Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

March 01 2012

Permission to be horrible and other ways to generate creativity

I met Denise R. Jacobs (@denisejacobs) the old fashioned way, not through Twitter or LinkedIn: a mutual acquaintance introduced us. We corresponded via email and actually got together in person a few months later at Web 2.0 Expo, where Denise was speaking. I was impressed both by her passion for giving people the knowledge, tools and resources to feel more empowered in their work as well as the breadth of her experience. Denise wrote "The CSS Detective Guide" and co-authored "InterAct with Web Standards." She also develops curricula for the Web Standards Project Education Task Force and was nominated for .Net Magazine's 2010 Best of the Web "Standards Champion" award.

I spoke with Denise recently about her experiences writing her book, how that led her to new ways of thinking, how she got started the web design, and other projects.

You're known for your web design work. What motivated you to explore the more non-technical topics of creative inspiration?

Denise JacobsDenise R. Jacobs: During the writing process "The CSS Detective Guide" I had a huge epiphany about myself and my ideas of creativity. I had to do battle on a daily basis with my inner critic and figure out ways to silence it, so that I could just get the work done.

In an industry where people are constantly producing wonderful things, it's really hard not to compare yourself to others. In terms of the creativity and the inspiration, it's easy to have panicky moments when you feel as though you can't come up with another idea, a new design, more content. I wanted to formulate ways to access creativity and channel that amazing feeling that you can take on the world, both for myself to help other people. So I wrote an article as a way to solidify my own techniques and to help anybody else who may need to silence a mean voice in their head as well.

Creativity isn't always associated with the technical community. Why is that?

Denise R. Jacobs: It's because there's such a limited definition of creativity in our culture. People treat artists as if they're off in their own world or put them on a pedestal. But it's a misconception that technical people aren't creative. Developers and coders and database architects are extremely creative, just as scientists are. They have to come up with solutions and code that have never been written before. If that's not creativity, I don't know what is.

I'm reading "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel H. Pink, which explores how right-brain is the new wave. We're entering a new conceptual, high-touch era whereas before we were in a very analytical era. Our industry, the technical industry, is actually a perfect in-between point of left brain and right brain. You have to have both, a whole-brain approach, to be successful in our industry.

What steps can people take to bring creativity into their professional and personal lives?

Denise R. Jacobs: One of my favorite techniques for being creative, and productive in general, is to give yourself permission to be as horrible at something as you possibly can, to even mess it up. That permission actually lowers inhibition filters and allows you to take chances that you would normally not take. Often that ends up making it good because you're not as invested in it and therefore not as self-conscious about the process.

Another important technique is to set aside time where your brain is resting, where you're not actually trying to produce something. Give it space to be able to make connections that it wouldn't necessarily have made before. Insights come when you're taking a walk, sitting on the beach or the park bench, playing with your dog. Because your brain is relaxing, it can go places that it doesn't usually go when you're concentrating or you're thinking hard.

In this industry, there's a subculture that is always on — on the computer, on social networks, connecting with people. There is never a time to not be on. When you're at dinner with a friend, you're checking in on Foursquare. You're tweeting. You're taking a picture to upload to your Facebook profile. Texting friends. To just be off is huge and can make all of the difference in the world.

With social media and other tools for people to come together, both in real life and virtually, what do you think about the state of communities today?

Denise R. Jacobs: I could be biased, but one thing I do see is that despite all of our virtual connections, in real life, it's kind of awkward. People are so used to communicating with each other digitally, texting for instance, that they're starting to lose the capacity to have genuine in-person connections to some degree. People aren't engaging with each other. Yet they try to depict it as such to keep themselves entertained.

A trend I'd like to see is for communities and people who make connections virtually to solidify that with an in-person connection. And if you make an in-person connection, then further solidify that with a virtual connection. Let there be a constant ebb and flow, a circuit going back and forth between both real life and virtual connections so that you can't really rely completely on either one. That's why we have these tools — we crave connection. We don't really have enough of it, but we can't depend solely on tools to create all of the connection that we need and vice versa.

What trends and people are you following?

