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Recap of SUPER: Women in Tech Live Storytelling

Recap of SUPER: Women in Tech Live Storytelling

By Perry Eising

Now, I’m not unfamiliar with the Portland Tech Scene, in fact, it’s not completely unusual for me to be in the crowd or even on the stage of a tech event, doing ignite talks or presenting workshops at awesome events such as ACT-W and Lesbians Who Tech. (Say hi next time!)

But I hadn’t heard of SUPER: WOMEN IN TECH Live Storytelling, presented by VOX SIREN pdx and backfence pdx at Revolution Hall, and hosted by a two irrepressible and hilarious hosts, B. Frayn Masters and Mindy Nettifee, until about a week before the event. My exposure to live storytelling has been pretty limited, and I wasn’t sure what to expect  when my partner surprised me with two tickets.

But girl, am I glad I went, as this was a fantastic introduction to the genre. SUPER: WOMEN IN TECH Live Storytelling was a completely inspiring smorgasboard of woman tech talent, with people telling their stories that ranged from being unexpectedly successful in tech to being unexpectedly unsuccessful at math (hello learning disability!) and much, much more. In fact, surprise, along with being inspired by unusual circumstances and obscured truths, was a theme that linked much of the evening’s entertainment.

Revolution Hall’s 850 capacity event hall was packed when we arrived at right around 8pm, with free seats looking sparse on the main floor - and with a strong male presence, which I really appreciated. I love seeing women create well attended women’s events, but I also loving seeing men in attendance, especially men who came ready to connect with diverse women’s authentic stories, and we definitely got a strong dose of authenticity right from the get go.

The first presenter was Maria Webster, who took to the stage with such clear presence and such a well crafted, compelling story that I was blown away - taking us through her journey from tech n00b to tech supervisor to tech layoff and back again, all the while weaving this tale through that of her own life & love story with this city. It was super refreshing to hear a perspective that in some ways mirrored my own, and hear her poignant comments about lesbian life and associated cliche’s that made me laugh out loud.

Told at a different pace, but nonetheless equally affecting, was Leah Siddall’s story of (nearly) ending her career before it began, and figuring out she had a little known learning disability called dyscalculia along the way. As a result, she made her way in the world as a programmer for Elemental Technologies instead. As someone who works in tech and struggles disproportionately with numbers, I identify with you! I was once told at face value by a university official that I would never be able to study informatics (and now I reach app and web development @Epicodus instead, so consider yourself proven wrong, unnamed uni). Your story rang so true that I couldn’t help but feel proud of both myself and you, for the obvious struggles we have been through in order to succeed.

Saira Weigel

Saira Weigel

The next story came from Saira Weigel, whose identity as a “straddler” is also one I identify with. Born in India and schooled in Kuwait, Saira’s story clearly ticks more unusual boxes than my background: I was born in England and raised in Germany, and moved to the US in 2005. But that notwithstanding, her perspective on growing up and coming of age in between cultures was meaningful to me. It is true that as immigrants in cross-cultural relationships we never really belong, at least for me. Saira’s story could have been a little shorter and wavered between well-rehearsed and off the cuff, but was nevertheless affecting and meaningful, bringing some much needed international perspective to the show.

The trajectory of having a clear connection to my own life continued with the fourth presenter, Melinda Campbell, currently working at Puppet Labs. Melinda told the story of how her eccentric father became an unlikely role model, and, eventually some-time boss who helped her become successful in her own right. Melinda’s odd, ham radio toting dad who was an insular basement dweller touched a nerve with my partner, while I found familiar ground with Melinda myself: I, too played Leisure Suit Larry, a morally extremely dubious text-adventure from the 80’s; I too, had it supplied to me by an unwitting parent who I couldn’t imagine myself growing up to mirror (and then of course, I did). Leisure Suit Larry was a terrible game, complete with rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, and otherwise sickenly contemporary themes - and not something I’ve thought about over the last 20 years. Incredible to see that one pulled out of the brain vault, and I am so very glad that Melinda dusted that one off for me. Fantastic delivery here, humorous and unique yet oddly universal, this story shone as one of the brightest I heard that night.

Second to last, I was excited to witness my excellent friend Brook Shelley’s presentation on coming into her own, as a trans woman in tech in Texas, nonetheless. And with that experience comes her witnessing of casual and ubiquitous sexism before, during and after her transition. I always appreciate the pure fearlessness and authenticity that Brook brings to all of her public speaking, and this talk was no exception. Her main point, namely that we cannot become like those who oppress us in order to no longer be oppressed, and that we need to come up with an entirely new way of doing things instead is not an easy thing to digest, but an incredibly important perspective. In my opinion, it is one that needs to be championed and presented. I am grateful and proud to be the friend of someone who continues to be authentically herself and do this work - again and again, in many shapes and forms.

