By Linh Le
I first learned about the Venture Out conference and career fair at an event at the Parkdale Innovation Centre where I met a girl who was part of their volunteer committee. She told me about the organization and its awesome initiatives for the LGBTQ+ people in the tech industry, primarily producing events and conferences that connect LGBTQ+ people in tech to each other and to industry professionals and organizations. It sounded exciting and I was determined to go home and look them up. Fast forward to a couple of weeks later and I’m sitting in front of my computer, mouse in hand, ready to click on the confirmation button to attend their career fest. As someone who is still very much closeted, making that kind of decision was terrifying and completely out of character. Networking was something I struggled with in the past and still do today, throw in the fact that I wasn’t “out” yet was a real recipe for disaster. It was only natural for me to want to close that browser and call it a day—but I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve been to networking events before, but Venture Out was different. Of course I was nervous, but at the same time my excitement to be with other people who are just like me far outweighed my nervousness. It wasn’t just another social mixer or educational event—it was all that and more. The queer community have always welcomed allies and supporters, so it was great to see a diverse crowd in tech show up.
Having recently graduated from Bitmaker’s UX & Product Design bootcamp program, I’ve learned that good UX involves showing your work and getting feedback constantly. With much practice, I’ve learned to let go of the fear of rejection and being judged. I was welcoming change in all areas of my life and forced myself to sign up to as many networking events as possible after graduation because that was the only way to get some networking practice and break my “introvert” habit. The good news is that all of the hard work and putting aside my worries benefited me in the long run. I’ve learned that we’re all human enough to make mistakes everyday and most people are in the same boat as myself who also struggle with their own problems daily.
Enrolling in the bootcamp was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. I had taken a brief break from the creative world and had zero knowledge about UX but I figured it was something that aligned with my graphic design background, so getting into it made perfect sense. With all the talk about how Canada, particularly Toronto, is becoming the hot tech-hub that’s attracting talented and creative minds from all over the world, I was more eager to dive head first into the unknown world of UX and see where it would lead me career-wise. Big and small companies were promoting buzzwords like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ so I knew this was definitely the type of field I wanted to get into.
My first day at Venture Out didn’t feel like I was out exploring a foreign place all on my own. As strange as it sounds, it felt like coming home. It was a really special moment for me to walk through the space and find everyone comfortable with who they were and learning about the many different companies promoting their values and culture. For example, the first talk from Andreas Souvaliotis, founder of the Carrot Rewards, Canada’s most popular wellness app and the world’s first national health rewards program, was about how diversity is important in today’s workplace, because the more perspectives a team has, the better the final product will be. His personal story of coming out and his struggles to fit in as a normal kid growing up really resonated with me. His book Misfit (which I’m currently reading) advocates accepting and leveraging your quirks and edges so that you can bring uniqueness into your personal and professional brands/selves/lives for the better.
It’s mind-blowing how there is so much possibility now as human connectedness is as easy as a simple click or push of a button. We may not be living in a perfect world right now and there’s still much work to do, but it’s incredibly moving to know there are still people out there creating and designing things for causes greater than themselves. The “Tech for Social Good” panel was a great example of that, showcasing projects by organizations tackling social problems like homelessness, gender equality and mental health, to name a few.
During Q&A after his talk, Andreas answered a question about how to deal with negativity and people who promote fear and hate in the world. His response was to simply let them catch up with the rest of society. Yes, there’s still homophobia, racism, sexism and capitalism and worse, but the general direction of where society is going is up and away from all of that, and the enlightened are the ones who know it first. I couldn’t agree more. Naysayers and bullies may be loud in their words and grab headlines every now and then, but in the grand scheme of things theirs are only a few small voices carrying temporary weight. Let’s amplify our brighter inner voices to show the world that the best way to deal with all the negativity is by being more kind and empathetic even when it’s inconvenient, because at the end of the day, love wins.
I had come to the conference as nervous, scared and a little bit lost. But I left with a newfound confidence and motivation to give back to my community. I am inspired by those who are courageous enough to be themselves and to live their truths everyday. If being myself can help inspire others in the LGBTQ+ tech community to do the same, then I consider that a great accomplishment. An excerpt from the foreword of Andrea’s book sticks with me in parting: “Harness the things that make you different in order to change your world for the better.” So, be yourself, continue being yourself, and help others be themselves. How do you plan to begin?
Linh Le is a product designer, astronomy enthusiast and active participant in numerous intersectional tech communities in Toronto, Canada. You can meet her at the Bitmaker General Assembly Hiring Fair on March 28th to watch her work alongside other alumni.