Lesbians Who Tech’s San Francisco Summit Showed Me I’m Not Alone

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feature image via Lesbians Who Tech.

It’s been a week since the Lesbians Who Tech summit in San Francisco ended and I’m still hungover. Not from alcohol, but from THE FEELS. It’s a gathering of queer women in and around the tech industry organized by Leanne Pittsford, and the most lesbians in tech you’ll encounter in a conference, EVER. As a developer, my excitement knew no bounds during the stellar programming that damn near shut down Castro and the Mission — I was surrounded by intelligent women just like me, thriving in a cis- and male-dominated industry.

The energy I felt hanging around queer women in my career field was like riding a roller coaster on a sunny day. Thursday was a short tech crawl at local bars in Castro and badge pick-up at the Castro Theatre. Ladies were milling around throughout Castro, and for an area that’s saturated with gay men, it was quite a sight to see for the locals. People stopped in the street and surrounding the theatre to take pictures as ladies chopped it up and found their friends among those picking up badges. Friday was the big day, with a full house in Castro Theatre for the more ‘conferencey’ part of the summit.

During the speaker sessions, I felt wave after wave of the thought, “I’m not the ONLY ONE. I’m not alone in this industry. There are others like me who go through the same struggles to be accepted in the workplace. We’re a community. We’re united in our differences.” That energy almost tangibly swelled throughout the auditorium during the main conference day, and the excited cheers during Leanne’s keynote address took this momentum home. She made bold statements about how our world would look if equality was embraced. “If the world were more like Lesbians Who Tech, the world would be a better place.”

Edie Windsor, our collective adopted grandmother and former IBM developer/Supreme Court DOMA case plaintiff, made sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when she talked about her sweet lesbian romance and being out in a conservative time. Space Joy made us squeal while talking about launching and landing a rocket, Angelica Ross discussed what it was like to be openly trans in tech, and more.

The day was full of emotional, heartfelt, passionate talks about sexuality, self-care, knowing your worth, and space.

The best part for me as a black woman and lesbian developer, in a space where there are even fewer of us present in the workplace, was to see fellow black developers of all gender expressions as speakers, mentors, and conference goers. There were tons of random hugs among black women because were were just plain happy to see each other. I made some new friends, met some fellow writers, and cheered as Leanne gave us a shout-out, too:

And oh by the way… #lwtsummit (via @ericabirving)

Posted by Lesbians Who Tech on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This feeling of cohesion and community continued even through the social events that happened after the big conference. On Saturday we headed to Twitter HQ for a day of workshops and job hunting, with companies offering varying levels of swag. I think I came home with at least 12 tech company shirts, 5 pairs of shades, and 20 pens. There was a lot of excitement in the air, and the two main workshop rooms were full of women learning about entrepreneurship and leadership in tech, or coding and education in programming.

Speakers during the workshops on Saturday talked hacking your way into a job, intersectionality, unconscious bias, and more. One of the highlights was a panel giving us a bootcamp overview with some of the top bootcamps. I was excited to learn about the work of Floodgate Academy, a bootcamp started by Devaris Brown to train underrepresented students in DevOps (development operations engineers). We chatted about elitism in Ivy League education vs. non-traditional ‘bootcamp-style’ educational backgrounds, how to combat imposter syndrome, and how to use data to our advantage in growth hacking and programming workflows. While the day felt a little frazzled because of the huge amount of worthwhile information and the buzz of the career fair, I felt comforted being around a ton of folks who were forward thinking and wanted to improve our collective experience in the tech industry. It was a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the stale content that some other conferences offer up in regards to tough topics. The Lesbians Who Tech summit speakers weren’t afraid to ‘go there’ and challenge the status quo with ideas and introspection, and I appreciated that.

After Saturday’s day of workshops a huge group of us used the Lesbians Who Tech app, which connected conference attendees and shared social status updates, to orchestrate a trip to Mission bar El Rio on Saturday after the career fair and workshops at Twitter HQ.

#lwtsummit at #elrio #sanfrancisco

A photo posted by Agnes Riley (@agiriley) on

Some folks trickled in early (as seen in this picture), but by around 8pm the bar was wall-to-wall lesbians and queer folks of varying levels of inebriation dancing to trap music, laughing, joking and meeting together without an argument or frown in sight. The vibe was so electric that I’m sure our scowls could be felt from blocks away when the bar closed for a private party.

Sunday rounded out the summit with a closing brunch and City Director interest meeting. There’s extension chapters of the organization in many different cities, and you can attend meetups and events catered to your local queer tech community. If you don’t have a chapter of Lesbians who Tech in your area and would like to, go start one!

