I just got back from a two day conference in San Francisco. As a freelancer, I don’t get to go to many conferences since my company (me) won’t pay for them. A typical tech conference runs $2k plus airfare, hotel, transportation, and meals – it could easily add up to $5k. No thanks. If I had that kind of extra money, I’d rather buy new living room furniture that doesn’t have milk stains and smell like dirty socks.
This one had a low price tag though, and was close enough to home that I could skip the airfare. And it would give me a good excuse to get away from the kids for a few days (though not sure why I feel that I need an excuse – every profession should get an occasional break, even parenting).
The talks were good and I learned a bunch. And I had a great time exploring the city on my own – I got a whole day where I got to browse cute shops and bookstores, dine at a lovely outdoor cafe, go to a movie, go for a walk with amazing views of the Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate Bridge, then catch up on episodes of The Witches of East End on Netflix back at my hotel. The perfect date … with myself.
Yet, I am profoundly disappointed with the conference experience. Because of something I often forget about. I’m fat, forty-something, and female. In the world of web developers, the 3 F’s practically make me invisible.
The typical web developer is a 20-something single male. He’s not nerdy/awkward like the techies of yesteryear. No, he’s hip and highly social. He’s your best bud. Your BRO. And increasingly, tech companies and conferences are about creating a culture that appeals to him – the brogrammer. It’s all a big party.
Sure, there are girls. But in much smaller numbers. And rarely are they the programming gurus. More likely they are designers or marketers. The gals that do fit in are cute and hip, and slightly boyish. At least they aren’t beautiful/sexy in a way that is threatening or distracting to the guys they work with.
Needless to say, I did not fit in. These young guys don’t see me as a peer. I’m a mom. I could be their mom. And the conference wasn’t designed for mom. There was no tea and meaningful conversation. No, it was loud music and alcohol, cubicle toys, and references to The Big Bang Theory – a party for the boys.
I noticed that the only people who initiated conversation with me were older than me. Other outsiders. Some were even sadder cases than me. We are the last generations to have been raised without cell phones and the Internet. In the eyes of the young, we can’t keep up.
I wonder whether millenials will eventually experience the same kind of ageism. Will tech always belong to the young?