Adacamp was my dream un-conference, and so can you!

TLDR: Click here to indicate your interest in AdaCamp 2013 in San Francisco this June.  You’re interested because the last one was awesome.

Wall of compliments at AdaCamp DC (c) Máirín Duffy CC-BY-SA
Wall of compliments at AdaCamp DC (c) Máirín Duffy CC-BY-SA

Ladies and lady-positive people, you know that tech gathering that you dream about, the one where you’re surrounded by people who are smart and strong but modest and appreciative of all the factors that helped them get where they are?  The one where privacy and maintaining a safe space is conspicuously valued even more highly than the conference’s own publicity?  Where the women’s room sees some traffic and the men’s room is declared an all-gender space? Where the food is sensitive to a range of dietary needs and tastes AMAZING?  And the one where you wish you could be friends with everyone there?

I was there, and let me tell you, it was awesome. In July, 2012 I went to AdaCamp, an unconference organized by the Ada Initiative, who support women in open technology and culture.

Let’s define some terms.  An unconference is a gathering where the participants both set the agenda and provide the content.  Think of it like the salad bar of the conference world.  Typically, the schedule emerges from a process where people post topics they want to learn about and/or can teach about on a wall.  Attendees vote by putting tick marks on the proposals that interest them the most and the most popular ones get organized into a day’s worth of talks and workshops.  Open technology and culture are projects where the work is shared openly with the goal of allowing everyone to be more creative, more accurate, or simply make progress faster.  Open source software is the typical example, but it includes things like open hardware and transformative works (fan fiction) as well.  The Ada Initiative’s namesake is Ada Lovelace, widely considered the world’s first computer programmer.

AdaCampDC was the second gathering sponsored by the Ada Initiative and had something like 150 participants, mostly women.  It felt like a profoundly safe space with a diverse range of industries, ages, nationalities, and professional experience.  There were nitty-gritty sessions on things like career development and asking for more money, intros to tech topics like OpenStreetMap and programming, and even a super fun soft circuit workshop where we made an old pillowcase into an LED-bedazzled AdaCamp memento.

There were classy touches like photo-consent indicators and the best conference food ever.  When you got to the conference space you were offered a green, yellow, or red sticker for your nametag.  Green meant “ok to photograph me”, red meant “please don’t photograph me”, and yellow meant “ask first.”  Ahhh!  It’s so refreshing not to have to explain that it’s rude to take my picture without asking.  And seriously, the food.  Middle Eastern and…wait for it… Ethiopian.  Unheard of.  So good.

It was a profoundly healing and uplifting space.  Early sessions on imposter syndrome were so popular that they ran pretty much the whole second day, speaking to a deep need for participants to work out unjustified feelings of inadequacy.

Little spots of magic popped up throughout the two days.  Several companies had sponsored dinner for a bunch of people so we could split into interest groups and have deeper conversations in a more intimate setting.  People self-organized into dinners via a shared spreadsheet that worked amazingly well.  One favorite feature was a spontaneous wall of compliments that was dreamed up during an imposter syndrome session.  The idea was people would write compliments and post them on the wall.  Anytime you were feeling low you could go to this wall and take one for yourself.  I stuck compliments on several of my friends.  It was a fun, silly way to express real appreciation.

So, yes, it was a respectful and healing love-fest where we got to talk about both our successes and the times we’ve felt beaten up.  But it was also a pretty heady connection-maker.  I met people doing archival data storage, heavy lifting in coding and databases, and really worthwhile non-profit work.  In fact the opportunity to work with OTI came to me across the AdaCamp alumni list.

In summary, you should go to the next one this year in San Francisco, June 8-9.  The organizers are polling for interest to estimate how big a space to secure.  If you think you might like to go, click here to help them plan the next awesome gathering.

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