Ashe Dryden's blog

Introducing Color Communication Badges

When I heard that AlterConf was moving to the Color Communication Badge system, I was pretty impressed. So far, I’ve only been to one other conference, Wiscon, that uses color communication badges, and my first day attending was a relief compared to my other social experiences at cons.

The premise for the badge system, which for Alterconf is being unveiled in Seattle, is simple. Each attendee receives three cards included with their name badge and holder. (Attendees are invited to include their pronouns on their white name badge.) The colored cards can be slipped behind the name badge in the holder so they’re visible to other attendees. A green card with a triangle means that the wearer wants people to come up and talk to them. Yellow, with a circle, means they want only people they know to approach them, and red, with a square, means that they want to be left alone. In each case, the person wearing the badge may still approach people they want to talk to, but if someone is wearing a yellow or red badge, they generally want to keep being approached to a minimum.

I say that this system was a relief to me because, as someone on the autism spectrum, I sometimes have issues voicing my needs and reading other peoples’ social cues. The badges were designed for use by people with autism at conferences and gatherings, but they’re a good tool for all con-goers. At Wiscon, a science fiction and fantasy literature conference I’ve attended for the past few years, where a large number of attendees have adopted the badges, all of the guesswork that stresses me out when navigating the crowds of other con-goers evaporates. Just by having the system, I also feel more secure for advocating for my needs and bowing out of conversations as a form of self-care.

As a child, I was usually a silent observer of conversations, and as an adult, I have a hard time matching social cues to social convention. I default into observer mode and often have no idea how to join a discussion. I also have a hard time saying no to people who approach me during gatherings, and I often feel like I have no way out when a discussion starts to drag on. My social anxiety peaks. When this process continues for hours with multiple people, I find myself tense and exhausted at the end of the day, my ability to function drained away.

Yellow and red badges take away the social pressure I feel to talk to everyone I see and to talk to people I don’t want to. No system is perfect, people do sometimes go up to red or yellow badgers and try to strike up a conversation, but it’s much easier for me to point to the badge and explain that I’m tired or in a hurry, especially when other people who aren’t on the spectrum are wearing the badges. I don’t feel singled out. I don’t feel different.

I also appreciate the badges because, when everyone is wearing them, I feel less awkward approaching other people for conversation. As someone who has a hard time with social cues, I often default to assuming that people don’t want to be approached. When faced with a room full of what, to me, can seem like blank slates, figuring out who might want to talk to me takes up a lot of mental energy. But, if all of the people who do want to make new friends or professional connections are wearing a green badge, I no longer have to worry.

Conferences are often high-pressure events, especially tech conferences. The emphasis is to always be hustling and making connections. People are running for long periods of time on little sleep and a break from their usual routines. It’s easy to get sucked into after hours parties, bar cons, and lobby cons until the early morning. The color badge system works, and not just for people on the spectrum.

At Collision in New Orleans last year, an investor was at a party, enjoying drinks with friends, when she admitted that she often hides her investor-designated badge when she has to walk across a conference floor because she is inundated with pitches. At gaming conferences I’ve been to, I’ve seen emotions run high and people have to leave the gaming floor to cool off and get some space. It would be so much more convenient if more cons used a visual system to communicate to people to give them space.

People at conferences get tired and hangry and sometimes just want to be left alone. Some people are naturally shy or quiet and want an easy way to communicate they’re looking for someone to talk to. While the Color Communication Badge system was created for people on the autism spectrum, everyone benefits from its implementation at conferences and large networking events. It just makes connecting with other attendees easier.


W. L. Bolm

W. L. Bolm is a techie and writer living in Wisconsin. They work as Director of Support and Nonprofit Advocacy at CommitChange. Their writing has appeared in The Tampa Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times, I Need Diverse Games, and in a number of print and online publications.
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Building Something Beautiful at AlterConf Dublin

Dublin is a city undergoing a building project. It was impossible to miss the signs of the progress of this transformation as I travelled towards the chq Building on the docks for AlterConf.

The conference left me with much the same feeling about the tech industry: it had a theme of development, improvement, and hope best summed up by February Keeney’s wonderful call to build beautiful communities.

The event opened with remarks from creator, organiser, and host Ashe Dryden (@ashedryden), including the perennially good advice that doing what you need to to look after yourself isn’t rude. Then we were off into the main programme, beginning with:

Jacqueline Russell – We Want to Believe, But We Don’t

@canuckjacq challenged us to think about why the tech industry is failing at building up its diversity, explaining that it’s because we do not truly believe that diverse teams make better products – though they do!

Jacqueline made clear that marginalisation is not an issue limited to the tech industry, but it is magnified within it as tech jobs are lucrative and desirable. This means that improving the tech industry can have a wider societal impact. Yet we are still taught not to trust the potential of marginalised people, and may not expect them to do well for unfair reasons such as how they look and whether they have been able to get a degree or unpaid internship. But removing ones own biases and choosing people for opportunities regardless of identity, and then supporting the chosen individuals, will lead to change.

Change is hard work, Jacqueline conceded. It would be easier to leave things as they are. But building better diversity and inclusivity is necessary just as building better hardware and programming languages is. So let’s act like we believe.

Jenny Wong – Building an Accessible Community

@miss_jwo then talked about organising WordCamp London and the many ways an event such as this can be built from the ground up to be as accessible, and therefore inclusive, as possible.

There were far more ideas put forward than I can cover here, ranging from the free and easy to the expensive and complex. They included:

  • Using gender neutral pronouns in event communications.
  • Good space planning, including: wheelchair accessibility, hearing loops, multifaith spaces; childcare facilities; lactation rooms (put these near the crèche and provide water bottles and tissues); quiet rooms; green rooms for speakers; and sprint rooms for work. Attendees are always grateful when there are tampons and towels in the bathrooms too.
  • Time planning: a good turnover time between talks allows people to get around, including those with mobility issues, injuries, children, or those who would like a breather.
  • Diversifying your speakers by encouraging new participants through mentorship schemes.
  • Providing large, readable signage to help attendees navigate.
  • Providing live captioning to help hard of hearing attendees, as well as the audiences of any quiet speakers or any who are having AV problems.
  • Advice for planning non alcohol-centric social events, such as providing alternative activities like retro games.

Ultimately, Jenny reminded us, there’s so much that can be done for accessibility and not all of it can be done by one team! Therefore it’s important to communicate with your attendees so they know what to expect – and remember that any improvement is better than not trying.

Ingrid Epure – Debugging Fear

@ingridepure’s talk was backed by a very pretty slideshow full of demonstrative emoji!

Ingrid encouraged us to parse information about why you are afraid, in order to gain clarity, and then to take action on these things in small ways, such as setting weekly targets and assessing your progress. She encouraged us to focus on building rather than conquering, and to remember that failing is natural and temporary.

She also encouraged celebrating progress, and remembering the importance of small wins, and ended with a wonderful call: let’s at least be free and have a little fun.

Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin – The Robotic CEO: Class at the Intersection of Technology and a Modest Proposal

@dirtycitybird asked us to consider the often overlooked class implications of the technology industry, which can provide well paid jobs, but is often damaging to working class people.

Technological unemployment is a widespread issue, seen for cashiers, bank tellers, and with the introduction of self-driving cars and trucks, soon couriers too. “Disruptive tech” often comes at the expense of these working class people.

