When Annie Caron and Laurence de Villers realized they were among the only female members of their classes at École de technologie supérieure (ETS), they felt that wasn’t right. Since then, the two have become the driving forces behind getting Google’s Women Techmakers event to Montreal.
“We are both from this school and when I graduated, I was the only woman out of a hundred, and it was the same for Laurence — I think there were actually two women. I said there’s really a problem, and the school agreed to host.”
Now in its second year, Women Techmakers Montreal is part of a program created by Google to celebrate International Women’s Day and to highlight the talent of women in technology. There were over 200 global events across 52 countries.
The main focus of the initiative is to build up a community of talented and passionate women techmakers, to increase the visibility of the Montreal technology community, and honour women in technology at the same time.
Caron thinks it’s important to show more women that technology is a career suited for them, and also welcomes men to come to this event where they can learn about the challenges faced by women.
“Men simply don’t see it,” said de Villers. Her brother, who also works in technology and attended both this year and last year’s conferences, told her that he’s heard women talk about things that he never realized they have to deal with.
With two tracks: one focused on technical talks, the other on soft skills, attendees could learn about game design, artificial intelligence, and WebVR, or hear about other women technologists’ experiences of personal growth, how to prevent burnout, and even how to do a great technical talk.
Heidi Waterhouse, a technical documentation consultant from Minnesota, was excited to speak at a conference aimed at strengthening women techmakers by bringing together an inclusive community.
“There’s been this coalition of ideas around not regretting that we are women in technology, but figuring out how to help each other maximize our community and our skills. I like that it’s not “Wow, we’re oppressed,” but “Hey, we’ve got some stuff to overcome and we’re going to help each other.”
Waterhouse came to Montreal specifically because of the second track focused on people and not just their technical skills.
“I was talking about technology and mental health, and it’s often difficult to get technical conferences to accept that. It is getting better, though: more conferences and more communities recognize that they need to be talking about people as a whole, people rather than just a collection of skills.”
Alpa Jayesh Shah, a data analysis intern at Shopify, was impressed by the entire setup, including a daycare and a turnout of about 20 percent male attendees. “The whole thing is so encouraging,” she said. “When I came to this conference, I found how similar these women are to me, and how my thinking is not so unconventional. I’m normal. That’s the reassurance I got.”
“I feel like the more that women do these talks, the more women will want to do these talks because they’ll have role models up there,” said Kenza Iraki, an iOS developer with startup mobile agency Samsao. “It really inspired me to do talks myself.”
For both Caron and de Villers, the attendees’ reactions make them feel it’s been a great success and worth the work.
“People seem inspired,” said Caron. “I heard people say they want to start to learn to code. Hearing that is enough for me.”