What does it take to organize a community event? How do you ensure it is diverse? What does diversity even mean? Tune in to learn directly from organizers of some of the most diverse Go meetups (Gophercon EU and Go Bridge).
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Hello, and welcome to Go Time. I’m Mat Ryer. Today we’re talking about organizing in the community. You know all those meetups and conferences you go to, and there’s food there, and great content, and everything’s just worked out.. Well, it turns out that that’s quite difficult to achieve, and we’re gonna dig into that a little bit today, and learn a bit more about that, I think.
Joining me on today’s show, we have Ronna Steinberg and Natalie Pistunovich. Hello!
Welcome to the show.
Thanks for having us.
We also have Johnny Boursiquot. It’s only Johnny Boursiquot. Hello, Johnny.
How’s it going?
It goes. You know, I’ve been indoors for a little while, so it’s good to have some human interaction that basically aren’t my family. So hello, everybody. Happy to see you! [laughs]
No pressure… There’s loads of pressure now. Great! We’re Johnny’s friends for the week. We’re the ones he’s gonna get to hang out with. So I actually asked our guests for some mini-bios, and they’re not so mini. I didn’t realize how much you do for the community, I must admit.
Natalie, three meetups and three conferences you organize. That’s phenomenal. The one that I know about, the GopherCon Europe, is a phenomenal conference. It’s excellent.
Yeah, thank you so much for that. And Ronna, organizer of the Women Who Go Berlin and the diversity scholarships for GoBridge.
Correct. I think I’m dragged into every adventure that Natalie sends me on [unintelligible 00:03:14.18]
Are you happy about that, Ronna? Is that a problem, or is that okay?
No, I think it’s great. It’s working so far, so no complaints here
The thing Mat missed from my bio is that I’m a developer advocate at Aerospike, but more importantly, I’m a big fan of Ronna. So it’s great to have this adventure–
Is that on your bio?
This is in my bio… For this show. [laughter]
I missed that part. I didn’t read that part, I’m so sorry. I think it’s a mutual thing; I think a lot of people know about this, so… [laughter]
Well, that’s lovely. Actually, so that our listeners get to know you, for those that haven’t met you, maybe we could start off with a working-from-home tip from each of you. That would be a great new regular slot of the show… Working from home tips. Ronna, do you wanna go first?
[00:04:15.19] I think Natalie should actually go first. I mean, she does have more experience with this. I have more experience I think on managing this part.
Okay. Natalie, would you like to go first?
Absolutely. I’ve been working more remote than not for a while now, and the thing that helps me more than anything to start the day is if I’m going somewhere. So I have a good breakfast, I enjoy my coffee, brush my teeth, wash my face, and change into the loungewear, which is also comfy clothes, but it’s not the pajamas.
I see. So you make it sort of that thing of making a distinction about when you’re in work mode versus in home mode.
Yeah, that’s a good one.
Okay. So for me, it’s more about the quality of delivering pretty much anything. A lot of us are very used to the agile way of doing things, delivering things very rapidly… I think everybody – because communication is harder right now, it creates a massive amount of ping-pong. So whether it’s defining a task, whether it’s actually delivering a bug fix - whatever it is, it needs to be in very high quality.
The same goes for code reviews. If you write a message to somebody [unintelligible 00:05:35.25] try to be mindful of other people in this process…Because it’s addictive, right? Delivering things very quickly is addictive; right now I think everybody needs to slow down a little bit.
That sounds great, and I think you’re right about this idea of asynchronous communication. When you’re in an office with somebody, the conversations can be very different. They could be very short little sentences, lots of nice pleasantries amongst it… But yes, if it’s asynchronous, it is worth spending a bit more time on that clarity, and things… Especially if we’re gonna have different schedules as well. I think that’s a great one, Ronna.
So how did you get into organizing then? Natalie, what did your involvement in this kind of come from?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I’ve been trying to think about that, and probably it goes back to since forever. I’ve been on the students’ union in university, and throughout life, and then when I moved to Berlin, I went to some conference that I found, which was the Berlin Dev Fest, organized by the local Google Developer Group communities… And I just spoke to somebody randomly, and he said “Oh, you’re doing Go? You should help me organize the Go meetup.” And that was [unintelligible 00:06:56.21] who was organizing the Go meetup for the first few years in Berlin.
Then I came to the very first meetup, and he said “Oh, by the way, I’m moving to London. Good luck.” And that’s how I became the organizer of the Go User Group. [laughter] And then from there it came to other meetups, and the idea for GopherCon started with really admiring GopherCon in the U.S, but not having a European version of it, and just saying “Alright, let’s do this.”
Yeah. So when you moved to a new city then - is this quite a good way to meet new people as well, and to kind of jump into existing communities?
Yeah. And GopherCon EU, for those that don’t know, actually moves around, doesn’t it?
GopherCon Europe does move around… Not only in EU countries, but in all European countries.
We love you, U.K. people. [laughter] Even though there is a GopherCon U.K.
Right. Well, there was one in Tenerife, which was – nobody believed me when I said I have to go there for a conference, by the way… [laughter] No one believes that.
There was one in Iceland, in Reykjavik.
[00:08:09.24] Yeah, the Iceland one was also excellent. And this year, what’s happening with–
Berlin. Well, this year, if you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have told you Berlin, and this is where it would end, but now there is a pandemic so… Hopefully Berlin. We’ll see how things develop.
Yeah. And what about you, Ronna, then? How did you get into organizing as part of the community like this?
Well, it’s actually a strange story, really. I lived in Berlin, I was a gopher in Berlin for two years, and then I moved to the Netherlands. And accidentally, I signed up for a meetup in Berlin, for a Go meetup in Berlin… And I canceled probably two minutes later, but somebody was stalking the list of people… [laughs] And that somebody was not Natalie, it was Vanessa Ortiz, who was the organizer of Women Who Go Berlin back then. She was looking for women who were doing Go to come and mentor.
