That time I went to DjangoCon and fell in love with the community

I speak at conferences a lot, and they’re mostly ruby conferences. That’s the community I’m most familiar with, the one I call home. So when I was asked to keynote this year’s DjangoCon, I was excited to be exposed to a new tech community. I’d peeped them at a distance, but now we’d get to really hang. I hoped we’d get along.

I had a good feeling from the website alone. It emphasized community all the way through, from the different ticket prices based on what you could afford, to the fact that it’s entirely volunteer run. The three parts of the conference (workshops, talks, and sprints), said a lot about their goals — that it wasn’t just about being together, it was about putting what we talked about into action, right then and there.

You can tell a lot about the conference and the organizers from the emails beforehand. I mostly interacted with Lacey Williams Henschel, and she is awesome, kind, and firm. She was super responsive and made me feel taken care of before I even set foot in the conference space.

The night before speaking was nerve-wrecking, as those nights tend to be. But when I got there the first day, I met Kojo Idrissa, who was introducing me. I’ve known Kojo online from CodeNewbie for over a year now, and I was excited to finally meet him in person. He is very tall and also very awesome. I relaxed. My keynote went well. It was about luck and hard work and privilege and lots of personal stuff that I hoped connected with people. It’s a talk that means a lot to me and I was excited to share it. Between the response from Twitter and the number of people who came up to me to discuss the keynote afterwards, I knew it resonated with people.

There were great talks, delivered two at a time with nicely sized breaks in between. There was a good balance of technical and non-technical topics to choose from. Each day started a half-hour later than the day before. There were plenty of snacks, both healthy and tasty. Who knew that apples and cheddar flavored popcorn could sit together peacefully? Most importantly, there was an endless supply of coffee with a selection of flavored syrups to choose from. There were skill levels assigned to talks to help people decide what would be a good fit for them. Each day, they highlighted a community organization to support and give money to. The housekeeping notes thoroughly addressed the Code of Conduct and reviewed instructions on what to do in different situations, including ones where you are being called out and how to handle it constructively. There was an awesome sign in front of the bathroom that addressed gender. There were sanitary napkins in the men’s room.

In all these little ways, they sent a clear and cohesive message that emphasized the importance of making everyone feel welcome. From snack choices to signs, the conference demonstrated inclusion and empathy in a way that made me proud to be there. I don’t know how much the other attendees noticed those details, or how much they cared. But those details spoke volumes to me, more than any soapbox speech about the values of diversity ever could. Conversations were had, decisions were made, action was taken to notice the tiny, little ways we keep people out, we make them feel alone, we tell them they don’t belong, and then they corrected for them. Those details are where love and empathy live. Those details are fucks given. Those details made my hear warm, and made me feel at home.

Thank you DjangoCon. It was an honor to get to know you.


I vlogged about my time at DjangoCon here (#6-#9). If you’re nervous about speaking, you can see me freaking out about my keynote the night before. Keep your chin up, we’re all terrified and faking it.

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