WCEU Berlin – Women in Tech

A few of the many female organiser that made WCEU Berlin such a success

WordCamp Europe was fantastic.  There’s so much I could discuss here, the fact that it was the biggest WordCamp to date, the warm and friendly environment, the additions of yoga and mindfulness, and several new plugins that are now available for others to use. 

However, I’d like to highlight the focus on women in tech.  WCEU began with talks from three exceptional people and ended with our very own Tess being announced as one of the global leads for next year’s WCEU in Porto.  43% of talks were given by women.  Parity would be preferable, but I know that’s not always possible.  I once invited six people to participate in a video, of the three women asked one said yes, one didn’t reply and the other couldn’t make it and suggested her male colleague took her place. 

Gender isn’t the only attribute that separates a diverse community, there are many other criteria that differentiate us, and none should pose an obstacle. 

I’m a white, straight, English man living in England.  I belong to no minority groups worthy of mention, but I don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist, gay to support pride or BAME to abhor racism. I only have one X chromosome, so can never directly experience what it’s like to be female.  I don’t know what difficulties Jenny, Francesca and Josepha may have had to overcome.  I know more about Tess, and from my own point of view hiring her was the easiest professional decision I’ve ever made.  What screams out is that they are talented, intelligent, and hard-working experts.  I know many, many more in the WordPress community.  They are accomplished in their own rights, and it was a pleasure to see them on the stage.

I do have a daughter, and what’s most important to me is that she is given every opportunity to do whatever she wants.  She’s only 8, so doesn’t know what that is yet. I’ve shown her how to use WordPress, and our plugin – at the risk of a blatant plug, it’s literally child’s play! – but we also read, do craft, go to Lego club, swim, bike, cook, do jigsaws, play Mario Kart and myriad other activities.  All I care about is that she is happy and fulfilled.  If that’s a tech role then great, but equally if she wants to follow any other profession that’s also marvellous.  I’d only be angry if she were unable to follow her dreams. 

By contrast, my mother, who will be 75 later this year, grew up in post-war London,  a different era and environment.  She was a gifted academic student but received little careers advice.  She became a nurse, and later a health visitor.  She had a long and successful career, helping people in the community.  I know from random conversations in supermarkets that she’s loved and respected by those she helped.  However, she clearly felt that she had missed out on something.  After retiring she finally went to university and got a first-class degree.  I couldn’t be prouder.

My Mum isn’t a Luddite, but she’s not overly tech savvy either. It’s not unusual to receive a WhatsApp photo of her looking at her phone. I often play the role of filial tech support when her printer isn’t working. She doesn’t need a website, and isn’t looking to start working again. WordCamps aren’t for her, but it’s important that my daughter and her generation have role models. In this respect, WordCamp Europe delivers.

Jenny Beaumont

Jenny, “Fail fast, often and early to find your truth and achieve balance”

Jenny talked about mistakes and the agile process.  This is a topic close to my heart.  I’ve been making things up as I go along for a long time, otherwise known as being an entrepreneur. Mistakes are a metric for how we approach projects.  The fear of making a mistake, and the inertia this causes, is more detrimental than any setbacks.  I encourage everyone to have belief in their own decisions, and the courage to accept that mistakes will occur and be ready to react. 

Running a business is like being a super hero, there’s always someone trying to blow up the world.  An extreme analogy I know, but it illustrates a fundamental truth.  Project or product management superficially is about planning.  In reality it’s dealing with a changing set of requirements.  Businesses are dynamic, and so are the clients they serve and the environments they operate in.  Even if you don’t make out-and-out mistakes, it will be necessary to re-route at some point. 

As an illustration, employees will always need time off for medical or compassionate reasons.  Some extreme, like a death in the family, others less so like tonsillitis at a critical moment.  We’re still in business.  We cope, we support our people, and work out how to work the problem. Mistakes happen, but so do many other things.  When I first started it was easy to fret or be anxious about the unknowns. I no longer care, I expect all kinds of obstacles, mistakes are merely a small subset. 

I’m really pleased that Jenny chose this as the opening talk.  She was the local lead for WCEU Paris and the global one for Belgrade.  I can guarantee that running such a large project would have required some quick-thinking and re-direction.  Her voice is loud, due to her achievements and attitude, heed her advice. 