She immediately checked and found my LinkedIn, and like “Oh, you know Go… You’ve been doing it for a while… Can you come help?” But I wasn’t even in the city. Then I decided to move back to Berlin, and I was basically handed down the chapter, an already made chapter. It took about two minutes for me to decide when she asked me if I wanted to take over, to decide to do it… And I really thought it was a bad idea, but I did. I’m very happy that I did it. And yeah, the rest is history… As well as my friendship with Natalie.
By the way, Natalie gave a talk about new people and about organizing meetups and about her journey at GopherCon in Denver. I advise anyone who is interested in insights to watch it. It’s very good.
Okay, cool. That’s probably available on YouTube now, isn’t it?
So Natalie, maybe you could give us a clue - how could people find that? What was that called?
Closing Keynote 2018.
Cool. That’ll do. Just trying to give everyone the search terms… [laughs]
I think it was something – The Value of New, or…?
The importance of beginners.
The importance of beginners, okay.
Yes, I remember. Very good. So yeah, we do recommend that. We’ll put that in our show notes as well.
So some of the conferences are kind of commercial, others are more sort of just community, and they balance the costs and things… What is it that drives you in particular to keep going with it? Because I’ve spoken at some conferences, and done a few of the little bits and pieces, but not much… And even just that small exposure, I realize how difficult it is. So why do you keep doing it? What is in it for you?
The chance to do some anarchy. [laughter] So I never had a conference shirt in the size XS until it was my conference.
And then it was ranging from XS to 5XL. So I like onesies, for babies, which is really cute. But also, other types of things, like – having spent some time living in Kenya and talking to people and learning how hard and disconnected the regular everyday in certain areas from what I’m used to from Europe got me really realizing how hard it is to be part of this if you’re not living in a place like the U.S. or Europe.
[00:12:09.12] And just doing a call for paper usually will not get you to reach such people… So I get a chance to use the network that I built there to every year to fly in speakers, or attendees. From Africa, from Latin America, from Asia… It is nice to be able to do this.
Yeah, because otherwise there probably isn’t a conference or even a meetup near them, is there?
They do have meetups and conferences?
There are meetups. There’s a meetup in Nairobi. This year GopherCon Africa was supposed to kick off in Nigeria. See how that goes as well, with all the global plans changing… But yeah, you see how big the disconnection is… And being able to help a little bit to bridge that gap is a huge reason for me to do this.
Yeah, that’s great. That is great.
There is a very exciting community right now in Nairobi, and I suspect Lagos as well, but… An incredible, incredible engagement over there with Go. How many people do they have right now, Natalie? I think you probably know.
How many people sign up to the meetup in Nairobi?
I think so…
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s higher. I’ll find it. You do you, and I’ll find this information.
I did a remote meetup in Lagos. They do have a – it’s a great community there.
In Nigeria for sure it’s bigger.
Yeah. And if there’s anyone out there that wants to speak at a conference or a meetup and it’s their first time, doing a remote one actually has quite a lot of benefits. You can kind of be in a space that you feel safe in, and everything’s more familiar and comfortable; you can still deliver a good talk, and hopefully as long as all the internets work as they’re supposed to, it was a great experience. So I do recommend that.
But you can’t really beat actually going and physically being a place, and that’s the advantage for conferences. That’s the advantage to fly them over.
Did you find that thing, Ronna?
Yeah, I have an update. In the Nairobi Gophers group there are 870 - this a round number - members. Woo-hoo to them!
It’s impressive. Very impressive.
And there will also be lots of people hopefully listening where they sort of – they don’t feel like there is representation, or maybe there isn’t a meetup in their area… What can they do? I mean, it doesn’t sound easy to just start a meetup, is it?
It depends a lot on all kinds of things. If you have a place you can go to and ask “Please give me space”, then it’s definitely easier to roll, because you can host a remote talk, like you said; you can find maybe a speaker from the community, or give a talk yourself, or just host a fish bowl session, a QA, watch some other talk together.
But finding a space is not always obvious. If your company is able to host this, this is great. If you know some co-working space that will give this, this is also great. But this is never taken for granted.
Well, I guess it really depends on the city, right? If there are other active communities in your area, you can approach them and see how they’re doing it. That’s what I did. It was very helpful for me. I did not pretend at all that I could do it on my own from the start.
Before we move on, I am curious as to what some of the challenges beyond venue - and I’m not sure if food tends to be a part of the meetups, when they’re organized in those environments, as they tend to be… You know, with U.S. or Europe-based meetups. So beyond venue and food, which are common, I would imagine, across all meetup organization - but beyond these, what is the most challenging aspects for, say, a meetup in Lagos or a meetup in Nairobi? Beyond that, what are some of the other concerns that you have to contend with, that you necessarily don’t have to in the States, or in the U.K, or something like that?
[00:16:26.06] I think that’s a great question. From the little bit that I got to see, Go is not yet as popular, so you can find many people individually working on this… But the network is still being built. For comparison, the Berlin User Group I think has almost 1,000 people, and many of them work in companies that are using Go.
And even in the Berlin meetup it’s sometimes hard to find people to give a talk, because they think their project is boring, because they think “Oh, it’s just what I’m doing at work.” So if this is a language you’re learning for fun, and you’re coming to listen and not necessarily to give a talk, then having enough speakers is harder. But this is harder with any community that is beginning, and I think that Go is just not yet as popular there.
Another thing is what Mat mentioned, doing the remote talks. This is great, that the internet worked all the way through. This is also something that’s not obvious, and you probably need to pre-record this as a back-up, or just count on everybody’s patience if there’s some kind of a hiccup with the internet.
Yeah. The London Gophers, actually - they put all of their talks online as well. They’re just on YouTube. That’s nice for anyone obviously that can’t make it, but it is also nice to get a sense of what these meetups are like… But you don’t really see some of the main advantages, which you get from actually physically meeting in person… Which we perhaps shouldn’t dwell on at the moment, but eventually we’re gonna be back to normal, we’re gonna be back at meetups, and stuff.
