Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Women in Technology: Children at Technical Conferences

I read a post with the same title by Tim Radney, which I loved. In his post, which I suggest you read, he talks about taking his son to a technical conference. I thought I'd write a little bit about my experiences taking my son to a couple of User Groups in the UK. A few months ago, Mark Broadbent (SQL DBA guru and a great friend of mine) needed a speaker at the last minute for his Cambridgeshire PASS Chapter user group. I said I would do it, but I'd have to bring my eight year old because it would be too late to get a babysitter. Very fortunately, Mark agreed that I could bring my son.  At this point, I have to thank Mark for his patience with my son, who now calls him 'his big friend Mark'. Mark introduced him to games on the mobile phone and didn't mind that my son ate more food than anyone else! To introduce my son to everyone, I asked him to offer everyone a chocolate and then everyone settled to hear my Big Data session. My son and I went home happy.

I run HUGSS, a SQL Server user group in Hertfordshire. I've taken my son on the odd occasion, and he sits really nicely, reads quietly whilst the adults are talking, and eats as much as he gets his hands on. We are a very small group at the moment, and so far, nobody has minded too much. 

For those of you who haven't worked it out already, I'm a single mother and have been for a good while now. I play mum and dad. For me, the hardest bit of being a parent is "teaching your child how to walk, and then teaching them how to walk away". I didn't set out to be a single mum and it wasn't the life that I had planned for myself, but we are where we are. I do the best mum and dad combined roles that I can do. I love my job, I love the sqlfamily that I come across, and most of all, I am blessed, really blessed, to have a smart, wise, loving little boy in my life with a big generous heart and wonderful chuckle who opens my eyes and teaches me something new every day. He loves cuddles and TS Eliot poems about cats. He loves soldiers, Nerf, lego, iCarly, Hallowe'en, ice cream with sprinkles on top and loves being read limerick poems. I count myself lucky each and every day. I want more than anything to make his dreams come true and give him the brightest, best future that is in my power to do so.

So, in my role of mum and dad, I used to worry what people would think of me as a 'single mum at a tech conference' as an attendee, presenter or organiser. There tends to be less female attendees, and I wonder what percentage of those are in my demographic. I then wondered if perhaps other women worried as I did, that I would be odd-one-out. Then it struck me that perhaps, by sharing my story, that perhaps other women who share my life experiences might realise that actually, it isn't an issue. People accept you for who you are. Community is community. I believe one hundred percent that there is no community as welcoming as the 'sqlfamily' and I have found my 'home' there. You already have a shared passion for tech and everybody is learning, and if I can do this, anybody can. 

Otherwise, I've never taken him to a larger conference and we are both not ready to do that. I think that it would be too much for him (he is only 8, after all!). I'm a mum before anything else, and I'd be fully involved looking after him than I would in doing community work or helping people with SQL Server or BI questions. When he is older and might benefit from the experience, such as doing computing science at secondary school, then I might be more inclined to take him so that he can be inspired by meeting some of the brightest minds in tech at sql server conferences, for example.

Normally I try to keep my family life separate from my professional and community life, but Tim's blog celebrated family and technology, and inspired me to write a little so I've shared a few thoughts here. My experiences and opinions will be different from other people's, but I had hoped that these thoughts might help someone somewhere.

Best,
Jen
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