It is safe to say that in 2020, nothing went the way we had imagined. Everyone around the world felt the changes a global pandemic brought with it and plans that were once made no longer existed. Not only our personal lives were disrupted, our work lives were as well. Whether it was the adjustment of working from home and the onset of virtual meetings, team activities, and even virtual parties, this year has really forced us to learn to go with the flow.
For us at Babbel, the changes could be felt across all teams. Our work lives had to be moved to a remote setting for an indefinite amount of time. Personally, I joined the company remotely, going through my onboarding from my living room, meeting my team one-by-one over video calls. Going through a remote onboarding process is one thing, attending a virtual conference is a whole other experience.
When I was asked if I wanted to attend the virtual 2020 Women in Tech conference along with other Babbelonians, I was curious how the organizers would try to convey to the audience that they are in fact at a conference. I had nothing to compare it to and went into the experience with an open mind.
The conference took place over an entire week from November 16 – 20. With over 250 speakers over 200 sessions to choose from, and speakers and attendees from over 65 countries, I was curious to see how it would all come together virtually.
Among the list of speakers were two of Babbel’s very own Femgineers, Aimee Nortje and Serena Hathi. For those that don’t know, the Femgineers is a Community of Practice that supports and enhances the roles and reach of women in tech at Babbel. Aimee and Serena presented not only as Femgineers, but also as Babbel Neos alumni. The Babbel Neos program is a fully immersive engineering mentorship program for career changers of which Serena was a part of in 2018, and was led by Aimee this past year. Their presentation mainly focused on one major idea: why diverse representation in tech matters and why it’s time to rethink the contributions of early career engineers. This topic called into question the experience that is expected of early-stage engineers, which routinely creates an environment in which junior engineers and their abilities are often overlooked and underutilized.
Here are a few of my key takeaways that I learned at this conference:
- Virtual booths are a thing: In order to connect with attendees and chat with potential applicants, the Babbel virtual booth served as a great way to get a conversation going. Similar to a chat room, we were able to answer questions and talk about all things Babbel.
- Effort is everything: What I love most about attending a conference is the excitement that comes with walking the halls, checking out the exhibitions and conference tracks, but also meeting people from all over the world and networking in an environment that feels natural. When all these factors are removed and translated into an online concept, individuals need to be committed to making the effort to reach out to others. For me, this meant doing my research on who was going, what I was interested in, and who would be the best person to speak to.
- Come with a game plan: One of the most challenging aspects of attending an online event was to know how to navigate the virtual exhibit hall. From the moment I logged in, I made sure to disconnect from work and really immerse myself in the experience. Since I was on my computer, it was tempting to check my email and Slack and if I hadn’t created a plan for myself and the different talks I wanted to attend, it might have been a bit overwhelming. The upside of the event having been virtual though was that all talks were recorded and could be watched at a later time. For me, this solved the problem of having to choose between two talks.
From the organizers having a life DJ complete with cocktail recipes to create at home, it is evident that a lot of love and attention to detail went into making something as unique as an in-person conference into a virtual experience. And while I enjoyed it overall, my hope for the next event is that it can happen in person again.
Last but not least, here are a few impressions from Babbel attendees: What stood out this year?
- Diversity and inclusion need to become a core value of any organization – Ewa Cabaj, Senior Employer Brand Manager
Throughout the festival, there were lots of talks given around the topic of D&I. One talk I really enjoyed was by Anu Gali, Engineering Leader at Uber. She spoke about how to create a culture that is inclusive and growth focused. She mentioned that diversity and inclusion go together all the time, but just because you have a diverse team, doesn’t mean that this will lead to the team’s success. Trust is crucial to any inclusive environment. It starts with establishing a trusting relationship between employees and the company and for this, you need authenticity, empathy and logic. Inclusive leadership is equally as important and it starts with empowerment, accountability, courage and humility.
- Soft skills round out the conference – Karen Hoyos, Backend Engineer
One highlight of this year’s conference were the Masterclasses and how relevant they were to the current working landscape we are all finding ourselves in. One of them covered the topic of confident speaking in the virtual environment, which conveyed the importance of gestures or where to stand in front of a camera to make a difference in one’s presentation.
On a more general note, it is worth mentioning how impressive it was to see companies adapt to this new normal state of working and really embracing it. The Women in Tech conference was a great example of this in and of itself. I really liked how relaxed it was and how flexible my own attendance could be planned. I was able to pause presentations to get something to drink without missing anything and I also found the chatroom a great option to meet people without any barriers of being too crowded.
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