A month or so ago, at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday 18th January, I found myself sat at a table chatting to a friend of mine, on a train headed to Birmingham New Street to attend the You Got This Conference for the first time.
The conference, now in its second year, is intended as an affordable conference aimed at newer members of the tech industry, or at technical leaders who want to learn more about the concerns of those who may be joining the space. It aims to be an inclusive environment, allowing for people of different backgrounds to feel safe and comfortable, and focuses less on the technical aspects of the industry and more on the experience of surviving and thriving in this industry.
Attending the Conference
Needless to say, I was very excited to attend a conference like this! Both from the point of view of still feeling like I have a lot to learn as a part of this industry, and from the point of view of someone who has a responsibility (and an interest) to help guide newer entrants into what can be a very daunting world.
We arrived bright an early in Birmingham and took the scenic route to the impressive and very shiny Millenium Point building which was to house the conference. We got in and were given our badges nice and quickly, with enough time for coffee and some chatting. I am awful at networking. Just terrible. I always want to be better at it, but I can never quite muster up the courage to just chat to people about…whatever it is that people chat about in these situations. It’s something that I’ll try to work on as part of this journey. Luckily for me, I was with some wonderful people who were happy to integrate me into various conversations and before I knew it, it was time for the talks.
We sat up in the very impressive auditorium, which doubles as a cinema, and settled in for the first suite of presentations. I won’t go over every talk, but they’re all online and I can definitely recommend them if you want to get a perspective from people in the industry you might not otherwise be able to hear from.
You can find the playlist here.
The talks covered topics ranging from what you can expect your first days in a position to be like, and how to find a mentor, to things like unionisation and ways to maximise your learning.
Although I won’t go over every talk, I wanted to quickly mention a couple of my favourites. The first is the talk “So good they can’t ignore you!” by Gargi Sharma. Gargi is a systems engineer with a passion for programming and teaching and in her talk, she covered the idea that sometimes just being good and working hard isn’t enough in your career. You can be detail oriented and helpful to others, and yet somehow be glossed over for rewards that you may rightly deserve. Or may find that performance reviews don’t come out as strong as you’d expect and you can’t explain why.
Gargi explains that this is due to the fact that meritocracy, something that our industry in particular often relies on as a basis for advancement, is a myth. Gargi breaks it down fantastically in her talk and I definitely recommend giving it a listen. But the crux of it is that people have biases, conscious and unconscious. This could be something as simple as, the fact that people forget what you may have done in the past; a recency bias. Heck! We can even suffer from those same biases ourselves when reviewing our own work.
Part of the key to working within systems that rely on a Utilitarian approach to valuing work then, is making that work visible. Making yourself and others aware of the work that you do and your accomplishments. Gargi suggests a few ways of doing this, but the one that I found most useful was the use of a “Brag Document”. This is just a simple text document which you update every time you do something that you personally felt brought value in any way. And importantly, it’s something that you encourage others to do to keep each other accountable. Gargi suggests doing things like setting up times where you and your friends or coworkers will update your brag documents together and remind each other of your accomplishments.
Another theme of the talk was that once you reach some measure of success, you make sure to invest time bringing other people with you. Spend time sharing your experience with others and finding ways to empower the people behind you. Reading through my notes now, I feel like there were so many more things about the talk I’d love to mention, but I’ve already said enough! Go have a watch if you’re interested!
There were two talks that were really aimed at, or from the perspective of, leaders in the industry. “Level Up: Developing Developers” by Melinda Seckington and “Company Culture, Performance Reviews & You” by Ruth Lee.
“Level Up: Developing Developers” was a talk discussing what lessons we could take from Games UX design and apply it to the user experience of Developers joining and progressing through a software organisation. Melinda made the topic of onboarding, growing developers and providing them with feedback, compelling and easy to understand. I definitely recommend this talk for people interested in thinking about how we can better create structure for making sure that the developers we’re bringing through our organisations are supported.
“Company Culture, Performance Reviews & You” was a talk aimed at newer entrants into the technology industry, giving advice about what you can take away from the results of performance reviews. Ruth discussed that different organisations prize different traits depending on where that business is in it’s own journey, based on her experience giving and receiving performance reviews. I found it really interesting to consider my own journey, and think critically about what traits I might want to look out for and help the people I manage grow.
The last part of the day was reserved for my most dreaded of activities; networking. I know, I know. It’s important to do. And even more crucially, it’s awesome to meet a bunch of like minded people who you can discuss ideas with. It’s a great way to grow and not end up in an echo chamber.
But I am terrible at networking.
That being said! This time my friend set me the task of doing some. So we did. We spent some time just chatting to various people about their roles and the talks. It really helped that the conference was so welcoming and accommodating to all kinds of people. Several of the speakers suggested ways to make the networking space more accessible, or gave tips on ways to break the ice in a non-threatening way.
I ended up having a lot of very cool conversations, and I’m really glad I forced myself to give it a go. As I sort of alluded to in a previous blog post, I’m still getting comfortable with my as a Technical Lead. I tend to gloss over the fact when introducing myself. But it’s something I’m trying to own more, so I set myself the challenge of introducing myself with my full title at least once. Next time, I’ll see if I can talk to a couple more people!
With a number of well spaced breaks, including one for a catered healthy lunch, the whole day was well organised and professional whilst feeling personal and welcoming. You could tell the staff of the conference (a very small team!) genuinely cared about the people and speakers that attended. I really enjoyed my time there and have already started taking some of the ideas from the talks away in my own day to day activities.
For more on the conference, check out this year’s web page: https://2020.yougotthis.io/
And hey! If you take one thing away from this post, I hope it’ll be to go out and make your own brag document. I have been trying to keep one up to date since the talks, and it’s great to have something to come back to and really see what it is I value; and that I am accomplishing a reasonable amount over the weeks.