If there was one word I would use to describe the Women Techmakers Ambassadors Summit, it would be empowering. Recently, I had the privilege to experience this through a community of peers that are so different insofar as knowledge, backgrounds, and focuses, yet so similar in mindsets — driven, challenging, and supportive.
Originally started in 2012 as an annual conference, the WTM program has grown into a global network that focuses on supporting women in tech. And I am so grateful to have been invited to attend the 2019 North American WTM Ambassador Summit held in Austin, TX along with my co-worker, Hannah, to represent our GDG Columbia, MO group.
The WTM Summit had many wonderful talks filled with life-lessons, some of which are included here, however, there were many other ones learned throughout smaller interactions during the day, whether it be a casual chat at the appetizer buffet or overlooking the amazing view of the Colorado River. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did over the span of 3 days.
Day One: Certification + Social (10/11)
Lesson 1) Imposter syndrome is real, but you’re not the only one
The first day, I attended a Google Certification Workshop along with the other women in the WTM Cohort. I looked around and thought, “Wow, they must all know so much about technology. I’m just a designer, and it’s been over a year since I had to code. They’re probably way more advanced than me.” Sound familiar?
During the presentation, our speaker revealed that about 30% of us said that we had no experience with Google Cloud Platform, and that 41% had less than 6 months of experience with GCP. More than half the women in the group were in the same position as me! Yet, we were all looking forward to completing the certification and learning together.
Since then, we’ve posted study materials and questions we’ve encountered, and it still amazes me how willing these women will go for each other to make sure we all pass!
It’s normal to feel unconfident about your abilities, but you’re probably in close company. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a hard thing to fight, but I promise that everyone is going through that same battle. And it lifts the veil of not belonging somewhere when you know you have a supportive community.
Following the GCP Certification meeting, we were led downstairs to the main conference room for hors d’oeuvres during our social! Again, I was blown away by all the backgrounds of the attendees, from VR to gaming to development, to even design! Yes, there were actually quite a few other UX designers, which again proved my thoughts of not being “tech” enough wrong. The night ended with quite a few new acquaintances, and an excitement for the next day!
Day Two: Summit Time! (10/12)
The Summit started with a delicious breakfast buffet, fresh coffee, and of course, gift bags! With my WTM embellished pillow behind me and a notebook in front, I eagerly awaited the first of several talks for the summit!
Lesson 2) Invest in Yourself
One of the most resonating lines I heard that day came from Lauren Hasson, founder of DevelopHer. In her talk From Zero to Hero, she passionately recounted her story of hard work and determination to get to where she was now. Her last lesson was to Invest in Yourself.
“You are an asset, not an expense.”
I scribbled this into my notes immediately. You are not an expense in your success story. Take the time to treat yourself (not just in the bubble baths and cupcakes way) by investing in mental health, career coaches, online classes, and much needed down-time.
There are so many times that I disregard my own needs and skipped out on things that would actually make my life better/easier. Think about times in your life where you might have done the same. There is no magic button to push on the path to success, but when you see yourself as your biggest asset, doesn’t it make sense to put some of your money back into the things you need to continue? Don’t overwork yourself. And don’t feel guilty when you take a break to regain your energy.
Lesson 3) Accessible design teaches you to consider other perspectives
I remember telling Hannah at the hotel how much I looked forward to Liz Merritt’s talk on Inclusive Design: UX Design for Everyone!
One of the quotes from her talk:
“Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of different ways to participate so everyone has a sense of belonging.”
— Sarah Goltsman
My biggest takeaway was that when thinking about accessibility, there are more design lenses you can take. Most of the time, people think about making things accessible for disabilities, but other lenses could include gender, ethnicity, age, culture, developed vs. developing countries, and socio-economic status.
Fight stereotypes by building inclusive personas. This was great for proving a point to a client who might not understand that making an application hearing-accessible is not only for the deaf community but maybe for someone who is just in a loud area at the moment. User personas can include temporary and situational examples.
I’d like to take a moment to thank all of Google’s wonderful staff for being so friendly and making such delicious meals for us! You can’t go to Texas without trying some BBQ!
Lesson 4) Gender equality in the workplace is on everyone
After lunch, we had a workshop led by Rana Abdelhamid on facilitating gender equality conversations in the tech world. At the beginning, she gave a review on the status of women in tech.
- Only 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector are held by women.
- 12% of engineers at Silicon Valley startups are women.
We were given a new question each round and had to find a new partner to talk to, so lots of introductions were made! Afterwards, some groups would share their answers.
The last question stood out to me as “what can you do to create more discussions about gender equality in the workplace?” Someone in the crowd said that gender equality is on everyone to promote in the workspace. Recognizing when there is an unfair situation and speaking up, using your own privileges to help others without it.
Lesson 5) Find role models who look like you
Following the workshop was a series of 15-minute lightning talks. In her talk Sustaining Community Empowerment as a Black Woman, Valerie Sharp told her story of entering the tech industry on a non-traditional path.
