Last month, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Izumi Okutani after TechGIRL Vol.5 in Tokyo, Japan.
I’ve been involved with TechGIRL from the beginning, having established that it is a fun place for women and men in the tech industry to come together to talk about technical and work/life interests.
Below is Izumi’s transcript of our interview, during which we talked about how TechGIRL all started, whether it’s hard for anyone to start such an event, and where we get our ideas from — including having a butler do the timekeeping for the Lightning Talks.
How did TechGirls start?
The event was inspired by Linux Group for Girls.
When this group was set up, the combination of “Linux” and “girls” was sensational, as the majority of participants in most study groups for Linux are men. However, I felt there were not many study groups where women got the chance to share their experiences. I therefore wanted to make a place for women to practise presentations, and to create a community that is fun and female-centric.
The name comes from another event, TechLION, which is an event for hearing stories from engineers who are active on the frontline. It is a kingdom of engineers, as lions are the kings of all beasts.
What are you seeking to achieve through this community?
I want it to be a fun place. I also want it to be an open place where men can join in too. If you focus too much on “women”, there are some sensitive issues.
I didn’t want it to be a place which is difficult to participate, for those who are facing gender challenges. At the same time, it should not divert from the core objective, of being a place for female engineers to gain energy.
Was it hard to start?
My job is to support events for engineers, so it was not hard. I could find companies willing to provide the venue and people willing to help. We all helped each other to get it started. We use the event organizing tool Doorkeeper and also have people help spread the word through Twitter and the mailing list “Linux Group for Girls”. To attract interest, we also come up with catchphrases for each event.
Would it be hard for others to create such a community? What would be the key elements in organizing such events?
It is a must to find a host organization that can open up its office as a venue and one person who is committed to do the work. Involving a few other people who can support you is also important. You can start small at first. It is effective to use community event sites such as Doorkeeper and Connpass.
It is a challenge to find a venue each time, so the key is to be flexible. If the venue allows eating and drinking, and they have a projector, that is good enough.
Note: if you try to do too much for participants, it can be a burden, so keep the right balance. You can also ask participants to bring their own food, instead of the organizer arranging it.
How did you come up with the idea of having a butler do the timekeeping for presentations?
While we don’t see them much today, in the past, there was a culture in the Japanese engineering community of a “Gong Girl”, where a woman hits a gong when the time is up for presentations.
Since TechGIRL is an event for women, I have set a scene where female participants are well treated, and a butler serves does the time keeping. We put a call out to the community for a male who is willing to be a butler, and the man who acts as the butler also makes a presentation.
What are “On-the-spot Lightning Talks”?
We set aside time at each meeting to accommodate anyone who feels motivated by other presenters to make a presentation on the spot. Many of these on-the-spot speakers have prepared presentation slides but just need some courage to present, especially for the first time — the idea is not to force them to make up their mind at the time of registration.
Who can be a speaker?
Any engineer who is respected and actively engaged, anyone who is an interesting speaker or who can introduce an interesting world that is not getting much spotlight as it appears too plain and unexciting at a first glance. It can be about hobbies.
How long would you like to continue TechGIRL?
We constantly have people willing to present, so I would like to continue as long as presenters and members who help with organizing it enjoy it. I hope it serves as a place that gives energy and power, and is at the same time relaxing, because I am comforted by the smiles of female engineers.
What is your message for women in the industry who would like to start such a community?
Your willingness to do it is the most important thing. Everyone who is involved in organizing TechGIRL is doing it simply because they enjoy it.
Hiroko Kamata is the founder and organizer of TechGIRL.
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