wuz.sh

Build Something That Makes a Difference

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This post is still in the early stages. Beware - here be mental dragon!

This was a post I wrote almost a year ago. I just now am getting around to sharing it.
If you didn’t know, Codeland is online this year! Check it out!

I’m back from Codeland, and I’ve had some time to sleep and decompress. I had an inspiring and fulfilling weekend in NYC.

I spent 5 days in NYC and had an absolutely fantastic time. I explored the city - hanging out with some old friends and making some great new ones.

The conference, Codeland, was an exceptional experience! I met so many great people and heard talks that inspired and encouraged me.

The morning started out with some talks. Luna Malbroux gave a lively introduction to EquiTable, a bill-splitting app born out of a comedy code jam. The app illustrates the intersection of comedy, technology, and inclusion. One of the big takeaways for me was that we are obligated to build inclusivity into the tools we work on. Her jokes had the crowd roaring and really hit home that this conference was going to be something different.

Pedro Cruz gave an incredible talk on his work using drones to aid the victims of natural disasters. That talk reminded me that there are incredible things that we can be doing with technology. Unless we work to experience the wider world community, we can’t make those things inclusive and innovative.

After this, I jumped to my workshop, where I met some great devs from the Midwest and hacked on an IoT chip. I haven’t done hardware related stuff in a while, and I really enjoyed it! From there, it was off to lunch and into the next set of talks.

The second set of talks kicked off with Ali Spittel, who discussed why developers should think about blogging. Her journey started last year when she began writing blog posts to help her learn new things. One of the best ways to give back to the development community is to write.

Up next, Omayeli Arenyeka gave a talk on building a gendered dictionary. The talk was pretty technical, covering where she got her data and how she merged it all together. The end result was a dictionary that showed which words in the English language are gendered - things like king and queen. The dictionary lives online and is an incredible look into how our language shapes our thoughts. Why do we often think that “doctor” is a “male” word? What would our world be like if we started thinking and communicating without gendered language?

Michael Winslow gave a fascinating talk on the challenge of programming a cross-fade. There are tons of implications to consider when fading out one song and fading in another. This talk was technical, fun, and inspiring. There are so many interesting problems out there that we could solve with technology if we give it a shot.

Art Meets Algorithms, given by Kristen Webster, was a fascinating look at how we can use computers to create art that would be impossible for a human to create by hand. Algorithms have an inherent structure and beauty to them, which we can use to create fascinating art.

The last talk in this set was from Jo-Wayne Josephs, who spoke about her experience as an LGBTQ+ immigrant to the US. She shared her story of coming to the US, trying to find work while waiting for asylum, and finally being granted asylum here. It’s unbelievable all the things immigrants have to go through to live, work, and improve themselves here. One major takeaway I had from this is that a functional diversity and inclusion program should include resources for people looking for asylum or citizenship. There are tons of great organizations out there and even just having a list of the ones that might be helpful is a significant first step.

We had a break here, where we met with the conference sponsors. I met some inspiring folks from Github, and a company called Raise.dev, who are creating an impressive way to help new developers work on real projects and learn real-world development skills.

Finally, we all came back into the theatre to hear a talk from Scott Hanselman about building an artificial pancreas. There were some incredible technical pieces to this talk - from Bluetooth and radio communications to building applications to help monitor glucose levels. However, to me, the most critical part of the talk was how it inspired developers to find something that seems set or unchangeable and use technology to change it. The proprietary technology that powers glucose monitors doesn’t speak to the technology that powers insulin pumps, so some intrepid hackers made a device that bridges that gap. There are so many problems out there that could be improved with technology.

I think my favorite takeaway from the conference was a joke line from Michael Winslow’s talk on building cross-fade technology. In talking about being a DJ and channeling a bit of Uncle Ben, he said, “With great volume, comes great responsibility.”
I know what was meant by this line at the time, but I think it sums up the conference better than I ever could. In the world of tech, we tend to forget just how much volume we have. When Facebook “moves fast and breaks things,” they do so at the expense of those unable to be broken. When we limit our intake of immigrants through draconian immigration law, we miss out on the incredible people that want to make our country better. We exist in a noisy industry, and we have a responsibility to use that volume in the right way.