One of my proudest achievements as Mayor of Appsterdam is the diversity of the ecosystem we’ve built. Not only has that led to a technology festival founded by a woman, we regularly have 40-60% female attendance at our events. That means in an industry that struggles to attract its fair share of women, we’ve experienced female majority.
We’ve grown past simply scratching our heads and wondering where the women are. We’ve learned from the people who’ve tried simply lunging at women, or using reverse discrimination to solve this problem. We’ve come up with a methodology that is not only easy on the soul, but provably effective. It boils down to the same trick we use to make great products: provide a great experience for everyone.
Put yourself in the shoes of a young woman interested in programming. She walks into the computer science club and is greeted by a pack of sweaty, staring males with less than average social graces. Can you blame her for turning tail and never looking back?
The first problem we have to solve is breaking up that pack of sweating, misbehaving males, which still exists, except now the clubhouse is a bar. And the thing is, the girls are trying to get in, if only on account of how much whining we do that there are no women around, but they’re still being turned around.
If every other person in the bar was a woman, women would immediately feel more comfortable. When people bring their significant others to technology events, we have a much more diverse crowd, and women instantly feel more comfortable. I hate to say it, but this also keeps the men in line, as their girls will smack them if they start acting out.
I no longer agree to speak at events that aren’t willing to buy two coach tickets. Encouraging your speakers and attendees to bring their partners improves the diversity of your conference. It can be the crucial element in the community building that makes a great conference.
It’s as simple as letting people bring their partners for free. Most of them will only show up for the parties and do something else during the day. If you want to be super cool, you can organize some fun stuff for the non-techies to do in town while the nerds get their nerd on. The best way to a nerd’s heart is through their partner.
Welcoming partners to your conference not only makes for a better show, it makes it easier to show up in the first place. There are a lot of shows happening these days, and having to leave your partner behind is a major reason not to go to yet another tech conference.
One other thing: if we want to make women feel welcome, we need to stop discriminating. Nobody I know in the industry considers themselves sexist, but they still discriminate against women for things other than being a woman. Prime example: we tend to look down on people in marketing. Guess where all the women went who were turned away from computer science? Marketing is like 90% female.
By welcoming all people, by seeking to find something in common with everyone, we improve the experience for everyone. The end result is not just a gimmick, but evidence of a larger phenomenon, a rich diversity perfect for training a new generation of entrepreneurs, independents, and employees, all thinking on a global scale. That’s just good business.
It’s been interesting seeing people’s reactions to my announcement that I’m giving Appsterdam to the App Makers. Most people are happy to see me take a break, excited to see what I come up with next, but a little worried how the organization will fare without me. I appreciate the concern, but let me assure you, it’s misplaced.
First, because it’s not really about me stepping down as much as it is me setting an example that I hope leads this community organization into being run and led by the community, and not a set group of people. There is no permanent leadership class in Appsterdam—just people taking their turn, ready to serve.
Second, because I’m not really going anywhere. I’m just changing my focus to longer-term goals. I did the doing for a while, then I did the teaching. Now I’m ready to teach the teachers. The success of a generation is not judged by its children, but by its grandchildren, so I’m giving the reins over to a new generation while I’m still around to guide them.
There are more, less obvious changes in the works as well. I’m cutting my speaking schedule way back, to about a quarter of what it is now. Instead, I’m going to be dedicating a lot more time to the Appsterdam Speaker Bureau, meeting demand for my stage presence with an army of even better speakers.
Like I said before, we’re all about results. When the work done by the volunteers of the Appsterdam Foundation pays off, the ecosystem they have built inspires new creativity. Where before the dreams of the community were met with calls of “not possible,” at Appsterdam gatherings they found support, inspiration, and likeminded individuals, to build their own engines of change.
I’ve already told you about the Appsterdam embassies, local implementations of our open source movement, starting in Delft, then spreading to Warsaw, Milan, and now a number of other cities. It won’t be long now before every city with App Makers has their own version of Appsterdam.
I’ve already told you about Apps for the Planet, the on-going hacktivist collective founded by Casper Koomen whose events are not just about the joy of getting together to work on projects, but in focusing those efforts to make the world a better place. I was most impressed when they teamed up with Pachube to teach people how to program the Arduino by having them build air quality monitors.
Now it is my very great pleasure to introduce you to Appril, a month-long festival of App Making born right here in Appsterdam and driven by the amazing Jacqueline de Gruyter and her team of volunteers. When I look at all they’ve built, and how many people they’re brought together, in just a few short months—and I think about a very determined Jacqueline at many an Appsterdam event, overcoming setbacks and making things happen—it fills my eyes with tears, and my heart with pride.
If you’re looking for a chance to change the world, to become a teacher, to join people like Casper Koomen and Jacqueline de Gruyter in the pantheon of future heroes of Appsterdam, now is the time. Whether you’re bringing your knowledge to Europe, or bringing your experiences in Europe to the world there’s never been a better time, or a better place, to take up the mantle of knowledge.
We’ve called for pilgrims. We’ve called for students. Now we’re calling for teachers. We want Appsterdam to be a bright shining beacon in dark times ahead, but we can’t do it alone. We’re trying to solve the world’s problems, one app at a time, and we could sure use your help.
One thing working at Apple taught me is that if you don’t have data to confirm what you’ve done, you haven’t done anything. That’s why when Apple makes a promise, a bond on their reputation, they don’t just pay some contractor to meet their obligations. They send a team of inspectors to make sure things actually get done. If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.
The Appsterdam Foundation was not the first team to try to build a technical destination in Amsterdam. Hell, we weren’t even the first people to use the name Appsterdam to describe such an idea. The existing idea, which had been floundering around in some way, shape, or form for over a decade, just sort of got applied to us. We’re not the first, but we are fundamentally different, in some very important ways.
First, we eschew simplistic solutions that are either too top-down, or too explosive to effect real change. We believe that technology is fundamentally a people problem. Likewise, we believe that technologists are people, too. Therefore we appeal directly to the community of our peers. There are no easy or one-time solutions to building a tech community. Building anything worthwhile takes getting your hands dirty on a grassroots level.
Second, we believe optimization requires profiling. You can’t claim to be making things better—especially at public expense—unless you can actually prove that you’re making things better. This is why, before ever taking a dime from the government, we’ve started a research project with the University of Amsterdam to gather and visualize the data behind our tech community.
We’re going to show you not only who’s operating in this ecosystem, but who’s moved here, and who’s visiting here, because of Appsterdam. We’re different because we produce results, and we know this because we gather data. Building a better tech community isn’t art, it’s science, and the work we’re doing to reverse engineer the fundamental algorithms of our ecosystem are meant to be reused anywhere.
We are not just people who believe in our ability to change the world, we’ve proven it. Moreover, we’ve proven that in solving the world’s problems, money inevitably follows. It is not in chasing money that wealth is acquired; it is in making a dent in the universe that immortality is acquired. That’s what money can’t buy.