And if these jobs are being replaced, Eilís asked, why not replace the CEO? Machines can make decisions better than people, by taking into account all the facts and having their biases weeded out, and it would have a greater return on investment, since CEOs make many millions more than working class employees.

Since the robot CEO seems, sadly, an unlikely prospect, Eilís concluded by urging us to consider what changes tech designers can implement to eliminate or at least reduce the issues surrounding technological unemployment – because if we’re not making the world a better place, we’re not doing our jobs.

Daniel Irvine – Lessons from a Life of Exile

@d_ir shared his experiences as a gay man who moved from Belfast to Ireland because, as he says, queer migration is a thing - wanting to move away from the place where you harboured a childhood secret is common.

He explained how many will find themselves falling in with their local gay scene – possibly their first community. However, there are problems within gay scenes such as isolation, addiction, and rejection of those who don’t appear the “right way”. It is therefore important to build community elsewhere, for example at work. Big tech companies often have schemes to give support to LGBTQ+ employees. Small companies can vary, so find one that celebrates difference with their employees. Or even start your own business!

Daniel also pointed out that white cis gay men exist on the border of the dominant group and the marginalised, and that they can use this “superpower” to raise the concerns of those who are less listened to.

Minority groups are more likely to notice the moral nuances of tech, both good and bad, and think about how we can improve things using that tech. So he concluded with the importance of having opinions and calling them out when you can.

February Keeney – Safety in Online Spaces

As I said before, @ihavenotea discussed how to build a beautiful community, with an artistic sticky-note slideshow to help!

February discussed the two major kinds of harassment and how there are different suitable responses. Outright hatred, for example using slurs, net immediate use of the Ban Hammer 3000! But what about microaggressions?

Microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities,” and should be dealt with differently where possible. The person at fault did not think they were doing anything wrong, and if directly called out will dig in. February explained that a study of parents who were anti-vaccination found that facts about the safety of vaccines caused them to become less likely to change their mind, as they tried to defend against an attack on their perceived identity. They responded better when shown the suffering caused by lack of vaccines.

The same applies to microaggressions, so she urged us to talk about bad actions not bad actors, and to change hearts not minds.

Anna Wilson – How LGBT People’s Lives Have Been Changed By the Internet

@yesitsanna discussed some of the ways in which tech has built better lives for LGBTQ+ folk already.

Firstly, she compared Ireland’s campaign for decriminalisation in the 70s to the more recent campaign for equal marriage. Both needed media coverage, canvassing, and feedback. Each of these was made far easier by the internet, for example the heartwarming #hometovote allowed straight people to see that the vote affected real people’s lives.

Additionally, she explained that the internet has built community. This is especially important when considered in the light of university dropout rates – whilst 25% of straight university students consider dropping out, the rates are up for LGBTQ+ folk, for example 30% for bisexual people and 50% for trans people, as they often feel they don’t fit in.

Anna also discussed the Express Your Gender project which is using the prevalence of smartphones to crowdsource vital research into gender expression.

Finally, she described changing her username so that it no longer used her deadname, and wished it was less complicated. For this to be a reality, systems must be built with everyone in mind, not just the averages. This is especially worth bearing in mind in relation to Ariane’s later talk!

Finally she urged us to listen, to care, and to prioritise, because we can make a difference - sometimes, we’re the only ones who can.

Danielle Leong - Becoming Feerless: Lessons Learned from Building Tools for Mental Health

@tsunamino gave a very important talk about what we ought to keep in mind whilst building tools to help people. Plus, it had plenty of puppy photos!

Danielle is the creator of Feerless, an extension that crowdsources trigger warnings for Netflix. She explained that those who make these tools are superheroes, but being among superheroes can be very difficult.

She stressed that no product can be flawless, and when trying to help people it is very difficult and anxiety inducing to accept that you can’t fix everything. Boundaries between yourself and those you are trying to help are vital - you must look after yourself whilst looking after others.

However, she concluded that we can use our experiences to build something positive for others, and that hearing from those who you impact makes it all worthwhile.

Ariane van der Steldt – A Name that Disempowers

@nahratzah discussed the phenomenon of deadnaming, and the problems that it causes: dehumanisation, anxiety, and reminding trans people of a time where 40% attempt suicide. Her old name belonged to a person now dead – or as she prefers to think of it, was never alive. Her real name is Ariane.

However, she explained the issues she had changing her name at work. The system broke, causing people to find her deadname when emailing her. When she went to meetings, her deadname would appear in colleague’s calendars, so she would have to reintroduce herself – on good days. On bad days, she would be silenced.

The problem did not end when the email client was fixed, because the address book remembered the wrong name. This means the problem still recurs, causing further anxiety. As with Anna’s talk, it’s important to take from this the necessity of building considerate tech.

Alyssa Ross – Who are Internet Filters For?

@couldntmissher opened by discussing a “child friendly” search engine, Kiddle. Kiddle provides search results with no “explicit content” and blocks searches that include “bad words.” However, these “bad words” used to include “transgender,” “bisexual,” and “child abuse,” meaning that children were reprimanded for trying to learn something, potentially something important to them.

Kiddle is not an internet filter, but it falls under the same desire to keep kids safe online. Alyssa pointed out that filters are now often on by default in schools and homes, preventing children from finding sex and relationship advice, suicide prevention, rape counselling, addiction or domestic violence support, and much other important information. This is compounded by the “Scunthorpe” problem – where innocent words can be mistaken for curses. Moreover, kids will find ways around filters, often by leaving a potentially supportive environment. Filters also prove to kids that their parents don’t trust them and don’t afford them any privacy – so why should the kids trust their parents?

Ultimately, Alyssa concluded, we all know that the Internet can be dangerous but trying to pretend we can shield children from that won’t make it go away. Instead, we need to educate kids on responsible internet use.

Finally, Ashe rounded up the event by pointing out that all conferences should be as great as this one! And it truly was great. There was so much inspirational and thought provoking material to inspire us to build something beautiful using technology, cooperation, and diversity.


Jay Castello

Writer, gamer, and human, though not necessarily in that order. Passionate about diversity and accessibility in media and tech, as well as thinking about what they can do for good.
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Cape Town postponed

Due to schedule conflicts, we will be postponing AlterConf Cape Town. We'd love to reschedule for a date in the future and work with a local team to make it happen. If you or your company would be interested in coordinating things on the ground, please let us know.
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Announcing Resolution Fest!

Resolution Fest logoFor the past few months, the AlterConf team and Affect Conf have been putting together an amazing series of events in Portland.

We're calling it Resolution Fest - or ResFestPDX - a week-long celebration of the people and communities reimagining the landscape of the tech industry. Over 8 days, we'll examine the intersections of technology, identity, culture, community service, education, social change, collaboration, creativity, and more.

We're launching with 8 events, including conferences, movie nights, networking socials, zine pop-up shops, with more to come. We're topping the whole thing off with an after party at the XOXO Outpost.

Visit the ResFest site to see the calendar of events, grab tickets, add your event, or sponsor our celebratory after party!

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We must be not only present, but critical

This was my first ever AlterConf.  My initial reactions upon arriving were: “Whoa, this is the most women I have ever seen at a tech conference” and “Oooh, a sweet Patreon tote!” because I am a shill for free swag.

