Code4Lib 2014: Conference Review
J. (Jenny) Gubernick
I was fortunate to receive a diversity scholarship to help defray the costs of attending Code4Lib 2014 in Raleigh, NC. Although I am still processing the somewhat overwhelming amount of information I absorbed, I suspect that I will look back at this past week as a transformative experience. I pivoted from thinking of myself as "not a real programmer," "lucky to have any job," and that "maybe someday I can do something cool," to thinking of myself as being in a position of great empowerment to learn and do, and being ready to apply my skills to a more complex work. I look forward to continuing to be part of this community in months and years to come.
Because I received a gender diversity scholarship, I wanted to give back by attending and helping present at the #libtechgender preconference. This introduced me to individuals in the Code4Lib community who are exceptionally committed to improving diversity not just at this conference, but also in the greater library and technology world. My favorite comment in the workshop: cultivating diversity, tolerance, and acknowledging privilege is a social skill, which we can all improve and practice just like any other skill. The two keynote speeches during the main conference also highlighted the very real gender and racial divides between coders and end users, and the importance of nurturing talent and diversity from within libraries and non-technical staff. In the weeks since the conference, I've volunteered to teach a coding camp for teens over the summer, and to provide mentorship opportunities to a few non-technical coworkers interested in learning to code. I'm excited to see where this energy takes me next.
I have a lot of nerdier takeaways, too: new APIs, libraries, and frameworks to play with, new ideas for small time investment/big return projects like data visualization, and a better understanding of what the intimidating job postings that I've seen actually mean in terms of skill levels and workload. I sent the slides from the talk on web accessibility back to my office and heard that my coworkers had tested the accessibility of our library’s website in real time; my notes from the UX breakout session were also well-received. I even won a book on web development with Clojure, which I've been curious about for a while and am excited to start exploring.
Suggestions for Code4Lib newcomers
I was nervous that this might be the kind of place where there are a lot of jerks. It wasn’t. It really wasn’t. Everyone that I sat next to, ate a meal with, chatted with informally, and who presented was invariably friendly and welcoming, and interested in sharing information. So if any past bad experiences or preconceptions with the tech community are holding you back from coming to Code4Lib, please give it a chance. There is a solid code of conduct and there are many allies actively willing to be backup.
There were many semi-structured ways to get to know people at the conference: the newcomer dinner, the tour, the social activities that were planned and open to all on the wiki, sitting with different groups throughout the day’s formal activities, etc. Take advantage of some of those opportunities, while also being willing to forgive yourself for not taking advantage of all opportunities. Self-care is important, and in such an information-overload-heavy environment, taking time for a nap, a quiet walk, or a one-on-one conversation can be just as important as participating in a loud social function or attending a session.
Suggestions for conference organizers
At this venue, many rooms were too crowded, without adequate seating or accessible walkways. Many slides were difficult to read. I hope that people with disabilities are explicitly included in the diversity scholarship awardees and future organizer committees, both to make the conference more diverse, and also to help make it more accessible for everyone. One of the talks at this year's conference talked about universal design; it would be great if that inspired the conference to adopt universal design models, too.
Although name badges were helpful, they could have displayed more helpful information: Twitter/IRC handles, preferred pronouns, stickers/badges/word clouds highlighting info such as software, platforms, areas of professional interest, etc. Employer information seemed necessary, yet also problematic: sometimes, I felt conversationally limited by wearing a badge that announced that I worked at a public library.
Perhaps having explicit job seeking/recruitment/resume review sessions would be helpful for attendees looking to broaden their professional horizons. Perhaps having more sessions/hackfests/networking sessions focused on specific software/platforms (aside from preconferences) would help facilitate more meaningful conversations and professional connections, as well.