Jun 26, 2018

The Forum on Women in Tech was not your ordinary conference

Before you dig in, note that this is my very own opinion and sometimes opinions vary. If you don’t agree with something, just breathe and move on. 🙂 If you do, I send you virtual high five, sista’!

Last weekend, I attended an extraordinary event organised by Kiwi.com called the Forum on Women in Tech in Brno, Czech Republic.

It was a conference focused on women in the tech industry, specifically diversity & inclusion, education and career challenges. Does it sound like any other female-focused event? It might at first, but the subtitle on the event web page “Glass Ceiling Not Found” piqued my curiosity, and when I was given the opportunity to attend as a speaker, I was hooked. And why am I only releasing this article now? Well, sometimes when I get strong emotions, my opinion becomes distorted. Funnily enough, I still have the same feeling as I had couple of days ago — good sign!

Excelent host Pavla Lokajova

Hmm… Where should I start as I have mainly positive points? The venue was very nice—it was held at the University Cinema Scala with its old-school, fancy vibes and modern upgrade. The partners had their stands very nicely set up without being too aggressive towards the attendees. They also had interesting content and gifts for everyone. This all helped to create the overall atmosphere of a professional IT event. There was only one flaw — zero mobile reception in the auditorium and almost no Wi-Fi. You could think to yourself — no biggie, at least people won’t be on their phones during the talks. Well, this might sound reasonable, but for some attendees it may have caused troubles. Anyway, it made me to listen to every word and save the best ideas for just one or two tweets, instead of live-tweeting every single sneeze. I also took significantly fewer pictures and let me tell you… therein lies your freedom.

Everything, that happened on stage, was in the hands of the great host Pavla Lokajova. Her preparation, professionalism, and stage presence was of a TED-Talk-esque quality. I’m glad that we are past the times of hosts with no idea what’s going on, or those, who on the other hand are relevant to the subject, but a complete mismatch for their role. Finally somebody good!

Super successful group of female tech speakers

We had to give a big shout-out to all the organisers during the afterparty. Credits: Jan Bleha, Kiwi.com

I joined the speakers pool later on in the process and when I saw all the names in the program — oh man — it was packed! This description “Top women from the tech industry will share their expertise and know-how on leading projects and teams in global IT companies” makes you feel special, whether you want to or not 🙂 The speakers came from Google, GitLab, Kiwi.com, GoodAI, and many more.

I felt excited like a kid in an all-star football team sharing the stage with such incredible women. Have a look at the line-up and you will understand that this wasn’t going to be a “motivational bullshit” event. Even when the title was further from technical topic, it was very interesting.

Probably the best moment for me was the very beginning, when a video with all speakers was played at the main screen with legendary war-like music. Our big faces with topics were shown one after another and it resembled the Hunger Games so much! You know, the moment when the remaining tributes were projected on every big screen of Panem like champs. Oh man, it looked so cool, but I’m glad we didn’t have to fight for survival 🙂 I have only one word for this — epic!

Katka Gabova

After our egos were tickled with the cool introductions, the program started with a keynote about the importance of diversity and company culture in the tech industry by Katka Gabova. We didn’t hear that we need more of this and a bit of that (which you would usually expect), instead we were shown facts, research results and hard numbers. It was a very refreshing and interesting topic that made us all realise the problems we need to solve. Dear people fighting for diversity and equality in your workplace — this is how you do it!

After the keynote, the program was divided into two tracks — one for talks and the other for workshops. I’m not going to give you a summary of every single one, just an observation — every topic was carefully chosen and they all complimented each other. I didn’t see any repetitive messages or conclusions, just original and interesting content. Here’s a sneak peak of the topics: artificial intelligence, a mission to Mars, smart cities, and many more. Oh, you want to know more? Well, you should have been there 🙂 The whole day would give me enough material for another ten articles, but I will only give you this one with a tiny bit of advice — next time try your best to come, it’s worth your time. (Or watch the videos here).

I was asked several times which talk or which speaker was the best/worst/most inspirational. Well, you can’t measure that and I don’t want to point out to someone, just because I liked their talk better than the others for whatever reason. Some topics were closer to my field of interest, some talks were outstanding in a different way. I had a great time with all the speakers I had the chance to meet and I’d be more than happy to see them all talk live in the future. I hope this gives you a satisfactory answer. So, that’s the reason I only mentioned the keynote speaker and not anyone else. Without any doubt, they’re all queens! #girlpower

The organisers deserve a medal… or two

I’m a conf-junkie, addicted to tech events and conferences in general. I love it and I can’t help but go whenever I have the opportunity. So my expectation bar was set very high and I’m not easily pleased. 🙂 This one had some really good organisation. From the nice website to the communication with organisers, marketing, support and the care provided to us. As a speaker, I felt backed up with all the info I needed in time, with helpful assistance from every corner of the venue. In general, I was very well taken care of. By the way I don’t probably need to mention the speakers’ area being filled with refreshments and helpful staff all the time. But what excited me the most — we had a make up artist present to do our hair and make up for the whole day. From a puffy weirdo to a techie princess!

Another highlight was definitely the speakers’ dinner. Honza Bleha chose an amazing restaurant with a spectacular-tasting menu and wine selection… this gastronomy level, ladies and gentlemen, is called gastroporn (yep, probably the highest number of superlatives in one sentence). Not only were the cuisine and service perfect, but the whole Kiwi Community Team made us feel welcome like we’d all known each other for a long time. Talking about food —the catering on Saturday at the conference was done in very smart way. To avoid all the trouble with different kinds of dishes (for vegetarians, shellfish allergies etc), the catering was completely vegan. And it was bloody delicious. I’m so glad we didn’t have pizza and beer or schnitzels, which is a common bad habit of tech conferences. Although the after party wasn’t fully vegan anymore, everything was very delicious and nobody was left hungry.

Loved the graphics of the event.

I also loved the after party. It was right next to the venue in the courtyard of a former monastery — lovely atmosphere, food, drinks, music, live jazz band and of course, intensive networking. The best thing was a trivia game consisting of topics from the whole day: each speaker contributed questions to the game. People played in groups and I have never seen such a competitive audience 🙂 It was really funny and actually provided a great summary of all the talks.

And the cherry on the top? Fireworks! One may call it a coincidence, but it was a good one — the city was in the middle of historical celebrations that weekend and there was a beautiful (and I mean REALLY beautiful) fireworks display in the middle of the Saturday night. All of the action took place right above the city castle and that’s what I call a view! Awww, I love me some fireworks!

The last two things I need to mention — we got some pretty original swag (read conference gifts/goodies). Usually you get pencils, stickers, pamphlets etc, but this bag was unique. As expected, the majority of attendees were women and this bag was carefully filled with goodies for us girls. Make up brushes, vitamin drink bombs, a face mask, a lovely notebook, tooth paste and mouth wash samples etc, and of course some standard stuff like stickers. But what an original package! The second thing was an organised tour of Brno for the speakers with a professional guide who was very lovely and knew all the interesting facts and hidden gems. That afternoon was the best closure of the whole weekend that I could have wished for.

Brno from the rooftop (with speakers for scale:))

And the result?

I loved it. I just loved it. The amount of energy this event has given me is unbelievable. If you are one of the many ladies who spent some time with me during the event, I thank you for everything you do. If you are a person who didn’t attend, I advise you to do so next time, you won’t regret it.

And the best message? The future of tech is female. I need to get this printed on a t-shirt.

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