I Want To Know All The Things | WTR 47

I Want To Know All The Things | WTR 47

Thursday came into tech as a writer, specifically writing about programming. She found herself joining and fitting in at PyLadies events & user groups.

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Show Notes:


ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE: So Angela, this week we talked to one of my friends, Thursday. She is an amazing writer. She writes in the technical space and we kind of dig into how she got into that and some cool stuff about conferences and some experiments She’s been working on. It’s just a great interview.
ANGELA: Yep. And before we get into the interview, I want to mention that you can support Jupiter Broadcasting and specifically Women’s Tech Radio, by going to Patreon.com/today. It’s a monthly subscription based support system. You can do as little as $3 a month or whatever is comfortable for you. Patron.com/today.
PAIGE: And we get started with this week’s interview by asking Thursday what she’s up to in tech today.
THURSDAY: I came to tech a little bit differently than I think a lot of people did. I’m first and foremost a writer and I’ve done a lot of writing about technology, especially programming, because the average freelance writer isn’t so interested in writing about programming. From that I started working with PyLadies which is a Python user group for women. I’ve recently just come off of organizing a Python community conference here in Portland. And I just get up to my eyeballs in all sorts of other technology related projects.
ANGELA: I always thing i pilates when I hear PyLadies. I know it has nothing to do with it, but.
THURSDAY: Yeah. I’m afraid that isn’t the first time I”ve heard that.
ANGELA: Oh really?
ANGELA: Oh, I’m not unique.
THURSDAY: No, we often have booths at different conferences and I manned the OSCON booth this summer and we had several male programmers come up to us and be like, pilates, why would pilates have a booth here at OSCON.
ANGELA: Oh geez.
THURSDAY: Like, oh, awesome.
PAIGE: So why Python? What struck you about Python? Or, I guess, in general, why tech as a writer? What about it pulled you in? Why were you willing to when so few other people were?
THURSDAY: Well, I grew up around people who were very invested in tech. My grandmother had email and gave it up in 1994, like she had had enough. She’d had it for several years at that point.
THURSDAY: Yeah. She was a university librarian, so I learned a lot about technology from her. My other grandmother had one of the first personal computers out there, because she kept the books for family businesses and things like that. I just grew up around all these people who were using technology kind of ahead of curve and I just kind of became this total nerd. And it worked for me.
PAIGE: That’s really awesome that you kind of come from a long line. ANd you mentioned on both sides it was your grandmothers.
PAIGE: That tickles me. I like it.
ANGELA: Well, and 1994 is a great year. It actually is my favorite year.
PAIGE: Really? Why?
ANGELA: Yeah. I don’t know.
PAIGE: Okay.
ANGELA: I think mainly because of music, to be honest.
PAIGE: Yeah, well it was a good music year.
ANGELA: But it’s also when my Jenny was born.
PAIGE: I don’t want to know things like that.
ANGELA: I know.
PAIGE: So what do you find are the challenges in covering technology? I know, like, people are always like Paige you should write a blog, and I’m like, well that’s why I do a podcast. But in general, I don’t always know how to frame things around technology. I feel like I have things that I would like to say, and I’m trying to say through this, but to put it down in writing, it seems so boring.
THURSDAY: I don’t think that boring is an issue that I run into a lot, but that must might be because I’m a little overly interested in everything. I want to know all things as it were, but one of the things that I have noticed a lot people struggle with is actually telling the story behind, here’s this new piece of technology or here’s this idea that I’m working on. Because, as humans, we don’t really understand things without context. So having the story, having the personal connection to why this is important is always necessary for us to really understand what’s going on.
THURSDAY: And when you look at, somebody has written a new math library or somebody has created an API that parses data or something like that, just tossing it up on the internet and saying here’s what this doesn, doesn’t actually get us to the point where we can use it or value it or understand it. We need that context. We need to see it in action. We need to understand why it’s important, much more than we need to understand how it works.
PAIGE: That’s a really great way to frame that. I totally agree. I think the, the pieces of technology that I’ve picked up on are ones that have good stories. I think even the recent frameworks I’ve gotten into, they’re usually because I read a blog post that’s like, hey this solved this problem that I had instead of this is a solution.