It seems strange to call AlterConf a conference in a conventional sense.  In the best way possible, it’s unlike any other conference I’ve been to.  There were no products that were being promoted, and both the speakers and attendees were much more diverse than the typical tech crowd I’m used to seeing.  Everyone was also there purely to promote inclusivity, openness, and empathy within the constructs of a sometimes hostile tech industry. That’s it.   (I can also confirm this fact because it was a Saturday, so no one was there to get out of work.)

For those who could not make it, here’s what you missed.  

Ashe Dryden, the director of AlterConf, introduced the event.  Her thoughtfulness in designing this conference was impressive.  There was a sign language interpreter, live text transcription on screen, gender-neutral bathrooms, a delicious lunch selection that excluded no one, and probably thirty other details of which I’m unaware.  For those who don’t know, Ashe runs AlterConf globally while maintaining a full-time job.  It’s unreal the amount of time and energy she has invested into this cause thus far, and due to some serious health matters, she needs your help in making sure it continues.  

Outside Looking In: Working to Reshape the Cultural Memory of Tech

Starting off the conference strong was Josh Lim, a community manager from the Philippines whose goal is to amend the Western-leaning bias of tech products and the online communities that form them.  Deriving from his experience running the local Philippines Wikipedia for over a decade, Josh speaks against the ongoing systemic bias against developing countries that lies in American/European-made digital products.   

As solutions to this pressing problem, he proposes companies to expand their networks, open the conversation to include more stakeholders (AKA allow people from developing countries to have a voice about the decisions you make!), and be open to changing and understanding the biases in your products.

Supporting your support: Give your support team flowers, chocolate, money, and stock options

NPM-ers Kiera Manion-Fisher and Stephanie Snopek followed Josh’s powerful talk by highlighting another group that tends to get less of a voice in vital tech decisions: the technical support team.   Kiera and Stephanie pointed out several symptoms of a company disrespecting their support employees including team members not being promoted or recognized, customer feedback being ignored, and using the word ‘meritocracy’ unironically (*snaps*).   They also proposed a number of potential treatments like getting to know your support team, having dedicated liaisons from other teams, and having internal tools so that the support team can resolve issues by themselves.  

Why Your Diverse Workforce is Code-switching and How You Can Address It

Caroline Karanja, a social responsibility and inclusion consultant, emphasized that codeswitching isn’t inherently harmful, but it can be dangerous in a workplace where you feel the need to intentionally change how you speak in order to fit in.  Like the other speakers who provided actionable takeaways, Caroline suggested companies to create an action-driven, diversity, equity (!!!), and inclusion program, conduct anonymous surveys from outside agencies, and create spaces for employees to get to know each other’s narratives.

Imagining Radical Queer Futures through Tech

Morgan Bromwell defines a ‘radical queer future’ as one in which we acknowledge the colonial impact on the way we see spaces and communities as well as one that welcomes queer PoC.    One of the most interesting takeaways I have from their talk is in thinking of online spaces as physical homes. Morgan states that right now, the majority of marginalized people are currently integrated into the larger house of white tech.  They urge black and brown folks to “intentionally take up space” within these online communities and to be “not only present, but critical.”

Surveying Identity: The Design of Useful Personal Data

Vikram Babu spoke about feeling as if the attributes that he inputs in surveys and sign up forms such as age, race, gender, and marital status do not define him as an individual.  He likened our current method of data collection to pixelated 8-bit graphics - rather than having these abstract, blurry virtual representations of us, in the future we should see a ‘64-bit’ data representation of ourselves without resorting to simple demographics.

What Just Happened?

Many of you might have heard of Erica Joy Baker as an activist and whistleblower in the tech industry, who is known for bringing to light pay inequality at Google by releasing the data from an anonymous salary survey. In her talk, Erica told her story from the beginning, before the blog posts that garnered her thousands of Twitter followers and media attention.  With vulnerability and authenticity, she discussed her struggles with mental health and being an outspoken black, female introvert (who would rather be at home under her blankets than on any stage).

Remember the pain: lessons learned from teaching myself to code

Neha Batra, a self-taught engineer at Pivotal Labs,  touched on some pretty relevant topics to me.  As a junior developer myself, I’m still in the cloudy, imposter-syndrome-y area of not being able to confidently call myself a software engineer.  Neha urges all developers to remember the struggles of learning to code and to empathize with people who are learning.  I really enjoyed how Neha allowed for a few minutes during her talk to have everyone share a story about a failure that they experienced as a developer.  

My Gender is Emoji Pizza Unicorn : How I Ship

Software engineer Tilde Ann Thurium told the tale of how they were able to jump through hoops and take advantage of organizational chaos in order to change the binary gender form on the Pinterest sign up page.  Their talk involved stealth, humor, and of course, a triumph after they convinced their team to open sign-up forms to include custom genders.

Engineering Empathy: Fostering an Inclusive Culture at Our Code School

As the Diversity Manager for code school DevBootcamp, Lateesha Thomas answered the question “Why do many software projects fail?” She says that it’s largely because of a lack of soft skills.  She also emphasized that emotional intelligence can be taught by opening a dialogue, being receptive to feedback, and learning to take the perspective of others.  Lateesha argued that by teaching empathy, not only can workplaces become more efficient when communicating, but they can become more inclusive and diverse as a side-effect.

CSS vs. My Gender : A Study in Transitions

As a lover of wordplay and metaphors, I of course enjoyed Dropbox engineer and shark aficionado Jamie Chung’s comparison of CSS transitions to their own personal gender transition.  They compared how CSS and gender transitions both give an ability to focus on individual properties of a transition and both are a bit more nuanced than Wikipedia articles might say.  

Fighting for Justice: Voices from Tech’s Invisible Workforce[a]

I was very excited about this talk, since it shines a light on a topic that most of tech fails to address: service jobs that effectively power the industry.  Maria Fernandez, a director of both Silicon Valley Rising and Working Partnerships USA, led this panel discussion which touched on important issues such as minimum wage, unions, housing, and discrimination.  

The group brought up some difficult statistics to face - in our industry,  1 in 3 Silicon Valley households do not make enough money to meet their most basic needs, including housing and food.  Black and Latino Americans make up the majority of service jobs, but only 3-4% of the core tech workforce.

Beyond statistics, the personal narratives of the panelists stood out the most.  Maria Guerrero, who works as a barista at Intel, told a story of how the management at her company treated her badly which resulted in her getting frequent panic attacks at work.  Through her work in organizing a union, she realized that she wasn’t the only one experiencing these issues.  Antonio Arenas, an employee at Hyatt for over 9 years, observed discrimination in his own workplace as well. He started a petition in order to start a coalition, but was dismissed immediately.

Maria Gonzalez is a proud janitor at Facebook, but speaks of the janitorial industry in Silicon Valley as a “race to the bottom.”  While her company supports unions and treats her well as an employee, she knows many other janitors that have experienced sexual harassment, abuse, and poor wages, but are not able to speak up without repercussions.  

To learn more about this issue, follow Tech Workers’ Coalition on Twitter. 

Crash Through that Glass Ceiling: Strategies for Achieving Success Despite Societal Limitations

Jacquelle Amankonah then gave us a few tips on how to persevere in the face of prejudice.  She encourages us to ‘take the ropes’ and to not let others define what our path should be.  This, in turn, brings us the right allies who help lead us on the path that we determined for ourselves.

