By Elaine Tsai (Organizer, Hack Nights for Beginners)

Women Who Code (WWCode) held our first lightning talks event on Tuesday, October 25. The event was filled with excitement, involvement, and proof that there are plenty of women interested in programming, hacking, and all things related to changing the gender gap in the tech industry.

With an amazing turnout rate of over 70 women, the ladies had plenty of time to meet new friends, reconnect over past programming projects and discuss new ideas. Sasha Laundy, founder of Women Who Code, kicked off the event by announcing that over 400 female coders have joined WWCode since it began in late September. She also announced the first WWCode expansion to the South Bay with an inaugural Hack Night at Hacker Dojo on November 14, an amazing accomplishment.

Lightning Talks is an event where women sign up to give a short five minute talk. The topics presented during this event ranged from live coding with Node.js to salary negotiations. Participation and discussion was lively with great questions from the audience and live tweeting with the #wwcode hashtag.

Some of the highlights of the night included Judy Tuan’s demo of Portal 2 with the Kinect, Krys Freeman’s talk about her experience as a non-developer in building and launching her first app, BettaSTOP, and Sarah Allen’s thoughts on being a software engineer. After all the planned lightning talks were given, a handful of women stood up and gave their own talks, which ranged from impromptu pitches on projects they were working on to general announcements in the tech industry.

At the end of the night, everyone left with new friends, perhaps a slightly longer Twitter follower list, and new insights into the tech world. We would like to give a big thank you to our sponsors of the event. Twilio provided the food and drinks, and pariSoma donated the wonderful space.

Nine lightning talks were given during this first event. Below is a short description of each of the talks.

Sarah Allen (@ultrasaurus) talked about being a software engineer. According to Sarah, it takes courage. “Software engineering is the only career where you are expected to do things you have never done before and you have to predict how long it will take.” Running into a bug is at once the most exciting and frustrating of moments, but Sarah suggested that’s what software engineers love.

Sarah Mei (@sarahmei) demoed her side project, Diaspora, an open source social network. She explained that what “we value is human interaction and not data mining”. This belief motivated her to change the gender field on their app to a text box and not a drop down menu. Detractors argued that this “was going to make her data really messy” but she said that’s not point.

Roxane Williams (@roxanew) provided the women in attendance with negotiation tips because “the income gap between women and men is strongly affected by the way you negotiate your salary”. Her key advice was that you should do your research, know what you want, and don’t be afraid to ask. In the end, see negotiating as a win-win because “they want you, and you want to be paid what your worth.”

Sarah Jane Morris (@sarahjanemorris) talked about bridging the gap between developers and non-developers. Sarah stressed the importance of building a strong company culture and suggested strategies such as the “Commander’s Intent” and “Daily Scrum”. Participation is important and everyone should feel that they can take ownership of team success.

Krys Freeman (@bLaKtivist) discussed her experience in building and launching her first app, BettaSTOP as a non-developer. BettaSTOP is powered by Twilio through text messages and gives users the opportunity to give feedback on the buses they take on AC Transit. Krys came up with this idea through her direct experience riding public transit. When she proposed the idea at a Code for Oakland event, a team of about ten people came together to help her develop the first iteration of the app.

Judy Tuan (@judytuna) showed the group how to play Portal 2 on Kinect. After describing the inferred system of Kinect and the mapping process of gestures with commands, Judy stood in front of the Kinect and used different motions to control her Portal character.

Michelle Robbins (@michelle_olivia) suggested approaching a career like a startup. Her three tips were:

  1. To imagine your role and show other companies that they need it.
  2. Let go of yourself. You are not always going to be praised and liked.
  3. Stop waiting to take risks.

Emily Leather (@eleather) explained that software engineering isn’t just about writing code. Emily points out that, as a software engineer, it is also really important to consider your users’ requirements, to design your project, to collaborate with others, and to process feedback. Additionally, she stressed the importance of maintenance, scaling, and documentation while programming.

Heather Arthur (@harthvader) demonstrated using Node.js by live coding an app. It displayed a Growl notification anytime there was a new tweet that included the #wwcode hashtag. Node.js is “like javascript on the command line” because instead of having access to a webpage and the document, you can write code on the server side with access to your file system.

Thank you to all our speakers. This event was a success because of you.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Elaine Tsai is excited about well designed, disruptive innovations that drive social change. When she is not busy learning to code in Ruby or organizing “Hack Nights for Beginners”, she is supporting socially-conscious organizations. Previously, Elaine founded the CA$H Coalition chapter at Bowdoin College, a volunteer income tax assistance program, and served in AmeriCorps with New Sector Alliance. Visit her at Follow her on Twitter at @etsaii.