THURSDAY: Exactly.
PAIGE: I guess that leads into, in tech, my Python? Why PyLadies?
THURSDAY: Part of that is a question of community. In Python, community is very well valued and the story of the community is told very well. There’s a huge emphasis on diversity. Like, at Python conferences, having codes of conduct and sort of a welcoming environment is the norm rather than something that has to be hashed out every time somebody’s planning a new conference. I had actually had some experience with PhP, especially the WordPress community, before moving into Python. The difference when I started going to PyLadies’ events and some of the Python user groups was pretty phenomenal, just in the way that they made sure that I felt welcomed and a part of the community, even though I’m not primarily a programer and I don’t write a lot of code. So that sort of relationship and community aspect has been huge for me.
ANGELA: I’m on your blog right now, which is ThursdayBram.com, and you appear very well written. Do you, well obviously you’re a writer.
PAIGE: Is that a natural skill? Did you go to school for that?
ANGELA: Yes, right, the background. I mean, were you always a writer? Is that a little more recent thing? How did you get into writing?
THURSDAY: Sure, I’ve always been a writer on some level. Like, I freelanced as a writer even in high school and that’s always been my big strength. I went to school, I went to the University of Tulsa for undergraduate. I have a degree in Communications from there. And then I have a master’s degree in Communications Design from the University of Baltimore. But that was more, I’m already good at this thing,I can do well in these classes, than anything else. I’ve always really enjoyed writing and I’ve always felt that that’s one of my key skillsets. And what I’ve written about has changed, but not the fact that I spend most of my time putting words in a row.
PAIGE: That makes sense. I also know, because we’re friends outside of the podcast, I’m very fortunate to have Thursday as one of my friends, but I know that you’re also really passionate about helping dive into the industry and making those sorts of connections. I guess I’ve always wanted to ask you why.
THURSDAY: Just the whole building of connections fascinates me on certain levels. It’s such an un-obvious thing about any industry is the connections you need to get a new job or to become part of community or to organize a conference, or any of those things. It’s, no matter what industry you’re in it comes down to how you know and how you interact with people. But that’s not a skillset that’s really taught anywhere. It’s not something that we’re educated on. If you’re lucky, you grow up in a family that has those sorts of connections built in. Or if you come from a privileged background you might learn it through things like fraternities or sororities. But most people it’s not necessarily a skill that exist. So looking at how to teach that, how to make it a more thoughtful process, has just fascinated me forever.
PAIGE: I totally agree with that. I’ve actually been working lately with some groups that are trying to do some of that soft skill teaching. I mean, obviously, I love hard skill teaching, teaching Javascript has been great the past couple years for me, but kind of teaching out some of the social skills that I have because I came through a really non-traditional background. Honestly, coming from theater is like hacking the whole process for me. Because, you know, fake it until you make it is super easy if you have a degree in theater.
THURSDAY: And you’ve been trained to actually talk to people if you have a degree in theater.
PAIGE: Yep. And I was always kind of fascinated also in networking. I always say it, people kind of look at me funny, but people are the greatest puzzle.
PAIGE: Even from an engineer standpoint. I try to express this to my engineer friends. I’m like, listen, if you don’t want or have these soft skills, reframe it for yourself. Perspective is everything. Make it a puzzle. And suddenly it’s way more fascinating to most geeky engineers. What do you find valuable in that mentor/mentee kind of space if you’re trying to build these networks? Like, I know, I’ve had a lot of discussions over the past year with people who are, like Intel, I had a talk with Intel and they were like can you help us get senior women into our program for technology. I was like, no, because there really aren’t any. I think we’re really struggling with how to make them.
THURSDAY: I would go deeper than just that surface level, honestly. It is kind of a question of the ecosystem, right? Because, when you’re talking about mentee and mentors, you’re talking about people who fill in both roles at different levels. Somebody might be very technically adept but need a mentor on the soft skill sides. Or somebody may be able to communicate effectively, but have pretty poor technical skills. So it’s this whole ecosystem that we need to develop of people who are able to recognize their own strengths and help where they have those strengths, but also recognize their own weaknesses and ask for that help. And without sort of that ecosystem approach, I don’t think we’re going to do that well in continuing to move forward. And I don’t think that it’s just necessary in terms of gender. I think that it’s very valuable in terms of gender but it, but it goes alot deeper.