Denise R. Jacobs: Location and self-publishing are trends I watch popping up all over the place. There are so many things going on that it's kind of overwhelming. I rely on serendipity and I focus more on concepts, ideas, and people because they are what underlie the trends. I am inspired by unapologetic creativity and unapologetic cleverness. I admire the younger people coming into the industry who are developing and innovating like crazy.

I admire the work Jane McGonigal is doing, her "Reality Is Broken" book and her whole gaming productivity movement. She takes ownership for being a woman in an industry where that's not typical and doesn't tone herself down at all. She's very feminine and a badass, has a PhD and awesome ideas and that's just the way it is with her.

I also admire Kathy Sierra because she's been around for a while and she's also an incredibly intelligent and clever person, a great speaker, and also someone with a lot of really wonderful ideas.

Tell us about your Rawk the Web project.

Denise R. Jacobs: There are a lot of diverse experts in the tech industry, women and people of color, but they're not very visible in terms of speaking at conferences or writing articles or books or whatever. It's not that conferences or publishers don't want a more diverse lineup, but often they just don't know who to get or how to go about it.

I was at a conference last year and the organizer asked me to fill in for a speaker who had to cancel. Afterwards, I ended up talking to a woman who really wanted to become a speaker but didn't know where to start. This was a perfect example of what people are probably saying to themselves. "I don't know enough. How do I get started? It seems really imposing. There's no room for anybody new."

I started Rawk the Web to give people actual information and have experts share their story about how they got started so that other people can see that they can do it, too. I also want to provide resources to people who may be inclined to give women and people of color more visibility, a network of people they can talk to and get inspiration from to take that first step. This is a really good time for it because people see me at conferences and notice I'm often the only brown person there — they're very conscious of it and glad to see me on stage. I'm hoping to launch it in June and that there will eventually be a Rawk the Web Conference. I know I'm not the only person working on this issue, but I'd like it to be more of a concentrated effort.

How did you get started with CSS and what do you see in its near future?

Denise R. Jacobs: Back in late 1996, nobody was updating the website at the place I was working so I volunteered to take care of it. During that process, I taught myself HTML — it was actually before CSS had really been widely embraced. Over the course of the next few years, I worked in localization for a Microsoft product, then I was a web group product manager at another software company, then later an instructor at Seattle Central Community College in their web design and development programs. Around 2002, web standards started becoming more popular. It was so much better and so much easier. One file to control the whole website — brilliant! It was an amazing, exciting time, to see the changing of the guard, what the web was moving from and what it was moving toward.

I couldn't call myself a web design instructor in good conscience without knowing CSS and I couldn't send students out into the world with outdated and inefficient skills. So I keep up with the trends, particularly by reading articles on A List Apart, and blogs by Dave Shea, Andy Budd and Doug Bowman.

As for the future of CSS, there's going to be a lot more reliance and trust of browsers. Browser vendors know what an important role they play and that browser wars don't do much good. More browser companies are working together with the W3C to establish and embrace standards.

Because of that, changes are happening faster. There's a big push for people to get up to speed with current best practices and develop new ones. For things like page layouts and CSS3, there are some really neat properties that are going to change the way people think about their approach to web layouts and the craft of building websites. It's going to be interesting to see how long those properties take to be adopted and what people come up with for them.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Related:

December 12 2011

An angel who bets on women-led companies

Blogger, mother, foodie, and hardcore New Yorker Joanne Wilson (@TheGothamGal) is one of a few female angel investors. Her approach to investing is unabashedly women-centric. And as she explains in the following interview, she's a believer in the power of the startup ecosystem to influence the economies of New York and beyond.

What inspired you to move into the venture capital (VC) space?

Joanne Wilson: I call myself an angel rather than a VC because I'm doing this by myself. And I am a woman doing this by myself in this space, which I know is not the norm.

I've been involved in startup businesses throughout my whole life, and I had gotten off the train for a while. Being home with my kids, I started blogging in order to stay connected to the Internet industry and not lose my credibility. That was eight years ago.

I was closely watching all of the new companies in the space we began to call Web 2.0. One of them was Curbed, and I heard they were looking for funding. I was at a point in my life where I realized I was ready to do something, and I felt like I could add value there. So, I called Curbed founder Lockhart Steele and said I'd be very interested in funding his company. After that, the cat was out of the bag. Everyone came running in the door.

