Reflections on #WWConnect2016

Reflections on #WWConnect2016

Written by Sheila Oh

Free Tickets

A few thoughts on the Women Who Code Connect Conference, hosted at Galvanize Seattle on March 19–20, 2016!

Day 1:

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I have been to conferences before, and women-focused meet-ups, but I have never attended an entire conference “designed to inspire women to excel in tech careers” (from

As I entered the 2nd floor keynote area and scanned the room, I noted how few people I recognized and knew. Such a different experience from the normal meet-up or conference, where I am often the only woman or one of a few represented.


[Speakers: Alaina Percival, Chief Executive Officer of Women Who Code, Regina Wallace-Jones, Head of Security Operations at Facebook]

I decided to take a seat in the back as the first speaker, Alaina Percival, took the stage. As Alaina was speaking, I noticed that displayed on the screens around the room was this simple statement, “Now is your time!”

Displayed on screen during Alaina Percival’s talk

How true this is! And how often we forget! We need to take action. And we need to do it now.

At the end of her talk, Alaina asked women to share stories of success — a promotion, a new job, anything! Tentatively one woman came up and told her story. Then another. It struck me how hesitant we as women are to stand up and say, “Yes, I rock. I did this amazing thing. Help celebrate with me!” The praise and enthusiasm from the audience seemed to help motivate others to come up, and soon, there was a line of women at the stage.

ApplaudHer is such a great message. Let’s support each other. Let’s celebrate each other. Let’s be allies for each other!

The second keynote was with Regina Wallace-Jones. I was just so captivated by what Regina had to say: “Engineering is not just for people who are good at math and science”. It blew my mind how deep these perceptions were ingrained in me and how it often it’s manifested as imposter syndrome.

A great summary of Regina’s talk may be found in the Geekwire article below.

Panel — Gender Diversity

[Panelists: Jennifer Tacheff, Kimberly Snipes, Carlye Green, Joey Rosenberg]

This was a really informative panel. Highlights include the mention that, “Awareness is for everyone, not just women.” and diversity and inclusion is everyone’s issue. When asked if anyone in the audience has ever dealt with imposter syndrome, everyone raised their hand. Definitely an “A-ha!” moment.

I appreciated the discussions on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the distinction made between bolted on or built-in diversity strategies — has the company been told this is important versus is this actually important?

Thinking about and taking steps toward increase diversity and inclusion is the first step. Next, you need to track, report, and constantly ask, “How can we do better?”

Favorite quotes: “It’s not just about being more diverse. It’s about having the best team.” and “Fake it until you make it!”

A great summary of the points can be found in the article, 6 secrets for success in the tech industry: Advice from the Women Who Code conference in Seattle.

Motherhood and Tech

[Panelists: Anna Steffeney, Alice Steinglass]

I wasn’t planning on attending this talk, but I’m glad I did. The statistics were sobering: 80% of women will become mothers, but only 12% have access to paid leave in the U.S. There are fewer CS grads than 10 years ago (and half as many women), and the computing workforce in 2015 was 25% female (down from 35% in 1990).

Many women are forced to choose between career versus family, “It’s binary. Either or.” Again, this is an everybody problem, and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) discussed in the diversity and inclusion panel definitely applies here.

I am an academic. And I stayed out of tech during my high school and college years, due to perceptions that it was a field for men. The reasons why women go into computer science really hit home, and made me want to do more to help encourage young women interested in computing.

Mentioned by Alice Steinglass in “Motherhood and Tech” panel.

And I love this quote by Alice Steinglass:

Waste your time: Catch up and keep up in tech

[Speaker: Natalya Shelburne]

Can we say best slide ever?

First of all — how can you not love these hand drawn slides? Second of all — a learning velocity affected by the number of cats you own? Definitely, yes!

Loved this talk so much. Never knew that “wasting time” was such a good thing. I’ll have to do it more often! 😉

And here are Natalya’s slides!

Speak Up! The Importance of Joining the Conversation and Asking for What you Want

[Speaker: Rebekah Bastian]

Another great talk about how to ask for what you want. Rebekah Bastian outlined four points, which include:

1) Join the Conversation — sit at the table (not in the back), challenge yourself to speak in the first five minutes, and visualize speaking.

2) Ask for what you want — not asking for what you think you can get, not asking for what people expect you to ask for.

3) Self-promotion — believe in yourself!

4) Speak up for others — In response to the question, “What does an engineer look like?” I came out of Day 1 inspired to do more to advocate for people who look like me!

I liked that Rebekah asked for our stories — what a compelling way for women to talk in a safe space and celebrate our successes. We can learn a lot from the person on stage and in front of the room, but we can also learn a lot from the women around us.

Bridging the gap between design and engineering

[Speaker: Yana Bernadskaya]

Yana mentioned that empathy is needed to bridge the gap between design and engineering.

She quoted Julie Zhuo, on how to work with designers: “To speak the language of designers, stop talking about metrics and start talking about users.”

Definitely an interesting perspective from someone who has held positions that have straddled both the design and engineering worlds.

Returning to a tech career — my journey

[Speaker: Lori Hill]

Lori talked about the similarities and differences between finding your first job and returning to the tech field after an absence (i.e. having kids). Some of the opportunities available for new grads are not relevant for returning employees, however, and a “returnship” was suggested over an internship.

