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Conference Spotlight: Women of Silicon Roundabout 2019

Hi Amy. 👋🏼 Tell us about the conference that you attended.

It was called Women of Silicon Roundabout, a conference for women who work in tech. It was a gathering of amazing speakers to talk about a variety of subjects. About 85% of the speakers were women, and I’d say about the same for the audience too (which was 6,000-strong this year!) 

The conference itself is broken into a few key areas. There’s a main stage for keynotes, which was opened by Baroness Karren Brady. She talked about her experience with West Ham Football Club, which was really interesting. 

Aside from the main stage there are ‘tracks’, which are smaller standalone specialist stages. For instance, one was focused on the future of tech. Upstairs there are workshops and seminars, and these are smaller groups where you work with other people that you’ve met on the day.

There is also a jobs fair with trade stands, with a lot of the big brands such as BP, Tesco, Google and BBC – all hiring tech roles such as scrum masters, product managers and particularly, coders. So it was great to see them being so proactive with hiring a stronger female workforce. 

The key topics that ran throughout the two days were AI, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. The other 30% of it was about personal development and leadership. People from leadership roles were exploring how to be a positive leader, and the good traits to have.

There were also people talking about how to get the best out of teams. This particularly resonated with me, being a scrum master. 

 

 

How would you describe the Women of Silicon Roundabout conference experience?

I found the conference pretty hectic. Over the course of two days I went to 17 different talks, workshops and seminars. Most of them were 30 minutes to an hour. And the way it worked was that you had to book in advance for certain sessions. My ticket allowed me early access and follow-up videos, so I felt relatively relaxed going into it, as I’d booked in to all the talks that I wanted to see. But actually, the logistics of moving from one place to another meant that you only have 5-10 minutes to get potentially from an auditorium of 6,000 people up to a workshop room, which was three floors up. As you can imagine, it was quite difficult. It was really draining, but I definitely enjoyed it. I felt the benefit of staying up there, as opposed to getting the train there and back each day.

 

 

What were your key learnings from the conference?

One thing that really resonated with me was the realisation that these people that are talking and that have this knowledge are just like me. I have that capacity to talk or speak at an event, lead teams and do the things that they’re talking about. It’s just a matter of experience and confidence. So I came away feeling empowered and with an invigorated spirit. I came back super pumed and ready to put some of my learnings into practice.

Because I’m in a scrum master/product manager role, I was looking at the different topics with a couple of hats on and trying to work out which content would suit each role best, and how I can apply it.

There were a few really good talks that resonated with me.

Alison Clark talked about accessibility. The main thing I learnt from her was to put something into a presentation that makes it relatable to you. During her talk she revealed that her daughter has cerebral palsy, and she was talking a lot about some of the digital initiatives out there to help those with disabilities, and how we can be more mindful of building things to an accessible standard. She was very relaxed and had a glittery tshirt on. She wasn’t what I would class as a typical speaker. Just by being herself and talking about something personal to her, it made you feel more engaged.

I enjoyed Catherine Trotter, Technology Director from Money Supermarket. Her presentation was called ‘My Way Being an Authentic Leader’. I do have a drive to move more into a leadership role, particularly being a scrum master. Somebody said to her “I only know the ‘at work’ Catherine”, as in, she wasn’t fully there, fully present. She was trying not to bring non-work aspects of herself to work. 

She found that she built better relationships with her colleagues by sharing a bit more of her personal life. I thought that was really interesting. It’s quite easy to come to work and separate things. I definitely feel I’ve been guilty of being too corporate at times, so I want to try being a bit more vulnerable. Sometimes you just have to be more authentic and true to yourself, and I want to try to weave this into a presentation that I am giving at Kyan in October. Work culture has changed a lot in the last few years and does kind of go against everything that I learnt growing up.

 

 

Did the conference inspire you to try anything new?

I think I came away feeling a number of things. Firstly, that I want to speak more and do more talks. 

I felt that the women there were open, honest and sometimes vulnerable. But fundamentally, just like me – passionate about all things tech, diversity and that we need to inspire girls and grow the number of women working in tech. I think that was a really key message that a lot of people were talking about. How can we encourage more women to work in tech and go to events like this? I love how I felt a connection to their stories and I feel like this is something that I can bring to the table at Kyan.