In the beginning, I was thinking of funding one, maybe two startups. But, as my husband [VC Fred Wilson] says, "Your problem is that you wouldn't want one lemonade stand; you'd want 1,000 of them."

What's the difference between an angel and a venture capitalist?

Joanne Wilson: There are three rounds as a company begins. The first is seed, where you have a wonderful idea and need to get things rolling. For that, you go to your family and friends. Then, as the idea gains traction — you build a website, a community, and realize you could really grow it — that's when angels like me come in. I invest in the round after seed, helping it get to the third round.

VCs are in the business of growing businesses. They bring in seasoned players with a different kind of skill set. A VC will be with a company through many iterations of investments. Angels, on the other hand, usually leave the space once the VCs get in. Angels become more of a friend and a consiglieri to the entrepreneur at that point.

Is an angel someone who gives as much advice as money?

Joanne Wilson: No. I'm not normal in that respect. I get really involved in these businesses. It's not like I call them, but if they want to call me every day, I am happy to answer any questions. If I don't know the answer, I'll find it out for them. I open up my Rolodex and think about the big picture. I'm pretty accessible, and I want them to reach out to me.

You called yourself a "chick magnet" at Web 2.0 Expo. Do you think your accessibility is one of the main reasons why women founders seek you out? How do you get "found"?

Joanne Wilson at Web 2.0 Expo 2011
Joanne Wilson (left) judging the Startup Showcase at Web 2.0 Expo NY 2011.

Joanne Wilson: One of the topics that I always come back to in my blog has to do with being a woman and how you can do it all, just not all at the same time, and the frustrations of balancing life and family. I think that topic resonates with a lot of women out there. I also have put the majority of my investments into women-led companies. I'm a big believer, but this whole nonsensical thing of not enough women in tech, not enough women CEOs, not enough women on the board — guess what? If we invest in women entrepreneurs, we'd change the game because they're all CEOs. It's pretty easy to do.

I also put on a conference called the Women's Entrepreneur Festival with Nancy Hechinger, a professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Ten businesses were started at that conference, and many connections were made. This year, we'll have about six panels, five people on each panel and a moderator for each panel, highlighting "the makers" — community makers, taste makers, art makers. What's fascinating is that only one man has signed up to come.

Do you have any advice for angels or VCs looking to invest in women-driven startups?

Joanne Wilson: It's no different than the advice I give to kids who graduate and want to work in a startup or be an entrepreneur. There are meetups all over the city every single night. Eventually, you meet people and hear what's going on. It's a very open, embracing industry. There's a lot out there and there are a lot of bloggers writing about what's going on and about new businesses. If you can't find women-led businesses, then you're not reading the right things and you're not looking in the right spots.

I would love to see more people who have created wealth for themselves and their families take a chunk of their change and invest in women-led companies. It would be better for the economy. And, again, better for women. By the way, it's not always about women — companies should be mixed. Women bring something to the table and so do men. It's about the best ideas.

Any advice for new founders?

Joanne Wilson: For first-time entrepreneurs moving forward and going up for more money, remember to use the people you have. Engage them in your business.

Second, consider how big you want to be. You don't have to be a $1 billion business. For instance, Dave McClure is doing a really cool thing: funding 500 new startups. He's giving a lot of people an opportunity to be entrepreneurs, but they won't all be $1 billion market cap companies. You could have a nice $4-million-a-year lifestyle business in the local community, something you love to do every day. That is an amazing thing. You're making enough money to live your life and do good at the same time. Create economies, hire people, and maybe have a family. That's okay. You've got to think big picture, and you've got to think reality.

What are some of the notable companies you're involved with?

Joanne Wilson: There's a void in the market for businesses in the $50-$60 million range, where investors exit at the second round. These are not niche businesses — $50 million is significant. But, they're not $1 billion market caps. Many of the businesses that I'm involved in, women-led businesses, are at that level and going out for their VC round, which indicates that they're successful.

One of the biggest successes is Daily Worth, Amanda Steinberg's company. She has created tremendous traction and sells advertising at lightning speed, to the point that we don't have any inventory. She's done an amazing job. If she pivoted in one direction, she could be a huge, huge business.