PAIGE: Oh my goodness, yeah, of course. I mean we talk about it in a genderized context, because that’s kind of our focus, but those skills are really important everywhere.
THURSDAY: I honestly don’t see the tech industry as it currently stands as sustainable for most people. Just the way that most companies do their recruiting. How often people wind up changing jobs just to, to move up in their skillset. All of that is pretty impractical from an industry wide perspective.
PAIGE: Yeah, I totally, I always like to ponder the idea, like what are we doing, because we’re doing a lot of this you get promoted internally, out of a development role say, and you end up in management and they’re really very, very different skillsets. I think we kind of have this American idea of getting promoted to the level of incompetence and left there.
PAIGE: So how do you run around that? And I think that’s part of why including diversity is helpful, but you have these people who have backgrounds that have made them good leaders and they might just be poor programmers, so far.
THURSDAY: Honestly, management and programming are such different skillsets that while a manager needs a good technical knowledge base, they don’t necessarily need to be good at writing code.
PAIGE: Yeah.
THURSDAY: And I think that that’s kind of a flaw in the way that, that a lot of companies operate. They take some of their best programmers and attempt to turn them into managers, but those aren’t, those are the people who honestly should stick to coding.
ANGELA: Right.
THURSDAY: Because that’s their strongsuit.
PAIGE: Yeah. I mean, it’s almost like having a path for someone as a developer is challenging to a lot of companies. Like, how do you let someone, like you kind of get to be developer and then you’re maybe a lead developer and that’s kind of the end of the road, which is the problem that I had doing IT repair/infrastructure stuff. It was like, I had gotten to the point where my next step was to essentially end up in a server room doing what would later become dev ops and, or nothing else. And how do you build a path for people to continue on? Because I think especially in today’s day and age and with your generation and generations under us, you need that. You want fulfillment.
ANGELA: I think it’s always good to even try another path. Like, not necessarily management, but develop another skill or see the company from another position, other than management. If not management, then another position. And some of that has been happening with our company, you know. One of our producers took over the production of another show and I’m seeing where things are kind of, well falling out, not quite being done the same way. But now they understand a different perspective and so do I. Actually, neither one of us really moved roles, but it’s just different, because it’s a different show.
PAIGE: Yeah, that makes total sense. So, Thursday, you talked some about the community organized conference. I’m pretty sure it’s PyDX.
PAIGE: Can you give us some of an overview? I’m always fascinated by what it makes to take an event like this kind of come together. So I guess some of that and some of the why and all that jazz.
THURSDAY: PyDX took place in October. It was, I consider it a resounding success. We did not quite meet our goals for selling out. We came within four tickets, however.
PAIGE: Oh man. If I had known that I totally would have just bought those tickets.
THURSDAY: I told everybody that we had four more tickets for me to reach our goal, but-
ANGELA: Oh, what, on Twitter, because Paige isn’t good at that social stuff.
PAIGE: Yeah, this is a constant.
ANGELA: Yes. Yeah.
THURSDAY: Well, you will have your chance next year, because we are going to throw another one. The sort of idea of having this conference was sort of this multilayered approach. PyCon, which is the largest Python conference on this continent will be in Portland later this year and one of the-
ANGELA: Oh, wait. Wait, wait, wait. This year? 2015?
THURSDAY: 2016, sorry.
ANGELA: Oh, okay. Good. No, I”m just double checking. Okay. Go ahead.
THURSDAY: So one of the reasons we decided to have a community conference here was to sort of get the community a little bit more ready for all these people who are going to be coming to town. We got several speakers who gave their very first talks ever at PyDX and al already working on proposals for PyCon, because they feel much more comfortable about it. We did a beginner track so that people who were kind of trying to decide whether they even wanted to get involved with Python had six months to really go from the basics that we introduced them to at PyDX to a point where it’s going to be valuable to put down, I think the PyCon tickets will be 300. So that’s kind of pricey if you don’t know Python yet. But if you’ve had six months to work on it and you recognize that it’s valuable, then you can get a lot more out of a conference like PyCon. We also wanted to run some experiments so the organizing committee for PyDX was ⅘ women. We had a token gentleman on our team. We did some things pretty differently from the average tech conference. We had a completely dry conference. We provided childcare.
