to change people's hearts, minds, and behaviors.
"Every thought is not a fact." Brittany Sherell discussed group attribution theory and the spotlight effect and their effect on us. Group attribution theory is a common bias that leads us to believe the characteristics of an individual represent those of a group. The spotlight effect describes how we overestimate how much others are paying attention to us. This thought-provoking conversation sparked my mind into questioning (again) what assumptions I make daily. I hope to question these assumptions constantly and consistently as I move forward.
Jess Vice had a wonderful push towards being accessible from the start, breaking down how much it costs to do the accessibility checks at the end of a project vs. small checks regularly throughout the project. I also learned about the curb cut effect during her presentation. The curb cut effect speaks to the broader impact that something built and designed specifically to make street-crossings and sidewalks more accessible to war veterans on the broader population. More recently, I read about how Gen Z utilizes closed captioning more than any previous generation despite not having hearing issues – this is the same effect. The technology will now improve and be more widely used because larger portions of the population are using those same things that make it more accessible for those who need it because it's convenient or they prefer it.
Amy June Hineline furthered this storyline by outlining the differences between diversity and inclusivity. She explained that diversity is human differences, but inclusivity is the intent of individuals or systems to include actively. If you're in a position to influence the hires and transitions within your team or company, consider improving the language of those job postings to reflect truth and use more inclusive terminology. We can all benefit from enhanced diversity in our lives and workplaces.
Join me again in part two because there was too much to share for one blog post. Next time, I'll share insights gained in specific technology and more career advice for non-linear paths. I hope you've found this helpful advice for your own careers and the tech we work with daily. If you get a chance to attend this conference in the future, I highly recommend it.
You can also watch my TechPod episode about “Women In Tech: Owning Your Place at the Table” here.