What we learned at nonbinary.tech

This weekend I had the privilege of attending nonbinary.tech, the world’s first conference highlighting the amazing work of those of us who identify outside of the gender binary in the technology industry. The event took place at Goldsmiths University in London in a rather nice accessible venue. The talks and discussion concentrated on the community side of technology, because pure technology alone is easy to navigate.

The Sound of Many Sleeping Bees was a great talk on how phone notifications take us out of the presence of the moment, and how they can be like rude personal assistants who are constantly interrupting us. They seem like a living thing, and by design we are encouraged to repeatedly interact with them. I found myself comparing the annoying notifications of terrible apps to comments from people who haven’t yet unlearned cissexism - each time it happens isn’t bad enough to break any rules or code of conduct, but both are terribly draining.

Diversity by Default in Design was given by a designer about their efforts to show diversity in their artwork, and the battles with companies to actually get that artwork used. Eriol talked about how “edge-case” has become a euphemism to discourage time being spent on making products accessible to marginalized groups and how making products friendly is universal, not just for the dominant user group. Stock images for minority groups can throw up some worrying results, illiciting negative stereotypes, and it is important to remember that just because a stock image exists doesn’t mean it is acceptable to use. If you are in a position to represent your product users through photography, use photographs of actual users; and if those photographs don’t show diversity then maybe you have bigger problems to address first.

Damien Senger gave a very personal talk about Building a New Life After Burnout. They reminded us the importance of saying “no”, taking breaks, and making deliberate choices to take care of ourselves. Initial stages of burnout can show itself as us reduced performance, poor memory, working more than the regular hours, fatigue, unstable mood, loneliness and exclusion, and risk behaviours. It’s important to take the time to do something about this as early as you notice it, even just moving to another team can make a big difference.

Olu shared a lot of great resources they have used through the beginning of their career in Beyond 1s and 0s: inclusive spaces in binary places. Diversity Tickets is a great place to find conferences that have ticket and travel grants for minority groups. WeAllJS is an inclusive Slack community for JavaScript developers. The LGBTQ in Technology Slack organisation is a space for LGBTQ people in technology to chat and support each other. The Women in Technology Chat is a Slack organisation for women who work in technology. Joining these communities helps with a sense of belonging, feeling welcomed and being understood which can be lacking elsewhere. And remember to read and use the codes of conduct.

Arielle talked about how My Job is Being Excited About Technology, describing their role of Developer Advocate Engineer at Spotify and how important it is to bridge that gap between internal developers and the developers in the outside world. They talked about how developers are becoming as diverse as the general population, and the importance of seeing other people like them. The technology industry can be rather toxic, so let’s make tech better together rather than work against each other.

Aside from the talks the event was a great chance to put some faces to names and meet a whole lot of awesome people. It definitely helped reduce some of the impostor syndrome in an industry that is still dominated by white males. Many thanks to the organisers and sponsors of this event, and hopefully there’ll be another one next year.