I'm also in Catchafire. Founder Rachael Chong is about to launch a product that I think is going to change her business. That could be a massive business, surpassing $100 million.

I also just invested in littleBits. We have yet to see where that goes, but Ayah Bdeir has created a really interesting product. She was just acknowledged as a TED2012 Fellow.

Have social media or other technologies changed the way you make investment decisions?

Joanne Wilson: No. I invest in the entrepreneur, and then the business. I have to love what they're doing. Think about it like a house: when you buy a house, you can renovate it, but you can never change the location.

What do you think of some of the recent studies pointing to women-led startups tending to be more successful?

Joanne Wilson: Women say "we." Men say "I." That's both a positive and a hindrance. Women say, "What's my role here? How is this going to work for all of us? Am I doing as well as I think I should be doing?" Men don't think that way. If you ask five men and five women to be mentors, men say "Yeah, sure." Women say, "What's expected of me? How many hours do I have to put into it? Does this make sense for me?" It's different. Women run families.

Do you think the different vocabulary and thought process is part of what's hindering women founders from getting investments from mostly or all-male angels and VCs?

Joanne Wilson: No, I don't. I'm sure people would smack me for this, but going to back to the void in the marketplace for $50-$60 million businesses, I think that many VCs invest only in businesses that they hope are life changing — the $1 billion market cap.

If you look at many women-led businesses, they tend to invest in things that fill needs in their lives. The women who started ZipCar probably figured it would be great to walk outside and have a car waiting. The Apgar test and Scotchgard — these were invented by women. Fire escapes, Liquid Paper, windshield wipers, life rafts, cleaning tools for the home — all created by women. They create what they need, which, incidentally, adds up to a much bigger economy.

I would rather invest in 100 startups that will become $50 million companies and will change economies, that will change communities, that will change families. The long-tail of the Internet revolution is that there are no longer companies with one president, seven vice presidents, and then all of these different levels of people underneath them. It's over.

Is the economy changing investment trends?

Joanne Wilson: The greatest thing about our country is that the people see what's happening before the government. There's a wave of entrepreneurialism, of returning to our communities — whether it's the local grocery store or butcher, customers are having conversations with their local shopkeepers. There's something really powerful about that. It was something we had right a long time ago, and there's nothing wrong with going back to that model.

Who inspires you?

Joanne Wilson: Hillary Clinton rocks. What she has done, from being the wife of the president to where she sits now — I think she's an amazing, incredibly inspirational human being. My husband inspires me. He's fantastic at what he does. We've been partners since we were 19 years old, and we've created everything together.

In general, I'm pretty inspired by the entrepreneurs that I meet every single day. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to meet people whose synapses are going so fast I can barely keep up, who think about ways to change the way we live and to change the economy that we're in now, who think about the world at large and are figuring out how to make money, and who want to get things done quickly and efficiently. To have those conversations every day is pretty damn inspiring.

This interview was edited and condensed. Photo by Pinar Ozger.

Related:

November 11 2011

Confessions of a not-so-public speaker

Empty Stage by Max Wolfe, on Flickr One of Web 2.0 Summit 2011's memorable moments came early, when program chair John Battelle was gently but earnestly admonished by anthropologist Genevieve Bell for not having more women on stage that day. Cue lots of applause from the audience. John rejoined that he wouldn't discuss the number of women who had turned him down.

Part of my job here at O'Reilly is to encourage women, people of color, and other folks often underrepresented at tech conferences to be speakers at our events. I can really empathize with John: I've been turned down a lot, too. During that moment at Web 2.0 Summit, I wondered how many women applauding Genevieve's comment are regular tech conference speakers themselves. It's one thing to say we need role models and a very different thing to actually be one.

And that's exactly the intersection I find myself standing in now.

I worked in fundraising for many years, and it wasn't until I became a donor myself that I truly understood how to overcome the challenges of getting people to open their wallets — not to mention understand how good it feels to give to an important cause. Similarly, I know I won't be able to be a true agent for diversity in our speaker rosters until I step up and become a public speaker myself.

