Women Techmakers is Google’s global programme and brand for women in technology.
The community, grassroots-led initiative started out with 50 delegates in its first year, and grew to 100 last year.
Sync NI recently caught up with Victoria McCallum and Darcie Graham who are part of the team organising this year’s conference to hear about their plans, and their call for speakers and sponsors.
Victoria McCallum is a freelance IT contractor, and she explained that the event brings lots of different groups from the vibrant local meet up scene together under the one umbrella. She recalls that previous conferences have brought together people in the industry 'who want to network, learn new things and hang out with like-minded people… alongside others who are either switching to the tech sector after pursuing a different career path, or maybe returning to tech after a number of years away'.
Darcie Graham is Group Digital Director at AVB Group - https://www.avb-group.com/.
'It’s a showcase which celebrates the variety of roles, level of responsibility and expertise of local women techmakers as well as providing role models and inspiration to people who are looking to enter the industry, or are already working within it.'
The organisers have issued a call for volunteers to speak at the event, and until Thursday March 8 (International Women’s Day) you can pitch a talk to the team by filling out a short online form.
In previous years Women Techmakers have featured a broad range of talks: app development, 3D printing in healthcare, quantum cryptography, test driven development, user experience design and virtual reality, as well as looking at the business benefits of gender equality and male diversity champions.
Whether you’re new to the industry or more established in your career, Darcie says that there are both 5-10 minute lightning talk sessions and longer 20 minute slots available for people who haven’t spoken at this kind of event before. She is excited by the nominations that have already come in.
'We realise that there are people in the tech community that we might not know and others that we don’t realise would be interested in speaking at the conference. We want the conference to reflect the entire community. There are some incredible stories out there and we are conscious that we are only aware of a fraction of them. We want this conference to be a from the ground up conference hence the open call for speakers.'
Victoria adds: 'It might sound terrifying to speak in front of 200 people for your first talk, which I understand, but regardless of whether you’re speaking in front of 10 people or 200, it’s really not much difference with regards to nerves!'
'The vibe in the room last year was so supportive. It was just such an incredible feeling and everyone who’ll be there is rooting for the speakers.'
Once the self-nominations are in, the organisers will sit down and craft the programme, grouping topics together, and creating some panels to address common issues. Details will be published on the Women Techmakers Belfast website.
An evening of workshops on Friday 13 April will precede the full day conference. Hosted in PwC’s offices, these will offer taster sessions on different areas of technology for people to try out.
Victoria didn’t set out to created gendered meet ups. 'I just wanted to learn to code and I found a way of doing that which was gendered and then I saw the power of all the women coming to those meetings.'
A self-described “blow-in” to the tech industry, she says that 'it was such a shock, it being my seventh industry and there being so few women in the room.'
'If you’re not seeing women and having those conversations during your day-to-day work, then to be able to meet them at other times is a huge deal, just to have people who look like you, can relate to your work, and also find people who are working in different areas that you maybe didn’t even know existed.'
'Particularly as a new person into the industry and figuring out ‘where is my place?’ it is great to be able to get advice and information and see role models in senior positions (because you don’t get to see them often).
'To be in a room with 200 people, and the majority of them being women, you realise that it is real and possible and it does exist and you can be part of it … And it’s not just about the network or the career opportunity. The number of genuine friends I’ve made through these meet ups, the genuine care and support from people whom I wouldn’t necessarily meet any other way.'
Last year’s event attracted everyone from students to senior managers.
Darcie hopes that this year’s delegates will be surprised and inspired when they realise what is going on in the local industry. 'We want to keep our speakers local and shine a light on all the stuff going on in Northern Ireland. There is a sense of pride about what women techmakers are achieving in the industry here'
'And if attendees don’t know much about the local tech industry, or if they’re looking to get into it, even better. They will be reassured that there is lots going on that is worth getting into.'
As well as canvassing for speakers, there are opportunities for organisations and businesses to sponsor the conference (for £500) and potentially help offset the cost of child care facilities.
Tickets will be available to order from March 17 via the Women Techmakers Belfast website.