Last night I had a dream

AlterConf ended with a beautiful and metaphorical talk by Siobhán Cronin, a social and cognitive science researcher.  She recounted a dream she had that made her question whether we create metaphorical ‘cubes’ around people in our own minds. The dream concluded with her promising to learn more about the systems that create these ‘cubes,’ which I interpreted as vowing to understand our internal biases and the systems that create them.  Because I cannot do this abstract story justice, here is her Medium post with cute drawings included.

If I could summarize the themes of the day in a sentence, it would be for us as a community to be more observant about systemic bias (especially our own ignorances) and to continue to fight for a more inclusive and equitable future within this field.  As Morgan Bromwell said in their talk, we must be not only present, but critical.


Nidhi Reddy

Nidhi (nid-thee) is a human person who lives in the very non-human Bay Area, CA. She is currently a web developer and designer with a multidisciplinary background of math, animation, and design. Not too long ago, she used to work as a Fellow at Khan Academy, where she realized that her passion was in making products that help people learn & grow. Her dream is to become a less-morally-questionable version of Benjamin Franklin.
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Consciously Conferencing

Alter Conf came to Washington, D.C. early this year. Finally, a tech conference I can afford that's safe and actually diverse. From allowing attendees to include their pronouns on name tags to providing ASL interpreters, Alter Conf is doing what every conference should be doing. At Alter Conf thoughtful planning went into organizing, there were no assumptions.
The talks were without a doubt some of the most interesting and engaging I've ever attended at any tech conference. Every talk was relevant to some aspect of my life. They ranged from topics on unconscious bias, inclusive language , self care and mental health, to initiatives focused on bridging the technical divide. Bonus, the creator of the opening theme song for "The Boondocks", [Rob Jackson](, spoke about the relative history of education and how its relationship to the individual and institutions has changed.

Favorite Talks

[Rachel Shorey]( [@rachel_shorey]( Paternity leave in the U.S, let's be honest, sucks. It's hard enough for hetero-normative families to get adequate policy coverage from their company, it's even more difficult for LGBT families. Rachel explained the differences between paternity leave and maternity leave. She went over common HR policies and revealed that most don't contain criteria that would qualifying non-stereotypical families for leave. As a result, Rachel spends a lot of time "breaking-down assumptions or preconceived notions" in order to make sure she's getting the provisions she needs for her family when negotiating work benefits. Rachel ended up being more awesome by giving us some actionable advice. * Leave and compensation policies are not regulated by law, meaning they can vary widely from company to company so don't be afraid to ask lot's of questions. * For employees and employers, educate yourself on the "as-written" policies regarding leave within your organization. *Employers, encourage a "no one will be punished for asking" culture. [Charlotte James]( - _Communications Director for Code in the Schools_ [@awordporfavor](

This past year there's been a lot of talk about diversity and the lack thereof in the tech sector. Charlotte focused on diversity in tech initiatives and the assumptions made about people living in areas that lack access to technology. She addressed the core issues of diversity, the root of the problem and critiqued the way organization approach solutions. "81% of the national workforce is white." Meanwhile, " 24% of the tech workforce is Asian in a nation that's only 5.3% Asian". They throw "kajillions of dollars" at the problem and expect results. The problem can't be solved without building the necessary pipelines and working with, not for, the communities they want to effect to develop successful solutions. Code in the Schools is a great example if great solutions. The organizations aims to bridge the gap through one of it's programs in particular, the Prodigy Program. The program focuses on mentoring and developing Baltimore City Public School students' web development skills and then pairing them with companies for paid internships. By holding companies accountable, socially responsible and encouraging alternative forms of education the result would be a holistic educational ecosystem designed to create opportunity for under served youth. Anyone can join in and help. There are tons of resources for professionals parents, educators, and individuals at []( [Gem Barett]( bots, diversity, and social justice [@GemBarett](

If you’ve ever come across anyone who has nothing better to do than justify racism or make offensive comments you’ve (aka an internet troll) encountered [kipple]( Fortunately Gem has provided us with a way to fight back, bots. Let's start with Twitter, a site whose users despite the fact that "anonymity has dissolved through the evolution of the internet" continues to be a huge source of harassment. In order to save activists time and energy [Deray Mckesson]( and [Darius Kazemi]( developed the [Stay Woke bot]( for the Black Lives Matter movement Twitter. Once given instructions, “stay woke bot tell person why the confederate flag is a symbol of racism”, "the bot detects what you are asking for and provides a link within a couple of minutes.~source(link)" It's a great way to combat harassment and answer repetitive basic questions. The instant messaging behemoth [Slack]( can be customized to have enforce code of conduct. Slack bots can privately reprimand or warn offenders of inappropriate behavior and update the code of conduct as new protocols being developed. It has been used with “statistics running to identify when diversity training is needed" and is also effective in analyzing "how much change is being effected" after implementing the bots. Gem's Advice * “say no to thankless emotional a bot to do it for you” *If you use slack explore different ways to use slack bot to address issue and a “custom setup to analyze how much change is being effected. * Hold folks accountable for their actions and remember push back comes from people thinking that their privilege is being taken away but the change isn't easy. [Harold Moore]( - _on supply side diversity_ [@iamharold](

Harold's talk focused on "diversity in the context of racial, gender, and sexual diversity". "Why are people obsessed with diversity these days?" Statistically speaking, diverse teams are able to solve problems more quickly than high ability problem solvers. Besides, "the US census says that by 2024 the country will no longer be majority white". Diversity is important especially if "we want our products and services to reflect to reflect the people who they will be effecting." During the annual budget meeting for the AFLCIO Harold realized that there were "only 2 black men" and "a gathering of about 5 or 6 women" among almost 100 people. He recalled his disappoint upon confirming "a complete lack of representation" in an organization tasked with changing the world. "why can't companies commit themselves to diversity?" "Companies are weasels" and usually have no metrics by which to measure the effects of diversity initiatives. Companies complain, they say it's too hard to find folks that don't look like them. All of those reasons are excuses. Any CEO who can't cite their organizations diversity efforts isn't serious. Harold's experience enabled him to give us a wealth of advice. * Do everything that Alter Conf is doing * Bring diverse folks in, acknowledge their needs and provide paid opportunities. * Advocate for others; acquire and extend political capital * No one wants to be Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson or represent their entire race. Often times too much pressure is put won the one or few people of color at the company to lead diversity efforts. * Training programs should create bridges; building authentic relationships is a two way street recognize. * If you wanna go fast you should go alone, if you wanna go together you should go slow. Ultimately this is all about is building things for ourselves, by ourselves. A few examples of apps built by the community it services are [Nura Code](, [Pigeonly](, [Mrelief](

Take Aways

Emily Be mindful. That was the main take away from Alter Conf. All the examples of using tech to help solve social issues were very inspiring. [Emily Gorcenski]( demoed interactive simulation games that were being designed for therapy. She talked about the importance of designing an experience for the user that not only empowers the user but provides diverse choices. The experience at Alter Conf was incredible and the connections I made were amazing! I will definitely be attending next year!


Oreoluwa Oladunni

As the eldest of five and a queer first generation Nigerian-American "fitting in" was never available to me. While studying chemical engineering at Howard University it was my interest in gaming and anime that lead me to join the Computer Learning Design Center (CLDC). The system administrator, network and infrastructure experience I acquired from CLDC was almost all hands-on. Eager to find a safe space in tech after college I joined Women Who Code DC (WWCDC). I got to know some amazing women and watched the organization grow from a few to hundreds of women. After moving to Baltimore I continue to support WWCDC and the Baltimore Women in Tech community while working as a consultant and as an instructor for Code in the Schools.