ANGELA: Awesome.
THURSDAY: We didn’t do a large conference party. We did birds of a feather dinners instead where people could actually hear themselves talk and follow up on what they had heard. All of these different things that we wanted to sort of try out and see how they worked. I think they worked out phenomenally well. So we’re pretty pleased with that.
PAIGE: So as a writer, honestly I haven’t looked at your blog in the past month, but are you going to kind of parse that data and bring that data back out to the community in the stories of both sides? Like, let us know how it worked and why it worked, because that seems really valuable. All those experiments are super cool.
THURSDAY: We didn’t collect a whole lot of data, but we are making some of it available. On top of that, we’re helping, our various organizers are helping with a lot of other conferences that are going on so we’re getting to put some of this information into play. Melissa Chavez is one of the PyDX organizers, but she’s also the woman who’s run logistics for Open Source Bridge for the past, I want to say, four years. She’s also organizing VegFest which is the large vegan festival here in Portland. We’ve got people working on everything from Puppet Conf to varying neishe projects as well. So we are making sure that our experiments get repeated in a couple of other places.
PAIGE: Awesome. Very cool. Well, I totally encourage you to collect some data and do that. Even if you’re just doing surveys. You know, data changes things. What gets measured gets managed.
THURSDAY: Absolutely.
PAIGE: Very cool. You mentioned, kind of both in your organization, I’m sorry, totally distracting your story of PyDX, but, some of these things are really cool. You kind of mentioned diversity at your conference and diversity of community and acceptingness of community. I was kind of wondering from a technical standpoint, do you think that part of that influence is the fact that Python, unlike a lot of other modern languages is used in so many different industries? You know, Python is well known as a math language and a science language. It’s also a web language. It’s a bot language. It’s kind of, of all the modern big guns it’s the most diverse.
THURSDAY: That’s a really interesting question to me, just because the languages that Python is often compared to, Ruby and PhP in particular, have gone such different routes in terms of community. PhP has, by default, because WordPress runs, I think an estimated 20 percent of websites now.
PAIGE: I think it’s even higher than that now.
THURSDAY: It just keeps growing. It just keeps getting bigger. But they have this community that is very different from what has happened with Python. And I think part of it is the examples set by the people who came early to the community. There is just some really good culture in Python that was established very early on. Some of the biggest open sourced projects in Python didn’t grow out of some place like Silicon Valley. Jango, for instance, was created in Lawrence, Kansas. Which is this tiny dot on the map in the middle of nowhere. The guys who worked on it were newspaper, I believe they were developers for a newspaper, but they worked with a bunch of journalist. They just came from this very different culture than i think a lot of programmers have. I guess it does tie into how many different industries Python has been used across. But because there’s so many people coming from non-CS heavy backgrounds, I think that that’s helped a lot in maintaining this more welcoming culture.
PAIGE: That’s really cool. I will be honest, it’s not a language that I have learned, but it is a language that I have always kind of enjoyed kind of observing, I guess. It’s a really neat culture.
THURSDAY: I’m always pleasantly surprised by the things that are happening in the greater Python community.
PAIGE: So the PyDX, would you say that you experiments overall, the conference, kind of, I guess finish us out on a story. Like, were they successful? Do you think you’ve accomplished your goal of setting up for PyCon? That sort of thing.
THURSDAY: I think that our experiments were very successful. We got a ton of positive feedback about having a dry conference. Several people actually said specifically that they chose to speak, they chose to attend, because it felt more welcoming. That they didn’t have to just plan on dealing with drunk people. Our conference was incredibly diverse without even much effort. We didn’t quite have 50 percent parody for gender, but over half of our speakers were diverse along some spectrum.
PAIGE: So, I’m going to pause there, because, that’s, I think, a really big topic right now. How did you do that?
