At the beginning of October a few Webspec developers made our annual trip to Wisconsin for the Madison PHP Conference 2016. By day we learned about trends and new technologies relevant to the industry, by night we tried new food. Developer Nick Hoobin shares some of his personal thoughts on the experience.
I’ll set the scene in terms of food and weather. The conference this year took place a month and a half earlier than last year. That meant the temperature was warmer when we ventured downtown Madison during our first night there. Last year was chilly, this year was cool. We ate at a local Nepali restaurant that was standing room only, and had a line. I had momo (dumplings), and after finishing them I understood why the place was so busy. The group ate outside, and a light drizzle engulfed the block. The moisture wasn’t enough to stop us from enjoying our food, however. I’ll have that momo again.
The talks I went to were Web Components: Lego Bricks of the Web by Pearl Latteier and Abraham Williams; Stepping Outside your Comfort Zone: Learning to Teach by Heather White; Stronger Than Fear: Crisis in the Developer Community by Edward Finkler, a talk about mental health in the industry; What’s Your Skateboard? by Emily Stamey; Love Your Team More With Retrospectives! by Vesna Kovach; Salary Negotiation in Tech by Ashley Powell; and the keynote Extreme Team Building: Surviving an Ocean Crossing by Stephanie Evans. I decided to attend talks that didn’t have to do with a specific technology. Instead I chose talks that had to do with the industry as a whole, to get a fuller picture of my job. The topics I listened to were about mental health, process, salary negotiation, and team health. I feel these subjects are more evergreen, by which I mean they’re not going to be replaced by the latest, greatest thing in six months–like I would if I were to attend a talk on a specific library or feature. These subjects will always be relevant to me as a worker in the industry, and as a worker in general.
The talk with the most valuable information, to me, was Salary Negotiation in Tech by Ashley Powell, or as it could be called, The Talk That Scares The Boss. The speaker, Ashley Powell opened up the talk by speaking about the gender gap in pay and how it starts before the position is even accepted: during the negotiation phase. Ashley brought up that women are less likely to negotiate a higher pay at the start of the position, often because they feel like they don’t meet all of the qualifications, while her male counterpart is more likely to ignore the unmet qualifications. If her salary then increases at a standard yearly rate, after a couple years her salary will be significantly less than her male counterpart, simply because of a decision made in the negotiation. To further multiple the problem, a worker’s salary often travels from company to company, meaning that by not negotiating, a worker is getting paid overall less in their lifetime. This is an example of systematic inequality, where from the get go women are at a disadvantage when it comes to their pay. In the perfect world people would be compensated for the amount and quality of work they do, not because personality traits such as negotiation skills. Ashley also talked about general salary tips, such as how to ask for a raise, that apply to all people in the tech industry. I’m really glad that Ashley took the time to give this talk, as compensation is often treated as a taboo. People are afraid and uncomfortable about talking about pay. Not talking about one’s compensation only furthers inequality, and means you’ll be paid less.
While the previous talk had the most valuable information, the keynote, Extreme Team Building: Surviving an Ocean Crossing by Stephanie Evans, was the most engaging. Stephanie is an adventurer and from beginning to end the talk was a wonderful adventure through her race across the ocean. In 2014 she took part in the Pacific section of the Clipper Round the World Race in a sailboat with a team of professional sailors. She related her experiences and the hardships of sailing to the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Her journey puts into perspective how low stakes my job, programming, can be. While on the sailboat, an argument, miscommunication, or refusal to ask for help could result in injury or even drowning. When programming a website the most a team dysfunction could cause is a missed deadline. Stephanie talked about broken sails, almost capsizing the boat, a squall (strong storm), and ultimately winning despite setbacks. The talk served as a nice, exciting conclusion to the conference.