So what are some of the advantages for people attending conferences and meetups, do you think?
The way we do things at Women Who Go Berlin is actually – what’s happening right now globally is a drawback for us, because the way that we do this… Because when I started out there were very few women that we could sign that were professional in Go, and this was a Women Who Go chapter… And I wanted to train people as fast as I could, so I came up with a format where I go to companies that want to host Women Who Go Berlin, and we would come up with a challenge that has something to do with what they do.
Then our members would do a real-life, industry-level challenge; something that takes 2-3 hours. By the way, you mentioned at the beginning the waveform going up when you clicked your fingers… We drew a waveform at a Soundcloud meetup; that was pretty cool.
Yeah. There is a bunch of them. We do them once a month. Of course, right now it’s a bit of a problem… What it does - it actually leverages the fact that everybody is in the same room and then I can group them up to make sure that people will finish the challenge, which is ideally what should happen. We do cool things, and it’s a lot of fun. So yeah, this is a very big setback for us, so we’re trying to figure out what to do right now.
Yeah. I mean, moving that all online is for sure gonna be a challenge. So I didn’t realize, that’s not just a meetup that you’re describing, Ronna; that is where you actually get together and work, and build something.
It’s workshops, yeah.
That’s really cool, and that’s a whole different ball game as well. So much to actually get your hands on and get stuck into. I find hands-on experience is a great way to learn for a lot of people, especially me… So yeah, learning by actually building is a nice thing that others ought to probably think about as well.
[00:20:12.21] Yeah, it comes from my own experience. I mean, if there’s one thing that I learned in my career, it’s that I learned best when I was paid to learn something… [laughs] And I was actually doing it on the job. So I’m giving people the opportunity to learn on the job. They have access to mentors from the hosting company, the hosting company gets to maybe try and recruit people off of that, so they can you know.. a bit of a market going on, I’m not going to deny it. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of people recruited, and a lot of people hired, and we’ll increase the community.
Yeah, I think you touched a really important point, which is exactly this place to seek for opportunities… Because yes, it’s possible to chat with everybody in an online event, but it’s not the same as talking to people from the hosting company, or talking to people from other companies who are looking to hire… Many people find their next jobs in such events, or in meetups or in conferences.
When your pool of opportunities of companies that you can go to is smaller, because there’s not so many big companies, or there’s not so many companies that are using Go… To answer your question, Johnny - I think this is another big difference between meetups that I noticed in Europe versus Africa, just from being present in those two mainly.
I’m curious if you’ve encountered perhaps any cultural barriers as well in those environments… Or is the age group young enough and progressive enough to not be hindered by certain things that hold folks back? And I’m gonna be blunt here and basically say that in certain parts of the world, Africa included, which is kind of what we’ve been talking about here, there are men who cannot stand having a woman go up on stage and try to teach them something. That’s a very real thing.
In some parts of the world we might think that’s backwards, but there are parts of the world that are still very anti-women being in any sort of leadership (or otherwise) positions. Even if it’s for a 25-minute talk. That is something that can be perceived as challenging authority in some ways.
There are these kinds of things that still exist, that I’m wondering if they play a role, at least from what you’ve seen… If any of these things are playing a role in maybe the frequency or how well those events go, how welcome and inclusive they end up being… Do women end up coming back to these events? Do they feel safe enough to be part of these communities? As we all know, there’s toxic environments everywhere, so what kind of challenges are they facing in those environments, that might be different from ours.
It’s a really great question, and my answer is probably really biased, because I’ve only participated in the events that I was invited to, obviously… So I did not get a change even to be part of such events. But probably the most – so Kenya felt to me very open-minded in that sense, and probably the place that had the most people with traditional outfits, if that’s any indicator, was actually Mauritius, an island in Africa.
[00:23:49.08] Even there, men that had a very traditional outfit, with this costume, and the head cover still were there, and listening to my talk, asking questions… But I’m sure that this is because they read the agenda and they saw that there’s gonna be a woman speaker, and if they would not want that, they would not show up there in the first place.
So definitely that exists, definitely that’s a problem. This is not something that I personally experienced, because usually it’s announced who the speakers are. But it’s really important that you’re raising awareness to this, so thank you very much.
Yeah, I was gonna say - there’s also places that aren’t hospitable to women… Hacker News is also there. [laughter]
Well, you can hide better there. [laughter]
Yeah, you can lurk. You can have a male(ish) codename/username or something.
Actually, I spoke at a conference in Lviv in Ukraine, and I don’t know really, but just superficially, the mix was about 50/50 men and women, which did look strange at a tech conference, I must admit. And I actually made the point that, in a way, I reckon if you can get over that - because we do have that problem in tech; we do have this problem, and if we can get away from it, we’re gonna just amplify all our potential. That’s the thing. I feel like we hold ourselves back by these kind of old-fashioned attitudes. And I made the point to those young - they were quite young - students that if you can solve this problem (or maybe it’s just not a problem at all), it gives you an advantage in the world, which I do believe.
I want to say something about a different perspective. I think there’s a lot of misconception around this topic. There is a big misconception around this. There is something to be said for hard work, and this idea that hard work is going to get you anywhere in life. The people who believe in these things, that if you tried hard enough, you will get there, and therefore this just-world bias (that’s what it’s called), and therefore if a certain population is not getting there, they’re just not willing to put in the work etc. There is a lot of misconception around that, because it’s a beautiful idea, and the people who believe that are usually very good people.
The reality is that hard work is not going to get you everywhere. For some people maybe it will, maybe it won’t… And we’re seeing right now how much security there is in that, right? So I think we probably shouldn’t mark certain people with certain ideas as the enemy, or target them, because they’re not bad people; they just don’t necessarily understand what is happening… Especially in this industry, because it’s very easy to overlook certain problems that we have. It’s a big manifesto, I know.
Yeah, it is.
