My Love Letter to ELA Conf

Have you ever been placed into a situation where you felt like there was a reason or purpose, like you needed to hear what someone had to say? For me, that was ELA Conf; a women's tech leadership conference put on my some wonderful ladies in the Philadelphia area this past weekend. I'd been looking forward to it since I first heard of it early this year, before there was any event or speaker information – I just knew it had great potential.

The day started off with Saron Yitbarek giving her keynote titled, Punching Your Feelings in the Face. I knew right away this was going to strike a chord with me; even as a poised, powerful presenter Saron described herself as being the type of person always putting others first and being motivated by fear (hey, me too!). She went on to talk about a series of exercises she went through in order to become more assertive and feel a sense of power over her life. Practicing at home with a significant other or family member, dealing with servers in a direct way, asserting boundaries with friends, and finally honestly explaining thoughts and feelings to managers/bosses in the work setting without triggering anxiety were ways in which Saron worked her way through finding her power, and in turn finding her voice.

“You can always just walk away. I didn't know I had that power.”

More than one speaker throughout the day touched on pay and earning your worth and position. Tracy Osborn shared not only a personal story of what she calls her lowest career point, but some great resources for reaching out to women in the tech community with questions, as well as some reference reading material to help prepare your best, most confident self for your "ask" (which I immediately added to my Amazon shopping cart).

“Negotiating does not make you a mean person or selfish.”

Eleanor Whitney spoke with buckets of charm about having clear SMART goals, working at what you're passionate about and letting other things that aren't adding as much value to your life fall by the wayside. I loved the take-away of creating a dream board (not the only speaker that mentioned doing this); I've always had a sort-of mental board, but creating a physical one to help articulate your dreams is such a valuable concept. Another idea she presented which I'm going to take back to my Ladies, Technically Speaking meetup group is having an “accountability buddy”; someone to keep you in check about your long- and short-term goals and aspirations.

The panel about Overcoming Impostor Syndrome also brought up some great points and had me reflecting on my own experience. Panelists were sharing stories of having people in their lives who believe in them that help get them through the negativity they were facing. Arti Walker-Peddakotla referred to the group she confides in at work as her “tribe”; people who want to pass on their knowledge, are supportive, and don't pass judgement for asking questions. I can definitely say I have those in and outside of the workplace I would refer to as my tribe, by this definition. Do you?

At the Choose Your Own Career Adventure talk, Sarah Johnson and Lauren Galanter taught us how to treat our careers in an agile fashion, no one has the same path or even know what jobs will exist a few years from now, and that's okay. We did an assessment matching our interests to potential occupations, in which the results I scored made me think back to Eleanor's talk. The scores I tested put me in the categories of being a organizer, thinker, and foremost a helper. These traits resonate with what I find valuable in doing in my free time, heading up Ladies, Technically Speaking, as well as the parts of my day-job I find the most gratifying.

I also connected with Sarah, who is the Community Outreach Manager for Tech Girlz in Philadelphia. We have been thinking of ways to integrate the program in Lancaster through Ladies, Technically Speaking, so it was great to be able to introduce myself to her in hopes of working closely together in the future.

Katherine McClintic and Yash Prabhu each gave helpful and adaptable pointers for organizing and preparing yourself for a talk or project. Yash compared the organization pattern to meal preparation and ingredients, something everyone can relate to. She talked about her process and even the smallest tips (like practicing your power pose!) that help her prepare as a seasoned speaker.

Adrienne Lowe had us all cracking up with her presentation about bringing authenticity to your tech talks. She spoke from the heart, and gave examples of how she had to overcome fear of impostor syndrome before it set in as a speaker at some pretty big-deal conferences. My notes page is actually the shortest for Adrienne's, because I was so engaged in her energy, bubbly personality, and quick wit. She left us all pondering the question (which she obviously had a hands down grasp on), how do you do you?

“You are already good enough. You are so much more than good enough.”

The most impactful talks for me came at the very end of the day. Alicia Raciti spoke about her experience with burn out, how to recognize it in yourself and in those around you, in her talk titled To Invest in Yourself is to Invest in Others. The stressors in our every day lives can be broken up into a number of categories (technological, societal, workplace, and individual) and we should learn to take inventory of these stressors in order to see where we are spending the most time and energy, and getting the most, if any, return on energy.

“Not everybody deserves the same amount of energy from you.”

Alicia touched on the topic from earlier in the day of having a “tribe”, but she referred to it as “building your army”, finding people that can spend time in areas of your life where you just sometimes can't. Further explaining that these people are there, they may just need clearer direction, for you to ask them specifically what it is you need assistance with. In leaning on this army, you will then have time to find your space, something that will give you a high return on energy while expending a low amount of energy.

“Give yourself permission to put yourself first.”

Chanelle Henry showed strength and charisma in the conference wrap-up while sharing stories of her rocky journey to finding success, including dealing with numerous health issues. I resonated with her point about having a lot of talents and interests and finding it unfair to have to pick one to move forward with. This again relates back to the Choose Your Own Career Adventure talk, that it's okay to have many interests; the average millennial is changing jobs every 3 years so who's to say they can't be in different realms? She also said something that really stuck out: “just because I didn't complete something doesn't mean I didn't finish it” - not every task has the same endpoint for each individual, achieve what you feel is the most you can and feel satisfied with that. Chanelle also brought up the idea of a vision board (I've purchased my supplies, I'm ready!) and how writing down goals helped her achieve them. She rounded out the day on a great note, reminding us all to find our own superpowers and share them.

I recently had a coworker thank me for all of the work that I do, and share that she admires me for trying to make a difference because there is too much out there to discourage people already. In that same sentence, she compared me to a freight train – while this is a completely valid statement, being a freight train can be hard sometimes. The talks and experiences shared at ELA Conf helped me realize I'm not alone in that, and that it's okay.

Feeling a sense of community amongst women that I hadn't even met before was indescribable. I've attended many conferences and workshops in the past, and this is the first that I'd left feeling energized, renewed, and like I had real, tangible action items I was taking home with me. I can't thank the organizers enough for their efforts in putting this conference together, I'm sure I'm not the only one who needed to hear so many of these points. So, here is my first blog post: a love letter to ELA Conf, its organizers, speakers, attendees, and sponsors, and I hope to see you all again soon.