“To me, getting community right was simple: create a space where the most marginalized people feel safe, and this space will be safe for everyone.”
During her takeaways, the lesson that stood out to me was to find role models who look like you. As a mixed race woman in tech, it’s always been a bit hard to fit in and find other people exactly like me. But it’s encouraging to see other successful women in the tech field.
Earlier, during Rana’s workshop, several photos and stories of women in tech were given to us to read. I immediately went to the one of Doris Hsu, the chair and chief executive of GlobalWafers, a company in Taiwan, which is also where one side of my family is from. There is a closer sense of belonging and identity to stories of those who have a similar background to you, which makes your journey of success look a little less daunting. If they can do it, why can’t you? Plus, they may have faced the same obstacles you’re going through!
Lesson 6) Take Pride in Your Accomplishments
It’s okay to acknowledge your own achievements. In the talk Authentic Self-Promotion, Neem Serra encouraged us to recognize and give credit to our work. If we just wait around for people to see what we do, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Let the world know the things you do, and that is going to help you get noticed.
Use your storytelling skills to be authentic, and you’ll come across as someone more relatable as well. Don’t worry about being “braggy,” if you’re being honest and open with your audience, your genuineness will show.
I think a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of sharing too much of our achievements. But in the end, if I’m able to show my work and know my value, then I’m much more confident in my skills. This is then reflected in client meetings and projects.
Be proud of what you’ve done. You’ve worked hard. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Lesson 7) Perfect your elevator pitch
Start with your first job; for instance, I was a pool attendant at 15. What were the tasks that you did? How would you convert those tasks to general skills you use today? As a pool attendant, I learned how to keep things tidy and run on schedule. I learned responsibility through locking up the pool every night. And I learned the importance of saving through those first few paychecks (and what income tax is…).
Next, what are you doing at your current job? What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on? How would you describe your role to a stranger? If you could start over, what would you do differently?
Currently, I’m the Lead Product Designer for a software application development company. I work on ensuring that the design team is creating apps that provide good user experience, have simple user interfaces, and make users want to keep coming back. (Hope that was simple enough!) My favorite project is actually my current one, so I can’t say too much, but it involves earning rewards based on how often you workout!
Lastly, what does your future job look like? What skills are needed? What projects from the past would support those skills? So, I’m transitioning into more of a leadership role lately, which is great because in the future, I’d love to be managing a creative design team! There’s a lot of organization involved since you are not only responsible for your own projects, but also keeping track of the other designers. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but I know that I’m learning so that in the future, setting up design processes will go more smooth. For every project I’ve been on, I’ve improved on a soft skill as well. NDA agreements mean I can’t name them, but I have learned to better give and receive feedback, run meetings with an agenda, and collaborate with designers from other companies!
Lesson 8) Network. Network. NETWORK.
I met so many amazing people along the way, and learned the importance of keeping your LinkedIn up-to-date! It was great that I could just walk up to anyone and start a conversation with them.
They all had such fascinating stories of how they got into the tech field or became a WTM Ambassador. There’s something you can learn from everyone, so listen and absorb all those helpful tips!
You never know when your connections can help too! Whether it be for coordinating events since your regions are close together or gaining a mentor who can show you the ropes on how to get started, networking is imperative to success. So don’t forget to work on those soft skills, and by gosh, check your teeth before talking to everyone. (It happens to me a lot.)
Lesson 9) It’s okay to have some fun along the way!
The night ended with a trip to Voodoo Donuts, an arcade bar, and a pizza run! As much as you’re here for business, you can have fun too. Remember to give yourself a break once in awhile and let your mental state clear up.
Often, we get so stressed in life that we lose sight of the bigger picture. You’ll get through it eventually, and you can always lean on someone to help you through it too. Hannah was an amazing travel buddy on this short trip, always up for late night chats at the hotel!
Even the next day when we found out that our flight was leaving 50 minutes earlier than we thought as we were on our way to the airport, we still found a way to make it work and get through it. If we hadn’t made the flight, we were still going to get home eventually, right? Don’t sweat the little things and have fun!
Thank you so much to Kubra Zengin for organizing the WTM Summit and just being an all-around amazing human being. I had so much fun and learned so much. Thank you to all of the speakers, I wish I could cover all of them. Thank you to Google for hosting the WTM Summit, the Austin Headquarters was awesome. I really look forward to next year’s summit and hopefully, empowering others along the way as well!
I also hope that you, the reader, are given the opportunity someday to find a community that makes you feel good about yourself and encourages you to accomplish so much more than you thought. Because amazing things happen when you do.
Also, I’d love to thank and give full credit to Linda Kovacs and Kübra Zengin for the photos used. They look amazing!
As ever, QuarkWorks is available to help with any software application project — web, mobile, and more! If you are interested in our services you can check out our website. We would love to answer any questions you have! Just reach out to us on our Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.