For me personally – personally, I think I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of the industry for a long time, and I’ve seen that thing you’re talking about, where folks are like “Well, you got to where you are because you worked hard.” Well, yes, but I’ve also seen people who work just as hard or harder than me, and because maybe they didn’t know the right people at the right time, or they didn’t have access to a certain person or a certain company, or whatever it is…
This thing about the work alone gets you to where you need to be - I think deep down everybody knows that’s not true. It’s never been – that’s table stakes, everybody has to work hard… And those who are privileged enough that don’t have to work as hard, and they just have the connections, basically can just skip a few steps… And again, more power to them, whatever that ends up being for them.
[00:27:52.05] But I think if everybody is working hard – what we’re trying to do… I’m gonna speak for Natalie and for Ronna for a little bit here… I think what we’re all trying to do, because I think we’re all part of this organization of community events group, I think what we try to do is basically create opportunities for people to learn and engage. We’re broadening the surface area for connections to happen, for learning to happen. We’re creating opportunities.
We can’t open some doors for people, because – I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that much pull. I can’t place somebody at a company and say “Hey. Here, have a job.” I can’t give you a job; I can create opportunities for you to come, and to meet, and to learn, and to participate, and to engage, and to give some of yourself and some of your time… And the more you give, the more you receive.
So I think we all create opportunities for these things to happen. We broaden the surface area. That’s something that just wasn’t being done at all just ten years ago. Events weren’t focused on creating opportunities for people; they were focused on show-casing certain individuals’ ability to talk, and to sell, and to pitch. If you’ve noticed, meetups - we didn’t call them meetups back then, but… Meetings of this type were – I remember when I first started going to meetings; they were so high-level… They were not geared towards beginners. They were not geared towards being inclusive… And I’m not just talking about gender, or race, or anything like that; it’s almost like the guild of wizards… You show up and they’re talking about these very high-level concepts.
I have nothing against that, but the focus wasn’t on building community per se; it was like “Hey, we all know magical incantations for things. Let’s just get together and talk.” It’s kind of like an old boys’ club, where you get your scotch and your cigar and you’re kind of complimenting each other, patting each other on the back kind of thing. That was really what it felt like. The focus wasn’t on creating opportunities for learning. I know I’m kind of generalizing a little bit here, and please forgive me for that, but… That’s just been my personal experience.
So to some degree I’ve seen that in our tech careers, and have decided rather than complain about it, to do something about it. I think that’s why in part we’re all in this, and doing this… But I’m 100% behind what you said, Ronna. It’s not just about working hard. That’s a given. In my mind that’s a given. It’s about basically finding the opportunities, and in some cases helping to create them yourself, and hopefully that comes back around and it works out for you as well… But I think the more options you try to create for others, the more you’re gonna find yourself. And it’s not just hard work. Never been.
I’d like to add something to that, if that’s okay…
…because Natalie and I, we talk about this a lot. So to anyone who might be listening to this, we’ve put a lot of effort in this scholarship, we’ve put a lot of effort into bringing people from really all over the world to certain conferences where they can maybe find opportunities, which is really what we want to increase.
But then, there is always this concern that people who do come, are not necessarily right now - and that’s also okay - at a place where they can lever it, where they can just make up their minds, jump on an opportunity, and “Wherever it takes me, I’m just gonna go.” And it’s okay, but, you know, if I could speak to anyone who applies to the scholarship, what I would like to tell them is just be aware that the people that you’re going to meet, at least some of them can actually – it may not be you, Johnny, or me particularly, but there could be somebody out there that is right now recruiting… Like, create the space, and when opportunity knocks and you’re ready, you might actually take it.
I think it’s very important, because we do put a lot of work into this, and we’re always worried that – you know, on the one hand we don’t wanna pressure anybody. But on the other hand, we don’t want to see opportunities go to waste.
Could you tell us a bit more about the scholarship then, please?
There’s a lot to say about this scholarship… [laughter] I wrote a document once for GoBridge on how…
[laughs] …on how I do this. I started with having no idea what I was doing. Natalie basically pinged me one day – it’s always on Facebook Messenger; don’t ask me why, but all opportunities are always showing up on Facebook Messenger… The place where you least expect it to, and you don’t take seriously, ever.
Yeah… I haven’t had any opportunities on Facebook Messenger.
I tell a lie, I did have the opportunity to have some hair with one of the filters, so I enjoyed that, but… Not quite what you’re talking about, is it?
Important too though..
Well, for context, for a long time on the Facebook Messenger is where Ronna and me would chat about life. We just used that as our regular communication channel.
It’s embarrassing, really. [laughs]
We have since then upgraded and we have a part of that on WhatsApp. [laughter]
And Slack, and then there’s all the gophers Slacks… All of them. So there’s the Gophers, the Women Who Go one, there’s the Women Who Go Berlin one… So all of them.
The GDE one…
I can’t find the messages. So whenever I want to search for something, Natalie sends me [unintelligible 00:35:24.00]
Yeah, I know. That’s pain.
But yeah, so she asked me to do this and I didn’t have any idea how something like that could be done. And I immediately then said yes, obviously. Because, you know… [laughter] That’s just how I do things. So then I found out, “Okay, I do need to create a form for applications.”
Then it turned out that it’s quite a headache, trying to figure out what to say in that form. Because if people are applying – for instance, how do you ask somebody what under-represented group they belong to? Because when we asked them what under-represented groups they identify with, people who are not necessarily a native English speaker just said “All of them. I identify with every single fight, from every under-represented group out there.” So I think there’s a lot of that going on…
[00:36:32.15] And then how to get people to trust you over a form, with personal information that is quite sensitive, and… A lot of things that happen in there. Then there is forming a committee to figure out who’s going to go. It is very hard to tell people that they are going to measure other people, and it’s a very difficult task, I think. I’m glad actually that I don’t rank people, and I don’t decide who goes, because that makes my life a bit easier. And then take all of that data…
And then there is the logistic of hotel, flights and all of that stuff. Some of these people are flying for the very first time in their lives, and they’re going to be doing it on their own.
Wow… Wow. That changes a lot, doesn’t it? That changes a lot, if you think about that.