Katherine Haugh

Katherine Haugh graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014 with a BA in Political Science and International Studies, and a certificate in Chinese Professional Communication. She speaks Mandarin proficiently, having spent a semester in Tianjin, where she picked up tai chi and taught English grammar to university students. She also speaks some Arabic, having spent a semester in Amman, where she lived with a Jordanian homestay family, ate too much falafel, and took courses on Middle Eastern studies. During her time in Madison, Kat worked for a nonprofit law firm and conducted interviews with low-income residents who were facing eviction, abuse, and chronic unemployment. She interned with WISPIRG, a social justice advocacy group, and created a program called “Kids Incorporated” that paired college students with children from low-income families for after-school tutoring and activities. Hoping to utilize her experience in nonprofit work to bring about policy change, Kat worked as a Legislative Aide at the Wisconsin State Senate, where she worked on constituent outreach and drafting legislation. As a senior, Kat interned with the Department of Defense, where she worked with a Syrian advocacy group to create a policy proposal for a peaceful democratic transition in Syria. Kat currently works as a Research Assistant at Innovation Network, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. that evaluates social justice and community development programs. She is a Merit Scholar at the International Student House, an aspiring graphic facilitator, and a volunteer with Girls on the Run.
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Keeping Diversity and Inclusivity Alive at AlterConf in Los Angeles

Despite being initially postponed a few months ago, AlterConf in Los Angeles overcame difficulties in securing sponsors and a venue to operate in full swing on Saturday, November 21, 2015. The event took place at the high-rise office tower of Nordstrom Rack + HauteLook which overlooks downtown Los Angeles.

Refreshments included water and a variety of scrumptious Hawaiian food from Rutt’s Cafe. We were encouraged to help ourselves, so I piled my plate with sweet rolls and braised short ribs. After savoring my food, I proceeded to find a seat and eagerly anticipate the start of the speaker series.

The session opened with an introduction by Ashe Dryden, a programmer and one of AlterConf’s main community organizers. Dryden warmly welcomed us and explained the accessibility features including real-time transcription and sign language interpreters. Moreover, Dryden mentioned trigger and content warnings since a few of the presentations covered sensitive topics such as physical and mental health issues as well as race relations.

First up was Ben Hopkins, a software developer who is partially deaf. Hopkins explained that there’s “more to disability than you can see” and described the challenges of growing up with Meniere's disease—a hearing disability that he wasn’t properly diagnosed with until recently. Dealing with an unsuccessful surgery as well as bouts of vertigo and migraines, Hopkins endured a great deal of pain.

Fortunately, Hopkins used visualization to deal with pain and elaborated that it’s akin to “escapism” which compels one to question how perception influences life. Most notably, Hopkins discussed the “nature of meaning” by portraying it as continual and “something you do, not retrieve.”

Next, Charles Babb, a seasoned game producer, took the stage with a Kanye West-inspired PowerPoint presentation entitled, “Being Young, Gifted, and Other Adjectives in the Gaming Industry.” Babb initiated his presentation with a moment of silence to honor our peers, community, and the universe.

After a very brief introduction about black culture, Babb insisted, “Black is not a defining adjective.” He then launched into his presentation featuring different adjectives and pictures of a triumphant Kanye on each slide. (For those wondering about the relevance of Kanye in this context, Babb reasoned that he and Kanye are both innovative and ambitious role models—except that Babb channels his talents into computer science and Kanye into music.)

Babb explicated the struggle of being a focused and strong black tech professional while avoiding the stereotype of the “angry black male.” He also articulated how people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals face particular scrutiny in the industry since colleagues “take your personal attributes and judge your work on it.” To confront these prejudices, Babb proposed being fruitful and producing high-quality work while being outspoken, charismatic, and industrious.

Additionally, Babb offered advice for people not involved in the video games industry regarding taking a stand to eliminate stereotypes and discrimination in games. He advised writing to developers, interacting with developers on Twitter, and getting into industry meetings. 

Babb’s advice demonstrated how even casual gamers fed up with video games’ lack of diversity can actively achieve change.  I was reminded of the words of American author and activist Alice Walker, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.”

The subsequent speaker was Achie Prakash, a computer scientist and 3D artist, who described the extremely slow-changing “brogrammer” culture in tech. Prakash explained that the “brogramming culture prevents women and people of color from entering the industry” since the culture tends to value machismo and exclude outsiders who don’t fit the “brogrammer” mold of white, educated men. “The culture begins at the college level,” Prakesh said. 

With this homogenous culture comes a lack of unique perspectives, backgrounds, and ideas that could potentially lead to more business and opportunities.

To give insight into brogramming culture, Prakash mentioned Titstare, a mobile application introduced at TechCrunch's 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt conference. True to its name, the misogynistic app features pictures of men staring at women’s breasts. 

I’m always unpleasantly surprised to learn about talented developers who choose to create products aimed to degrade and offend a marginalized group of people. In this case, it’s particularly disgraceful since a prominent tech conference allowed the obnoxious app to debut. I’m sure there were countless other more useful and less demeaning apps that could’ve been introduced to the world instead.

Moving on to calls-to-action, Prakesh recommended speaking up when faced with racist and sexist microaggressions because uncomfortable laughter or pushing the issue to the side will only continue or worsen the discrimination. He also suggested that “victims of harassment need to leave.”

He concluded that the burden of changing the tech culture and industry is placed upon marginalized people. “At the end of the day,” said Praskesh, “to see change, you have to create change yourself.”

After a short break, Indu Alagarsamy, a programmer with more than 15 years of experience under her belt, discussed gender bias. Alagarsamy began by juxtaposing the culture of her supportive family with the bleak, unaccommodating reality of the tech industry. 

Citing a 2015 survey of over 25,000 responses conducted by Stack Overflow, Alagarsamy reported the software development field is comprised of 92.1% men and only 5.8% women (with 1.7% preferring not to disclose gender and 0.5% as other).

Directed to women currently working in tech, Alagarsamy proposed that they should “own their credit” and “stop saying sorry.” She also recommended that women “raise [their] concern” when snubbed or insulted since privileged people are often unaware of the harmful consequences of microaggressive comments. Furthermore, she insisted that people don’t change due to policies but through discourse.

I especially appreciated Alagarsamy’s presentation because I am too familiar with uttering excessive apologies and disparaging my own accomplishments. These actions only diminish my own self-worth and others’ perception of my value. I’m glad that Alagarsamy pointed out these seemingly insignificant bad habits. After all, the first step of improvement is to acknowledge shortcomings.

Lastly, junior developer Ash López gave a presentation about diversifying tech with strategies cultivated from Gay Straight Alliances. López extensively discussed safe spaces and how to promote inclusivity in the tech space since people of color’s voices are frequently interrupted or silenced.

“Coding can only go so far,” López said. “[We need to] teach marginalized people how to deal with harassment within the workforce… address HR with complaints.” She also suggested that individuals should be trained as activists to comprehend intersectionality and oppression to combat injustices in the workplace. 

Although there was supposed to be one more speaker, Drian Juarez unfortunately could not make it to this session of AlterConf to discuss deconstructing binary spaces.

Following the speaker series was a screening of Philip Jones and Ryan Paul’s documentary Gaming in Color (2015). The film featured prominent queer leaders such as Matt Conn, CEO and founder of MidBoss which hosts GaymerX, and Joey Stern, co-founder of Geeks OUT, expressing their thoughts about the lack of diversity and progress in the video game industry. 

