We Rise: Women in Tech Conference
Woman Power

What I gained from attending a conference as a supposedly “non-tech” person

“I’m not technical enough”

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend went to a JavaScript meetup and heard about a conference that was going to be sponsored by the local chapter of Women Who Code. He encouraged me to go, but I hesitated: “It’s probably just for developers.” He convinced me that it was for all women in the tech industry, and I bought a ticket, not sure if my company would pay for it (they did), but determined to go anyway.

The night before the conference, I got cold feet. I told him again that I didn’t think I would belong there—the talks would be too advanced; I wouldn’t be technical enough. “I’m 100% sure you’re technical enough,” he insisted. I still protested—I’d only been to support conferences before, which directly applied to what I do here. The talks at this conference wouldn’t be about support topics. “You’re right,” he agreed, “they won’t be about support. So you should just go to the talks you find interesting, and those will turn out to be useful in your job, even if you don’t expect it.”

What I heard, and what I learned

Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code
Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code

So that’s what I did. I went to talks in almost every category available, based solely on my own interests, and it was incredibly freeing. Here’s what I ended up picking:

I think you’ll agree—that’s a pretty eclectic mix! How could such a variety of topics be useful to me in my role as a support specialist? Well, here are a few examples:

  • I’m currently working on a script to help the support team automate replies to customers who have requested a specific feature, after that feature has shipped. I’m writing it in Node, after learning a little bit about how to use Node for another support team project, so the Node workshop was directly applicable.
  • I’m signed up to speak at a support conference in October. The “Speaking in Spite of Fear” talk shared lots of helpful tips that I’ll be able to use in preparation for my first time speaking at a conference.
  • As my teammates know, I’m slightly obsessed with the potential for AI in support, and the talk on chat bots helped open my mind to further applications of this technology that could be used for support.

There are also more general benefits. For example, when developers write to Trello’s support asking questions about the API, I triage those questions and answer those that I can before passing them on to our developer advocate. The more I understand about coding and how to use an API myself, the fewer questions I need to escalate, saving time.

In addition, better understand of technical concepts will help me to better communicate with our technical teams, and the experience has also helped me to network and inspired me to pursue my side projects and get more involved with the local Women Who Code chapter—which would also give me an opportunity to meet potential candidates for Trello and Atlassian.

Looking at these benefits, it becomes clear: there’s a lot to be gained from attending a tech conference even if you’re not in a strictly technical role.

The other thing I learned

We Rise: Women in Tech ConferenceBy the end of the conference, I realized that, although I’m not a full-time developer, I am a woman who codes. I’m a woman, and I write code—what other qualifications did I really think I needed?

Not only is it ok for me to enjoy coding without being a professional, but there’s no need for that to be the goal. Some people I met at the conference asked if I was trying to transition to development. “No, I love my job,” I would tell them.

Like writing skills, coding skills are just useful, not to mention fun. Everyone should feel comfortable getting into code if they want to, even if they’re not looking to make that their primary job.

My accomplices

As one of the keynote speakers, Scott Hanselman, said, “We don’t need allies. We need accomplices.” Obviously my boyfriend was a huge help in getting me to the conference, but there were also many people at Trello who have been especially helpful accomplices in my coding journey, and I’m grateful to work in such a supportive environment.

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