You'd think it'd be easier being in the conference organizing biz, but for me, it's the opposite. The quality of speakers I usually see — engaging, humorous, knowledgeable, and at one with their slide decks — can be a bit intimidating. While I don't think I'll be a speaker at Web 2.0 Summit any time soon, the biggest issue is just taking those first steps toward the speaker side of the street.

So, I've resolved to start my speaking journey. Some people are naturals on stage, and others, like me, need some encouragement. Make that a lot of encouragement. I've been fortunate to have two accomplished speakers cheering me on: entrepreneur and writer Jessica Faye Carter and investment book author Cathleen Rittereiser. They're helping me put together an action plan for becoming a public speaker.

In the hopes that it inspires more than just me, I'd like to share their excellent advice more broadly — below you'll find five tips for launching your own public speaking effort.

Join an online speaking organizationLinkedIn and MeetUp are rife with speaking groups; SpeakerMatch and Speakerfile are two fairly new social networking sites.

Join a speaking group in real lifeToastmasters and National Speakers Association (NSA) are two of the largest and most active. NSA's online magazine has great resources for speakers.

Read — Dale Carnegie's "The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking" still gets high marks today. Take a look at "Confessions of a Public Speaker," "The Confident Speaker," and "Slide:ology." [Disclosure: "Confessions of a Public Speaker" and "Slide:ology" are O'Reilly titles.]

Start low-key — User group meetings and Ignite events are usually supportive places to get your feet wet. Scott Berkun's Why You Should Speak (at Ignite) presentation (embedded below) is an inspirational and succinct primer for newbies, and it helps answer the pesky what-the-hell-do-I-talk-about question.

Team up — Take the stage with a more experienced speaker. Even if you just push the button on the slide clicker, you're still putting yourself in front of an audience.

Come along with me, won't you? Even if you're not part of an "underrepresented group." It's good for our careers; the communities we represent; the causes we espouse; and hey, I've heard it can be fun, too.

I'd love to hear from you. How did you get started speaking? What are your suggestions and resources for honing preso chops? What do you get out of speaking in public? If you're an event organizer, what steps are you taking to diversify your participants? If you're a regular on the conference circuit, what do you do to mentor and encourage others to take the podium?

Please share your advice and ideas in the comments area.

Associated photo on home and category pages: 224/365 Mic by thebarrowboy, on Flickr. Photo at top of post: Empty Stage by Max Wolfe, on Flickr.

Related:

October 09 2011

02mydafsoup-01

Tavis Smiley, Cornel West discuss the Occupy movement in L.A. - Countdown with Keith Olbermann // Current TV 2011-10-08

TV and radio host Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, a professor at Princeton, talk about the inclusiveness and variety of concerns voiced by the Occupy protests. West notes that his observations at Occupy Wall Street, Boston and L.A. reflect a unified message denouncing corporate greed and calling for social justice and accountability, especially for “the 1 percent who own 40 percent of the wealth.” Smiley adds that the poor “are being treated as if they’re disposable, as if they’re an afterthought,” and that’s the worst thing you can do to an individual.

-----------------------------

oAnth: unfortunately the video is auto-starting - please go by the given link in the title line to the show homepage with the embedded video.

Reposted by99percent 99percent

March 24 2011

Would I attend my own conference?

When you’re deciding whether to attend a conference, and you’re checking out the website, what do you consider? Most likely, you’ll look at the program, searching for names you know and session titles that describe compelling topics.

If you’re like me—some of you are and some of you aren’t—you’ll also look for diversity among the speakers. If every speaker is a man, or if everyone is white, or both, I know this isn’t an event for me. I don’t need to hear more of the same prominent voices, and I don’t get much value out of an environment that takes a narrow, old-school view on who’s worth listening to.

Because some of you aren’t like me in your choices, there are profitable conferences with speaker rosters that look like roll call for the signers of the Constitution. But conferences that want to be taken seriously by people who take other kinds of people seriously need more diversity among the speakers to thrive. And conference organizers, whose goals often include highlighting new ideas, cannot simply recycle the same short list of well-known speakers from show to show.

Which is a funny thing for me to say. Because I’m co-chair, along with Brady Forrest, for Web 2.0 Expo, a large, semi-annual tech conference that starts on Monday and is among the shows co-produced by O'Reilly and UBMTechWeb that have been pilloried in the past for our speaker line-ups—particularly for not having enough women. While the last outcry came before I had this job, these sorts of discussions are cyclical, and the shows I’ve organized could reasonably be targets of such criticism.