While some games such as Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us (2013) and BioWare’s Mass Effect (2007) support diversity, the video game industry still has a long way to go. 

Overall, the film contended that having positive representations of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals depicted in video games serves to reaffirm these marginalized people’s existence and validate who they are.

Ashe Dryden concluded the conference by imploring us to take home leftover food as well as encouraging us to support our local communities by keeping diversity and inclusivity alive. 

At the end of the event, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and hope. I was thankful for the opportunity to be amongst such dynamic and literally game-changing individuals passionate about causes much grander than themselves. Not only did they care immensely about equality, but they were actively working toward creating a more equitable and inclusive community for forthcoming generations. 


I learned that we can’t just sit around waiting for positive change to simply emerge in the tech and video game industry—I mean, we probably could wait, but we may expire before drastic changes take place. Instead, we must channel our inner Gandhi (“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”) and Margaret Mead (“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”) to achieve a truly safe and diverse community.


Justina Tran

Justina Tran is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She’s passionate about lifelong learning and positive social change.

Jen Nguyen

Jen Nguyen is a recent graduate in psychology, current computer science student, and professional dabbler in photography. On weekdays, she's a part of the recruiting team at Fullscreen, a Silicon Beach-based multi-channel network that owns and operates production studio Rooster Teeth, video game network ScrewAttack, and social media studio McBeard. She's eager to link people to the perfect opportunity, and she encourages you to connect if you would like to learn more: [email protected] Jen also recently learned that she enjoys typing in third person and now wants to implement this in her day-to-day life.

Alice Maldonado

Alice Maldonado was born and raised in Los Angeles. She’s had an interest in computers, since DOS and Windows 3.1, and learning to code in her early teens. Since then, she’s graduated from Cal State University, Los Angeles, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Arts, focusing on painting and photography. She currently lives in Los Angeles, surrounded by an ever growing library of books.
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AlterConf Toronto: Quietly Subversive

Near the bustle of Queen Street West, Bento Miso is nestled in a literal alleyway. No matter how many times I trek here for its many local indie game events, I end up lost and pestering passerby for what should surely be a brightly coloured building making muffled bleep bloop noises. But no; Bento Miso is in an alleyway. And that's okay, really. In fact, the locale matched Alterconf, a traveling video game conference celebrating diversity, perfectly. Away from the heady commercialism of everyone else, this is the place to be quietly subversive.

One way Alterconf subverted tradition was making their venue accessible. As someone who has done disability organizing in Toronto, the Bento Miso session was one of the most accessible events I've been to. The many ways Alterconf made the venue accessible to everyone included: live-captioning (courtesy of MVP @stenoknight), priority seating, mobility lanes, vegan/gluten-free/halal/nut-free food options, gender-neutral washrooms, bright lighting, wheelchair access, childcare on request, a safer space policy, a code of conduct, pay-what-you-can tickets and content warnings before every talk that needed them. 

Yeah, I know. That's a lot. But that's what it means to be truly diverse. Speakers themselves reflected this. Coming from the Toronto community, their stories were a spectrum of experiences in tech and video games workplaces close to home. 

“This is an event for you by you,” organizer Ashe Dryden told attendees right before the session began. 

With how rare events like this pop up, it's no wonder the session sold out. If you weren't there, here's what you missed:


Omosola Odetunde
Loving Your Job And Why It (Actually) Matters

Burnout is so real. A software engineer, Odetunde's been head over heels for programming since she was a wee Computer Whiz Kid. But there was a time in her life where she was close to becoming a statistic, another women of colour who left STEM. Her talk explored the reasons why people feel disengaged –  such as lack of self-autonomy, useful feedback and supportive relationships – and how her experience with bad internships and great behaviour science classes made her realize she didn't hate computer science after all. By reflecting on what she loved, Odetunde completed her masters and rekindled her love with tech.
What to take away: Write what makes you feel fulfilled and what doesn't about your work. And if you're not too keen on reflecting, taking a motivation quiz on Google is a low-energy way to figure out what you dig, Odetunde advised. 


Christina Truong
Don't Just Talk About It, Be About It

Diversity shouldn't be just a word. Despite being a professor and a front-end developer, Truong has always felt excluded from Toronto's tech industry. She's had to put up with microaggressions, like being told she doesn't “look like a developer”.  And after giving two diversity talks, Truong felt discouraged by low turnout and being derailed. After all, just giving a tech talk would be tweet-friendly and good for her career. But when attendees later told her about how important diversity was to them, she decided to filter the noise. “Cities like Toronto lead people to be lulled into the idea that 'this doesn't happen here,'” Truong said. “Being inclusive of everyone's experiences means being aware of how different people are discriminated against in different ways.” 

What to take away: Truong notes that diversity often becomes a white women in tech narrative. As well, examining our own behaviours for bias shows us ways we internalize problematic ideas.      


Lauren Voswinkel
Let's Talk About Pay 

Voswinkel laid down some real truth early in her talk: lie to your employers about your former salary. Really.  The main goal of a capitalist society is to make money and discriminatory pay is a way businesses take advantage of marginalized people. One way Voswinkel urged people to disrupt the cult of silence around salary was #talkpay, a hashtag that sparked dialogues sharing how much people made. “Open conversations about pay make it so all workers get paid what they're actually worth,” she  said. 
What to take away: Linking moral value to pay is a mistake that suggests underrepresented individuals in fields just aren't working hard. As well, putting faces to names rather than collecting anonymous statistics highlights who exactly is not getting paid enough. 


Gabriela Aveiro-Ojeda
Preserving Culture Through The Power Of Games 

Warnings: Discussion of non-consensual interactions, race, dysphoria

A third-year animation student hailing from Paraguay, for Gabriela Aveiro-Ojeda playing video games meant learning English through sketchy emulated CDs loading on a slow computer. It wasn't until she played Never Alone, a game about an Inuit girl that featured Alaskan Inupiak storytelling, did Aveiro-Ojeda realize video games could preserve ways of life. Never Alone reminded her of Paruguayan literature about Guarani people, that also preserved their stories, except because Never Alone was a video game it was on a whole other level of immersion and interaction. “Video games are cultural agents,” Aveiro-Ojeda said. “Culture in games should not just bring profit. They can leave behind story to pique interest in people's narratives.” 

What to take away: It's important to support culture in games, and especially in developers. If there are elements of a culture in a game, but no one from that culture involved in development, it further mystifies and disempowers that people. 


Haleigh Sheehan
Y/N? Binary For Humans

All the world's a stage.exe, so it's not any surprise to gitHub manager and performer Haleigh Sheehan that the worlds of open source and improv are pretty similar. Saying yes is essential to creativity and expanding life's scope, so the goal is to feel good about it so you can say it as much as possible. And how do you say yes? By saying no. Setting boundaries is key to collaboration, and Sheehan used the laws of coding to show that. Consent culture, much like circuitry, relies on active participation and not silence. “Consent is your Terms of Service,” Sheehan said.
What to take away: Maybe is a “squishy” word that doesn't clearly state your needs. If you hear someone using squishy words, they may not be running on the same operating system as yours. As well, knowing boundaries and using low-level yes and no language helps you know when to take care of yourself. Agreeing to more than you can handle leads to problems in the long run.


