I went to the 2013 Linux Plumbers Conference, held in New Orleans from September 18 – 20. I have attended Linux conferences before, but this was my first one as Anna. Needless to say, I was nervous going in that first day. It’s a good thing I didn’t have anything to worry about!
The first thing I noticed was that suddenly people were talking to me. This actually started on the plane, the gentleman sitting next to me was also attending the LPC. He started chatting with me shortly before landing, and then we split a cab to the hotel. I don’t remember people talking to me that easily when I was traveling as a guy, so this was a big win for me! I guess a cheerful, geeky girl is more approachable than somebody desperately trying to be a guy?
While wandering booths one day a recruiter called me over. He said he had seen me earlier and wanted to talk with me to see if I wanted to “spread my wings” and apply at his company. I’m happy where I work now, so I told him I wasn’t interested in switching. He seemed a bit disappointed by my answer, but I doubt his ability to find me another job hacking on the Linux kernel. Besides, I like my coworkers and I have no reason to leave! I wonder how much of his interest in me is because I’m a female developer? The conference was mostly attended by males, so any female is bound to stand out from the crowd.
I also noticed a difference in how people were treating me Thursday night, during my private dinner with Trond Myklebust and Linus Torvalds. When we arrived at our table, Linus pulled out my chair and pushed it in for me while I was sitting. Then the waitress approached us and stated “What would you like to drink? Ladies first” and then turned to me. I ordered my usual iced tea without comments from anybody in attendance. I guess it’s abnormal for a guy to choose not to drink, but it’s okay for a girl? As a side note, during dinner Trond was asking if some “identity matching” script would break if somebody changed their name and email address all at the same time since I’m currently in the process of changing my name. Linus mentioned that there was once a kernel hacker that changed their gender, and that caused a few problems with matching up the new identity to their original one. He then turned to me and said something like “If you’re just changing your name, that’s fine. If you become a guy then we’ll have problems”. I eventually pointed out that I’m actually going the other way.
There was a closing dinner for LPC attendees on Friday. I was wearing a Pi shirt all day, and I assume that got some attention. During dinner I made my way up to the dessert table at the same time as another developer who had shown up in a pirate hat. I said hi, and we talked for a bit before he put the hat on my head, looked at me and said “it looks better on you”. I doubt that exchange would have happened had I still been male.
I feel that attending as a female was more rewarding than when I attended as a male. I was noticed, people talked to me, and I had more fun. I’m already looking forward to next year!