Though a lot more can be done for women returning to the tech field, efforts should start earlier. The story doesn’t have to focus on returning, but can shift to how companies help women balance work and family — women can do both!

Talk Engineering to me

[Speaker: Tia Over]

Such a useful talk. I’ll be definitely using the steps below when giving my next technical talk

The Steps:

1) Simplify your content

2) Know your audience — tell a story; ask a thought provoking question; present a shocking or surprising statistic; show a short video clip

3) Follow the recipe — (i.e. sandwich, where intro and conclusion are the bread and the content is whatever’s on the inside)

Three main points — 1–2 facts to support each point and images to illustrate each point

Remember your transitions — between main points

Conclusion AND call to action

Possible breakdown — 15% intro, 25% for each main point, 10% conclusion

Finish strong! Ask what questions you have for me.

4) Be prepared — be ready if audience isn’t engaged; have time management plan

5) Own it — make eye contact; speak clearly; pace; tone; smile, relax, and present

6) Move with purpose — don’t fidget; don’t stand like a statue; being real is more relatable; don’t pace

In summary, Tia asked us to remember the grandma rule, break it down — give it context, and engineer your message!

Connecting with friends!

After the first keynote, I received a text from a good friend. After noticing my tweets about the conference, she realized that we were at the same event. I was obviously happy to see her! 😉

Excited to see a friend at WWConnect2016

And while tweeting another talk, I noticed that an old friend of mine, Mary Hamilton, was not only at the WWC Connect Conference, but was a speaker!

So cool to connect:

Closing Keynote

[Speaker: Mike Curtis, Vice President of Engineering at Airbnb]

Loved the stories Mike told about things he’s learned and how things weren’t always done “right”. It was so real. Not just your typical talking points, but discussing how Airbnb failed and improved. It was inspiring to hear that “nobody knows everything, all the time”.

Overall an amazing Day 1

Day 2

A later start for Day 2, but just as must excitement and energy. Also, food and coffee. So helpful! ☕️☕️☕️


[Speaker: Nandini Ramani, Vice President of Engineering at Twitter]

All I have to say is WOW! I was so inspired after hearing Nandini speak. I wish I had a video of this talk — I would watch it on repeat. I loved how real and relatable she was. So good!

One of my favorite quotes, and an inspiration to “learn one new thing every day.”

I also loved what she said about there being many seats at the table. We as women think that there is only space for one woman. But that doesn’t need to be the case!

She gave a shout-out to Harvey Mudd, recently in the news for increasing their female, computer science majors from 10% to 40%.

The story about how she liked to ride motorbikes as a kid was so relatable, especially because I was given the same scoldings from my mother! 😉

Nandini’s talk was such a breath of fresh air. Do what you love. Stick with it and see how it pays off!

Leadership Panel

[Panelists: Kim Snipes, Lily Chang, Surabhi Gupta, Mary Hamilton, Bernee Strom]

So many great gems given by the panelists. Here are a few of my favorites:

So real. Too funny! What a wonderful group of women!

Yes I have ovaries and other great moments towards building an inclusive work environment

[Speaker: Tara Hernandez]

During her talk, Tara outlined steps to make a more inclusive work environment. So insightful. This needs to start during interviews! Not just as an afterthought. Waiting until someone is hired is too late. By that point, you’ve already excluded potentially great team members.

And the work isn’t done after you hire. Building an inclusive environment is a way to take care of your people and retain them.

And here are Tara’s slides:

Emotional 360 — Art to Interviewing

[Speaker: Tasneem Minadakis]

Tasneem says that interviewing is like a date. Figure out what you want, ask if this is a step up before committing to the second date (or second interview), and be ok with rejection.

Discover Your Strengths

[Speaker: Laura Bellamy]

Laura asked us to identify the the strengths our teams, not just the skills. These strengths can help us become better employees and managers.

Salary Negotiation

[Speaker: Sweety Chauhan]

Sweety asked us to do research to know our worth, consider non-monetary compensation, and never accept the base salary.

Closing thoughts & take-aways:

Food — Breakfast, lunch, and snacks were provided. Thank you! 🙂

Keynote speakers — Wow. Couldn’t have done better!

Panelists — Great. Especially loved the leaders in tech and motherhood and tech panels.

Speakers — Mostly good. Really loved some of the talks, and felt mediocre about others. One speaker didn’t show up and the attendees had to improvise what to do with the time.

Utilization of space — Meeting space were a bit small. A couple speakers improvised by holding their talk in the open area outside the meeting room or moving their talk to the 2nd floor keynote area. Cool use of the basement (Happy Hour location on Sunday afternoon). Note the #ApplaudHer and #ApplaudHim wall for people to share success stories!
In the basement of Galvanize, a wall covered in #ApplaudHer and #ApplaudHim stories

In Conclusion

Until attending the #WWConnect2016 conference,

I’ve never been in a room full of female developers. I’m used to the opposite.
I usually have to fight to have my voice heard. Instead, I was invited to come to the stage to share my successes.
I’ve never been surrounded by women (and male allies) passionate about supporting and celebrating women in technology.

How enlightening. What an inspiration. So glad I went! 🙂

Donate to Women Who Code