September 13 was just amazing. The whole weekend was dense with events and what seems to be the Real Arrival of Fall, complete with a drizzly, cool, gray weather pattern outside the Microsoft office in Chevy Chase. Inside, it was alive with a sea of excited tech folks and DC Web Women’s chosen neon-green color scheme. It was like they knew how the weather would be and were combating it with design.
Here we were. A hugely, gloriously diverse crowd of people who make things and services for a connected world, all prepared to learn more – and to celebrate the people blazing trails and the people following the trails that they’d never before been able to access. Needless to say, Twitter was humming all day.
After DCWW President Sybil Edwards executed her duties regarding introduction and gratitude, we got to enjoy the first of our keynote speakers.
Great keynotes are more than speeches
Bonnie Bogle, COO of Mapbox, told us about Mapbox, her role in it, and the kind of culture they have there. And, yes, she did that – the stuff Mapbox does is simply amazing, including painting in a city’s streets with the not-entirely-wise habits of people who tweet and drive – but what she really did was give a masterclass in storytelling. It was not merely a talk about business philosophy or statistics. It was a demonstration of why letting collective and individual passion thrive can reach and influence millions and result in a business that is a success by all measures.
Immediately after lunch, we got to listen to Clarissa Peterson speak (slides). She’s co-founder of Peterson/Kandy, a UX expert, and the author of Learning Responsive Web Design. What she gave was the crashiest of courses on responsive web design – a compelling, bite-size reason to buy her book and find her wherever else she chooses to speak – but what she was was an example to those who are too aware of their status as students. The story of Clarissa’s growth from “just” a basic developer to an expert speaking on RWD was a roadmap for those of us new to anything. It yielded bumper sticker-worthy maxims like “You learn more by teaching others” and, when it comes to content (I’m mangling it, but the gist was), “Is it easier to move from a house to an apartment or from an apartment to a house?”
What a talk covers and what it’s about – what it is – can be drastically different in all the important ways. Hire these women to talk for you. They get it.
More information than you can fit in your head
So, if you’ve never been to a conference, let me tell you what’s difficult. Parking. Finding a seat in a crowded room. Finding an unoccupied power outlet.
The hardest part: Figuring out which of the amazing talks you’re going to attend.
After days of agonizing, I figured out which three to attend. My only regret is that there aren’t 12 of me.
We’re swimming in an ocean of data, and we’re increasingly capturing, analyzing, and taking advantage of that data. The problem is so few of us know how to effectively translate it all into the popular and super-useful infographic. As Laura Larrimore said, ‘The less you know about design, the less you should be designing.” This is especially true for business on a very tight budget. So few of us are designers; so few of us should try to be.
Some low-cost or free tools included Piktochart and Microsoft Office. She walked us through the one and gave us the pros and cons of the others, and I think we all left a little less scared of Big Data and Making It All Look Pretty.
David Kennedy, Theme Wrangler for Automattic, talked to us about testing for web accessibility with free tools. Full disclosure: He’s a friend of mine. He’s knowledgeable and passionate as heck about keeping the web accessible to every person who can get onto the internet.
Accessibility is, unfortunately, foreign to too many of us. It’s not that scary, after all. Dave gave us a crash course on the main difference between Section 508 compliance and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (short form: WCAG is a bit more thorough) and shared resources we can use immediately to make our work more accessible – a11y.me is a fantastic place to start.
Some key tools that are both cool and easy to use are this infographic on Accessibility for Designers, Wave, the Color Palette Accessibility Checker, and The Readability Test Tool. Do yourself a favor and go try each of them.
The New Word-of-Mouth
The Social Media Trainer and Consultant at Admin Tech Consulting, Romona Foster is a woman of many talents. Due to the laptop and projector refusing to talk to each other for a half hour, we learned that one of her talents was to memorize the name of 30 people in a few minutes. What could’ve been a dull disaster became a high-energy exchange of ideas about the role of social media and how to convince clients reluctant to change.
The room, with those 30 attendees, represented a range of experience from novice to master. The conversation we had brought home the fact that “social media” is as big and complex a subject as you could imagine. We touched on strategy, platforms, engagement, content sourcing, ethics and laws, time-savers, and stereotypes, and we still hadn’t exhausted ourselves when it was time to depart. But before we did, Romona left us with a good, actionable list of tips and tools especially useful for the less-experienced.
So, same again next year?
There was an afterparty where DCWW honored several people and businesses for being, I believe, excellent examples of what women in tech can do for women and for tech. The party was so hearty that it was a bit difficult to hear.
All I know is I went up to the stage to accept the DCWW Community Partner of the Year on behalf of Matrix Group!
The conference was fantastic. I left dazed by the density of information I’d absorbed during the day. I can’t wait for next time!