How Community Comes Together with #HumansofIT at Microsoft Ignite
Community is something that can be difficult to find in an industry as expansive as Information Technology. Last year, I started to find mine when I attended my first Microsoft Ignite which made it one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had at a tech conference. You’d imagine that with over 30,000 attendee’s, that wouldn’t seem possible, but the Humans of IT track is something that I think has provided the right mix to make it happen. So given my experience last year, it was definitely a priority for me this year.
This year’s theme focused on how intersectionality is the real diversity superpower, and encouraged attendee’s to develop practical skills to address diversity and inclusion holistically. So just how did it go? Let’s dive in.
Deena Pierott, founder of iUrban Teen and recognized by former President Barack Obama as a White House Champion of Change for Technical Inclusion, started the day off with her session, “The Importance of intersectionality – Being Conscious of Your Unconscious Bias“. Deena walked us through what intersectionality is and how everything is interconnected. She brought up important points on how media portrays certain situations which affects our perception, to the fact that we’ve only had female crash test dummies start being used a couple years ago which means our safety standards are not representing the population. It really makes you consider where else these blind spots have appeared and makes you more cognizant of the bias you may have yourself.
After her presentation, came the Race x Gender panel discussion moderated by Deena Pierott with panelists Iasia Brown, Milena Gonzalez, myself, Laura Hunter, Wendy Pei, Jorge Yaghmour, and Grace MacJones. The panel spoke on all our unique experiences in IT as a woman, queer person, transgendered, immigrant, PoC, bi-racial, neurodiverse, military veteran, and the list goes on. The audience had a great amount of questions that led us to speak about code switching, micro aggression, how to empower groups within the business from the panelists perspectives. Attendees shared their stories and struggles, and we all began to heal through our understanding. During this panel was also the first time I spoke openly about my recent diagnosis of depression and how I see anxiety as a strength despite my battles with it through my life.
Next up was a panel on Neurodiversity that was moderated by Dona Sarkar, and featured panelists including Brandon LeBlanc, Glenn mcClellan, Chris Gill, Jess Dodson, Kristine Zwick, and Paul Warren. They spoke on their personal experiences with dyslexia, anxiety, burnout, ADHD, ASD, bipolar disorder, raising a transgender child, and OCD. They also candidly shared what they see as their strengths and their kryptonite and showing just how many things we share without realizing it.
The final session for the pre-day was hosted by Kyla Mitsunaga, the author of WITH vs AT, a Certified Global Happiness Coach and founder of WITH Warriors, LLC, led us through exercises on how much power the prepositions WITH and AT can have in our work and our overall lives. It was an additional challenge to how we interact with the world and how much our approach can change the result. She led us through mindfulness and meditation with the purpose of recovery and restfulness and closed it off with a circle where we told one person something we were grateful for, and the other we paid a compliment. Her pure excitement and positive energy helped the room reflect and recharge from what we learned through the day. You can find her book on Amazon by clicking here and I highly recommend it!
The Humans of IT Track
The growth and learning didn’t end with the pre-day. Throughout the week of Microsoft Ignite, there were over 30+ other sessions that continued the conversation. Here are just a handful of the sessions I was able to attend.
Hidden Stories of the Tech Trenches
Jess Dodson shared some of the experiences people have had in our industry. Many of them were heart wrenching and really struck to the core of the audience. A strong reminder of the experiences we often don’t hear of and why it matters.
Maximizing Generational Diversity in Your Modern Workplace
Dux Raymond Sy of AvePoint shared insight into how there are 5 generations in our modern workplace today and how each one of them have different motivations. He provided practical guidance on how you can maximize the potential of everyone.
Your Uniqueness is Your Best Power
Denise Pyles shared her career experiences and gave us reasons why we need to own our uniqueness as one of our strongest superpowers in the workplace.
Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk
Ryan Yates spoke about how mental health affects us all and how starting the conversation can be a powerful tool in helping to manage our own or our teams mental health. He provided some great tips on how to approach the conversation and things to keep in mind when talking to others.
#DreamCrazier in the World of Tech
Two leaders from Nike, Dr. Mona-Lisa Pinkney and Jarvis Sam discussed how the diversification of technology and the role both tech and non-tech companies play when it comes to advancing diveristy and inclusion in a rapidly evolving world.
My Two Left Feet, or, how life as a Competitive Dancer has made me a better PM and Human
Laura Hunter discussed how the intersection and integration of her personal and professional lives made both better and brought out her best self.
These are not even counting the incredible sessions on military veterans in tech or how a fun comic known as Threddy the T.Rex had a huge impact on it’s creator, Rob and is helping him grow.
Often times, I feel like when we attend a conference and we network, we often lose those connections over time due to the sheer amount and limited establishment made. However, the connections made through the Humans of IT track feel persistent. The track provided a space for fellow technologists to go beyond just professional posture and share their entire human experience. For some, it was their first time speaking about something that negatively impacted their life, or even something said that changed their outlook. There were moments of honesty and raw emotion that left no dry eye in the house. It really underscored how much we sometimes hide or hold back to fit in, and the consequences of doing so, is real.
It was a good reminder that none of us live on an island. While we are all unique and should celebrate our differences, we should also celebrate the bonds we share through different communities and do our part to make the world around us just a bit better. It showed the power of finding our tribe and helping others find theirs. It reinforced that we have a responsibility as technologists to wield our power for good, and to always be vigilant. Lastly, we need to be kinder to ourselves and keep moving forward.
I was able to interact with old friends, make a ton of new ones, and remind myself that we all influence the world around us. I was able to understand additional experiences I wasn’t aware of and was able to encourage others to share their experiences and to take that chance. I also became part of a textable tribe where we all hold each other accountable, provide support and celebrate each other.
The Humans of IT community led by Shona Bang and her team, including the track at Microsoft Ignite is something I have not seen in our industry, but is something desperately needed. It’s authentic and honest. It’s leading to important conversations, giving people the courage to speak up or talk about their experiences. It’s developed an ever growing community of mentors and technologists who share common goals and bonds. It’s made Microsoft Ignite the single most valuable conference I’ve attended over the past two years and I hope the track continues under her leadership. I recommend that if you attend Microsoft Ignite The Tour and there are any Humans of IT sessions, make sure to mark it on your calendar! While you’re at it, be sure to join the community and be a part of the mentors program if you can! See you all next year! ^_^