It is scary for me. Once in a while I find myself like “Okay, do they know what to do if they miss a connection? Do I know what to do if I miss a connection?” [laughs] I find myself struggling with these questions… And there’s a massive leap of faith happening on the week of, and then hopefully the magic happens and it works out. It’s not easy.
So you must be able to build a lot of trust though, because people wouldn’t do that if you hadn’t already done that, right? If you hadn’t been able to build that foundation of trust, probably you wouldn’t get people being able to come.
I think people want it enough, so that they can take… And yeah, we email a lot; I get to know pretty much everyone pretty well, who is going [unintelligible 00:38:15.10] It’s not easy. For instance something that has occurred to me when we were in the U.S. - and this was actually not a GoBridge scholarship, I think… There was a woman - she did not have travel insurance, and we’re in the U.S, so what happens if tomorrow she needs an X-ray.
So I think these scholarships really need to take things very seriously. We are fortunate to be doing this in Europe; if we’re talking about GopherCon Europe, it’s easier, because things are not as expensive. We can definitely figure it out. But otherwise, I would probably have decided to fund everyone’s travel insurance.
What I would like to add is some things that – probably one of the biggest challenges is actually to find people to fill out the scholarship.
Because you made a form, you’re tweeting this on social media, and you’re saying “Hey friends, please retweet this.” You’re tweeting this from the conference social media, you’re tweeting this from GoBridge. And then you have the same reach, of the same people who know and are familiar with those conferences. But how do you reach those people in the different meetups we talked about, that are not part of this smaller community of Go developers in Europe, Go developers in the U.S.? Starting to reach those for me feels like half of the work.
What I did in the first year was go to Meetup.com, go to WomenTechmakers.com - all those platforms list different types of meetups - and just start searching for keywords. I personally texted on Twitter and on Meetup and on Facebook to those different groups, “Hi, Women Who Tech in Lesotho. Please share this with your attendees.” Being able to reach people outside of your immediate or even first or second degree of connections is incredibly hard.
Yes, this is one thing you do. Another thing is that in those events, in those meetups, whenever I get a chance to give a workshop or a talk somewhere that is not Europe and not the U.S, I’m making sure to stay in touch with as many people as possible, so that later I’ll be able to tell them “Hey, this is the time for the scholarship. Please share this with anybody you think can be relevant.”
This part, of finding enough people who are actually outside of your reach, to fill out this form, is a lot of work.
Well, I can imagine actually all of it sounds like a lot of work.
So if we have anyone listening, who is this scholarship open for? Where can they get more information about it? Because you never know - there might be someone listening who just don’t know about this.
We share this on all the Twitters we can - the one of the conference, the one of GoBridge, on our personal ones…
The one thing I’ll add to that is reaching people outside of your bubble or your sphere of influence, whether it be second, third degree - if you can manage somehow to do that, I think one of the things that I personally try to do is to actually meet people where they are. Not just online, but actually physically. The reason why I enjoy being close to Baltimore is that there’s a thirst there for technology and for learning, and a lot of people there look like me. So when I organize a workshop, I do my darndest with the help of other community members, which I rely on quite a bit to help get the work out there and to bring more of those folks into the workshop.
You kind of have to be willing to go into those communities, because those people are not gonna come to you per se. First of all, they may not even have heard of your event or your conference or your meetup or your workshop, whatever it is.
So the job of reaching them is one. Second - you have to go to them, because they’ve been overlooked for decades; your one little event is not gonna do much to all of a sudden make them feel comfortable about coming out and being exposed and vulnerable out in this community that you and I may find to be quite navigable, because we’ve been in it for a long time. But for them, it’s extremely intimidating.
And here’s the other thing, too - the importance of representation, the importance of somebody seeing Natalie giving a closing keynote at a GopherCon…
Or you, yeah.
Indeed… For those who don’t know, I did do it last year. But yeah, to me that closing keynote talk you gave was inspiring, because we know in the Go community specifically that a lot of the people that are coming into the community are brand new. There are now more beginners in the Go community than there are experienced folks. That’s the truth. And that number is only gonna continue to grow. So we have to somehow make it okay – we have to say “Hey, this is a community of learners, of beginners.”
Maybe you’re learning Go for the first time, maybe you’re coming from a different language, or a different community; it doesn’t matter. In some sense, we are all beginners. Because even the experienced folks within the community, we are learning from the beginners as well. It’s not like we reached a pinnacle and we stopped learning. We’re still learning, too. We’re all learning together.
[00:43:59.01] So the importance of actually making it okay to say “Hey, you know what - we know it’s intimidating from the outside, but let us help you be part of this community”, I think it’s huge. So yeah, kudos to you, Natalie; that was a very enjoyable talk. It kind of gave me courage to do mine the following year. But yeah, I think these things are important.
Well, thank you for the great talk.
Yeah, they’re both good. [laughter]
Johnny had a quote which was great, and it said “Community gives back.” It’s this idea that don’t just expect the community to just give stuff to you; it gives back. And the best way to be part of that community is to sort of get stuck in. I think that point resonated quite well. It definitely makes sense.
When you’re organizing something, it’s all about that organization and all the effort that goes into making the plan, or is there an element of improvisation that has to be there, because when it comes to it, you don’t know what’s gonna happen?
[laughs] Of course, there’s a huge place for that. There’s a saying that what’s not flexible breaks, and you can make all the plans you want, but if you insist on 100% sticking to them and then something unexpected or different from the plan happens, if you are not open to improvise, this will not work.
I’d love to hear any stories that either of you have for things like that. I love it when things go wrong, but then the last minute you save the day. That’s the kind of story we want. What we don’t want is “Something went terribly wrong and it ended in tragedy.”
And “Zis was dee plan”, yeah.
Yeah. [laughter] If it was the plan all along, that’s an entirely different – that’s sort of evil organizing in the community. We’ll do a separate episode on that.
