“Hope is a waking dream.”
Dreamforce 2016 is around the corner. For those of you who don’t know, it is the creme de la creme of all IT business conferences (according to some). A major event that takes over San Francisco’s down town center inflating the costs of local hotels and motels, while many businesses drape themselves in costly marketing attire provided by the highest bidders.
Dreamforce 2015 was my first Dreamforce, first major away from home all expense paid business trip. It was amazing, visually stimulating, mind-blowing, sometimes overwhelming and a positive reinforcement for why I do the things I do as well as how I live my life.
There was also this stark dynamic that put my own home town into contrast. Memories of 1980’s dirty downtown Chicago juxtaposed against modern redeveloped clean tourist attraction Chicago.That’s what I thought of San Francisco. Old fighting the new by popping out here and there. Several layers of old city dressed in new city with areas that carried varying degrees of visibility.
Now on top of that image, place a homeless person on every corner. Someone’s father, brother, uncle, sister, mother and so forth walking around draped in the uniform we all have come to recognize as homelessness. Imagine glazed eyes trapped in a nightmare we can’t see, while unknown paths of travel are made throughout the streets of this contrasted city known as San Francisco.
I arrived days ahead of the event, so I could feel San Francisco the city before San Francisco “Dreamforce” style. I wrote another piece about my early days and how an interaction I had with a homeless man set the stage for how I would make my exit. He told me, “Thank You” for acknowledging him. It hit me hard because how often do we go through our lives lacking common courtesy? His eyes were clear and focused, but troubled with his own worries as I’m sure we all can relate. Yet, all of the other people walking by ignored him probably assuming he would ask for money.
Now I am the first to admit, I am not always a nice lady. Far too often than not, I have ignored or purposely avoided making eye contact with a stranger. As a woman who used to be the girl looking up through the glass ceiling at the people walking in the upper echelons, I often humble myself with memories of my past experiences. A wrong decision or bad luck at any moment in my life could put me in a similar disposition as those who are homeless. You simply never know.
The first day of the conference, I was greeted by some of the nicest people I have ever met and originally I thought they all worked for Salesforce. They wore Salesforce colors, they looked so happy to be at their positions. Yes, I was naive. I didn’t know anything about large scale conference events. I thought these people were employed by the company and everyone had to pull together to get things done. Little did I know.
The first day I walked into visual overload. My brain could not process the images I witnessed fast enough. There was too much to take in and I was enchanted with San Francisco “Dreamforce” dressed. I was excited about the cool gadgets, the amazing feats of technological wonder on big screens and lighted floors and simply the sheer amount of people from all over the world.
I heard accents, music, bells, whistles, announcements and an assortment of muffled speakers attempting to cascade varying groups with open floor sessions. The end of the first day ended with an opening ceremony and any number of happy hours/parties hosted around the “Dreamforce Campus”. I went back to my room on the Dreamboat with a bag full of goodies and swag. I attended sessions, demos and met people I knew in the virtual community in-person. I never experienced such before in my life.
By day two, the illusion had worn off. I now began to notice a trend as I entered my first major developer session. I was the only woman in the room at first, but I started counting a couple of people as I waited for the session to quickly populate the 150 seats I had already counted within the first five minutes of me arriving.
I began to count the following:
- The number of women, including myself
- The number of people of color, including myself
- The number of American people of color, including myself
I shook my head after I took my head count and each of my next sessions became a repetition of the similar. Now I’m sure there are people reading this and thinking, “Why would you think like that?” It is very simple, I was trained to think like this my entire life. We all are, to a certain extent. It is how we process knowledge, using comparison and categorizations.
Imagine a flock of birds preparing for flight. A flock often refers to birds of the same species and the species will, for the most part, look the same. Imagine a duck tries to join a flock of geese. He quacks, while the geese honk. She is smaller and the geese are larger. The duck wants to fly with the geese, but they have a larger wingspan.
I was a duck in a flock of geese. I counted the other ducks because they quacked liked me and we all had “shorter” wingspans than the geese; thus, we were 15 in total in a room of 150.
As I left the session, I began to search for other women and people of color. I noticed the large majority of brown folks at Dreamforce were holding doors, signs and registering people at the long desks. Now there were all sorts of people from all walks of life holding doors/signs and registering participants, but the number of brown folks supporting the event far outnumbered the number of brown folks attending the event.
They weren’t in the sessions with me and if they were, there were far too few present in the crowds. Throughout the week, the trend continued and I began to unofficially interview these people holding the doors, the signs and their stories were just as amazing as the “Salesforce changed my life,” stories that are often debuted at Salesforce events.
I met a woman from Trinidad at the port security check-in who told me she rented her house for the annual Trinidadian Carnivale. I told her she could be doing what I do and she shook her head,”Nah I don’t have a head for tings like that.”
I met a man at Moscone West who worked twelve hour shifts the entire week, standing at the door greeting people and answering questions. I told him he could learn how to do what I do and he told me,”Nah, I’m too old to try and start over. I’m an old man.”