THURSDAY: Part of it was my general tendency to go to people who I think are going to be able to say interesting things and demand that they put in presentations. I have a pretty wide network that I would say is fairly diverse. But, on top of that, having most of our organizers be women, we reached out to the people that we, we know personally first and foremost. And that led us to people who aren’t quite the same usual suspects that you see at most conferences. On top of that, we did several things very consciously. We published our code of conduct very far in advance and made sure that everybody was very aware of it. We gave out scholarships that were essentially diversity scholarships, but basically no questions asked during the applications process. It was, do you think you’re diverse? Do you think that you need scholarship money? Put in an email and as long as we have enough money to go around we’ll keep handing it out. Not forcing people to fill out a lot of paperwork or anything like that I think helped quite a bit. Having onsite childcare was also something that I think helped quite a bit, because people who for some reason or another might have decided to stay home, couldn’t find a sitter, couldn’t arrange for taking care of kids, they were automatically able to come even without having to pay extra for the child care.
ANGELA: Which is amazing, because I am literally, at this moment, mailing or texting every family member I know to see if they can take my kids.
PAIGE: It’s a huge issue and it’s not just a genderized issue. There are single dads out there.
PAIGE: I guess, kind of one last thing, to wrap back around. I think it’s really interesting that you kind of, to get the diverse panel, essentially you asked for it, like directly. Very directly.
THURSDAY: Oh, absolutely.
PAIGE: And this is actually something that has some social proof behind it. I know there’s a couple studies, but in general women and, on top of that, other people of diversity need to be invited to do something. We’re not, as an underrepresented culture you’re generally not going to stick your neck out, because there’s a lot of risk and a lot of other things that kind of go along with that when you’re the only person in the room. It’s more difficult. You don’t have the support that’s there for everybody else, so you have to actually reach out and say, hey I know you’re a cool woman in technology. I know you’re a cool diverse person in technology. Come and share your technology with us. Not even, like, hey share about diversity, because that gets old pretty quick for anybody who’s talking about diversity in tech. But come and give a technical talk. Come and talk about your beekeeping habits, whatever.
THURSDAY: I think that creating the environment is a big step as well. If you are showing that you’re not just saying that we, that you want diversity, that you are backing it up with action is so important. I mean, it’s a little thing, but I don’t speak at conferences that don’t have codes of conduct anymore, because that’s the absolute bare minimum that an organizer can do to make sure that they are meeting the needs of a diverse audience. So many conferences still fight back about having a code of conduct, it boggles the mind.
PAIGE: Yeah. It’s such an easy step and there’s tons of open source codes of conducts. It’s not even a lot of work. A lot of the events that I run, we just pull down one of the MIT licensed codes of conduct or whatever and we’re like does this fit our needs? Yep. Sweet, let’s use it.
THURSDAY: What really drives me a little crazy, honestly, is we’re talking about people who see the need for an open source license. Or if they’re creating commercial products, they see the need for putting an end user license agreement on everything. But at the same time, these are people who don’t think that they need to discuss expectations and behaviors for an in-person event. It’s illogical.
PAIGE: I think you should yell at people like that. It’s a pretty perfect argument.
PAIGE: Well, we are about out of time. Angela has to run and I have to run.
PAIGE: There’s lot of good things to do this weekend. You know, keep your eyes open in your community for awesome events like PyDX. There’s more and more going on all the time. And if you’re in Portland, look for Py DX next year and come on down to PyCon. I may make an appearance and we’ll have a good time. Thank you so much for joining us, Thursday.
THURSDAY: Thank you for having me.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Be sure to check out the full transcription of the show at JupiterBroadcasting.com. Do the show dropdown, select Women’s Tech Radio, and then just scroll down below the video. That’s where all the show notes, links, and like I said, the full transcription is right there.
PAIGE: And if you have people who aren’t podcast listeners, feel free to send them on over to our YouTube channel. They can check it out there. Sometimes that’s a little easier for people. You can also catch us on Twitter @HeyWTR and send us an email at WTR@JupiterBroadcasting.com. Thanks so much.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter | Transcription@cotterville.net

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