Like the tech industry as a whole, the Elixir community faces gender diversity challenges: Just 2% of Elixirists identify as women and less than 1% identify as non-binary, according to the 2020 ElixirConf community survey.
To promote inclusivity and highlight the diversity of the Elixir community, DockYard sponsored nine women and non-binary programmers to attend ElixirConf 2021. They were spread across the globe, from Mexico to the U.S. and Europe, and ranged in experience from brand-new to seasoned Elixirists.
This is the first in a series of three blog posts profiling all nine ElixirConf sponsorship winners.
Dana Liss, Tomie Lee, and Ada each came to ElixirConf with a wealth of programming experience in other languages and a desire to learn or build their Elixir chops. We caught up with them after the conference to hear about their experiences and what they took away from ElixirConf 2021.
Coming off a recent career switch from the contemporary art world to programming, Dana Liss went into ElixirConf with almost no familiarity with Elixir or Erlang. So, while other attendees dove into the ins and outs of testing or demonstrations of Elixir-based projects, Liss approached the conference as an opportunity to broaden her understanding of programming paradigms.
Her interactions with the Elixir community made an immediate impact, she said.
“Everyone was really enthusiastic and excited about it, and they really loved Elixir, which is energizing,” she said.
She was also struck by some of the discussions that touched on real-world applications using Elixir, including an application that integrates with WhatsApp to make it easier for governments to deliver information on COVID-19 and vaccinations to their citizens. Delving into topics like that gave Liss more of an insight into just how much a developer can do using Elixir.
Liss’ background is largely in Java but recently she’s begun experimenting with functional programming and ElixirConf renewed that interest.
“I would say that ElixirConf really sparked my interest in learning more about functional programming, and exploring totally different paradigms to object-oriented (programming), which is where I started,” she said.
And with the encouragement she found among the Elixir community, she has plans to start with a small project to begin building her Elixir skills.
Following a career in event production, Tomie Lee decided to switch over to programming and enrolled in a two-year, full-stack engineering program. Toward the end of the program, a friend introduced them to Elixir. From there, they began working with it on their own and eventually chose to develop an Elixir-based project as the final part of the course.
As a self-taught Elixirist, Lee was drawn to language at first for its stability.
“It’s something that’s stable and that’s the thing I like,” they said. “It doesn’t compile and there’s an error on the end where you don’t know where it is. It’s stable and it works and it’s fast.”
During ElixirConf Lee was struck most by the community and the energy around Elixir, they said. Hearing attendees ask questions and discuss their work or how they’ve used Elixir was an added benefit that can’t be replicated by reading a book or watching an online tutorial.
And even as a relative newcomer to the language, Lee was able to take in some of what presenters and other attendees were saying as a way to identify the concepts that are most critical to learn as an Elixirist. Without any formal Elixir education, even identifying what building blocks are most important to focus on can be a challenge, they said, but hearing what topics others brought up frequently was educational.
Engineering was an interest for Ada as early as high school. And although she explored medicine and pharmacology as career paths, it was eventually computer science — an area of study recommended by a former roommate who also pushed her to apply for the DockYard ElixirConf sponsorship — that held her interest.
As someone relatively new to Elixir, the wide array of topics and projects presented during ElixirConf was impressive, she said. What she was most impacted by, however, was the community she found among her fellow Elxirists. One conference talk by Andy Tran on getting involved in the Elixir community made a particular impact on her.
“(Tran was) basically saying that there aren’t a lot of junior developers within the field, and they were saying that there’s a really big need for junior developers,” she said. “Now I really want to sort of double down on my studying and try to learn as much Elixir as possible so that I can pursue this full-time because the language itself is really cool.”
She’s already connected with Tran, and joined a Discord server where she and other members of the community can go for advice or help each other through challenges.
“It was really cool to see a lot of people go in there and say, ‘Hey, I’m new to this. I’m running into this, can anyone help me?’” she said, “and a lot of people…saying ‘Oh yeah, I would absolutely love to help you.’”
In addition to a new appreciation for the community, Ada came away from the conference with a renewed interest in Elixir and plans for small projects — like an IoT device powered by Phoenix — to dive further into the language, she said.
DockYard is a digital product consultancy specializing in production-ready apps that scale wonderfully as companies grow. We offer a range of consulting services with capabilities in product planning, design, user experience (UX), full-stack engineering, and QA. Over the last decade, DockYard has solved complex product challenges for visionary companies like Netflix, Apple, Nasdaq, and Harvard. We’re also dedicated to advancing open-source web development technologies, such as libraries and tooling built around the Elixir programming language. From idea to impact, DockYard empowers ambitious teams to build for the future. Visit us at www.dockyard.com.