Scotland CSS

Edinburgh, July 18th 2018

A Tech Conference With A Baby

By Natalya Shelburne


A moment so well timed that if it were the plot of a movie, I would have called it sloppy writing. “This is just too obvious,” I would have laughed, “that kind of bad timing would never happen in real life.” But, I guess that’s the thing about life, it always finds a way to surprise you. This is the story of how I almost gave a conference talk while holding a baby.


Photo credit: Julie Broadfoot for Scotland CSS

It’s July in Edinburgh, and Scotland CSS is in full swing. We’re between tech talks, and everyone’s out in the main area enjoying coffee or tea and talking. I look around, sip my coffee, and feel so happy to be surrounded by such amazing people. I love learning new things and nerding out about the work I love. I can’t believe that I’m getting to do this while holding my 8 month old daughter, laughing as she attempts to eat my conference badge. I think about how hard I worked to make this perfect moment happen and take an extra minute to enjoy it.

Then, the conference organizers walk up and tell me that it’s time to put on my mic and head to the conference stage to deliver my talk. No problem, I begin mentally preparing and walk over to my husband to hand him our happy wide-eyed little baby. As I approach, I see him look up from his beeping phone and apologetically say “The app is down, and the demo for our investors will be happening any minute. I have to handle this immediately.” A cold wave of panic hits. I know he can’t take our daughter in that moment, but I don’t know what else to do. Like I said, the timing of this moment was just so perfectly awful that it felt like lazy writing. But then, I take a breath and remember: Scotland CSS has childcare. They have a special room at the venue with certified caretakers who can watch our baby. I can do my job, and my husband can do his. We don’t have to play career roulette.

After giving my talk, I begin to fully process the gravity of the situation that had just happened. “If there was no childcare, I would have had to do the talk while holding my baby!” I joke. But the truth is that I simply would not have attended. I am lucky that I could have my husband join me for the conference, but fully relying on him was not a real plan. He was only able to attend because he was working remotely, and that meant he couldn’t take on full caregiver responsibilities. If there was not another option for childcare in that perfect storm of a moment, I would have had to make the same choice many couples face - my career, or yours?

After this experience, I’m left wondering: whose perspectives are we missing because they had to make the choice not to attend? Who had to turn down an opportunity because they didn’t have a partner who could take on the work? Whose ideas did not make it to the stage because we failed to provide them the accommodations they needed at this difficult time in their lives?

Scotland CSS is the first conference that I’ve ever attended that provided childcare, but I hope it’s not the last. I’ve seen conferences go above and beyond for their attendees and speakers, and I’d like to suggest that they add childcare to that list.

We can, and should, do better.

I did not write this to lecture or to shame, only to share my experience, my gratitude, and to do my part in making things better. So, here’s what I’m going to do: I will be volunteering at the next Global Diversity CFP Day. If you are a parent or caregiver, I would like to extend a special invitation to you - sign up and develop a conference talk proposal. I want you included, I want you to feel supported, and I want to cheer you on as you give your talk on the stage at a tech conference.