Women Who Code Portland: My First Year

Member Reflections

written by

Original post published here.

Recently, my one-year anniversary with the Portland branch of the Women Who Code (WWCode) passed by, with little or no fanfare. To me, it is a very significant milestone. Why? I am a transwoman, and have been involved with other groups where inclusivity and diversity are preached as part of the ethos — but when it comes to practice, they can sometimes fall so far from the reality of what is going on that they blind themselves. I will never forget attending WWCode Portland events and seeing many women, but no-one like me on their staff. There were trans people in the audience of many events, but no representation higher up. I made my decision to become a volunteer, and bring my experiences to them. After the 3rd Anniversary Celebration, I approached Caterina Paun (then Director of WWCode Portland) and asked to be involved. We exchanged contact info, and I was contacted for a meeting. My first thought — Really? An interview for a volunteer position? I was left wondering if everyone was interviewed, or if it was just because of my trans status. I decided to give it a chance regardless.

To my surprise (and relief), it wasn’t an interview. Just a face-to-face where a few things got cleared up, and neither my presentation or gender came up at all. In fact, all of the questions where around why I wanted to volunteer, what did I think I could do to support the organization, and where I thought I could fit in. The meeting also told me that the Women Who Code took their charter and mission statement very seriously — something I was looking for in an organization. I knew I wanted to do something, but was unsure what I could do. I asked to be an event volunteer to help setup and teardown. I also told my contact that I did not want to be in charge of anything. I wanted to see how I would be accepted, and whether I would be treated as a regular volunteer by everyone.

My first few events went by very well; getting introduced to many of the leadership team, as well as the other volunteers. The WWCode Portland chapter organizes several events each month, running the spectrum from networking nights at the different tech companies in town to study nights for JavaScript, Algorithms, Design and Product, and DevOps to full-day technical workshops. I helped out at a few of the study nights, usually with setup and welcoming people to the event. I had been volunteering for 6 or 7 months when Caterina and I had a discussion, where I was informed that the leadership likes to see volunteers start taking on more responsibility, and asked me what I thought of starting a study night or some other type of program. I am still a casualty of my own internalized fears and imposter syndrome — my first thoughts are always who will listen to me, why would anyone want to listen to me. Caterina recognized my lack of confidence, and my unwillingness to commit to something as big as this. Thankfully, I was promoted to the Evangelist role — a position where the responsibilities include representing WWCode at events, assisting in fundraising, social media and marketing. This I knew was something I could take ownership of — I had been doing this already by working with people and my employer to build interest in what was happening locally with this group.

Each year, two of the biggest events on the WWCode Portland calendar are the the Annual Celebration and the IoT Hackathon. The IoT Hackathon is a weekend event that aims to introduce our members to hardware and new technologies. From a planning perspective, there are many moving pieces and many expenses, including hardware, food,drinks, swag, prizes, and other incidentals. I was asked if I could speak to someone at Intel — our previous touch point had left the company, so I decided to take on the responsibility. I contacted the VP of Open Source Engineering in my old group and set up a face to face meeting. I then looked at what they had supported in the past; they had not supported WWCode for 2018, and it looked as though the last time they actually sponsored was 2016. A combination of luck and a good explanation managed to draw the attention of the VP, and she and the local events coordinator contacted Caterina with a substantial offer of support for the WWCode in general and additional support for the Hackathon.

For my involvement with WWCode Portland, I try to attend and assist if needed, and offer help when they require additional assistance. The best part is that they understand my time isn’t just theirs — I volunteer with other organizations, including Board of directors for two Irish Wolfhound Clubs, Board of Directors for Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District, Trevor Chat Crisis Counselor and additional work for the Diana Initiative.

I have been asked to lead various activities, such as the ice breaker networking activities for several events, and they have been successful. The IoT Hackathon was a resounding success, and the next major night was the 4th Anniversary Celebration. The event was huge this year, and was an amazing night. I was asked to introduce myself in front of everyone as part of the celebration, which was so unexpected — and just one more way WWCode has shown they are inclusive without reservation.

It was not until OSCON 2018 that I realized just how much they have given me. To give a little bit of context — O’Reilly made a change to their Code of Conduct where “Political Affiliation” was added to the list of protected classes, and a restriction on making any political statements was added to the Speaker agreement. There were many of us that took to social media to voice our opposition to this move. It seems to have not been publicly revealed to anyone, and in essence was just quietly changed. To their credit, Tim O’Reilly made a public post rescinding the newly added protected class and admonished those that add the new restriction to the Speaker agreement. Both were reverted to previous versions. The resulting apology, in my opinion, was a classic case of “sorry not sorry”. Then when the discussion turned to an explanation on conservatives, along the lines of “Conservative Lives Matter”, well that did it for me. I made my decision that I could not attend OSCON based on this. Why, is a topic for another discussion, but suffice to say that conservatives are not the best of friends with the LGBTQ community and trans people in general.

I made a post explaining my position in the WWCode Slack channel. What occurred after left me emotionally amazed. Some women had not heard of the issues and asked for more info. WWCode had a commitment to be present at OSCON along with some of the women engaged as speakers. I had no expectations, I was letting everyone know I would not be there. That evening, I saw a private response from Caterina. She asked what I thought WWCode should do regarding the CoC debacle. First, I was totally caught off guard by being asked, but secondly because she was seriously asking me. Other members of the directors were also quite concerned, and found the issue endemically problematic. I thanked them and told Caterina that this was very personal to me, and I did not want this to affect the reputation of the WWCode. They had commitments and I want them to keep them.

The next day was the first day of OSCON, and again I was floored by the events that took place. Caterina sent out a communication on the WWCode Slack channel for the extended team. The actual communication follows:

“Hi everyone- We wanted to let you know that our organization will have a table at OSCON today and tomorrow. We put a lot of thought into this decision, especially since one of our leaders decided to withdraw from the conference because of what happened with the O’Reilly Code of Conduct and ensuing apology. While we will be present in the OSCON Expo Fair, we will issue this statement on Twitter and we will post a printed copy on our table:”
“As Women Who Code Portland, we are here at OSCON to support our community. However, we are disappointed with the changes OSCON attempted to make to their Code of Conduct; we believe there’s no reason to classify a political affiliation as a protected group. Furthermore, we feel that Tim O’Reilly’s apology did not address the greater concerns of the community. We will continue to be vigilant about such incidents in the future and we will continue to hold organizations accountable.”

I have never in my life had anyone, let alone a group of women I respect so deeply, stand up and show the support that I received from the WWCode Portland team that day. I was in tears and still it carries the emotions I felt that day as I write this.

This article is my way of telling these fantastic women thank you for everything they have done, by just being themselves and making me feel comfortable, safe, accepted and most definitely a friend. The things you have all done, to push me outside my comfort zone, the encouragement and genuine caring will never be forgotten by me, and I hope to be able to share what you have given me with others. Thank you, Caterina, Richa, Keeley, Alex, Alia, Haley, Michelle, Shiyuan, Stacy, Kat, Hannah, Tricia, Sarah Joy, Meghane, Allison, Molly, Alexis and of course Posey who is like family since (she knew almost everyone in my family before we ever met) and everyone else involved with WWCode Portland.

In closing, I wanted to say that I joined WWCode Portland with some trepidation; not knowing what to expect and not sure how I would be treated. After my first year with the WWCode, I know.

We are the Women Who Code Portland.

Members of the Women Who Code Portland team at the 4th Anniversary Celebration.

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