Well, this is the reason I was proposing the name Chaos Engineering for this episode, because making a conference is a lot like that. You do your best to have a good – the equivalent of uptime would be “Things functioning as planned.” You always have to be prepared for when it’s not going well, because preparing for when it does go well is the easy part.
It’s kind of like writing Go code. We deliberately handle errors all the time, don’t we? We sort of expect things to go wrong. It kind of works.
Yeah, pretty much. Error-driven development, right?
Yeah, why not. What about you, Ronna? What’s the worst thing that’s happened, but it’s been okay in the end?
The worst thing that happened… There’s been a few. I never remember them. They never make an impression… [laughs]
Oh, that’s good.
But yeah, I think if you have a mature enough community, things can break and nothing will happen. There was this one incident where I twisted my ankle on the way to give a talk for Natalie’s [unintelligible 00:47:03.00] GDG Golang, and they ended up having a fish bowl instead, that ended up being amazing; an actual experience for diversity, I guess. It was a victory there. Do you wanna tell the story?
You summarized it pretty well.
I wasn’t there, so I actually don’t necessarily know what happened exactly, because I wasn’t there.
You weren’t – yeah. You can’t tell the story because of your ankle. [laughter] This is great. It’s like your ankle broke on the way to telling the story. [laughter] So Ronna, what did they do instead? [laughter] I missed it – it sounded like you said there’s a fish bowl.
I was told a lot of stories about what happened, but I actually cannot give a first-hand account for this.
[00:47:52.05] So we started the fish bowl session with Alan, who was the first speaker, and myself. We proposed the topic of becoming a GDE. Then there were some questions around that. Then the next topic was – I cannot remember, but I’m pretty sure the topic that impressed Ronna the most was when one of the Women Who Go members who came to this meetup, she started asking the crowd on being a beginner in Go. And she got a lot of great tips, and was practically handling the crowd on her own for about 15 minutes; she learned a lot, taught the group a lot…
Ronna, was this what you were focusing on?
Yeah, I guess. I think it’s like the story of the year, as far as I’m concerned. By the way, she just got a job as a full-fledged gopher, so… Congrats to her.
Oh, there you go.
Yeah, good work.
She wasn’t responsible for you breaking your ankle though, right? [laughter]
The twisting. I didn’t actually break it.
I probably dramatized it just a bit too much, I guess. My ankle really didn’t fit into my shoe, and I really couldn’t walk… But the next day I could, and I felt very silly.
This entire meetup was one huge adventure, because it was the first meetup of this year, 2020… And usually we have the last meetup of the previous year, so in December, in the beginning of December, and then the first meetup of the year in January we have in the end of the year. So this is the one time where we have more than a month apart, but almost two months apart.
And it’s the holiday season, so everybody is out of office, and longer vacations, and so on… And our hosting company was not answering the emails. They were not answering on Slack and they were not answering on Twitter. And it’s been a few days that they were unresponsive, and we started pinging them in a slightly more intense manner, and then what ended up happening is that the day before the event I went to their office in person, and said “Hello, we’ll have a meetup tomorrow”, and they said “Oh, actually –”
You tried Slack, you tried Twitter, you tried email, you tried all the ways that you can get through to Ronna.
I also called them by the number on Google Maps.
No answers, yeah. And then I showed up in person, and they said that since they committed - usually companies commit a few months ahead; we have this kind of a queue - they decided not to use Go, so they would not be interested in hosting us anymore…
Which is normally fine, but when it happens one day before the meetup, this is less cool. [laughter]
And they could have said that, right? [laughs] That would have been so much easier.
Yeah, yeah. And then I started tweeting “So, anybody feel spontaneous and would like to host this? Because we have two great talks, and people have babysitters and whatnot, ready to come to listen to talks…” And then after a few hours they decided “Well, we made a promise, we would like to keep the commitment” and so the meetup went through as planned. This was a perfect way to start the year. It’s like a gun in the first act, to what’s gonna come to this year in general.
Yeah. And I like to think that that company then allowed the meetup to happen, and then saw it and thought “You know what - we’re not gonna use Rust. We’re gonna go back to Go.”
Oh, this would be amazing. I should ask them, you’re right.
If we make this into a Netflix special, that’s what has to happen. [laughter] You’ve just gotta give people what they want.
So as attendees, as people that are gonna take part in this community but aren’t involved in organizing, what things can we do to make your lives easier? That’s always an interesting thing to think about, and often the answers surprise me, so it might be nice for people to hear. Is there anything in particular that we should or shouldn’t be doing, that we do, that we probably just don’t even know we’re doing it?
I would be curious to hear after answering this what is the most surprising answer you heard.
So the two things that I would love for attendees to do is 1) assume everything is on good faith. This includes things like a change in plans, or not doing things as you hoped it will be, or misunderstanding something, and so on… And mainly being the first person to follow the instructions. For example, when you say “Break is over, go back to class”, leading the group to go back into the room.
There’s not enough words to stress how helpful it is to stick to the agenda and to make things smooth. To clap whenever it’s the time, to laugh if somebody said a joke and it’s funny enough for you to understand that this is a joke. To tweet, to share whatever you learned on social media - if it’s Twitter, if it’s writing about this on your blog, and so on… All those small gestures really help a lot.
Brilliant. My problem is I sometimes try and do a joke, but I miss out that bit of letting people know that it’s a joke; that’s the bit that I miss out. Otherwise, I feel like they would be laughing, but… Yeah, they just don’t know it’s a joke. They just think it’s a sentence.
So if you have to tell them it’s a joke… It’s not.
Right. I don’t tell them. It’s just awkward silence. [laughter]
Ronna, what do you think?
Yeah, what about you, Ronna?
Keep your RSVPs up to date I guess would be the first thing that comes to mind… Because we don’t want to waste food. I’m not gonna say that we’re wasting beer, because this is Berlin and we never waste a beer, but… At least the food. We don’t wanna waste food.
And also, if it’s sold out, it frees up a slot for someone else to go, doesn’t it?