Off the back of the conference, I immediately put myself forward to speak at one of our upcoming Lunch & Meets so I could share my learning from the day, including how to get the best out of teams, and using personality traits to help us understand each other better. Both of which tend to lend themselves to the scrum master role. 

I also see it as a good opportunity to speak in front of a group of friends to build up my skills and become more confident. I now have a goal to speak at that conference in future years. I feel like I could do that.

One thing that really resonated with me was the realisation that these people that are talking and that have this knowledge are just like me.

There was unfortunately one workshop that was very poor in its structure and content. And I left that room feeling that we could have done a much better job. Kyan could easily run a workshop at one of these conferences. Perhaps that’s talking to people about design sprints, how we use them and how they could benefit other companies. I think it’d be great for us to have a presence at the event next year. Perhaps to try and hire some more female engineers too, as I’d love that. I’ve already spoken to the wider team here about how we could approach that and make it happen. 

One of the other things that I want to do differently is to be more authentic. As part of my Lunch & Meet, I’ll cover this conference and what I got out of it. The underlying current across the presentation is going to be about working better together and learning more about one another. I can play in some of the things I’ve learned about introverts and extroverts, and the type of personality that I have. For instance, why I like quiet, at times, and why I wear my headphones when I do. It’s about learning how to get the best out of people. Harry, who is an extrovert, for instance, gets a kick, physically, out of coffee. So if I want to get the best out of Harry, I’ll get him a coffee in the afternoon to help do that. It’s that simple. If we can all learn those little things about each other, it’ll make a big difference. Perhaps we’ll come up with a ‘getting to know me’ portfolio for each person. What makes them tick? Are they a morning lark or a night owl? How would they like to be communicated with? That will not only make us more efficient but it will build better relationships.

 

 

What do you think makes a good conference?

One of the key things is communications – good comms in the lead up to, during and post-event. In the lead up to this conference, I received a few emails, not too many, just enough. I was prompted to download the app, which I found invaluable whilst I was there. That app allowed me to book sessions in advance, and then throughout the conference there were push notifications about session times, for instance. There was also the ability to add additional talks to your schedule.

The followup videos became available about a month after the event. I thought that was good. It was timely and met my expectations.

Another thing that I thought was really good was the speakers corner. Immediately after the keynote talks, the speaker went there. You could chat to them, ask questions and so on. It was a good opportunity to meet them and pick their brains, or just thank them for their time. I’ve never experienced that at other conferences.

Crowd management and scheduling clashes (for similar topics) could have been managed better. The main problem was getting into workshops past the people in the standby queues. Maps helped though, as the event location is so huge!

I look for good quality of speakers and a good variety of talks and topics. There were some instances where people were speaking for the first time or the title wasn’t particularly representative of the topic.

 

 

And finally, what does 'women in tech' mean to you?

To me, it’s women building and creating a better future for everyone, and encouraging girls of all backgrounds and needs into the industry. And creating the best products possible for women (and everyone) with particular disabilities and accessibility needs. 

There are different characteristics that women bring to the table. Women can bring new insights, learnings and attitudes that help create a better balance. This brings a greater understanding and a deeper thought pattern into the workplace.

One interesting stat that shocked me: out of all of the CEOs in the FTSE100, there are more CEOs called Steve than there are female CEOs. I don’t think it’s for lack of want – that drive is there. It’s just not come to fruition yet. But in the next decade we really are going to see a huge shakeup. 

It’s going to take a number of strong, powerful and self-assured women to take this stance, and I think we are getting there. And the more that we do this (challenge male-heavy workforces and put women into more senior positions), it’s going to open doors for other people, and create a snowball effect.

 

 


 

Previous Conference Spotlights from the Kyan team:

Lead Dev London 2019 by Tom Winter
Full Stack London 2018 by Erica Porter
London Fintech Week by Ben Horsley-Summer
Paris.rb by Erica Porter
UX London by Rob Edwards
Bath Ruby by Karen Fielding
Rails Conf 2018 by Stephen Giles