Asshattery in Technology – Why WiT Struggle at Tech Conferences

As I’ve just finished another CodeMash, I’ve got to admit that there were a lot more women there than at past CodeMashes.


It was great to see this, but at the same time, my inner dread of hearing about asshattery at the conference came true too.  Apparently while CodeMash was going, CES – a massive tech conference  – was also going on with asshattery of its own.  Talking with my husband, he thought this was something of the past.  Unfortunately, this awfulness is still prevalent today.

Booth Babes Should Not Exist

I caught wind of this article on Mashable about a particular booth at CES 2013.  Then there’s this article on The Atlantic Wire about CES’s booth babes.  There’s’s “Why So Many Booth Babes, CES 2013?” article.  Finally, Business Insider did an article called “Meet the Booth Babes of CES 2013”.  Ah… CES…. you’ve yet again showed me why our industry isn’t mature and tends to sexualize things when they don’t need it.  Booth babes?  Nude models?  Just how are these ladies relevant to technology?  That’s right… they aren’t!  As stated in the article, this gimmick works  in a purely male industry.  But wake up, vendors!  Technology may be male-dominated, but it isn’t solely males.  Not only are you doing a disservice to the females in the industry, but you’re also doing a disservice to the guys in the industry who find this behavior not only uncomfortable but uncalled for.  Overall, you’re doing a disservice to the industry as a whole. 

Not All Hot Women Are Booth Babes

Now I have to say this, especially about CodeMash.  Many of you who’ve talked to me know that I’m curious about the other women at these conferences.  If their name tag doesn’t give an idea of what they do, I tend to chat with them to find out what they do.  There were women there who had “booth babe beauty”, but they weren’t booth babes.  If you talked with them, you’d find that they were in marketing/copy writing  recruiting, and yes even some in development.  However, men and women alike are quick to make the assumption that if a woman is hot, then she is a booth babe.  This is very far from the truth, even in technology.

Just Because She’s Hot Doesn’t Mean You Can Hit On Her

When we’re at these tech conferences, we are there to learn more about things that interest us and can help us further our career.  This does not include sleeping with co-workers to get ahead – such an outdated practice that never works anyhow and leads to complications in the office.  Trust me, ladies – don’t prostitute yourself just to advance your career as you will regret it later.

Men, the last thing we want to deal with are guys hitting on us and making assumptions that giving our room number to people for a party later means something more.  For those who are out there and dating, about 95% of them are not looking for a potential mate at a tech conference.  And if a one night stand happens, there’s most likely alcohol involved.  But still, just because it happens to a few doesn’t mean you have to follow their “lead”.

Rather than treating women as ladies to be potential dates, see them as people who share tech interests as you and may be interested in friendship.

Why The Gender Card Complicates Things

The gender card complicates things a lot.  I know many males and females who are friends who later are rumor fodder due to the immaturity in our field.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals can be just friends and aren’t necessarily sleeping together (even if there appears to be that chemistry between them).  But unfortunately, not everyone believes this, which complicates things further.

One of my favorite authors, Shel Silverstein, writes in his poem “No Difference”:

Maybe the way to make everything right

Is for God to just reach out and turn out the light

This is how I feel about the gender card.  Turn out the lights and you can’t tell gender.

Speaking of Cards… The Idea of Creeper Cards

My friend Zee pointed me to the Red/Yellow Card project.  While this is an interesting way of making it a point that someone is getting close to crossing a line or may have even crossed the line, I don’t see how effective it would be to hand them a card.

Anti-Harassment Policies

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, of the Python community, wrote an article called “Why conferences need a code of conduct”.  While codes of conduct are nice in theory, they do no good if they aren’t upheld/enforced.  The problem with reporting someone not adhering to a code of conduct or anti-harassment policy – which also applies even further to someone making a harassment claim in the workplace – is that there’s always the fear of retaliation for being reported.  CodeMash does have an anti-harassment policy, and I’m sure if the incidents were reported to a staff member that the policy would have been enforced.  But between the fear of retaliation and the general uncomfortableness of situations (including the room number incident that made one of my guy friends who witnessed it uncomfortable), it’s honestly difficult to report these things.

One Other Factor… Social Awkwardness/Issues in Geekdom

There’s one other factor that complicates this topic as well.  A lot of geeks are socially awkward and some even have some type of issues that make it hard for them to read people.  So unfortunately, they can misread a cue and say something totally inappropriate without having a good read of a situation.  This is a character flaw that can’t always be changed.

What Should WiT Do About This?

Since WiT are more often than not on the receiving end of such asshattery, I want to put some of the onus on them.  We as WiT need to be more aware of our surroundings and try to avoid these guys.  Travelling in groups and even having guy friends watching out for you can help in learning to deal with these situations.  It sucks that they happen, but realistically, we have to be aware that these can happen and not say “Oh this conference is great!  We don’t have to worry about that here.”  And when those guys are acting up, we need to put our collective foot down and call them out on their bad behavior.  Going back to your room and crying (which I have done in the past) does not solve anything and just makes you feel more miserable.

Sharing the Onus

Men, please look out for the ladies there.  Remember that they are somebody’s daughter.  They may be someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife, someone’s partner, someone’s mom.  If you don’t know them that well, then play nicely and talk to them to learn more about their tech perspectives.  But please. please. please… lose the brogrammer approach to things.  Realize that at the conference, we’re all professionals who want to hone our crafts (and I don’t mean that euphemistically) in one form or another.  And when you see improper behavior going down, please call them out (or report it if you don’t feel comfortable calling them out).