So if you can’t make it, go back into whatever tool you said you were gonna make it with, and let them know you’re not gonna make it. That is important, especially – I mean, the London meetup, the London Gophers is packed, it’s sold out every month (or was). So that’s especially important if you’re at capacity.
So one story - I know you like stories, Mat, so I’m gonna give you a story…
Gather around, everyone.
Could you do it really close to the mic, Johnny, so it sounds like you’re all close?
And I’m gonna use my deep voice for you… [laughter]
Good. People will love that. I’ll get letters.
[laughs] So in the early days of community organizing I learned a lesson that I’ve never forgotten… And to this day, it is one of the core principles that I hold to when I’m organizing meetups and things like that.
I had organized an event, and kind of dealing with the same logistical issues that Natalie was just talking about… Basically, I had planned for an event to happen, in a particular venue, on a particular date, I ordered food and all that stuff, and sort of doing all of that logistic stuff… And then it turned out that last-minute the location we were gonna host the event - they had an event happening on that day; it was very last-minute, and we had to scramble. Virtually the same story, Natalie, you just talked about… You’re sort of scrambling last-minute.
[00:56:03.09] And then thankfully, I had – I think it was 2-3 days. It wasn’t the day before, like Natalie’s, but close enough to be like “Oh, man…!” Maybe it was my ego, I was just kind of bruised a little bit, and I’m like “I don’t like this.” So I decided to cancel the event.
Later on, after I’d organized a make-up or follow-on event or whatnot, later on I had somebody come during that event and tell me “Hey… You know, the last time you had organized this event, I had gotten a babysitter, I had made arrangements…” They were from an under-represented group, so they were already struggling financially to be able to set time aside from work. They probably worked multiple jobs and they had to take time off, and they had to find a babysitter, go out of pocket…
There’s a certain side of this tech industry that we all live in that we just don’t see… Because we’re all making good money, and we’re all technologists, coders, developers, programmers, whatever it is… We don’t see those trying to get in; we don’t see the same struggles. Because if we did struggle like that, we’re long past that, so we’ve forgotten.
So for those of you who have forgotten, remember this - the folks that are trying to get into this community, the folks that are trying to be just like you, and you are the person they wanna be when they grow up… Folks that are trying to be just like you, they have to overcome a lot more struggles than showing up to an event. They have so much going on in their lives. In order for them to actually make that event, they have to make some sacrifices that you may not ever hear about as an event organizer, or even as an attendee sitting right next to them.
So that lesson, basically – I took that to heart. I was like “You know what - I cost somebody time, money, anxiety…” I created an unwelcoming, non-inclusive, non-caring situation, and I’m just glad they were able to come back and try again the second time. But after I learned that lesson, I’m like “You know what - if I’m going to put together an event, I’d better make sure that I maybe have a backup, or have some sort of alternative…” I try to go out of my way, at least try ahead of time – there’s some things you can’t control as an event organizer, and Natalie and Ronna will tell you that; you just can’t control for all the variables, and you don’t have to. You just have to factor in - there are some people that are gonna make certain sacrifices to be part of something that you’re putting together.
And you as an attendee - there are some things you can do. If you RSVP for an event, especially one that’s been sold out, and you no longer want to come, just un-RSVP. Create a spot for somebody else who perhaps has made some sacrifice so that they could be there, for them to be able to make it. And if you’re going to a conference and they have a scholarship program like Ronna organizes, give money to that. These are some very real, very tangible ways you can actually help.
Community organizing, conference organizing, meetup running - that’s not for everybody. We’re not asking everybody to do that. But as a fellow human being, there are some things you can do to actually show support and be supportive of those who are doing that work.
I just wanted to put that out there, because I think sometimes we all forget that our day-to-day, the way we go about things in tech - there’s an entire other side of that that we don’t see or we don’t get to experience, because we’re so far removed from it. But it is there.
That’s a great thing. Thank you. Well, it’s that time again… It’s time for our regular slot, Unpopular Opinion!
So who’s got an unpopular opinion they would like to share? It can be tech-related, but doesn’t have to be. It can be about organizing, but it doesn’t have to be…
Ronna, do you wanna go?
I can go. Unless you want to go.
We’ve got ourselves a polite-off.
You don’t have to have two cases to generalize behavior to an interface, to take an interface or to use an interface, as far as I see it. This is coming from my experience before Go, and I think it works very well with Go as well.
Interfaces are a good way to implicitly document what kind of behavior you anticipate from the type that you’re taking in, and what kind you don’t. It creates a small subset of things that the type should be able to support.
The first thing that you even see when you look at the function signature is the types. If you have that documentation, it can be a little bit more loose. The behavior of the concrete type can change, but your function is decoupled for generations to come, and any maintainer will understand what they’re supposed to be doing with this code, and what this code is supposed to be able to do, and especially what it cannot or shouldn’t be doing, or you didn’t anticipate that it should be doing.
There is another point there, because in Go, when using an interface, we are causing an allocation to the heap, so there’s something to say about that. It’s a performance enhancement, though… It’s not necessarily something that you should be considering. But if your program does require that kind of zero allocations consideration, you might want to forget about everything that I just said… But I think that we should treat this as a limitation in Go, and not as something that is wanted and is a good experience.
Yeah, interesting. I hear sometimes - and I think I’ve said also sometimes - talk about this idea of early abstraction… But what you’ve said really does make sense. If you’re using an interface to tell a story, or – I like what you said about you can just use a subset of what you need. So if there is a concrete type that you’re thinking of when you build your thing, but you’re only gonna use a couple of the methods, having an interface with just those couple of methods in is a great storytelling, and communicates very clearly the intent of what you’re gonna use that thing for. And of course, the fewer methods, the easier interfaces are to implement as well.
That’s a great one, actually, Ronna. Thank you very much.
Yeah. That’s going in the Hall of Fame, that one.
Really?! Oh, my god.
We don’t have a Hall of Fame, but–
I am bowing right now. You can’t see me, but I am bowing right now… [laughter]
See, Natalie might have ruined it. She was clapping, so they’re gonna think they have to cut that out. [laughter]
You’re not cutting that out…!
