For three days last week, I stopped doing client work and gathered with a bunch of other web developers, designers, and tech workers for a conference at the Seattle Art Museum. It was the 5th year of Peers Conference, but my 1st time attending. However, I’d known many of the attendees from other conferences, web communities, and random projects so it wasn't an unfamiliar crowd.
Tactics to do better work
There's a Masterclass ad going around that I keep seeing with Steve Martin talking about his comedy course. He relays a story about a student peppering him with questions about agents and headshots when, "the first thing you should be thinking about is how to be good."
It reminds me of how much I obsess over budgets and pipelines and landing dream projects and forget that none of that matters if the work isn't GOOD.
- Genghis explained in detail how to conduct a hiring process that uses case studies and a very structured process to respect everyone’s time, and paint a more complete picture about somebody that help you make better hiring decisions.
- Carrie shared her process for content-first design, including an amazing Google Spreadsheet that has already become part of our toolkit. She was very enthusiastic about using Google for its low barrier to entry and collaboration-by-default mode. She also convinced me to begin selling projects with content strategy as a baked-in, non-optional component of our process.
- Frederic built a methodical, compelling case for diversity in teams, particularly gender diversity. He did it by interweaving scientific research with a detailed explanation of Star Trek Voyager as a case study of the impact that a diverse team with women in leadership roles has on how we see ourselves and relate to others.
Finding purpose and meaning
This is the eternal question: WHY? What's the point of hunching over a keyboard all day if we aren't striving to meet our full potential.
- Natalie from Wildbit spoke about culture. She talked about the two fundamental reasons people work at all: purpose & a rewarding life outside of work, going into detail on how to meet those needs. And she made an emphatic case against open office layouts and in favor of private offices, citing visual noise as a major obstacle to doing deep knowledge work. I have worked in coffee shops and shared coworking environments nearly every day for the last 12 years — this was tough to hear because deep down I fear she’s probably right.
- Garrett told a harrowing story of what happened when one thing after another led to a decision to amputate his foot. It's a crazy story that made me really consider what would happen if I couldn’t work and what kind of safety net might make that circumstance more survivable. His process of making impossibly hard decisions and letting go of attachments in order to be fully present for life is the definition of inspiring.
- Sabrina challenged everyone to cultivate joy in others. She drew connections between web consulting to community organizing, in particular the need to co-create solutions and to listen with intent. And in the Q&A she was able to explain on the spot how to generate financial incentives so this work can be done in a way that our businesses can thrive and still do deeply meaningful social justice work.
- Kim held the room captive with a passionate plea for mentoring the next generation of technology workers. She commanded the room from start to finish, including through an extended projector/laptop disagreement, in a way that only a naturally gifted public speaker can do. Her ability to communicate the struggle and obstacles of breaking into an unforgiving tech industry is unique, hilarious, and really, really important.
Conferences are weird. There’s lots of small talk and nervous handshakes, confident posturing and slinking wallflower moments. Client work stops for me, so there’s no income for about a week. Plus it costs money for the travel and the registration fees and some of the meals. You never know if the talks will be good, or relevant. And yet, I keep going to them and I'm not completely sure why.
A couple days after Peers was over, this article showed up in my inbox with some pointed answers:
- Face-to-face social interaction is an essential, irreplaceable part of being human
- Truly meaningful work is derived from belonging to a group, having purpose, finding a place for transcendence and listening to stories.
These things are often lost in the day-to-day grind of doing work and computing and living my particular life. I’m grateful for a refuge like Peers to escape the office, gather new ideas, and return to work with gusto.