In February of 2016 I attended the Lesbians Who Tech 2016, in San Francisco. It was the first such summit I had been to, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was going as both an attendee, and to help Microsoft recruiters by staffing a booth, and chatting with people who had an interest in working for Microsoft.
Would it be a Kumbaya sort of event where everyone sat in a circle, channeling crystal energy whilst talking computers? Would it be incredibly geeky, like a lesbian version of “Big Bang Theory”? Would I as a trans woman, feel totally out of place and unwelcome? The answer turned out to be “none of the above”.
In a nutshell, it was the most energizing and enjoyable technical conference I’ve ever attended. A friend of mine who is, in no particular order, a very smart computer software professional, a lesbian, and wonderful human being, had attended the previous year’s summit and told me it would feel like a “three day long, warm hug”.
Now the quality of a hug can vary tremendously, and is mainly contingent on who is administering the said embrace. An ex-WWF member who hasn’t showered for ten days might give a warm hug, but that would likely not be particularly enjoyable. This one, however, turned out to right up there with a hug from a singularly affable Care Bear on National Hug Day.
It started before I’d even left Seattle. Clearing security at SeaTac is seldom a fun thing, and on the afternoon I flew out the line was longer than usual. After about an hour and a half of entertaining myself by reading email, Twitter and Facebook, I cleared the scanners and sat on the metal bench on the far side to put my boots and sundry items of clothing back on. As I busied myself doing this, I heard a woman say “Hi! Are you going to the LWT Summit?” I confirmed that I was, and asked how she knew. Perhaps I was in the presence of Mystic Misty the Mind-Reader, or maybe I’d been doing that thing where I think I’m using my “inside my head” voice but was actually speaking out loud (that gets me into varying amounts of trouble and/or strange situations)? But no, the answer turned out to be rather more pedestrian. She’d spotted my “double Venus” pendant and guessed the rest. We headed toward the gate, stopping on the way for a coffee and a chat. This was boding well. I’d “networked” before even boarding the plane.
In San Francisco, as I made my way toward the Castro Theater for the opening session, I was a little nervous. As I approached the welcome table, to sign in, I saw that they were providing “preferred pronoun” badges. Picked up a “She/Her” and that they provided these immediately put me more at ease. The rest of our party from Microsoft congregated and we made our way into the theater.
It filled up with over 1000 other women, and the LWT board members introduced themselves and the organization, showed some of the highlights of the previous year, and gave us a flavor of what was to come. The tone set by LWT CEO Leanne Pittsford, Dom Brassey and the rest of the team was inclusive from the get-go, welcoming men and straight women allies, women of color, and trans women. This proved to be the case throughout the summit, at the main and satellite meetings. As I sat in the Castro, a couple of days into the summit, listening to talented and inspiring speakers. such as Kara Swisher, and the iconic Edie Windsor – who is well into her 80s and still has razor-sharp wit and engaging manner – it suddenly struck me.
I’m far from being a “New Age” crystal-vibrations type of person – I have Ph.D. in High Energy Particle Physics, which tends to put me on the skeptical side of things – but just sitting in the Castro Theater, listening to some great presentations, and absorbing the positive energy from all the women in that space, was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
Words cannot express how much LWT helped me, personally on my journey. I was literally in tears (of joy) at various times throughout the 2016 summit, and made some wonderful friends. I have since been honored by having the LWT Seattle branch include me on a panel discussion on diversity, and again met more amazing, welcoming and talented women. If you are trying to decide whether to go this year, I can unequivocally say “Do it. You won’t regret it from a technical, or personal perspective.”
I will be part of the Microsoft recruiting team at the Lesbians Who Tech 2017 summit. Please come and say hello. I’ll be easy to spot because I’m over 6 feet tall, and have a broken leg, which hopefully will be out of a cast and into a boot by then! I look forward to seeing you there.