AlterConf in Atlanta: diversity in tech for real (part 1)

AlterConf logoA quick synopsis (with help from twitter participants) of each awesome presentation at AlterConf in Atlanta, Georgia on February 28, 2015. This is part 1 of 2.

First, a few shout outs

A Non-Traditional Tech Degree

Michael Westbrooks II (@AfroTonyStark)

Michael presenting on Build Smart slide

Main messages
  • You CAN learn to code!
  • Focus on your MVP (minimum viable product)
  • Break your product into smaller pieces of coding you can learn (like legos).
  • Find mentors and work with other people
  • Get the word out about your product, and other work will come your way, too.
Key Tip

The 12 Year Old I.T. Guy

Nicholas Black (@AmericasITDocs)

Nick presenting, with ASL interpreter & Live Captioning in background

Main messages
  • Barriers because seem so young
  • Often though, the barrier is what YOU think holds you back
  • Don't let age hold you back!
  • When you feel confident, you'll be less timid in actions
  • Turn your youth into an asset: you grew up and are comfortable with technology
  • Interesting questions from audience about "too old" concerns
Key Tip
  • Tell YOURSELF you are old/young enough

Why Diversity in Video Games Matters

Imran Khan (@imranzomg)

Imran presenting title slide

Main messages
  • "Video games where I can identify with the character are more engaging than video games where I can not" (‏@dgempesaw)
  • "Most of the black characters in video games are sports figures. We need more #diversity in gaming." (@monicafcox)
  • "Kobe Bryant doesn't count as a black video game character.... He's a real person!" (@pwnela)
  • "I don't know if you've realized this, but gamers are very resistant to change. Maybe we shouldn't start with them." (@AlterConf)
  • "The main reason we should diversify games is just because we should." (@AlterConf)
  • Games are getting more expensive to make, so publishers focus on original target audience (white males age 30-50) to ensure profits
  • What we can do:
    • Support independent game developers
    • Write/Tweet at game studios/publishers about why you won't buy their games 
  • Recommended reading: "Racial Identification: The Secret Strength Videogames Forget They Have"
Key Tip
  • It's all about the money (so focus change efforts here)

Fake Geek Girl: Trans Microaggressions in Tech

Bree Stanwyck (@letsbreelhere)

Bree presenting, Thunderous Applause slide

Main messages
  • Lack of models for how to come out as genderqueer (slide with her email to co-workers)
  • Examples of microaggressions:
    • Mis-gendering: "You're really a guy, right?", wrong pronouns
    • Inappropriate questions: "Have you had the surgery?" (AKA "What's your junk look like?")
  • Why microaggressions happen?
    • Ignorance: "wrong bathroom" example
    • Cliches: "You're so brave"...for living your identity?!
    • Fake: refusal to acknowledge identity
  • Often more microagressions in progressive spaces (slide comparing how people describe cis vs. trans, i.e. "preferred pronouns" vs. just "pronouns")
Key Tip
  • Fiction by trans authors can be a better way to learn (Example: Casey Plett, A Safe Girl to Love)

Context for People of Color

Juwan Platt (@juwanplatt)

Juwan enthusiastically presenting, ASL interpreter in background

Main messages
  • Silicon Valley missing from Juwan's culture until age 19
  • Coding becoming as essential a skill as reading and writing
  • Not enough just to teach coding content/theory, have to first infuse it with & into context/culture (fun Baptist church experience example)
  • "when people have context they gravitate to and understand the content better (re: technology)" (@pwnela)
  • "Hop on top of those pews. And infuse this context and culture within technology." (@adriennefriend)
  • Don't stay in your comfort zone, nothing grows in a comfort zone
  • Talk with people of color about what YOU do (Tristan Walker as model)
  • "I could Tweet about it, I could cry about it, or I could DO something about it." @juwanplatt on mentorship (@adriennefriend)
  • is great for younger kids, but lacking for older ones
Key Tip
  • Don't blend in: Be YOU in a very public, confident way (e.g. tweet/blog) that infuses your context (and others feel less alone, have models)

Low MISC: Why encouraging Minority Involvement in Scientific Computing is a Good Idea

Marvin K. Turner (@marvinkturner)

Marvin presenting, The Great Disparity slide

Main messages
  • "lack of minorities in scientific computing (MISC)" (@khatsar)
  • "Mind-blowing: median computing professional salary > (median black family salary + median Latino family salary)" (@joelafiosca)
  • Average unemployment levels, insanely high for black and Latino/a families vs. computer professionals
  • Jesse Jackson, "shortage not of jobs, but of opportunities"
  • Dr. King "Where do we go from here"
    • Need a better pipeline for K-12, College retention & professional conferences
    • two levels at conferences segregates students from making needed connections & growth
    • stop hanging out at conferences only with people like us
Key Tip
  • Not just rights, but job opportunities and money (especially in STEM fields) that can give real equality.