The conference was intoxicating — the feeling of being understood as a human being in a career field that’s mainly homogeneous shouldn’t have ended there, but we knew we’d have to hold onto it on our own as we collectively traveled back to our offices, which aren’t quite as diverse. I traveled to San Francisco by myself for the summit, and although I expected to meet up with some friends while there, I’d never been in an atmosphere where I could strike up a deep conversation with the woman two seats across from me and make a friend for life, start a business venture, or toss around ideas for the next big thing. It felt like, for those few days in the increasingly volatile San Francisco, we were a huge family connected by this spirit of resilience and technical savvy. I didn’t want it to end, but luckily the next summit is September in NYC. Make sure to grab a seat next to me so we can feel all the feels, together!


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Lyn Muldrow is a Web Developer at OmniTI and Staff Writer at Autostraddle. She's a bronze star mom of two nerdy kids, loves Doctor Who and Michael Jackson more than should be allowed, and finds jazz/pop mashups relaxing. Chat with her on Twitter @LynMuldrow, Instagram, or Facebook.

Lyn has written 3 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. 0

    Eh. I’m so glad Lyn had such a great experience but just in case another queer in tech is considering going next year, my two cents…

    Lesbians Who Tech made me feel… Well, *really* alone in my field. Nearly everyone I talked to (no joke, at least 3 out of every 4 people I had a conversation with—and I think I was talking to all different groups of people, pretty much at random) were not actually in tech.

    Like… lawyers, business queers, marketing queers, education specialists, media queers… Most of whom were working in some tech-adjacent role (e.g. marketing at Google, corporate law managing some startups, education expert at a startup, etc.) but who were not actually technical (litmus test: have you ever written any code?).

    That was a bummer. I mean, I’ve done projects that involved working with, for instance, sleep clinicians before, but that doesn’t mean I’m “in healthcare”. Even several members of the LWT Summit organizing team weren’t technical!

    To mention the up-side, I definitely did meet some actual tech-ing lesbians, and regardless of techie status it was still super cool to meet and hang out with so many queers—because I love the queer community! It’s the best, and having so many women* queers in one place was, in many ways, super cool!

    But often I was left feeling disappointed and isolated; not surrounded by my peers, but reminded of just how few of us there are (and left without much opportunity for nerding out together or networking in meaningful ways).

    Just wanted to drop a little bit of other feedback for those considering the event next year. I’m Bay Area local and didn’t pay for my own ticket, but if I had traveled far or paid a lot to be there (and didn’t have accurate expectations going in) I think I would have been pretty seriously unhappy about it.

    • 0

      That’s interesting to hear! I’ve thought about attending but I haven’t ever made it. I’m not sure I’d feel at home, but for different reasons. I’m bi, I’m not out professionally, and I’ve dated men I met at work before, so I feel like my experience is very different from most people who would be drawn to an event with “lesbians” in the title.

      • 0

        Aw I hope you come one day! It’s such a great event and everyone is so nice/supportive. I’m bi and I’m an organizer for Silicon Valley. I make it *very* clear at Silicon Valley events that everyone is welcome. We have had lots of discussions about the name, but Leanne, the founder, has leaned towards keeping Lesbians in the name to acknowledge our roots, and then Queer Women in Tech as a tagline. (Older generations tend to find queer offensive). If you’re not ready to trek to the Summit, try visiting a local happy hour or event.

    • 0

      I’m so happy to see another perspective here, and sad to hear that we didn’t share the same warm fuzzies from the event. It’s funny- everyone I talked to and met with the exception of a very few were web developers, but I know that there were non-tech folks there. There were tons of devs- we’re not a dying breed, we’re a growing one!

      I remember that during Saturday’s career fair, there were quite a bit of people who were new to the field who attended the “education and coding” track. That event was also open to the public after a while, which might have affected the ratio a bit. Also, those in the organizing/admin crew for LWT are mostly pretty new (like, days old from the time of the event) who pull from different backgrounds to make the summit great. I personally believe that the mix of talent makes for a better event- we’ve been to conferences for and by developers, and IMO they are snooze-fests!

      Thanks again for your perspective. I hope if you’re considering attending the next summit, you’re able to feel like you’re among folks who are like you! It was really an empowering feeling.

    • 0

      Hey there! I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t able to meet the techies you were looking to meet. Do you attend any local Lesbians Who Tech events, like in SF, Silicon Valley or East Bay? I’m an organizer for Silicon Valley and I’m happy to get you connected to technical, local LWTers. They exist, trust me!

      All queer women (and friends!) are welcome at Lesbians Who Tech, even if they’re just interested in tech. That means we get all sorts of folks, from students (undergrad to Ph.D.), marketers, founders, product managers, engineers, and much more. We try to create a really welcoming environment; that’s something I strive to create at Silicon Valley events. And if you’re looking to meet engineers, that’s important as well!

      All the best,
      Lindsay

  2. 0

    I need an autostraddle A+ pin to wear next time. I would have loved to have connected with other Autostraddle readers.

    I found the event really powerful. It was amazing to get to connect with so many queer women working in the tech industry.

    Also: dancing. 💃🏽✨

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