Aisha Blake

My First Conference

March 2, 2015

Last summer, I ran my first race. Ever. In life. I’ve never been a runner, but somehow my wonderful, sweet, kind housemate Sophie convinced me to repeatedly torture my own body and mind over the course of several months. All this with the goal of setting the worst torture of all to the sound of scattered cheering and (more frequent) quiet sobbing against a backdrop of mosquito clouds and desolate Michigan fields. As evidenced by the fact that I’m alive to write these words, I survived the ordeal. I even got a free massage at the finish line! I could tell the masseuse thought I might benefit from psychological counseling when I told her that this was my first race in response to the question “Is this your first half marathon?”

I have a tendency to hit the ground running. Deciding that I want to learn something new is cause for excitement. Discovery holds a kind of joy for me that I don’t find in many other aspects of life. That said, it’s very easy for me to bite off more than I can chew. The goal is to strike a balance. I want to become deeply involved in activities and communities that I care about, but not so much so that I am consumed by them. Attending my first tech conference will be a great gauge for my progress with this particular life goal.

Today, I found out that the talk I submitted has been accepted to Self.conference 2015! (How’s that for balance?) This fact both excites and terrifies me. Though I feel confident in my basic speaking ability, I have tons of questions. Will the topic resonate with anyone? Will I be able to answer any questions that come up? What will I do if someone in the session is more informed than I am on my topic? Will my takeaway points be useful to my audience? I have no idea! I have no idea and that is frightening.

My talk will focus on creating a work environment that doesn’t exclude people in traditionally underrepresented groups, particularly as this relates to teams in tech. I’ll be giving the same talk at Future Insights Live just days later. It seems far away right now, but I know May 29th is going to sneak up on me in what will seem like no time at all. This topic is one that is deeply personal for me, as I’ve already experienced in my very short career some of the negative effects of the kind of bias that makes talks like this necessary.

I take part in most interviews at Grand Circus not because I’m heavily involved in recruitment but because I am the only full-time employee that is also a developer. When an interview process requires a code sample, I’m the one that examines it. Imagine my dismay (read: rage) when one applicant (who happened to be a white man) handed me a printout of some of the code for a very straightforward website, a few pages of HTML lightly sprinkled with PHP, and proceeded to preface an overview of his work with, “You probably won’t understand any of that.” This interview has stuck with me for all the worst reasons. I immediately felt waves of shock and anger course through my body. How dare he? What exactly did he think I was doing in this interview? Had he forgotten that he was supposed to be the person being evaluated?

I’m not someone who is quick to anger and I rarely hold onto negative feelings for very long without continual provocation, but this incident truly hit home. The fact that this example is fairly low-key when compared to a great many others that have been experienced by people who are part of a minority in the tech industry is both disheartening and galvanizing. Perhaps it’s naive to think that I can be the change that makes this kind of prejudice a thing of the past, but I hope that my first tech conference and my first talk will help me and the people I interact with take a step in the right direction.

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One response to “My First Conference”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Aisha. This mirrors what has been playing out for me during the handful of interviews that I have had since graduating from QA Tester bootcamp six weeks ago. The job-search process is frustrating at times, and discouraging at others; yet, I am committed to continuing along this new and still intoxicating journey to becoming a “skilled” IT professional. With each “no” that I encounter, I am that much more determined to succeed. If the *Powers That Be* were truly shrewd, they would quickly give me a “yes” in order to retard my resolve. Oh, well….

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