Leisha Riddel
Creating Characters Based On Ethnic Dysphoria 

Content warnings: ethnic dysphoria

While watching Orange Is The New Black, illustrator and designer Leisha Riddel wanted to apologize for Piper before realizing something. 

“Oh yeah. I'm not white.”

Born in the Philippines, Riddel was adopted by a Scottish/French family. Sailor Moon and Final Fantasy, with its white-passing, racially ambiguous characters, influenced and resonated with Riddel's ethnic dysphoria. In turn, that disconnect was visible in her art: she'd draw original characters who would have white appearances and backstories, but ethnic names. They were also learning experiences, ways Riddel explored identity and learned the importance of conscious design. 

What to take away:  Characters with various body types and sizes and backgrounds are important. (Also Steven Universe is a really cool show.) 


Hinna Yusuf
Barriers to Access: Web Literacy and Resulting Fears Among Gatekeepers
Content warnings: Parental concerns regarding sexual content or sexual predators in online environments 

Unlike the other talks, educator Hinna Yusuf chose to hold a roundtable. Her research into technology use in Pakistani immigrant families led her to discovering dueling discourses: parents wanted their children to be exposed to technology, but they wanted them to be safe. They'd have consoles and cell phones, consumer lifestyle gear, but no tools of creation or development. The discourse on video games needs to change, so parents can see how skills are nurtured rather than time wasted.
What to take away: “Parents will read a book first before giving it to kids, but won't go on the Internet with them,” Yusuf said. As well, there was an interesting throwback to a previous talk on preserving culture in video games,:Yusuf's research showed that parents viewed technology as culturally neutral, rather than maintaining culture. 


Ivanna McConnell
Inclusion Before Diversity: Putting Self-Care First

Kill your role models. In a let's-stop-putting-people-on-stressful-tokenizing-pedestals kind of way. 

After falling ass backwards into a great career at myplanet, Ivanna McConnell realized that true diversity is only possible with an inclusive foundation. “Always being looked at can be dangerous,” McConnell said, criticizing tech companies who expect diverse employees to be role models. Forcing that kind of responsibility and attention turns the spotlight on what's different about them. Jumping straight into diversity leads to marginalization, and McConnell saw that happen to her wife – after winning a national engineering award and touring schools to inspire young women, she felt exhausted always performing. 

What to take away: It's the workplace's responsibility to make employees feel safe. Don't be afraid to make that clear. MccConnell, who learnt English through Wishbone and played hockey because “that's what you do in Canada”, didn't want to stick out. She wanted to belong. 


Kara Stone
Feelings And Video Games 

Video games about mental health don't have to be shoot-em-ups. Developer Kara Stone makes games like Medication Meditation and Cyclothemia to explore emotions in a way profit-motivated games don't. Feelings, which have been aligned with the femme, the racial, and the Mad, are only useful to developers if they make money. The binary of good and bad feelings is messed up, particularly how games punish you for having them. An example Stone gives is of an anxious moment in the game causing shaky hands, which you'll be penalized for; it's supposed to get rid of your feedback. Says a lot about how detached from your body games like these want you to be.
What to take away: The possibilities of affectiveness in games: making games that make you feel and are aware of the consequences of those feelings are important. Involving those from mental health communities are a way to make game development more open. 


Elizabeth Ferrao
How Not to Lose Friends And Alienate People: Generating Physical And Language Awareness In The Workplace

Forget resumes, how chill are ya? Ferrao's interactive presentation had attendees stretching and talking with each other in activities that explored how physical confidence and word phrasing makes us people  others want to work with.
What to take away: Phrases like “yes and” or “tell me more” open opportunities, rather than shutting down people's creativity. 


merritt kopas

Hard Out Here For A Dyke: Being A Lesbian In Games


Even though it's been a queer year, it's not really been that great for everyone. Developer merritt kopas says umbrella terms disguise and obscure different experiences. So while it's good that we're seeing Gaymer Con and Concentricle, being vague makes it hard for variants to be visible. Lesbians are getting more playtime, but aren't the ones behind the games, earning less and with less access to success. “We need to make labour sexy,” kopas says. “Actual people are behind the work.” One way of supporting lesbian developers are incubators and organizations like Dames Making Games that invest in building skills of participants, which better the lives of real people.
What to take away: Gay life is being stolen by straight people and sold right back. Only one kind of sensibility can be valuable, as per the laws of Executive Pinkwashing *insert catchy non-political TD Bank-sponsored gay club anthem here* 


Al Donato

Al is a zinester, ex-carny, and bad anime enthusiast. They've written for The Eyeopener, Plaid Zebra Magazine, Broken Pencil Magazine, and Vice. Al currently works with RyeACCESS, an equity centre for students with disabilities, and the Hand Eye Society.

Wahid Khan

My name is Wahid Khan and I am a teacher, researcher, photographer, graphic designer, and parent. I recently completed my graduate studies (MA) from OISE at the University of Toronto. My research during my studies focused on the use of technology inside the classroom for the purposes of teaching (health education in particular). Although what came out of my research were underlying issues that pertain to marginalized students and the use of technology. While completing my degree, I was also (still am) a full-time elementary school teacher. Right now, I am a Student Work Study Teacher / Researcher in my school board. In this role I document student learning in mathematics. Outside of these professional roles, I love having music playing in the background (jazz, hip-hop, trip-hop, alt, indie, rock, etc) while I hang with my family and stimulate my brain by talking, eating, drinking coffee with friends who think outside the box. Photography has been a passion of mine for over 15 years. I have prided myself on the photos I have taken abroad but also of marginalized individuals. My quest for the perfect photo still continues.

Yomna Nasser

Yomna is a mathematics student from Waterloo who is upset that there's no overlap between graph theory and cryptography. In her free time, she sketches plants and works in her garden (with the goal of growing a giant pumpkin).
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Fund Club: a project from AlterConf & Model View Culture

We've been thrilled with what we've been able to do with AlterConf thus far - we're not only providing opportunities for marginalized people, but we're compensating them for their work. So often marginalized people are asked to do unpaid or underpaid labor, don't have access to the same sorts of funding that their more privileged counterparts do, and on top of that are already living on a more limited income.

To that end, we've partnered with Model View Culture to launch Fund Club. Fund Club sends a new organization or project to your inbox every month to which you'll donate $100. Your donation is made directly to the organization, which insures they pay minimal fees and keeps overhead of the project low.

We'll be announcing the first Fund Club round at noon PST today, June 15th. Register now at and fund important work in tech.

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Lightning in a Bottle

AlterConf is a conference free of the restriction of geography known to stationary regional conventions. Traveling city to city, it recruits local speakers and freelancers to create half-day conferences, where personal narratives and actionable advice are the order of the day. When you sit among your fellow attendees at AlterConf, you're looking at members of your local community; it's entirely likely there will be faces you don't know. In that way, AlterConf does double duty, not just as a skill-sharing conference, but as a way for community members to find each other. If you're burnt out on the parachute-in nature of most conferences, the realization that you'll be surrounded by people from the same city could be more than a little intoxicating. Talks in Seattle covered setting values, chronic illness, social justice, and a lot more.

Before diving into the talks, I feel like it's important to talk about how AlterConf is staged.

