AdaCamp DC final report: "The experience profoundly changed me"

AdaCamp attendees © Adam Novak

"AdaCamp DC was a fantastic experience, one of the best conferences I've been to!" – Anonymous AdaCamper

AdaCamp is an unconference for women in open technology and culture and the people who support them. About 100 people attended the AdaCamp DC, held on July 10 – 11, 2012 in Washington, DC. AdaCamp is organized by the Ada Initiative, a non-profit devoted to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture, which includes open source software, Wikipedia and related projects, fan fiction, and more.

A huge thank you to all of our sponsors who made AdaCamp DC possible: the Wikimedia Foundation, the Linux Foundation, Intel, Facebook, Red Hat, Collabora, Yammer, GitHub, Twitter, SocialCode, Google, NetApp, and Adafruit.

Impact of AdaCamp DC: "The experience profoundly changed me"

Many people were inspired and re-energized by AdaCamp DC, and left with new motivation to both participate in open tech/culture and to work to make it more supportive of women. One attendee told us, "The experience profoundly changed me. I'm looking into volunteer and educational opportunities that I would not have considered before attending AdaCamp. And I really want to share what I'm doing." Another says, "[One of the best things about AdaCamp was] learning about imposter syndrome and making the connection of how we hold other women back by not promoting our knowledge [...] Hugely important stuff — probably life altering in my case."

Leslie Birch, AdaCamper © Adam Novak

Leslie Birch says, "I'm leaving with new tools like IRC, bug trackers and mentor lists. I have a new found desire to reach out to other women that identify as "geek", "feminist" or both. And most of all, I've created partnerships that will lead to exciting workshops at our hacker space."

Another attendee says, "AdaCamp was a phenomenal event! I'm grateful to the Ada Initiative and AdaCamp attendees for helping me stay inspired to fight for open tech, open culture, and women's involvement in both."

In our survey of AdaCamp attendees (45% response rate), 93% said their goals in attending AdaCamp were met well or very well, and 91% said they would definitely recommend AdaCamp to others.

About the attendees

About 100 people attended, who lived in at least 10 countries, including Japan, India, Myanmar, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Australia, the UK, Canada, and the US.

We worked hard to make AdaCamp DC diverse in many different ways. Some statistics from our post-conference survey (45% response rate):

AdaCamp DC attendees © Adam Novak

  • 25% listed their race or ethnicity as other than white or Caucasian
  • 28% were born outside the United States
  • 19% spoke a language other than English as their first language
  • 49% were not employed as programmers or IT specialists
  • 22% were students, professors or researchers

Travel scholarships were very important in increasing diversity in many different ways: geography, language, income, age, culture, and race. We thank all of the AdaCamp DC sponsors for making it possible for us to award 11 travel grants!

AdaCamp DC welcomed people of all genders and sexuality. From one attendee: "I LOVED learning about new things and the diversity of attendees. I found the prominence of the LGBTQ community very inspiring."

AdaCamp DC attendees © Adam Novak

Women of all ages are creating and using open technology and culture and we were happy to have a wide range of ages at AdaCamp. About one quarter of attendees were 25 years of age or younger, and about one fifth were over 40 years of age, with the remainder evenly distributed between ages 26 to 40. Our youngest attendee was 18 years of age.

What we did

Most of AdaCamp DC was in unconference format – people suggested session topics and went to the sessions they were most interested in. Many of the sessions were round-table discussions, but exceptions include a Python tutorial, a self-defense lesson, and a presentation on the GNOME Outreach Program for Women.

AdaCamp DC attendees © Adam Novak

Lunch was an hour and a half long, allowing longer, more casual conversations. Each day ended with a feedback session. The first evening, people went out to dinner in groups of about 8, organized around interests like operating systems, yarn and fiber arts, and hackerspaces. Dinner sponsors included Azavea, Facebook, Red Hat, Wikimedia Foundation, Intel, and Mozilla.

We ran over 65 sessions over 2 days, and over 40 of the sessions were documented on PiratePad. One attendee wrote, "I attended sessions on Imposter Syndrome, Burn Out, Lifehacking, and Setting Boundaries and Saying No. It was AWESOME. I arrived at AdaCamp well aware that I am currently burnt out and have difficulty setting boundaries, but I had no idea 1) just how burnt out I am, 2) the extent to which Imposter Syndrome affects me on a daily basis, 3) how much I desperately needed to attend these sessions, 4) how many other women have experienced similar issues and therefore have useful advice. I feel as if I've returned to my regular life with dramatically increased motivation and clarity. Thank you!"

AdaCampers from Philadelphia © Adam Novak

The Impostor Syndrome session was so popular that it ran four separate times. Connie Berardi says, "I had no idea how prevalent imposter syndrome was among women. It was mind-blowing to see these movers and shakers in our industry relate to feeling unaccomplished. When the entire room raised their hands to declare war on this phenomenon, I was truly moved. I might have come alone… but I left with an army."

