Why I love AlterConf: the San Francisco edition

Last weekend I attended AlterConf San Francisco, which was hosted by Asana in their offices. It’s the third AlterConf I’ve had the pleasure to attend, and I learn something new every time. It’s unique in that it’s a traveling conference with speakers from the local area, that focuses on the voices of people marginalized in the tech industry.

A few highlights:

Vikram Babu did an amazing job of explaining why data collection matters when trying to represent the full spectrum of people’s identities and understand who they are and what they experience. He asked us to think about this like the official languages of India, where having dozens of options is good because it means everyone is represented and can participate.

CSS vs. My Gender: a study in transitions by Jamie Chung was a delightfully nerdy discussion of the dynamics of transitioning. I appreciated that they talked about some of the racial dimensions of the experience, as well as how it isn’t a binary state (a transition can involve your name, legal identity, body changes, pronouns, and/or outward gender presentation).

Fighting for Justice: voices from tech’s invisible workforce was something completely unique to any tech conference I’ve attended, a panel made up of the people working in tech we regularly ignore: food service workers, hospitality workers, and janitorial staff. I don’t think a single person there was not moved when Maria Gonzalez, a janitor at Facebook, described the vulnerability of being an immigrant woman in a non-union cleaning service. One direct way you can help: make sure your conferences and work travel use hotels on the Fair Hotels list.

This gets back to why AlterConf is such an amazing event. So rarely are we pushed in this way to listen directly to people who experience marginalization in the tech industry, on their own specific experiences and concerns. Every AlterConf surfaces ideas and possibilities that really aren’t shared in other major venues. Many talks are recorded on video so you can share the experience.

If this kind of thing is important to you, you should know that Ashe Dryden, who organizes AlterConf, is in the middle of a major fundraiser to support the conference. The goal of this is to pay for staff and other requirements that will make AlterConf sustainable, and allow Ashe to take the time she needs to focus on her health. Right now they’re at 40% of what’s required–even a small donation will help get this closer.

The next scheduled AlterConf is in Paris–right now they’re confirming the talks. The next one I expect to attend is in Portland on October 1.