When I came in that morning, there were a number of things I wasn't expecting, because I'd never seen them properly instituted at a conference. Areas of the floor were taped off to create a separate a lane for those using mobility devices. Though I wasn't using my cane that day, I still felt far more relaxed and included in the space by seeing that. If one of my friends had been able to go, she could have easily used one of the taped-off areas so we could sit together. The live-captioning provided felt a little like a religious experience. Though the captioner was on the East Coast, they spent the day with us virtually, and their work was projected at the front of the room in large, legible text. The projection screen for PowerPoint decks was easy to locate from my seat, the microphones never died, and speakers repeated questions from audience members (enabling more people to hear the question, or see it on the caption projection). If I was wondering about whether a particular speaker didn't want to be tweeted, or have audio or video taken, we were clearly given that information at the head of each talk, and the video bans were clearly tagged online. The announcement of trigger warnings came at the start of talks if the speaker had flagged their talk as having possible triggering content, and the setup of the room made it easy to leave for whatever reason. Together, these accessibility measures made it easier not just to physically get around and to take in content, but to focus. I was sitting in a room of people interested in learning new things, and the conference was staged in a way to make that possible. 

But the talks. If they weren't applicable to you directly, it was easy to think of a friend who would need to see a talk later, or a coworker who would benefit if you took notes. Even talks I knew would probably feel applicable to me had new things to say, or think about, or information I had no clue about. I have disabilities, have worked as a freelancer for years, and had no idea how much disability insurance could have done for me when I left my corporate job behind. Disability insurance was a substantial part of Anna Zocher's talk “Resisting the Tidal Wave: Making Sure Chronic Disease or Disability Doesn't Upend Your Career.” It meant a lot to me to be able to listen to someone who'd had so much life/career change happen to them because of a sudden health change. Resisting the Tidal Wave shared a lot of the emotional ground covered in Whitney Levis' “Updated Spoon Theory for the Tech Industry.” Where Zocher's talk pulled on self-advocacy that people need to do for themselves, Levis was breaking down spoon theory for people who don't have to consider it. I've shown people spoon theory so many times, but I'd never thought of drawing on the extremes of experience someone could have to explain it. (Levis compared being out of spoons to the moment people hit their limit, after a loss of job, a life changing illness, etc.) Though many of her personal endeavors were ones disabled listeners could easily empathize with, I felt like it was a talk that was just as important to be heard by people without disabilities. The bus pass, remote work, and other measures her employers take give Levis the tools to be as effective as she can. 

Ijeoma Oluo was in her early teens when her mother brought home an Apple IIe. That early influx of tech stays with her, and she wound up working in telecommunications. The racism and sexism she dealt with didn't keep her doing her job, but the silence she was confronted with all around her after Trayvon Martin was killed drove her to write about it, and that led to even more writing. Her life ran on different tracks; social justice was one, and her day job in tech was another. “How The Tech Industry Made Me A Social Justice Writer” is going to be a life story we hear with increasing frequency as time goes on. Oluo closed by saying that we all have privileges that we can leverage to improve our communities, and that being a good person isn't enough. You have to use your voice. 

Moving sideways from Levis' talk and how her company is savvy in putting the tools she needs in her hands, Donte Parks’ “Breaking Down Diversity in Tech One Company At a Time” was a broad-level tree of how to bring a company or organization into becoming more diverse *and* inclusive. Parks pointed out that hiring isn't fixed when you manage to bring in diverse candidates who leave immediately because of a toxic, closed-off environment. His eight steps aren't a manual, but they're a starter tool for the process of making what you're a part of more diverse. Samantha Kalman's “Invisible Arcade: Video Games as Rock Concerts” also touched some on themes of diversity and inclusivity, but in the case of Invisible Arcade, managing inclusion in an event which only exists as a physical place for a few hours at a time. When that embodiment happens, Invisible Arcade is a place for all, but it's also a very queer space. When it's Invisible Arcade, the organizers and artists outside that space, how to keep that space open and inclusive is a part of how it's run.

Yvonne Lam's talk “So You Want to Contribute to Open Source: Advice for the Non-Normative” could be a basic primer to work in any edge of tech, games or media right now.  Thinks that stuck with me was that joining in on Open Source work is signing up to be a minor celebrity. People know you by your work, but not necessarily as you, the person.  Doing some thinking about privacy, how much access to you that you're willing to give to others, navigating tech's odd social-professional mixing, these are all things I don't see enough people thinking about early on in tech work, but also in media. The closest I've seen to this kind of advice is in Booklife, which is aimed at authors working within the publishing industry. 

In terms of applying directly to the very city we live in, Monica Thomas' talk “Tech Money, Gentrification, and the Policing of Blackness in Capitol Hill” did so with a succinct and much-needed breakdown for anyone unfamiliar with how tech money and gentrification feed the policing of black communities (in this case Capitol Hill). For all the personal opportunities tech money affords to many of its employees, there is no widespread realization that comes with it that people have to step out of the tech bubble and examine what their impact is on the city they live.

Elaine Nelson's “Establishing Your Core Values” has so much potential for application to so much of tech, games, media, nonprofits. While the very heroic and attractive mission statement of an organization sounds cool, it's not a great guideline for every conceivable team keeping so much of the core and backend of an organization going. Nelson focused on how values scale, from your personal values and work-related values, to team level, organization level. Your team has values chosen as a group that express its focus and priorities. There has to be room for dealing with the different priorities and needs of anyone not on your team, but if you make your values and methods known, you give everyone else the tools to understand your work. This can lead to fewer angry emails, to cherry-pick a single good reason to communicate how you work to people outside your team. 

Kevin Stewart's “Managing While Black” is one of the talks I strongly felt people needed to hear.  Stewart said something about hiring that made me want to cheer -- that hiring is fundamentally broken--  and covered racism and under-representation, the behavioral policing for people of color when it comes to promotion, and a delightful analogy about hiring involving American Idol and The Voice. His PowerPoint was also full of Samuel L. Jackson, and I for one agree that Nick Fury is a fantastic manager. 

From start to finish, AlterConf was a day for ideas you may not have considered, information you could have never found on your own, and some incredible PowerPoint chops on everyone's parts. I left feeling smarter, wanting to think about what I'd heard, and to consider things I could apply to what I'm doing, right now. After this experience, I'd recommend to anyone to watch any AlterConf talk you can find on the website, and to go to one in your area. If fear of any kind has held you back from giving these kinds of talks, and you've been unable to find another space to give that talk, apply to speak at an AlterConf. They have captured lightning in a bottle, and I can only hope that others see how valuable and needed what this conference is doing really is.




Lillian Cohen-Moore

Lillian Cohen-Moore is an award winning editor, and devotes her writing to fiction, journalism and game design. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online News Association.

Leah Blanton

Leah Blanton has many loves in life, but photography was one of the firsts and the longest. The spark of this affair started upon the receipt of her first camera at the age of six. A Fisher Price 110 film camera that went with her everywhere. She’s been tugged, pulled, and called to capture life, and other loves ever since. As an introvert with a voracious curiosity and desire to truly see people and things the camera has been her way of connecting. For the last 14 years Leah has made her love more official by taking on corporate photography, freelance projects, event photography, and portrait sessions.

Liz Rush

Liz Rush is a full-stack developer currently slangin' Objective-C & Ruby at the woman-owned dating app startup Siren. She is a graduate of the first cohort of Ada Developers Academy in Seattle as well as a member of the Chicago-based comix collective The Ladydrawers. Prior to transitioning into development, her professional background was in technical translation & marketing. Liz blogs about the career transition into tech at
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