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All Things Open (ATO) is an organization dedicated to focusing on and educating people and businesses on the changes; and opportunities in open source technology. Their yearly conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, is the largest open technology event on the U.S east coast. Open source companies come from all over to showcase their tools, processes, and ways they make open source possible. They are my absolute favorite tech conference and as someone working in WordPress, they are in my opinion one of the best open source resources in existence. They rank number one for me because of their high rankings in accessibility, inclusion and diversity, and community networking.
An Accessible location
I attended ATO while still in recovery from foot surgery, so I was in a medical boot. Instead of being sad that I would not be able to dance in a new city, I took this as an opportunity to test the convention’s accessibility standards.
The convention took place at the Raleigh convention center, and I must say I was very impressed with the entire location. I used the WordPress venue accessibility checklist to see if it would make the cut for an acceptable meetup/conference location. I am happy to say that it did! One major thing I want to point out about this venue specifically is that there wasn’t just one option for mobility between floors. There were SEVERAL. The convention took place on multiple floors and there were multiple elevators, escalators, and ramps to not only give options but also to help in case one option failed. On the first day, I was there one of the escalators was broken! However, in its place were several elevators, escalators, and ramps! Although I could not walk upstairs easily, I didn’t have to worry as options were close, laid out easily with identifiable signs and so numerous there was never a wait. This was a key difference between this conference and others I have been to. If a place has an elevator that is lovely but what if it breaks? What if the place has many people who need to utilize it? How does that lower the quality for people who cannot utilize stairs? This may seem like a small detail to those who do not need other options but it was clear to me that the ATO organizers wanted to make everyone feel welcome and wanted everyone to have access to all their amazing content.
Not sure where to go? Here’s a map, here, and here, and HERE!
There were many amazing talks and workshops to attend, tables where you could learn about different companies in open source, job/volunteer opportunities and so much more! I swear I bounced around from talks on Kubernetes one minute, to merch tables like the one with IBM about their keyboard vacuums. What kept me from getting lost in the maze of excitement was the very detailed maps that ATO provided! And you not only had the option of an online schedule, but a pdf download, a paper map provided in several areas in the venue, and an app that provided you with a map and schedule as well!
There was also important information on the schedules such as Wi-Fi access, instructions on access to the app, information that directed users to the website, and the lunch and social networking schedules. This was a significant relief for someone like me who needs written out plans or I lose track of what I need to do. I could attend every single event I wanted without getting confused.
Commitment to Diversity
In my time with tech, most conferences I’ve been to have gone from counting the number of underrepresented people on the one hand to 2 hands!
A great leap for diversity in tech! All jokes aside it is a little sad to go places that tell you they want to see more people like you but rarely make any effort to make that so. ATO excels better than any other major tech event that I have attended. ATO not only had full scholarships for underrepresented people to attend their conference for free (something that MasterWP has been told that wouldn’t be possible in the WordPress space) but an ENTIRE DAY of the conference dedicated to Inclusion & Diversity. Incredible and relevant talks from that day were: Hire Better -DEI First Leadership by Peter Levine, “Belonging” is Contributing to the Playlist by Ruby (Sattar) Romeu, Inclusion is Accessibility by Nikema Prophet, Diversity in Swift by Timirah James, and It Takes a Community to Craft an Experience by Veethika Mishra.
This moved me immensely because many companies and organizations say they want diverse people in their spaces but refuse to make that change happen. The excuses vary from money, time, and sometimes from the fact that it’s not really something they want but a way to appear “progressive.” I am telling you right now that ATO means what they say. One of our company mottos is to “put your money where your mouth is.” Be the change that you want to see and help others if you really want to be a great community. ATO goes above and beyond in ways some people cannot even fathom and I think for that they deserve not only our attention but our praise.
Grow with us networking
This conference had not only the friendliest people I’ve ever met in tech but maybe in life ever. Many companies came from all over the world to not only showcase their open source software but to encourage others to work with them. There were companies that were looking to hire talent, companies that were looking for volunteers to make open source more inclusive, and some companies that just wanted to know how they could help you. What impressed me the most about their networking approach was that you could opt into or out of having a QR code on your badge that connected you with companies you wanted to work further with or learn more information with instantly. This cut down on paper waste and time usually spent organizing and cataloging who was who and what was what. I felt like I was at a tech conference that utilized current tech. As someone who mentors people getting into tech/who wants to change tech industries, I was even able to swap information between people who were not in physical attendance with companies I was 3 feet away from. I thought I could not be more impressed but the following week, I started to get emails from the companies I exchanged information with. Everyone talked about how they wanted to give space for relaxing and recovering from the conference but also wanted to affirm that they were committed to working together. This sold me more than anything else. Yes, we all love merch, but fostering long term goals in tech together? Excellence on another level.
In case you haven’t realized, I had an incredible experience at ATO. As someone who is starting her journey into WordPress meetup organization, ATO has given me a high example to measure up to. I have committed myself to be more like them in their commitment to all things diversity, accessibility, and networking. My only hope from here is that WordPress not only follows in their example but makes its presence larger at the next ATO as well.
If you would like to attend the next ATO event, it will be in Raleigh, North Carolina October 18th – October 15th, 2023. You can find information about it here.