Don't dream it, be it

2013-12-24 12:07
After two years in a row of receiving 120 submissions for Berlin Buzzwords from the usual crowd - young, white, male, caucasian - only this year we decided we needed to work towards increasing diversity.One piece in the puzzle was to get in touch with several Berlin local "tech for non-tech" people groups. In a content exchange kind of setting I was asked to do an interview as some kind of role model.

In addition to a serious lack of time back then I felt the typical way these interviews go would do no good - even anyone who's in IT already learning I co-founded Apache Mahout, am a member of the Apache Software foundation, have co-founded Berlin Buzzwords (after running quite a few successful meetups around related topics in Berlin), am married to a Linux kernel developer tends to shy away (unless the person I'm talking to happens to be into OSS development themselves thus knowing that despite quite some work this also means having lots of fun).

However the invitation did get me started thinking about what kind of advise I would share with the next generation of hackers. Over time though I realised that what was most helpful for me doesn't only apply to those who want to become successful in IT. On first sight it sounds like an extremely easy to follow advise:



Once upon a time after coming back from the Kindergarden provided by my mom's employer I spent part of an afternoon in front of a computer in an office close the hers. The game was trivial: Direct a little Snake through a maze, collect items, avoid biting yourself or the walls.

Years in primary school I got to play with the computer of one of my relatives. Ever since beating their highscore I wanted a computer for myself. When I finally got a first computer on my own I used to play lots of games together with a good friend of mine - until the game supply for my Amiga 500 dried out. Back then I made a decision: To work towards simply coding my own games. Ever since I followed this tiny little dream - by now for almost twenty years.

Even despite the fact I got all support I could wish for from parents, teachers and university professors seen from the outside it may have seemed like not always being easy as pie: More often than not it meant being different - instead of being part of the "I don't know what I want to do after school" it meant being part of that small group of people who know what they are working for. Instead of being part of that large "I hate technology and I'm utterly bad at math" it meant being part of that tiny group of people who love math and who have fun dealing with any new technology.

Instead of being at one of those great parties for New Year's Eve it meant filling in the details of a project proposal a few hours before midnight. Instead of being home at 6p.m. it meant going to meetups more often than not. Instead of being home during weekends it meant flying to California for a conference on a weekend on my private budget. Despite getting 2.5 days a week from March to June to work on Berlin Buzzwords from my employer for the first two years and having lots of help and knowledge over at newthinking who did the heavy lifting of taking on the financial risk, managing registrations, booking the venue and handling speaker travel support it still meant lots of additional mornings, evenings and weekends spent on making the event fly (and an inbox that never went silent - neither at noon nor at midnight - hint: any mail you send to info@berlinbuzzwords ends up not only in an anonymous mailing list - every organiser including Simon Willnauer, Daniela Bentrup and myself will receive your mail and make sure it gets dealt with).

There are a couple of reasons I kept doing this kind of stuff. But I guess the most influential reason is simply that it also is a whole lot of fun for me.

There were several fellow students at school who didn't have the courage to follow their dreams from the very start: There's the girl who was teased into studying biology by her parents - only years later she had the courage to go for professional gardening. There's this guy who didn't know exactly what to do and followed many of his friends to study mechanical engineering. Months later he pivoted towards social sciences and politics, today working on a PhD. thesis on economics in German hospitals. There's the girl who successfully passed her math degree but really also wanted to follow her musical passion - in the end she went to study music in addition to become a math and music teacher.

It takes determination and courage to follow your dreams - especially if that means following a different path than what your parents had on their mind for you or following a path that doesn't quite fit into the cliché of what society has in mind for you*. However in my statistically absolutely non-significant, completely biased and personal opinion it's worth every effort.

* Sorry for as long as it is special to love repairing cars for a girl and to love working in child day care for a boy I don't believe in society not influencing career decisions.