Ada Lovelace Day 2013: Donna Benjamin

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! Today I’d like to take the time to write about a technical woman who has influenced me this year, and someone whom I imagine will be surprised to read this. Her name is Donna Benjamin, but you may know her as @kattekrab.

Donna’s been a virtual friend for a few years; I “intermet” her when I was preparing to host the Dutch PHP Conference in Amsterdam, in 2010. I had some great role models from the PHP community to show me how to “ringmaster” at a big conference, but I was unsure how it would look on a woman. Having already done a similar role for PHPNW, I’d had negative feedback about being teacherish (something that I still get complaints about), and I wasn’t sure how else to wear that role. Lots of things work well for men but not for women (silly things, swearing on stage (this differs between cultures), asking for a pay rise, falling out of bed into whatever free conference shirt you were given yesterday ….) and I was determined not to turn myself into a decorative but ditsy hostess.

My good friend Kathy Reid talked through my anxieties with me, and sent me a link to a video of Donna introducing an even more major conference: Donna organised Linux Conf AU and the video showed her introducing it with equal helpings of excellence, approachability, and entertainment. Confident that I wasn’t alone, I stopped worrying and gave that conference my best shot.

Fast forward to 2013 and I had the opportunity to speak at DrupalCon in Portland. I knew Donna would be there (she’s a Drupal Association Board Member these days), and I met her in person … by accidentally standing behind her for lunch on day 1. At a conference of around three thousand people. THIS is why you talk to people in the lunch queue, people!!

Talking to Donna, and seeing the way she interacted with the rest of the community – especially the women that joined us while having lunch that day – gave me a real sense of who I want to grow up to be in my own community. Donna and I hung out together a couple of times during that conference and she took the time to introduce me to people that I’d never have had the opportunity to meet on my own. As a woman in technology, I’d really rather talk more about technology than women, but Donna showed me that as a role model, it doesn’t take much to support and reassure the women around us, as we carry on being our own awesome selves. I hope that in some way, I can pay that forward to others.

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