On Thursday, October 6th, I finally launched the Women Techmakers group in St. Louis! Women Techmakers is an international group started by Megan Smith when she worked at Google. Women Techmakers is designed to promote an environment of inclusivity for women in technology, as well as celebrate women leading the industry. The purpose of the group is to advance, grow, and celebrate all technical women.
We had a super successful launch party! Over 60 women came to the event, and although it was only scheduled for two hours, people stayed for four hours. I gave a little speech fifteen minutes into the event about the purpose of the group and the initiatives that I wanted to start in the area. There was a lively buzz the entire time, and it made me so happy to see people introduce themselves to new people and start chatting away.
A little bit of background on my involvement in Women Techmakers: Earlier in the year, I met Ben Oberkfell who was the lead of the Google Developer group in St. Louis. He reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to lead the Women Techmakers group. I had heard about Women Techmakers before because they had sponsored me to go to a variety of conferences (Grace Hopper this year and last year and Google IO). I jumped at the chance, but was really intimidated to put together the first meeting. I had never led a meet up before, and I didn’t even know where to start with finding an appropriate venue or spreading the word in general.
I started by talking to a variety of women in the area to figure out what the need was for this type of group. There’s a local coding meet up that focuses on women, but many people like me felt a lot of pressure to mentor people when they were struggling to keep their head above water. Also, a lot of technical women that I know actually aren’t coders — they’re technical writers, designers, quality advocates, agile coaches, and project managers. With that in mind, I wanted to focus on how to help people without the focus being on code.
In addition to that, Ben helped me find a venue — Tech Artista. Tech Artista is a coworking space in St. Louis that is absolutely gorgeous. It has three floors with collaboration areas, meeting rooms, small offices, a kitchen, showers, a rooftop patio, a coffeeshop in the front, and even a hairdresser. There was local art all over the place, and honestly, it just felt cool to be in the space. The owners of Tech Artista are really awesome guys who are invested in bringing the community together and making St. Louis have an awesome tech scene. Special thank you to Tech Artista for graciously hosting our event!
I also reached out to the recruiting team at Asynchrony to see if there were any sponsorship opportunities. Asynchrony’s recruiting got back to me super fast — they offered to cover drinks and food as well as provide a ton of swag. There was a variety of swag, but I really loved the little foldable hairbrushes that they provided. Thank you Asynchrony for supporting women in technology! I was also able to host the second Women Techmakers event at Asynchrony.
A couple friends noted that they had a hard time meeting women who didn’t work at the same company that they did. It made moving between companies a lot harder because they felt like they didn’t have a network they could rely on and had to resort to cold-calling. Similarly, people were frustrated that they didn’t have a group that they could talk to about work issues like how to ask for a raise or how to deal with harassment or how to become more confident. I was talking to Mark for a while about this, and he came up with the name for the group: Technigals Anonymous. The idea behind this was that you could meet other women and create your own “personal board of directors.” You could call up these women or group chat with them and be supportive to each other. When someone needed a new job, they could rely on each other to look out for opportunities. I felt like my monthly craft nights served this purpose, but I wanted to extend it out to other people in the St. Louis area, especially people I didn’t work with.
At the launch party, I introduced Technigals Anonymous, and it’s a work in progress right now. I encouraged people to meet each other and ask personal questions like “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” or other things like that so it didn’t feel inauthentic and too “networky.” Too often, I feel like many meet ups are really awkward and I don’t meet anyone that I remember other than somehow have obtained their business card. I wanted people to meet each other and become friends because you can’t have a personal board of directors without having that foundation of trust that you get from interacting with someone on a personal level.
I also introduced the St. Louis Techies Project (also a work in progress). The original Techies Project was created in Silicon Valley to highlight unconventional technical people. Usually, when I read the life story of someone technical, I don’t feel a connection because they typically have been programming since they were five and loved programming more than other hobbies, etc. etc. The Techies Project dove deep into people’s lives — homelessness, drug addictions, struggles of being a minority, personal disabilities, and abusive parents. Reading these profiles made me feel more confident and less like this weirdo that stuck out all the time. I felt like those stories lent me confidence in my own abilities. With that in mind, I felt like St. Louis is a very different tech scene than Silicon Valley, and I wanted to highlight those stories. At the launch party, I asked for volunteers to help interview and want to be interviewed. I can tell you now that we’re two months in that it’s actually really hard to get people to sit down for an hour long interview or so, but I’m hoping to figure out how to improve that.
I promoted the event through a variety of venues. First, I sent an invite out to the Google Developer group on meetup.com as that’s the traditional venue for those meet ups. I also created an EventBrite invite that I sent out via Twitter and to the women in technology group at Asynchrony and our parent company WWT. The most popular invite was the Facebook event that I created — many of my friends shared it with other women in technology that they knew, and it spread the word much faster than all of the rest combined. I personally sent invites to many of the women in the area that I knew — it turns out that people are much more likely to show up if you actively tell them in a personal way. I felt like I was constantly hustling to make sure that I wasn’t excluding people and I was getting the word spread out as far as possible. Special thanks to everyone who shared it with their friends and coworkers!
On the actual day, Mark was lovely and helped me out with setup. He also was an awesome doorman, and he gave everyone a survey and sent them up to the right area of TechArtista. When the food order had a crazy snafu, Mark tracked it down and got everything squared away so I didn’t have to worry about it. <3
I am so thrilled and thankful for everyone who came to the event! The days leading up to the event were incredibly stressful — there were a handful of people who kept telling me not to be disappointed if people didn’t come or that I shouldn’t expect a lot of people or just generally preparing me for the worst. It really freaked me out because I was worried that I was being overly confident so it made me work harder to personally invite people. I was panicking the day of the event because two people had again warned me that people wouldn’t show up because it was rainy outside and because of parking and whatever else. One of my close guy friends came over to chat and talked me up and said it would be awesome regardless. I’m so thankful to him because his confidence in me gave me the calm that I needed before the event. I secretly had printed out 75% more surveys than the number of people that I expected to come just in case. It just made me feel better to be prepared, and only Mark and I would know that I had “wasted” paper.
So, it really, really blew my mind when we nearly ran out of surveys! I was in a constant state of shock when someone new that I didn’t even know would walk up the steps and introduce themselves to me because I ran the group. It was awesome when people were stopping to talk to me on their way out to thank me for running the event. I felt like my heart was full of love and success afterwards.
I started a Slack group and a Facebook group after the event. It’s been awesome to have so many conversations in both venues after the fact. We had our second meeting on Salary Negotiations this past month, and we’re looking to have a movie day to watch Hidden Figures in January. I love that I’ve been meeting so many awesome women in the area. I’m excited to see where this meet up will go in the future.