Another attendee wrote, "[One of the best things about AdaCamp was] learning about imposter syndrome and making the connection of how we hold other women back by not promoting our knowledge — whether written, in media or by teaching. Also evaluating the language we use in this area, to be sure we are sounding confident and not making disclaimers. Hugely important stuff — probably life altering in my case."

All of the session notes were transferred to the Geek Feminism wiki by Sara Smollett, where they will be migrated into long-term pages as appropriate.

Networking and building support groups

AdaCamp DC attendees © Adam Novak

Many people appreciated the informal and supportive environment. One attendee wrote, "The informality made the sessions non-intimidating especially when the subject was unfamiliar and in a non-formal setting, I think it's easier for women–and it definitely was for me–to ask questions or add to the subject without the socialized pressure to remain silent. I wasn't afraid to be wrong about something if I said anything, because the point was to not to teach, which is by nature less interactive, than for everyone to learn."

Another person says, "I'm a shy person, so the first day was really difficult for me, but at the first session I realized that I was among not only amazingly smart women, but also very generous people. The imposter's syndrome session was empowering. The hands-on python session made me giggle with delight at discovering something new. The session on how to get involved in open source projects was an epiphany. I've already found a project that I want to get involved in!"

Leslie Birch says, "It made me feel a lot better that I wasn't alone. In the end, I do think that is the AdaCamp experience in a nutshell — realizing that none of us are alone and in fact, we are strong when working together."

Blog posts

Many AdaCamp attendees wrote blog posts about their experience.

Pamela Chestek, AdaCamper

Pamela Chestek, an intellectual property expert at Red Hat, wrote about AdaCamp for OpenSource.com. "The beauty of a conference for people who are all part of a large minority within in a field is that no one had to be that "representative." We were free to ask questions about things we didn't know or didn't understand, without carrying the weight of an entire group of people on our shoulders. Which meant that we could learn more and explore more—which meant that all of us walked away knowing something (and probably a lot of somethings) we didn't know before."

Fembot Collective posted a comprehensive overview of AdaCamp, including a collection of favorite quotes. Some of my favorite quotes included: [...] If you feel worthy to attend the imposter syndrome session, please go to…"

Maírín Duffy wrote three blog posts, AdaCamp: The Magic Wand Session (Day 1, Session 1), AdaCamp: Kill Yer Boss and Take His Job (Day 1, Session 2)
, and AdaCamp: Geek Moms (Day 1, Session 3). From "Kill Yer Boss": "Despite the provocative name, this wasnt a session about murder. [...] The main goal was to talk about why there is a 'glass ceiling' for women who have ambitions to work their way up the corporate ladder, and to brainstorm some strategies for busting through it."

Joseph Reagle and Christine Spang in discussion at AdaCamp DC

Joseph Reagle and Christine Spang in discussion at AdaCamp DC. © Maírín Duffy 2012. Licensed CC-BY-SA

Andrea Horbinski, committee chair of the Organization for Transformative Works, wrote about her experience at AdaCamp DC. From her list of takeaways: "Destroy all silos. Open stuff is not served by people not communicating, or by people remaining in their (literal or metaphorical) bunkers and silos working solely on their own thing."

Chit Thiri Maung, a Mozilla Rep from Myanmar, wrote about her trip to AdaCamp DC. "I was used to live 'Listen and [Agree]' environment. But during this AdaCamp they teach me [ideas like] 'Stand Up and Speak out' for our Opinion."

OpenGeo blogged about all the open tech/culture conferences their employees attended this summer. Camille Acey attended AdaCamp DC. "She felt privileged to be a among 100 women from around the world selected to attend the event. The conference was highlighted by two-days of illuminating discussions and brainstorming sessions on initiatives to increase the involvement and status of women in 'open stuff'. She brought back many ideas and suggestions that were eager to hear more about."

Netha Hussein, AdaCamper

Netha Hussain, a medical student and active Wikipedian, wrote about her trip to the U.S. for AdaCamp and Wikimania: "Flying 19 hours with 7 hour transit just for a three day stay at the US is worth it only if you are planning to do something big. My three day trip to the US, with two of the days spent at the Ada Camp was worth it as every moment spent with the Ada campers was highly stimulating."

Future AdaCamps

Anasuya and Gayle, AdaCampers © Adam Novak

AdaCamp DC was so successful and inspiring that we are committed to holding more AdaCamps in the future, as often as we have time and funding to do so. Attendees suggested many different places for the next AdaCamp, including Berlin, India, and the San Francisco Bay area. We don't have firm plans for the next AdaCamp yet but will announce as soon as we do. If you'd like to be notified of the next AdaCamp, sign up to our announcement mailing list or follow us on Twitter.

Thank you to all of the AdaCamp DC attendees and AdaCamp DC sponsors for helping us run a fantastic conference! We couldn't have done it without you.

AdaCamp DC attendees © Adam Novak


The Ada Initiative thanks our AdaCamp DC sponsors for making the event possible.

Thank you to our Gold level sponsor the Wikimedia Foundation.

Thank you to our Silver level sponsors: the Linux Foundation, Intel, Facebook, Red Hat, Collabora and Yammer.