This is the sign for keep, right? [laughter]
You are not cutting that out! That remains forever. Okay…
That remains… And what about you, Natalie? Do you have one?
Yes. I missed the note that the unpopular opinion should be Go-related, because this is a Go-related podcast…
It doesn’t have to be Go-related.
It doesn’t have to be, no.
Oh, yay! Alright.
[01:03:52.14] Then… It has a longer preparation. So diversity needs to be improved on many different fronts. Some fronts have improved, some fronts have improved less… It’s hard to say there is any front or any type of diversity that is fixed, and the problem is no longer there. And I’m putting a lot of work into gender diversity, Ronna is putting a lot of work into general diversity… But for me, gender diversity is not the main goal. I don’t have a main goal when I’m working on diversity.
One goal that is very close to my heart is bringing people from different countries, like we spoke today. And I prepared some numbers. GopherCon Europe speakers who are born, raised, and live in an African country in 2018 was 10%. It was supposed to be higher, but too many people had their visa either rejected, or just never responded to.
So they applied all the documents, we prepared everything, we helped the speaker gather all the documents they need, and they just did not hear back. We ended up with having 10%, so one out of the ten speakers is actually coming from an African country. And this still was a way bigger effort than reaching 50/50 speakers of men and not men. That was GopherCon 2018.
In 2019 it was slightly better. Two out of the twelve came from an African country. In 2020, the current line-up is 4 out of the 28, which is still pretty much the same. Cloud 9 it’s also one of eight, and BSides, which is a small local conference about security that I’m doing, is one of six. I have yet to break from the limit of 20% of the speakers coming from an African country, which is a personal mission of mine… And it’s really hard.
Now, this was all the preparation. Here goes the unpopular opinion… A conference that has a line-up of speakers who are diverse, but still all of them are coming either from Europe or from the U.S, is not the most diverse thing. What I am looking to evaluate the conference whether they are really diverse on my criteria - I’m looking at which countries the speakers come from. If it’s not an easy country, where the visa is not an issue, for example, or giving such an opportunity is a big deal versus a huge deal, this is what makes the difference for me. It’s not a good recommendation to give to conference organizers to focus on this, because it’s basically recommending people to do a lot of extra work.
Working on somebody’s visa requires your legal preparation with probably five different types of documents. On top of that - this is just from Europe. I’m sure the U.S. is harder, at least in these times.
So on top of those types of legal documents, you have to prove all kinds of financial support, you have to prepare things like flights, even though they don’t even have a visa yet; they already need to present tickets. Accommodation, which is maybe slightly easier… Plenty of documents to show that those people will go back, so a rental contract, health insurance, connections, like if you’re married or you have parents, a job, last salaries… So basically you’re spending many hours with each person you want to bring, whether that’s a speaker or an attendee, just making the legal parts of it. Still, I find this incredibly important as an aspect of diversity, and I think this has not been discussed enough.
[01:07:59.02] I’d like to add to that one of the issues that I was struggling with. I had also my own struggles with bringing people to GopherCon Europe as attendees with the diversity scholarship… Something else that has been nagging at me for the past three years is how intimidated they are by authority. Depending on where they are - some places more than others - they treat authority very differently than what I would, or a lot of people would.
Also, in a lot of countries these services are completely privatized. So they don’t actually meet a German trying to enter Germany, they will meet some private company, and we don’t actually know anything. Germany might on its own, for instance, say “Great, so somebody’s going to come in. They have hotel, they’re going to pay here, there’s going to be some business done locally - that’s great for our economy”, but I don’t know necessarily what is going on through the heads of a private company, and at the end of the day how people are going to be treated when they show up.
I have no idea how to guarantee, for instance, how this meeting is going to go, and there is a lot of fear around this… And yeah, definitely not discussed enough. Thank you, Natalie, for bringing this up.
I wonder if we could make a video of seeing the end-to-end process, just to show that it’s at least possible. Because I understand that reluctance to – especially if you’ve never been on a plane before, just imagine that. And you’re gonna just fly somewhere, and someone’s definitely gonna meet you at the airport? I just can’t imagine those things happening, probably.
They are very adventurous, I’ll say that. We’re definitely getting [unintelligible 01:09:52.22] I love every single person so far… And also the people that we couldn’t bring, really. It’s definitely a privilege.
You know, all the diversity that the Go community has makes it a better community, so thank you to everyone on this and everyone listening that does help with that, does contribute. I think we should try and be the most diverse tech community there is, why not.
So I don’t have a lot of unpopular opinions too often… [laughter]
It’s a good opening. Strong start. But…?
[laughs] And maybe it’s not even an unpopular one, but here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re all home and can’t really go anywhere, shouldn’t really go anywhere, and just more time to think, but… Diversity efforts shouldn’t only be the burden of those carrying it. If you recognize the benefits of a diverse community or workplace, then get off your tush and help make it a reality. If you’ve been wishing that your local tech community was more diverse, stop agonizing. Organize.
You can play a role in this. You can’t leave it up to others, least of all those that are trying to step out from that shadow, from that cloud. It’s everybody’s responsibility, not just those who have to deal with it. So there’s room there.
That’s a fair point. It sounds like a targeted attack on me, but… [laughter] As a general point, I think it’s absolutely right. It’s a good point. That’s why talking about this stuff is important, because this is how we find out about these things. Because this stuff is not obvious to people that aren’t in these groups. So yeah, good/fair point. Community gives back, again; it’s what you were saying in your keynote, Johnny.
Johnny’s keynote is also still available on the internet. You can find it with your favorite search engine by typing in “johnny” or something… I don’t know the exact keywords, but I assume “johnny boursiquot keynote”. Mind you, spelling Boursiquot is also a bit of a challenge for people, isn’t it? Maybe…
My watch has found it. [laughter] Well, that’s all the time we have today. Thank you so much Natalie, Ronna. It was great. Thank you again for all you do, and we’ll see you all next week.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