Black Girl Walks into Google Conference…

Duggie Mitchell
Dec 11, 2018 · 4 min read
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I debated walking out with one of these surf boards :)

No, it’s not the beginning of a joke, and if you thought so, that’s f’ed up.

But seriously, I had a wonderful experiencing in LA. My partner and I went to our first Google conference. Mostly because it was free and in a great locale, but also to learn about Dart — an application language developed by Google that powers some of their most profitable apps, like AdWords. If you didn’t know, AdWords — and AdWords Express is where makes the bulk of their revenue, kind of a big deal. Not to mention getting the chance to rub elbows with some of the smartest group of engineers I’ve ever been around(!) and the food(!).

It was, though, a first-class set up. with lighting, and oversized 4k TVs flanking each speaker.

Everyone was engaged. The speakers, for the most part had impeccable timing with their punch lines.

When we walked into the conference area, I was taken aback by the small scale of the auditorium. DartConf is a free event, open to the public (which is why I did not expound on the swag).

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My son and @dart_lang mascot: Dash from DartConf

Most of the attendies were Googlers flown in from from their respective campus in either San Francisco or Seattle.

I, of course, stood out like a sore thumb. My poor attempt to blend in wearing Mom Jeans and Doc Martins could not conceal my differences:

I’m the only black girl in the room. I don’t have a computer science degree. I don’t code in ${language}. I have no idea what I’m doing.

How many times have I been in this situation? It still makes me feel like I’m surrounded by a flashing red light, emitting subtle pulses around the room. No matter how much I tried, I could not keep that mantra from echoing in the back of my head.

I’m not the black girl here.I’m the only black girl here.I’m the only black girl here. I’m the only black girl here.I’m the only black girl here….

The irony of a 300-person tech conference with 3 black people — just one being a girl — is not lost on me; considering that Black Americans make up like 1% of software engineers. The math could not be more precise.

Besides, the awkward…

White Guy: So, you here for the conference?

Me: “Naw, I just like listening to someone talk about something I know nothing about…”

or the tepid…

White Guy: “er, um what do you do?”

Me: “…”

questions, conversation amongst other engineers in the room were quite good. I think we even got the guy sitting behind us connected with a job, somehow. (Good luck!)

I got the feeling that, while unintentional, this fact was not something that anyone wanted to address. But, it’s not a diversity conference, so whatever.

It’s not as if I could change the circumstances. If there were another black girl in the room (and this indeed rarely happens) we’d just glance at eachother from across the room and use something like natural hair care as an entry to conversation. So because I came to terms with this fact, day 2 was much more relaxing for me.

We got to make more connections.

My partner discovered that a library he authored was being used in production somewhere(!).

I got to put my two cents in on a discussion about experience with state management. — It’s always so hilarious when I speak up at these things, cause no one expects me to have anything to contribute. There is almost always a pregnant pause before someone else feigns to speak once I’m done commenting.

And I can’t help to feel like I’ve said something wrong.

One thing I learned from this experience is what goes into creating programming languages. How it’s actually big business to get people to use your software, since the communities have evolved to be free and open source, rather than proprietary.

Engineers from the Dart team had an un-conference session, where they wanted to know what users liked about the language and it’s tools, how it’s being used, and in ways in which it could be improved.

It revealed to me how we, as open source contributors and consumers, have the power to shape how technologies evolve.

It left me with the feeling that yes, the internet and all that has sprung forth from it, are indeed the great equalizers.

It’s how little old me, a ${things I feel are handicaps}, can have the power to shape the world around me in some way.

It also reminds me of conversations with peers about how there are so few black people in the higher echelons of engineering.

While true, all I can say is, the CTO at my last company hasn’t coded in ~10 years. Our jobs require two different skill sets. And I can guarantee that whatever package I author for ${language}, one day could shape the technology you use more than my CTO ever could.

blackGirlsCode (2)

Reflections on life imitating code.

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