What gives? And what can we do about it?

First, let's put some data behind the idea that men are overrepresented as conference speakers. For the three Web 2.0 Expos I’ve organized, our speaker rosters have comprised 25 to 30 percent women. That’s a near-triumph, considering that only 10 percent of the people who apply to speak are women, and the vast, vast majority of well-known businesspeople in tech—the ones a lot of you look for when considering a conference pass—are men (more on that in a minute). But it’s far short of, say, a 50/50 split.

Further, I’m dismayed to report that when it comes to the percentage of women speakers, our not-stellar numbers are among the best in tech conferences. TechCrunch Disrupt’s NY 2010 show had fewer than 10% women speakers. Our sister show, Web 2.0 Summit—which is programmed by people other than Brady and me--had just around 10% women speakers in 2010. Twitter’s 2010 Chirp conference had one woman speaker listed on their site; Facebook’s F8 conference managed two or so. Future of Web Apps October 2010 show clocked in with 14% women speakers. The Bloomberg Empowered Entrepreneur Summit, which focuses on tech and takes place next month, has zero women entrepreneurs on the roster. Of course, conferences that focus on women, like BlogHer, have close to 100% female slates. But as a rule, general tech conferences don’t get near half.

In a way, this isn’t a big surprise. It’s well-documented that women are underrepresented in the tech sector (if you're not already up to speed, start with "Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley" by Claire Cain Miller, and do not miss "The Men and No Women of Web 2.0 Boards" by Kara Swisher). And it’s also well-documented that across sectors, women are underrepresented in senior roles—i.e., the sorts of positions that are likely to have stories to share at conferences. So, yeah, the population of female speakers we can draw on is smaller than the population of male speakers. But Expo generally has just 150 - 250 speakers total per show (and most conferences have fewer). Why can’t we find 75 - 125 women speakers?

There are two primary ways that conferences get speakers, and we use both methods. 1) You put out a pubic call for speakers (sometimes known as a call for proposals, or a call for papers, or whatever); you get a slew of applicants; you accept some of them. 2) You brainstorm a list of people you’d like to have speak; you reach out to many of them; some of them accept.

Here’s where these methods go wrong: 1) About 10 percent of the public applicants will be women, even if you ask women to apply. 2) The brainstorming, which requires that you know of the speakers already, produces even worse results: 5 percent on a good day. (Another conference organizer has described the second process like this: “Who should we have this year?” A long list of well-known people gets suggested. Somebody notices there aren’t any women on the list. “Ok, what women should we ask?” “We had Caterina Fake last year, but Carol Bartz and Sheryl Sandberg might be free.” “Right, who else?” Longish pause. “I wonder if Ev Williams or Biz Stone is available.”)

This is where we have a chance to change things.

In a recent post, “Designers, Women and Hostility in Open Source", Gina Trapani argues that to boost the participation of women in open source projects, the projects need to organize differently than they often do. Her recommendations, based on her own experiences as an organizer, include things like welcoming and mentoring new participants, recognizing valuable contributions that aren’t just code, and, indeed, valuing things other than the code. Note that she does not recommend that women participants behave differently in order to gain status.

We have a similar opportunity to rethink conference rosters. Let’s take the call for proposals method of finding speakers. When people call out a show for having a paltry percentage of women in the lineup, the traditional response is to explain (or complain) that very few women applied and to then call on more women to enter in the proposal system. Colleagues of mine, people I respect deeply, have gone this route.

But it doesn’t work. While, obviously, some women will apply to speak, the overwhelming evidence is that most will not. In a post last year, Clay Shirky, lamented that his female students were far less likely to sing their own praises and ask for things that would benefit them, like recommendations, than were his male students. His suggestion? That the women act more like the men. While I generally enjoy agreeing deeply with Clay, he—like the conference organizers calling on more women to apply—has missed a key point. If your system of finding worthy students or speakers to promote is to have them come to you and ask, but a solid body of research shows that women won’t do so, you’ve institutionalized a gap.