Dominique DeGuzman

Dominique DeGuzman

By the time we got to experience the last presentation, by Dominique DeGuzman of LWT San Francisco and Twilio, the crowd had clearly all experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, and was ready to really give Dom the space she needed and the attention she deserved to really bring the show home. While her story of repeated questioning and harassment around her job title (Engineer!) in a technically dense area of the tech field isn’t new, the excruciating detail that Dom spelled out was likely unfamiliar to many in the audience, especially white cisgendered men. The questioning, the embarrassment, the harassment, and clearly stalky tendencies of the perpetrator  - all these made crystal clear not just how these moments of erasure and being challenge  to minority employees in tech fields. But Dom’s story didn’t stop there, in fact, it did something far more important: It made it clear how it feels.

It’s not enough to know that women, gender minorities and racial/ethnic minorities are discriminated against in their fields of employment - most people know that by that, I think. But when we can have a moment, as a straight person, as a white person, as a man, as an able bodied person... when we are able to feel the palpable injustice of discrimination, that has the potential to be a moment of change. And it’s Dom, like Brook, like Melinda, like Leah, like Maria, and sometimes, I hope, like me, who do this work for this very reason - we work to feel ourselves feel. We do the painful work of preserving these moments of harassment and alienation, and rejecting them every time we tell our stories, so you can learn how it feels. We work to bring the us out in you.

I’m so very grateful to all of the presenters on stage last Friday for their work and their vulnerability, for their passion and willingness to show us some parts of themselves. A broad and breathless set of stories, but clearly also just a beginning! I can’t wait for more. 

Perry Eising is tech teacher at Epicodus - specifically for the Android / Mobile Development track. I love dogs, coffee, and speaking truth to power. Find me online @perrysetgo or on linkedin.

More than Just a Tech Conference: The 2016 Lesbians Who Tech Summit Changes Careers and Lives

by Perry Eising, Epicodus Instructor

The annual Lesbians Who Tech San Francisco Summit is the organization’s marquee event and its most popular. Now officially celebrating it’s second birthday (the first one was more of a dry run, according to founder Leanne Pittsford), and getting bigger, better, and badder than ever, the Summit is a 3 day extravaganza of tech topics, queer and lesbian activism, self improvement, savvy leadership, community, socializing, dapper fashion, and great hair. Different than probably any other tech conference, the Summit sticks close to it’s roots in the community - events are almost exclusively organized in gay venues around the Castro.

Before my first Lesbians Who Tech Summit, and subsequently attending Epicodus, I was a freshly minted Green Card holder who had once had a tech career, ten or so odd years ago. After coming to the US on a student visa, I was severely limited in my ability to accept employment, and I was desperate for a leg up after finally receiving legal permanent resident status. When an acquaintance mentioned on Facebook that she had a ticket she couldn’t use, I didn’t hesitate. I cashed out my frequent flyer miles, ironed my shirts, texted my friend who had a couch I could crash on in the mission, and flew down to the bay. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be getting into, but I ended up with a lot more than I could ever bargain for. Attending that first Summit changed my career trajectory and my life.

Taking it all in 🤓 #lwtsummit #lesbianswhotech via Medium

A photo posted by Beca (@8becks) on

This year, the Summit began on Thursday the 25th of February with a short address by LWT staff in the Castro theatre, before transitioning into a tech crawl of surrounding bars featuring events hosted by local tech companies. Given that this wasn’t my first Summit, there were many, many reunions before my crew and I left the crawl for some much needed dinner  - it was amazing to run into so many familiar faces who were equally excited for the Summit as I was.


Friday is traditionally the big day for presentations on the big stage, and this day didn’t disappoint. After one of my favourite moments, Leanne’s kickoff speech, the morning lineup began with an address by Tara Bunch, Vice President of Apple, and was followed Ramona Pierson, whose harrowing story of injury and ambition clearly impressed the crowd. The star of the morning, however, was the legend, the amazing Edie Windsor,  the legendary computer scientist for IBM, and plaintiff behind the 2013 repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and her lawyer, the slightly more understated yet equally impressive Roberta Kaplan. Together, with host Danielle Moodie-Mills of politini, Edie and Roberta explored Edie’s career at IBM, relationship to her wife Thea Spyer, and the story about how they came to be representing their case before the Supreme Court - and ultimately winning. It was an incredibly moving moment to hear Edie recount the process that impacted millions of people’s lives, including my own, in such a direct and transformative way, and the crowd went wild when the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship was presented to several ecstatic winners.

