PDXWIT Best Speaker 2017
Lately, I have been attending more networking events. I want to play a greater part the local tech community, make it a place where lots of different kinds of people feel a sense of belonging. Many events have been hosted by PDXWIT, founded by the wonderfully warm and brilliant Megan Bigelow. Last night, PDXWIT hosted their Fourth Annual Women + Tech Holiday Party. Located in OMSI's Theory Cafe Space, it was a festive party with almost 400 attendees.
I was nominated for their "Best Speaker of 2017" competition which took place at the party. Three speakers. Three minutes each. Live voting.
I won. Eeep!
Here are my handwritten notes from last night's speech, with the text to follow:
One of my favorite engineering professors told me, “In life, there are long periods of wandering in the wilderness.”
My career has been mostly wandering. For a while I got to work on the operating system deployed on Mars. Then the tech bubble burst and I got laid off. For a while I was a tenured professor. Then. You know? No. So — back to my wilderness, back to not knowing what I want to be when I grow up, quietly roasting marshmallows by a campfire.
For me, 2017 has been about urgency. A time to leverage privilege. A time to double-down on the hard conversations the help this field be a place where lots of different kinds of people can feel a sense of belonging.
I was a first grader when I learned about privilege. And assault. Though I didn’t know those words. A boy came up to me on the playground, grabbed my arm, pulled me along and said, “My friend wants you to kiss him.” I yelled, “NO”. I closed my eyes and shook him like a wet umbrella. I opened. He was on the ground. I was crying. I could see the teachers coming. I thought, “I just threw a kid on the ground. I should get in trouble.” But I didn’t get in trouble.
I was a sophomore in college when I realized I couldn’t pass for an engineer. I was tired of my job at the mall. I went to an ENGINEERING INTERNSHIP AND CAREER FAIR. I walked up to the Tektronix booth and asked whether they had any internship openings. The woman said, “We don’t have internships for business majors.”
And like some kind of vampire wizard teenage hormone book series, my life in tech got scarier as the main characters got older. Bullying. Slander. Assault. Until finally, for I time, I thought the only way to be a woman in tech was to stay calm and rational, to sit quietly by the fires, invisible.
In my white body, I can go to the grocery store and nobody asks me where I’m from from. I get pulled over by a cop and the only thing I worry about is how much the speeding ticket will be. But in my woman body, in my nine-to-five, I feel on edge. In danger. Like I’m in a woods where the birds have stopped singing.
Then president cheeto got elected.
And I thought — what I am doing is not working. I am trying to stay safe in tech but there are no safe spaces. I left my wilderness. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up — but I can’t sit quietly by the fires. I need to be brave. I will speak from a place of love for a field that helped pull me out of poverty and let my brain run like a ferrari. My field must be better. I believe we have the power to make it better. To make it a place where the birds do sing.