Lesbians Who Tech Summit 2016 Recap: Empowering Queer and Trans People of Color

Lisa Sullivan, Queer Woman of Color and Manager at Citgroup giving an inspirational keynote

As a queer woman of color at the start of my journey towards becoming a software engineer, I have been on the search for mentorship, guidance, and support — a sense of belonging in a field that has a long way to go in achieving gender and racial equality. My experience at other developer conferences have been mixed. An apparent homogeneity exists amongst the crowd: overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white or Asian, and typically straight. On the one hand, through scholarships, I felt lucky to attend dev conferences whose ticket prices ranged as high as $1600! and though the workshops were extremely informative, I could not help but feel invisible and out of place. Networking with other attendees was painstaking and I found myself anticipating the next momentary break to escape events that were meant to “build community.”

At Lesbians Who Tech Summit there was anything but homogeneity, with the exception that we were all queer or trans and passionate about technology. On a warm Thursday evening, energy and excitement filled the historic Castro theater as Leanne Pittsford ended her motivational kick off keynote, lesbian, queer, or trans identified techies took over the Castro to connect, socialize and have some fun. Already, the stark difference between Lesbians Who Tech Summit and other Dev Conferences was palpable. We were not the “minority” here. I saw myself in this crowd. This was shaping up to be a truly special event.

On Friday, morning talks focused on thrilling advances in Science, Space, and Technology such as, “What does the future of cancer research look like?” and “How robots will forever change distribution and the internet of things.” While the afternoon empowered us with workshops like, “Two keys to success for every women in tech: Say No, Make Requests” or “Emotional Intelligence: How being queer makes you smarter.” Later, interviews were held with leading bad ass women in the field like Edie Windsor and Kara Swisher. Queer women of color’s voices were featured in this event. Megan Rose Dickey enlightened us with a report on “The Kinsey Scale for Diversity” and Lisa Sullivan, an impressive global product manager for a fortune 500 banking firm, taught us “How to leverage our strengths”, switching our mindsets to see our unique identities as a powerful way to navigate patriarchal fields. Throughout the conference, there was always an opportunity to meet and greet with companies for those, like myself, who were on the job hunt.

By Saturday, amped and empowered from the past few days’ events, I was ready to tackle the hiring fair at Twitter’s headquarters. Career fairs are definitely intimidating as you have to brave a sea of people to arouse the interest of recruiters through a 90 second conversation. It is a lot like speed dating. However, at this one the atmosphere was friendly, recruiters seemed approachable and genuinely interested in finding queer, lesbian or trans people of color tech talent. I stopped to speak with Joy Dunn, managing engineer at SpaceX an extraordinary organization working to mass manufacture space craft that can take people on commuter-like transportation devices to outer space, wow! With her credentials, I was surprised at her openness, spending more than five minutes talking to me about how to apply for their program. Sometimes career fairs can also leave you feeling inadequate or disillusioned, at the LWT Summit, the fair was followed up with career building talks like “Public Speaking 101,” “How storytelling won the presidency and what it means for you”, and if you did not make connections because of lack of experience, LWT Summit even showcased a panel of Coding Bootcamps & Programs.

I was unable to attend Sunday’s events, but could tell from the agenda that it was another packed day of authentic community building. There was a city director’s meetup for folks hosting a Lesbians Who Tech group in their areas and a lively closing party at Virgil’s. To be honest, I had felt disillusionment before the conference, having interviewed, jumped technical interview hurdles, while still being rejected by a renowned companies. The LWT Summit recharged my batteries, empowered me to see my keep climbing my dreams of obtaining a software engineering career, and to see this dream as an achievable one. It is only a matter of time. Thank you Leanne Pittsford and LWT team for setting up such a wonderful event that is genuinely working to close the gender, and racial diversity gap in the tech world.

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