Better instead, as Gina recommends, to change your system. For conference organizers, that means not just opening up a public call for proposals and asking Women 2.0 and Girls in Tech to tell their friends, but also seeking out and inviting individual women. That may sound inefficient, and it is time-consuming. But if your supposedly efficient public-call system isn’t yielding the desired results, then it’s simply failing efficiently.

We’ve gotten fairly good results at Expo reaching out to individual women. Key to this success is that we aren’t looking to put women on stage because they’re women, we’re seeking out great speakers whom we may have overlooked because they’re women. So it’s not uncommon that I’ll hear about a woman who might have a good presentation to give, but when I talk with her, it’s clear she’s not a fit for our show. I don’t shoehorn in those women, I move on and find others who are right for us.

To improve our efficiency, I enlist help reaching individuals. For instance, at Expo, we generally prefer single speakers or co-presenters to panels. But when somebody proposes an intriguing panel to us, I ask the organizer to include at least one woman with appropriate expertise. I’ve had dozens of these conversations. Almost always, the organizer’s response is, “Oh, right, hadn’t thought of that, good idea. A would be great, or we could ask B if she’s free.” Only once has the response been, “I won’t be able to find anybody.”

In addition to panel organizers, I plant the seed with founders, CEOs and other senior businesspeople. When I meet them (male or female), and we get to chatting about conferences, I ask them to consider actively supporting their female employees as speakers. For the CEOs, that might mean brainstorming with the employees on conferences they could reach out to and topics they could propose, giving them time to write the proposals and travel to shows, and maybe offering really good speaker training. While I can’t yet track results for this mini-initiative, I’ve been surprised to find that when I make these suggestions, businesspeople most often look like the light bulb has gone off, “Right, yes. I can do that stuff—and I want to.”

So you can supplement the call-for-proposals method with a raft of invitations (and bolster that with help from CEOs). But where do you find the women to invite? And what do you do about the brainstorming-notable-people method? In both cases, the hurdle is that accomplished women are, more often than not, less prominent (because, y’know, they don’t speak at conferences as frequently).

If I were to ask you: Who are the ten biggest names among web CEOs? Feel free to include hardware and software companies. And also: Who are the ten biggest names among web entrepreneurs? Feel free to include people from your first list. Your lists, like mine, would include few or no women. So now, even if I change the question to ask you: Who’s doing interesting work we might want to highlight? Well, now your brain is primed to remember the men you came up with a minute ago. And you’re all set to overlook a slew of compelling speakers.

This is where lists are really key. I simply keep lists of C-level women in tech, women entrepreneurs, women VCs, women tech journalists, women consultants and so on. And I find women to add by keeping a close eye on everyone else’s lists, conferences, books, blog comments and tweets—and then, often, seeking out video of these women to get a sense of whether they’re good speakers. (Incidentally, I am, for various reasons, skeptical of those “Top Women in Tech” and “Female Entrepreneurs to Watch” lists. But I have to admit that when they prompt your team to remember specific women in the brainstorming process, or when they help you find those interesting women you wouldn’t otherwise have known about, they’re useful.) No question, when we’re trying to move the needle on our percentage of women speakers, being able to consult these lists give us a fighting chance.

Maintaining these lists takes work. But y’know what? That’s part of our jobs. And it leads to a world in which I might just be interested in attending my own conference.

Among the things I haven’t tackled in this post: Why are women less likely to propose themselves as speakers (and what can we do about that)? Does an increase in great female speakers affect attendee satisfaction or measurably improve the bottom line? Are there ways that matter in which women speakers are different to work with than men? If there’s interest, I’ll consider a follow-up piece.

Also in this post, I’ve focused on female speakers. But tech conferences—including my shows—could benefit from efforts to increase the diversity of speaker rosters along other vectors, including race, age, physical ability and other factors that influence experience, perception and understanding. What else can we do to improve our line-ups? Thoughtful, constructive ideas welcome.