Francesca Marano

Francesca, telling us to introduce ourselves to the person we were sat next to

Francesca is the WordPress Community Manager at SiteGround.  I recently met her for the first time in Atlanta, and was lucky enough to sit next to her at dinner.  A large part of her job is networking.  Despite the fact that this was the first time we’d talked, she already knew about our company, Tess our marketing manager, and WordCamp Bristol, for which I was an organizer. Immediately I felt comfortable chatting with her, and understood that she was extremely good at her job.

Her talk was about networking – no surprise.  It was interactive, before beginning she asked everyone to move closer to the front, and to make sure that we were sat next to someone.  After giving tips on how to network, what type of questions to ask, and the importance of being prepared, she put the theory into practice.  We were all encouraged to spend 2 minutes introducing ourselves to our nearest neighbour.  She encouraged us to continue the process afterwards, and to meet at least three new people by the end of the weekend.

I say this all the time, I love the WordPress community.  WordCamps are hugely enjoyable events.  I always catch up with friends, even when far from home, and make new ones.   For anyone who hasn’t been to a WordCamp, or a MeetUp, don’t hesitate.  Just go.  You’ll quickly make friends and create alliances that can help you professionally. 

I really enjoyed this talk.  Bravo Francesca.  You are a wonderful person. I’d also like to thank you personally for making introductions that can help my own business.  You practice what you preach. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy

Josepha, Executive Director of WordPress

Josepha is rapidly becoming my favourite WordPress speaker.  Apologies for resorting to cliché, I’m running out of adjectives.  For this post, I’m going to take the Sesame Street approach and focus on the letter “E”.  Erudite, effervescent and engaging.  She’s one of smartest people I know. Unlike myself, she rarely resorts to filler words or discourse markers, speaking fluently and intelligently without pause. Full of energy, gesticulations, she’s able to wander the stage and keep our attention rapt.  Her slides included a single diagram, roughly “A -> B with a hint of C”, which is all she needed to expound her thesis. 

This talk was about change management.  It’s apt, as WordPress is undergoing extensive changes at present.  Gutenberg being the highest profile, but there are many others such as governance or migration from track to Git.  It’s a topic she knows well, and was able to eloquently explain and offer the benefit of her experience and expertise.  The word socks was in the title, there was an entertaining and explanatory anecdote, but no fluffy feet littered with Wapuus. 

As an aside, I love the way Josepha communicates.  At the risk of teasing a friend, while the majority of her being adheres to Newtonian physics and gravity her quantum-mechanically driven arms occupy all spaces at all times. There’s a duality joke in here somewhere about waves, but I can’t quite place it; maybe I’m looking at it wrong.

Josepha is the Executive Director for WordPress.  She’s excelling in her role. Her voice is worth listening to, I’d encourage everyone to browse through her talks on WordPress.tv.

So Many Brilliant Women

Janice and Hannah, closing remarks WordCamp Bristol 2019

As alluded to at the beginning, I know so many fantastic women in the WordPress community.  To name them all would turn this blog post into a never-ending story.  I would like to briefly mention Hannah and Janice, who led WordCamp Bristol last month, and are also organisers for our local MeetUp.  Hannah was also an MC and chaired a panel talk in Berlin.  She spent more than 200 hours working on WordCamp Bristol, as a freelancer this time literally cost her thousands of pounds, not everyone is lucky enough to be sponsored or supported by a company.  Janice qualifies for a bus pass, but is one of the most active people I know. She runs a design agency and is an active member and leader in Bristol.  WordCamp Bristol was a stunning success, a lot of people helped, but they led the way.

Tess Coughlan-Allen

Tess being announced as one the global leads for WCEU 2020 in Porto

Finally, I’d like to finish up with a few words about Tess.  After it was announced that she was one of the 3 global leads for next year, my after party experience was dominated by people telling me how wonderful she is.  This is not new news. 

On the day we interviewed her she was the last candidate.  We were looking for a recent graduate, someone with one or two years’ experience.  The others were good, with a few gaps as was expected for people early in their careers.  Tess blew us away.  I was due to fly out the following day on a two-week trip to the US, but didn’t want to slow the process down.  I gave strict instructions that I wanted her to have signed a contract before I got back. 

Saturday night wasn’t a one-off.  During the last three years I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve told me how great she is at her job.  We, and WCEU, are lucky to have her on our teams. 

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