Being the only Latinx, the only trans person, or the only disabled person in the room can be tough. You can feel like an imposter; someone who doesn't belong, who lacks the credibility or connections to speak. When you do speak up, people assume you speak for every * person. If you're visibily different, other people may assume you're a waiter instead of an ops engineer, or assume that because you're a woman you can't be interested in or capable of programming. Even at the best of times, being a member of a minority group can make well-intentioned people awkward or nervous.
We're here to build things, to share our ideas, to seek advice and inspiration, to find jobs. Our background should be secondary to our abilities and passions, but we're not there yet. Women, people of color, and other minorities remain dramatically underrepresented at technical conferences.
And yet we know from decades of social psych research that sustained collaborative contact with outgroup members is one of the strongest ways to dissolve stereotypes and their negative consequences. There's another benefit to a more diverse group makeup, too: you will have other people to talk to—who reassure you, even implicitly, by their presence, that you belong here.
So let's shift the ratio. If you're a member of an under-represented group, and you can't afford to attend a technical conference, I want to help you get there.
What will you do?
I will register conference passes, buy plane tickets, and make hotel reservations in your name. I'll speak with the conference organizers to request discounted tickets and travel arrangements, and urge them to implement diversity scholarships in general. I will offer whatever advice I can about listening to talks, taking notes, and introducing yourself. If I know an attendee or speaker who you'd like to meet, I'll make introductions. If you'd like to give a talk (which you should! Lightning talks are great and easy!) I'll help you brainstorm, review your slides, and listen to you practice. If you write a blog post about your experience, I can proofread, offer constructive criticism, and get your article in front of readers.
Who pays for this?
I do, out of pocket. There's no corporate or nonprofit sponsorship involved.
How do you choose who gets funds?
Pretty much first-come-first-served. I'm a big fan of need-blind, in general. That said, I only have so much time and money, and I'm not gonna be able to help everyone. You can help by covering some of the expenses yourself, and especially by choosing smaller, local conferences.
The best conferences I've attended ran $200 to $400. The huge conferences charge $5000 a head because they expect companies, not individuals, to foot the bill. Smaller conferences are often less formal, which makes it easier for you to meet people and talk to speakers in the hallway. So, if you can, aim for high-quality but small-scale specialist conferences.
As an attendee, how do I help?
Pay it forward.
Why don't you fund straight white dudes? They need help too!
Indeed, and I continue to mentor and fund straight white men. This particular effort, though, is about bringing more than class diversity to technical communities.
Won't people abuse your trust?
Probably. I might ask to see some of your writing, work, or for community members who can vouch for you.
How do I apply?
Send me an email, explaining a bit about yourself and the conference you'd like to attend.
This idea (and the text of this page) was inspired by @aphyr and his own sponsorship of underrepresented people attending conferences.