This was originally published as an internal company blog post on June 17, 2022. It has been reworked for a public audience and updated July 2022.
Two (really six, but I was scared to share this) weeks ago some Spotifiers along with 1400+ people from all over the world went down to Atlanta, GA, USA for the RenderATL 2022 conference. Ask anyone who was there, it was more of a cultural experience - a goal the founder and CEO, Justin Samuels, dreamt up when he first came up with this idea for a Black-centered React conference around 2019.
Now let’s just get out the way that yes - if you were not there, you missed some good food, music, views and vibes of the city, heat (if you’re not used to the humidity like me), and a celebration of Black tech culture that is rarely seen in the Western hemisphere. I start with this so you can go ahead now and follow them for updates while planning to submit your CFP soon (or go) for next year. The goal is to get 3,500 (!!) people to participate in 2023.
To the learning parts… none of which are technical. I hope you learn something new like I did. If not, please let me know because I should be learning from you too 👀
Having recently joined Spotify and knowing they were a sponsor, my intention was to at least visit the Spotify booth, see bandmates Taylor Poindexter and Darnel Clayton talk about leadership, (again, eat because the food »>) and finally meet and thank some of my favorite techies - those who’ve helped me grow as a community mentee in the space. Well that plan was bogus as my grandma likes to say because we met everyone! I got to reconnect with some friends (thanks, KD and Angie for one of my best Saturdays of 2022), and the conference folk too. Everyone I was brave enough to speak to was kind and left me with a lesson, smile, or both.
Taylor and Darnel had a common theme in their talks. They centered people and emotions, and didn’t shy away from talking about these two team components as trust cultivators. Taylor talked about that overachiever cycle - being great, people getting used to it and acknowledging it less, feeling resentful and underappreciated. Thanks for articulating that so well, Taylor. We were reminded to talk about these situations out in the open, celebrate each other, and keep overachievers at the right balance of motivation and appreciation to keep long-running teams intact. And shout out to Darnel who took extra time to ask if I had follow up questions when I went up to say hi. Having Black leaders talk about trust and psychological safety? Yes! As someone who decided to go from manager back to individual contributor, I appreciated the opposite trajectory perspective from historically underappreciated (not underrepresented) folks.
There were a lot of heavy hitters - the most memorable for me were Angie Jones (TBD/Block) - the best big sister and community mentor I know, Mark Thompson (Google) - the wholesome mayor of the technical village where I live, and Scott Hanselman (Microsoft) a.k.a tech’s Mr. Rogers - it’s true, go look at his TikTok.
Angie, a Java champion and 26+ patent holder, transitioned from the test automation world to lend her talents to web3 - specifically in the decentralized identity space where she shared some use cases that made it tangible for the first time. In an ideal world, we should be able to log into applications and systems by verifying our identities without them retaining our data. And we should be able to say no to the system wanting to verify our identity if we don’t want to use it or be tracked. It made me think about the future of data because our function relies on tracking events and entities to infer insights. How do you build a recommendation model without having someone’s demographic information? Is it going to force us to be more mindful and ethical? Maybe. I don’t know, but I’m still thinking about this one. It was that good!
Now Mark is one of those people who will teach you something even if you didn’t (know you) want to learn it. He talked about progressive web applications and reader, when I tell you I didn’t have to google this - it stuck! These talks are going to be available on YouTube at some point. I suggest watching Mark’s if for nothing else, to learn how to be an engaging teacher. Both him and Angie have this gift of talking about highly technical things in an easily digestible way. I left feeling like I can learn Angular which is never going to happen, but the impact!!! Scott - the Mr. Rogers of tech, just wanted us to remember to keep learning. School is where you learn how to learn. Life is how you learn how you learn and apply it.
Folk country recording artist and world famous drag queen, Trixie Mattel says “shame is a landfill emotion”. If you didn’t know that your quirks were considered quirks, you wouldn’t call them quirks. You would just be you! The lesson is to push past it and like Nike says, just do it! I translate this to fear a lot because of course we get scared, we postpone, you know how the song goes. Bria Sullivan - the founder, CEO, and CTO of Honey B Games, was a great reminder of this at Render. She told the story about how after not getting a developer advocate promotion, she decided to blow it all up and start afresh (scary right?! Eeeeek 😱). What do I want to do and what makes me happy?
Sound familiar, passionate and playful people? It’s been less than a year now, and Bria, a lover of digital games, has launched multiple games with over two million downloads in the first six months since beta launch. How cool is that? It was wild seeing her tweet about her progress all this time, and now she’s presenting this actualized dream in conferences - showing others who are interested in video game development how to start. A lot of what Bria said was perfectly timed for me personally.
Everything is right there, it’s just about execution now. This sentiment was repeated during a company town hall and that is a sign right?! There are a lot of unknowns, but that’s the game - go learn and know and do whatever it is! In the spirit of Sophia Petrillo, picture this - It’s 2022, I’m joining a new initiative and excited about it, but also nervous. It’s the money line (quite literally). Seeing the Bria’s of the world go for things reenergized me to stay the course.
If you are still here after this soliloquy, thank you! Maybe you’ve been convinced to go next year and learn and bring it back? Or you’ll be a speaker! Justin is always recruiting and recently added CSS, mobile, and backend systems as tracks to the 2023 conference. If you need that push, just do it like Bria! Do it scared (Wenona Young’s voice). Do it playful. Do it new. Do it nowwwwwww