Emcees Kiva Wilson and Sara Sperling did an amazing job of keeping the conference moving, while the dark intimacy of the Castro Theatre was punctuated only by the illuminated phone screens, trying to capture some of the power that lit up the stage. The Summit’s specially designed app came in especially handy, and created a way to connect and curate digital content. After the first round of speakers I lined up to get my book signed by Edie. Meeting her and Robbie Kaplan was definitely the highlight of my weekend.

The morning sessions took us through until noon, after which the crowd broke for several different lunch options. The committed stayed in the Castro, and I was lucky and honored to be able to present an ignite talk, which is a short, five minute presentation on the big stage, while others enjoyed events focused on space, the internet of things, art, technology, career growth and more. After my talk, I took the opportunity to take a walk around the Castro, and the area had become awash in signature blue lanyards flapping in the breeze. Over 1,700 of us were taking over the area, and we were seemingly everywhere! Walking down the street, I was enthusiastically greeted by fellow attendees, something that is not unusual at all for LWT. In fact, one of the most impressive tenets of the summit is how welcoming and genuinely community minded the attendees are. We headed back into the dark theatre for the rest of the afternoon, which featured a diverse set of presentations, including a pitch contest, a talk on overcoming imposter syndrome, and a fantastic presentation by actual lesbian rocket scientist Joy Dunn about her work with SpaceX.

As the day wore on, the presentations became more complex and moving, such as a amazing presentation on the implicit racism of mobile phone hardware, presented by the articulate and persuasive Samala, and the panel on leveraging your personal advantages, presented by Lisa Davis of Citigroup - it was her line on celebrating being memorable that had Twitter all fired up.

By the time we reached the evening keynote interview with straight-talker Kara Swisher of Re/Code and the closing words by Leanne Pittsford, the atmosphere had become positively electric - the stories presented on stage were so powerful and the atmosphere so charged, the cheers that punctuated the talks were so genuine, the calls for inclusion of women of color of transgender people were so relevant, so close still the struggle that so many of the speakers touched upon. It became very clear that you should never underestimate the power of a group as committed and focused as people who have been deprived of community.


Saturday is historically the main day for workshops and career fairs, which were all informative and welcoming. The day was well attended and was packed with informative sessions and featured a friendly, enthusiastic, well staffed Career Fair featuring companies like Amazon, Twilio, Lyft, Nasa, Intel, Two Sigma, asana, IBM and more. Organizationally things broke down a little bit - sessions didn’t start on time, and meal schedules were missed - making it very clear how well the stellar LWT team had organized the previous day. Despite some organizational hiccups, I attended an excellent workshop hosted by Jess McPeake on realizing your full potential in life and work, as well as a great session on unconscious bias, presented by Clem Breslin and Dioganhdih Hall, where we discussed the stunning levels of gender inequality in tech. I also attended a panel discussion on code schools and programming education, before heading out early to close the day out with friends at some more social events.


Sunday customarily features some closing events, but little official programming. It is the perfect time to get together with old friends and new co-collaborators, strengthen our community ties, make commitments to the future, and brainstorm ways and means to change the world - including creating a better, more just experience for women, queers and minorities.

Sunday featured a final closing party at Virgil's, and then it was time to leave a community that feels a little like family.

As always, impossible to say goodbye completely. After all is said and done, this is so much more than a tech conference. It is an opportunity to see one’s interests, hopes, desires and choices reflected in other people. It is a space for intergenerational mentoring, the likes of which do not take place in other queer and lesbian communities. It is a deeply political and passionate claiming of space and worth. It is a place of resistance against the rule of norms, and an insistent declaration of independence and resilience. It is the anvil on which clear eyed, hard edged, soft spoken radical entrepreneurs, achievers, organizers and pionesses are sharpened and encouraged. It is the arena and the celebration, the commitment ceremony and the victory lap. It is the LWT summit.  As I boarded the plane back up to Portland, I knew the summit had delivered what I had hoped it would - profound inspiration, steadfast community, and a unique opportunity to create with others. Until next year!

Want to see Perry's talk? Perry kicks off the round of Ignite sessions in the video below.

Join Epicodus for Demo Day on December 4

Epicodus is hosting it's first ever Demo Day, and we want you to be there!

Students from our most recent classes (Ruby/JavaScript/Rails, PHP/JavaScript/Drupal, Java/JavaScript/Android) and some of our alums will be showcasing apps they've built and answering questions about their projects. This is a fantastic opportunity to connect with Epicodus students as they show off their programming chops.

Join us for an afternoon of light refreshments and great apps, and as a bonus, you'll get to check out Epicodus's brand new classroom space where our next round of students will be learning how to program in 2016.

Join us on December 4, from 12:00 - 4:00pm! Space is limited, so please RSVP here.

Sneak preview of our new space at 400 SW 6th Ave!

Sneak preview of our new space at 400 SW 6th Ave!