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The Effect of a Strange Loop

In September 2014, Thoughtworker Pamela Mori attended the Strange Loop conference in St Louis, US, to talk about emerging languages, libraries, web and topics around the technology industry.  

“The conference literally makes you feel like you are in a strange loop,” Pamela explained.

While the conference and talks were amazing, Pamela said that what impressed her the most was the focus on diversity and inclusivity by the conference organizers.

“I’m from Peru and currently work for Thoughtworks in Brasil,” she explained. “I was awarded a scholarship to attend, and I’m so glad I did.”

Strange Loop’s scholarship program provided support to women, people of color, and people with disabilities who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend Strange Loop for financial reasons. The number of women doubled from six percent in 2013 to 12 percent of attendees in 2014.

I recently talked with Pamela about the highlights from the conference and diversity in general at tech conferences.

Heather Malec: Tell me more about how this conference is different than others you have attended.

Pamela Mori: What stood out most for me was the creation of female role models. In comparison with other conferences I have attended, I wasn’t one of the only women.

By coincidence, more of the half of the talks I could attend had women speakers. This made a big difference to me. Those female presenters are now my role models and empower me to address new topics and paradigms I could not do before.

I'm hoping to see other conferences following this initiative.

HM: This conference draws people from around the world. Who did you meet?

PM: I met people with different backgrounds. The efforts for diversity made it possible to interact with people that I might not have had the opportunity to meet if not for the scholarship program.

It was a rich opportunity to get to know about new regions and the technologies they use and the issues and challenges they face. I have such a different reality coming from South America, so in the same way I could share about what’s happening in Brasil, my work with Thoughtworks and our initiatives with women, minorities and other communities.

The funniest thing was that I met for the first time, another Thoughtworker, also named Pamela [Ocampo], at the conference. She also speaks Spanish and we were chatting at check-in when a woman from Argentina joined in. It's rare that the first few people I would meet at a conference would be Spanish-speaking women! 

HM: What was the number one thing you learned and took back to Brasil with you?

PM: Strange Loop took me out of the box and exposed me to things I don’t see in my everyday of work as a software developer. It made it possible for me to connect the academics with the industry.

I met people who are creating new languages, making experiments or reevaluating how we have been approaching problems. One hundred percent of what I learned challenges me and renews my interest in technology.

My favorite inspirational talks were Julia Evans about being a hacker with Linux, making games with Haskell by Elise Huard, PureScript with Bodil Stoke, what can you do with Wolfram language by Stephen Wolfram and making robots dance with music at the shared Joy with Carin Meier and Sam Aaron.  All the talks are available on YouTube.

HM: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

PM: The best piece of career advice I received is if you want to be good at something, for example a new domain, a language, a technology, or finding the solution to a problem, you need to practice and try thousands of times.  You don’t have luck and you aren't born with gifts. I’m not saying this to discourage people but to create the right attitude and motivation. The excellents talks and presentations of research shown at the conference are a result of that.

More information: 
Read how Strange Loop’s organizers attracted more women and minorities to present and attend this year's conference. 

Pam Ocampo wrote a blog post on her experience at this year's conference. Check it out here http://pamo.github.io/words/2014/09/26/stl-faves.html. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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