I met a woman from Chicago on the first floor standing by the elevators on my way to the Marketing Cloud expo. She lived in Long Beach and came to San Francisco to work this event. She told me, “Good job on representin’,” and I told her, “You can do this too!”
A guy working in the Marketing Cloud event had drove from Los Angeles with his friends to work the event. He wasn’t brown, but we talked about these types of jobs. I asked him,”I hope they paying you good man to be driving all the way here to work this event?” He said, “Oh hell yeah I’m getting paid, but it still sucks.”
I saw reporters, people with cameras interviewing participants and I wondered about the people working these events. If a camera came up to you at your job and asked you how you feel, would you answer honestly? Heck no. When I asked them questions, they were more than free to offer up their real opinions and I thought, “Oh man if only people knew the truth.”
I once walked eighty-five blocks in Lower Manhattan when I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to do some research on an art history class project. Some of the most expensive property in the world and the most expensive stores in the world were situated on those blocks. I witnessed the same trend. Big black guys in suits holding doors, brown ladies pushing strollers or walking with kids in uniform, concierge desks populated with brown folks. That was ten years ago, but there I was in 2015 with a mini-computer in my hand witnessing the same trend.
I came to a realization when I went to Dreamforce 2015 and talked to all of these people supporting the event. Most if not all of these people thought they had no choice, but to do what they do now: survive. For many there are no other choices, but to survive. Heck, the majority of my life has been about survival. Check to check “keeping your head above water” is a way of life for many, but why should we care?
What are you doing right now with this opportunity? How are you helping others? I asked myself, “What are you going to do to give back what you received in return for this amazing opportunity?”
I began what I know is going to be a lifelong journey on my last day of the conference as so many others are inspired to make a major change in their lives too. The last day of the conference was titled a Day of Mindfulness. While others attended IT cool down sessions, sessions of inspiration or motivating thought provoking sessions, I walked around taking pictures with all of the people I had talked to throughout the week. Most were confused, while all were ecstatic. It was fun, it felt good and I had taken the first step towards changing my disenchantment to hope.
At the beginning, I used a quote from Aristotle. There is a debate amongst rhetors regarding the context of the quote, which can give the quote a wide variety of definitions. Some say Aristotle was joking, or he was using the quote sarcastically.
I think of it like this, every day (at some point in time) we close our eyes with the belief that we will wake up after resting. The reality is you might not wake up. What if you looked at each time you close your eyes as your last? What if that last conscious awareness of taking a deep breath before sleep was your last? What prevents this pattern of thinking? What deters most people from thinking these thoughts?
To believe in something is what supports this great concept we all know as “hope”. The belief that you will wake up is a hope we all share. It is not a reality because your reality exists within a realm of your beliefs. This is why changing how and what someone believes is so powerful.
My hope is that at some point in time the events I attend will look more like the world I believe exists. Am I attempting to change how and what you believe? No, I just want to share with you what I saw and what I took from it. How my journey of enchantment quickly turned to disenchantment and I opened my eyes to find hope.
I often spend my days creating solutions for business problems as so many others, but what if we took what we know and applied it to problems in our own communities. That “if” added to “hope” is a powerful combination and for some reason we as a society struggle to put the two together.
So here is my call to action for those reading this and working the tech industry. We have already witnessed the first two steps in solving this problem of diversity in tech. Social media has helped in bringing awareness to this situation and the metrics are everywhere because our technological advances measure everything.
According to CompTia’s Cyberstates 2016 released February 29, 2016, the U.S. tech industry employs more than 6.7 million workers. Four days prior to that release, the New York Times published Why Tech Degrees are Not Putting More Blacks and Hispanics into Tech Jobs. The article pointed out how students of color who stay in the tech program “opt-out” of tech industry positions because of the culture as well as the images represented in the tech industry. I felt this way about participating in the culture until I decided to give it 100 on the whole Salesforce career.
I don’t have a degree in tech, I’m a woman and I’m a person of color. I didn’t know about CODE2040, The Hidden Genius Project, BlackGirlsCode, CodeLatino, Girl Develop It and of course the Salesforce User Groups. I was in the right place at the right time and Salesforce found me as it had for so many others.
What have I done since Dreamforce 2015?
I volunteered as a teaching assistant to teach a Girl Develop It-Chicago “Intro to Salesforce” class and now I have volunteered to teach two more classes with two other wonderful women I met through my Salesforce Women in Tech User Group.
I am a co-leader of a Salesforce User Group for the Suburban Chicago area, I am mentoring two women on Salesforce. One is preparing for her admin certification exam and the other is learning Salesforce through Trailhead.
Through my participation in the Salesforce User Groups, I volunteered in the Chicago annual Serve-A-Thon. We spent six hours painting a classroom in the Pilsen neighborhood.
I write this as I prepare for my next year at Dreamforce 2016 with a “hope” that someone is reading this and thinking about how they can make a difference. As I stated earlier, I am imperfect in practicing what I preach; however, I am trying. Little by little, person to person and step by step I make an effort somehow.
This is just my beginning and I hope this inspires others.