August 27 2010

Four short links: 27 August 2010

  1. Working Audio Data Demos -- the new Firefox has a very sweet audio data API and some nifty demos like delay pedals, a beat detector (YouTube) and a JavaScript text-to-speech generator. (via jamesaduncan on Twitter)
  2. Estimating the Economic Impact of Mass Digitization Projects on Copyright Holders: Evidence from the Google Book Search Litigation -- [T]he revenues and profits of the publishers who believe themselves to be most aggrieved by GBS, as measured by their willingness to file suit against Google for copyright infringement, increased at a faster rate after the project began, as compared to before its commencement. The rate of growth by publishers most affected by GBS is greater than the growth of the overall U.S. economy or of retail sales.
  3. In History-Rich Region, a Very New System Tracks Very Old Things (NY Times) -- Getty built a web database to help Jordan track its antiquities sites (and threats to them) with Google Earth satellite images. (via auchmill on Twitter)
  4. What Women Want and How Not to Give it To Them -- thought-provoking piece about the ways in which corporate diversity efforts fail. Must read.

April 01 2010

OSCON 2010: Open Source in a World of New Defaults

Registration is now open for the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, July 19-23, Portland, OR.

This year's revolutionary technology frequently becomes the accepted norm a few years down the line. Every so often the revolution is big enough, and a noticeable shift in the technology landscape occurs.

We're at such a point in 2010. At OSCON 2010 in July, we'll be talking about the new environment that developers, businesses and open source projects find themselves in, and how they can navigate and get the best from it.

Cloud by Default

oscon2010.jpgFor many years at OSCON we called out "web applications" as a distinct topic. This year it became a useless demarcation, as just about everything is a web application. Cloud computing is in a place similar to web applications a few years ago.

Your next application will probably run in a cloud setting, whether public or private. The cloud brings with it concerns of designing for scalability, replication and failure, presenting new opportunities and techniques. In a few years, these will be second nature, taken for granted. For now, we're learning the ropes, agreeing on standards, pushing forward with developing new tools.

The consequences of the move to the cloud can be felt throughout the OSCON program, but especially in the cloud computing and database tracks. Keynote speaker Stormy Peters will be exploring the challenge that software-as-a-service presents to traditional open source.

One of the interesting spinoffs from cloud computing is that the disciplines of system administration and software development have merged to some extent, as systems management becomes more programmatic and development needs to account for systems architecture. In line with this we've retitled our system administration track Operations and will cover topics such as configuration management, scalability and monitoring.

Mobile By Default

Mobile interfaces are no longer a novelty or wishlist item. Changes in the handset marketplace and phone technology are revealing viable paths for mobile development without deep investment or highly specialized developer skills. Always-on data connections work hand-in-hand with cloud services to make the cellphone the universal computing terminal.

For open source developers, the mobile touchpaper has been lit by two technologies: Android and HTML5. Android provides an open source friendly environment for custom mobile development, and HTML5 is the answer to rich, portable application development that works across both Android and iPhone.

OSCON's mobile track covers everything you need to know about open source mobile development, whether Android or iPhone, and innovative uses of other mobile technologies.

Diverse By Default

The architectural diversity that web, cloud and mobile applications bring means that developers and operations rarely have the luxury of using only one or two tools. Instead, you pick the tool for the job, whether that's programming languages or other applications.

Most of us need a functional grip on Javascript and HTML, have Python at our fingertips as our go-to scripting language, and probably use administration tools based on Ruby. We might deal with source code stored in Subversion, Git or Mercurial.

OSCON will be celebrating and tracking programming language diversity, with a keynote from Rob Pike, Google's inventor of the Go programming language, and sessions on Scala, Clojure, Erlang, Smalltalk and more.

Open source isn't a by-geeks, for-geeks thing any more. Goals for adoption are set higher. We will focus on community diversity as a dependency for open source, and why open source projects need to be person-centered for success.

Open By Default

Opening up source code is a new default for organizations and corporations, and is playing a key role in the development of cloud architecture, mobile platforms, open government and open data. For the first time this year, we've added a Healthcare track, to catalyze and foster the development of open source, open data and APIs in Health IT.

OSCON's full session listing includes 40 three-hour tutorials, and tracks on Business, Cloud Computing, Community, Databases, Education, Government, Hardware, Java, Javascript, Mobile, Operations, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, and Tools & Techniques.

Over the coming weeks I'll be writing more about the technologies, trends and issues in open
source that OSCON covers this year. In the meantime, do check out the schedule and take advantage of early registration.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl