PyCon 2016 in Portland, Or
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Monday 5:10 p.m.–5:40 p.m.

Bake the Cookies, Wear the Dress: Connecting with Confident Authenticity

Adrienne Lowe

Audience level:


Are you interested in speaking at a tech conference, but you're unsure how you might share relevant technical information in an engaging way? Are you in a position of leadership or mentorship in open source and want to be more approachable, accessible, and collaborative? In a fun and light-hearted talk, learn actionable suggestions for inspiring others with your own confident authenticity.


In late 2014, I was just starting to learn to program and was invited to give my first talk at a Python conference. When I found out that I had been accepted to speak, instead of rejoicing, I found myself second-guessing everything from the utility of my arguments to what I should wear. Even scarier, I was challenged by those closest to me, who claimed a "woman in tech" should not wear a dress or compare cooking with coding during her talk. Fortunately, I resisted this advice, and delivered a message that resonated with my audience, convinced experienced developers to start mentoring, and inspired new coders to begin or continue their journey with programming. (Oh, and folks loved the cookies, too!) I went on to give talks at other conferences throughout 2015 where, by being honest and real, I connected with my audience and inspired them to start telling their stories. I also learned that pretty much **all** speakers, from new to seasoned, struggle with this. When we write code and give talks, we all want to connect and to help others. But in an industry that more readily values confidence and competence over humility and vulnerability, we often leave our struggles and challenges out of the story. This is a tremendous disservice to our collaborators and listeners, who then have a harder time relating to and working with us. More broadly, in 2015 I experienced a shift in our Python and Django communities towards being more open about our struggles and challenges as developers. We're not just talking about imposter syndrome: we're hearing keynotes on mental health (PyTennessee), taking advantage of counseling sessions at DjangoCon Europe, and even dedicating conferences to open source and feelings ( Write the Docs, a conference that explicitly emphasizes the empathy of the developer-documentarian, is in its fourth year. We're moving in this direction because we're slowly realizing that we can't do it any other way. We're not superheroes, rockstars, and ninjas, and we never were. Critically, I'll emphasize how important rebuking these titles is to nurturing new talent in our community. Whether we realize it or not, the way we talk about ourselves and the things we build has profound implications for the next generation of developers. As experienced developers, we can't keep telling learners that we're not "born with it", but making it look like we are. Instead, let's inspire others by sharing our real struggles and stories from a place of empowerment. This talk will give you actionable suggestions for how to do just that.