On Diversity

So today I’m going to talk about a topic that I’m completely uncomfortable talking about publicly – diversity in tech and in our community. Wish me luck 🙈

My Story

When I was first starting out as a coder and got to the point where I was starting to be comfortable with Ruby on Rails, I attended my first meetup – a very popular Ruby on Rails meetup in San Francisco. I was already uncomfortable attending, since I was a beginner and I didn’t know anyone and there were a lot of people (I’m an introvert 😱).

All I remember from that meetup is that I somehow ended up in a conference room with a few men, working on my computer. Two of the men were fervently arguing about using haml vs erb (an argument that honestly doesn’t deserve such hacker-news-style intensity) and since it’s such a simple argument (it’s an argument over html!), I was actually able to listen in and understand what they were saying. I did not say anything though, since it was not something I cared to argue over TBH.

Another man in the room noticed me listening in, and said something like “I’m sorry they’re discussing such technical stuff”. I also learned that this same man mentors women at Railsbridge workshops : / But that’s besides the point. The point is that I never went back to that Rails meetup. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed that much in that community, but of course we all know this is not exclusive to that community.

Instead, I went to Women Who Code meetups, where I felt safe to be myself and learn without being involved in frivolous Tabs vs Spaces debates. I was also super lucky to work with amazing developers who paired with me and helped me learn. Later, I was really happy to switch from Rails to iOS.

I met amazing and inspiring iOS Engineers at Women Who Code meetups (big shout-out to @micheletitolo here), and soon I felt safe going to “real” iOS meetups. I now knew at least a few familiar faces when I went! And they introduced me to the others at the meetup. Eventually, I was speaking at these meetups.

The iOS meetups and soon conferences have been invaluable for me to attend and speak at. Through these events, I not only learned the latest and coolest stuff in the field, but more importantly, I met friends and colleagues that have helped me grow tremendously in my career, some of whom have seriously helped me succeed in my business (more than a few names mentioned here).

Others have invited me to dinner (thx @avon & @louisevr for the Pavlova & @Hakonbogen for the amazing homemade fish tacos!) and have taken me on cool adventures when I visited their home country as a digital nomad (thx @catehstn for the tour of the British chocolate factory, @saggis & @Jayniehaka for the hike on a volcanic island, @krzyzanowskim for showing me Warsaw, @gillygize for the full purikura experience, & @flufffel for helping us find snow in April!).

Attending meetups and conferences has no-doubt been life-changing for me, and I’m not the only one.

try! Swift

All of this has enabled me to get to this point of my career – of being on the other side. I am now organizing my very own conference – try! Swift. I LOVE organizing try! Swift for many reasons, but one of them is that it empowers me to create the community environment that I want to see more of in our world (believe it or not, but I just saw an upcoming mobile conference in Europe that has 30/30 all white male speakers and no Code of Conduct and lots of sponsors).

So it was very important for me to make the conference diverse. But, to be honest, I did this kind of quietly and behind the scenes. I didn’t want my personal brand to go from technical to diversity as I have witness happen to a lot of technical women in the field. try! Swift is a technical conference, not a diversity one.

For those who are not familiar with conference finances, they are not great. Seriously, thank your conference organizers. It takes A LOT of time and work to make conferences happen, and the payout is not there besides that warm feeling of community at the end (when you’re more exhausted than you could have ever imagined).

So although I wanted to invite many diverse attendees, financially, we couldn’t just give the tickets away. This is where Instagram came in – they sponsored several tickets to try! Swift Tokyo. I couldn’t be more grateful for their support.

One of the tickets went to @natasha_nazari – this was her very first technical conference and I couldn’t help but feel good as she described her experience at try! Swift Tokyo on this podcast last week (start at minute 48). I’m so excited to have @natasha_nazari speak at try! Swift NYC this time – she has a fascinating story and a lot add to our community.

I cannot adequately express my feelings at try! Swift Tokyo as I witnessed people communicate across language and cultural barriers – knowing that try! Swift helped create that.

try! Swift NYC

For try! Swift NYC, I made sure Diversity Sponsorship was a sponsorship option as suggested to me by @cczona. As a result, I’m super excited to have more diversity sponsorships for try! Swift NYC – application available here. Thank you Instagram, Meetup, Twitter, and Technically Speaking. I cannot be more grateful and excited about this.

Am I where I want to be with diversity efforts at try! Swift? Of course not. I always look at the Django community and feel super behind (check out their code of conduct transparency report!). But we’ll get there eventually. With time and support from our community.

Calls to Action

I could really use your help. Here is what you can do:

Spread the Word

We’ve put together an try! Swift NYC Diversity Scholarship Application. Please share it.

Send your Engineers to try! Swift

I wouldn’t be this far in my career if Capital One (my previous employer) had not supported me by letting me attend and speak at conferences.

In a lot of companies, employees from underrepresented groups are actively asked to go to diversity events (just think of how much your company spends on the Grace Hopper Conference) and to take on that extra shift to promote diversity, but they are almost never actively asked to attend technical conference that will more than likely advance their careers. If this is the case in your company, consider making a difference.

Send every engineer you send to Grace Hopper to at least one technical conference this year.

Oh yeah, and if they are speaking at a conference, support them. I was super lucky with the support I received at Capital One. Now that I’m organizing my own conference, I have learned the hard way that really big companies that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on diversity efforts and have the biggest booths at Grace Hopper Conference will not pay for their own engineers from diverse groups to travel to speak at a conference. In one case, one such engineer was not even allowed the time off to speak (even when try! Swift offered to cover travel expenses).

Sponsor More Diversity Tickets

I’m super grateful to Instagram, Meetup, Twitter, and Technically Speaking for supporting the first batch of diversity tickets for try! Swift NYC. But I know for a fact that a lot more people will apply for Diversity Scholarship Tickets than there are tickets. I would personally love to give these away, but as I mentioned, conference finances are really not that great and we cannot afford to do this.

If you’re in a position of power at your company, consider sponsoring a Diversity ticket to try! Swift or support try! Swift in general. You can email me at info at tryswiftnyc.com for a lot more information.

Thank you,

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  • Otávio Zabaleta

    Hello Natasha!

    Could you elaborate a little more on what kind of things make some women feel “not safe to be themselves” on, let’s say, meetups where most attendants are men? As a man myself it’s can be a bit hard to undersand.


    • Basically being in a real-life version of Hacker News comments…

  • Ken Worley

    Bravo! I’m already sending 3 of my engineers to try! Swift NYC.