Let’s put an end to the asshattery at these conferences and make them more enjoyable for everyone!

My Love for Local & Regional Conferences

Recently, I was talking with a local guy who wanted to get more involved with the community, as he wants to eventually go the MVP route with hopes of one day working for Microsoft.  He mentioned that some people told him about conferences like TechEd and VSLive.  While those are great conferences, they’re also expensive – not just the ticket price but also accommodations and other incidentals.  In my reply back, I had to recommend looking at local conferences.  Here are a few reasons why I recommend local and regional conferences over the big conferences.

Quality of Speakers

Something to keep in mind is that speakers have some place they call home, even though they may travel a lot for work.  Here in the Heartland District, we have all sorts of speakers who’ve spoken at the bigger conferences (TechEd, VSLive, etc.) who call Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, or Tennessee home.  Even here in Cleveland, we have quite a few hometown greats who have spoken at national conferences.  So just because we’re in the Midwest and not on either coast does not mean that we’re exempt from having awesome speakers.  What’s nice about having these speakers calling this home is that it’s easy to woo them to speak at a conference close to home – not travelling far from family, giving them time with both the community and their own families.

Cost of Attendance

Looking at TechEd, the student rate is $995.  The student rate – as in a discounted rate –  is close to $1000, which is expensive for a typical student’s budget.  While I may be out of college for almost 10 years now, I remember what it was like to live on a student’s meager budget.  There’s no way I could have afforded going to something like that.  The professional rate is $2195 or that and an additional $400 for the pre-con.  While the “big names” are presenting there, it’s quite a bit of money to see content that we can find online, perhaps by the big name or someone else.  Add to it that this rate doesn’t include travel or hotel accommodations.  All of these numbers add up.

Now let’s look at some of the local conferences that can attract the big names at a fraction of the cost.  Take a look at conferences like CodeMash (in Sandusky, Ohio in January) and devLink (in Tennessee in August).  These conferences have attracted well-known speakers including Steve Smith, Scott Hanselman, Eric Meyer, and Mary Poppendieck.  These are multi-day regional conferences that are typically more affordable – both in terms of conference costs and accommodations.  They offer typically conference talks, workshops, and open spaces, amongst other networking opportunities for their attendees.  These are the two closest to my home and held here in the Heartland District.  Similar conferences include MADExpo and That Conference.  Other conferences that attract similar caliber of speakers include Stir Trek,  CodePaLOUsa, CodeStock, and Kalamazoo X.  The ticket price of these, even at the professional level, aren’t much greater than $300 for multi-day events – much more affordable than even the student rate of TechEd.

Networking on a Local Scale

While you may be wanting to network with people throughout the world, it might be even more helpful to network with those in nearby communities to achieve whatever goal you’re trying to achieve.  Local and regional events are greater for reaching the local audience (as opposed to the larger conferences that target a wide network).  Other local and regional events in this area that are great to check out include  DevDays, Days of .NET, SQL Saturdays, PowerShell Saturday,  TechNet Events, and MSDN Events.  The costs for these tend to be minimal – usually to cover food.  Some of these events may also be free.


In an economy where employers may not necessarily pay their developers well or even cover their training, events like TechEd and VSLive become even less of an option for training.  However, besides going to user groups where you usually hear about one topic and network with the locals, there are other options.  When budgets are tight but you still want to get a great quality of presented content, take a look at local and regional conferences.  Once you look at them, you’ll find a great way for growing your career perhaps in your own backyard!

By the Community, For the Community…?

While reading on Twitter, I saw this post:

#dddsw DDD South West 3 Call For Speakers closes in 2 days time (Tuesday) than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Being active in Cleveland’s technical community and in the Heartland District, I’m always curious to see what other communities are doing. I had seen DDD references before from some of the people I follow, so I figured I’d check out DDD South West. While the Developer Developer Developer! conference sounds cool, their call for speakers makes me wonder.

Here are the requirements for 60 minute sessions:

  • You must be resident in the UK/Ireland or an active member of the UK/Ireland community
  • You must not be a Full Time Employee of Microsoft (DDD South West is “By The Community, For The Community”)
  • Your session must not promote a non-Microsoft commercial product/service if you work for or are directly associated with the company/organisation that sells the product/service (unless there is a free version and your presentation is primarily about the free version)

It seems odd that DDD South West is excluding Full Time Employees of Microsoft (and only Microsoft) from submitting talks. Sure, they go on to say that the session shouldn’t promote a non-Microsoft commercial product or service either. But really… why are they going so far as to explicitly say no Microsoft FTEs? And why do they go on to say “By The Community, For The Community” after saying that Full Time Employees of Microsoft can’t submit talks? Are Microsoft employees not allowed to be a part of the community? This just doesn’t make sense.

It seems fairly assinine to say “You must not be a Full Time Employee of {insert a company name here}” and then say “By The Community, For The Community”. Are people who work for companies not allowed to be a part of the community? Is there something about a particular company’s FTEs that really would need to exclude them from a community?

What kills me even more is that they link to Scott Hanselman as a resource to check out on “how to present in public”. Did they not get the memo that Scott is a FTE of Microsoft? Oh yeah… and Microsoft is a sponsor backing this behavior? What the…? Again, that just doesn’t make sense.

What a confusing message to send to potential website visitors. 🙁