My experience at the MVP Summit in Seattle.
I found myself in a room that held about a thousand people. I placed my knapsack beside me and took a deep breath. I looked down and saw my name written across my badge. I looked back up and was sitting in front of James Montemagno.
As I sat there, I re-winded to a month prior. At that time, I had no idea I would be selected to attend the Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals Global Summit, as the sole Microsoft Student Partner representing Canada. When I got the e-mail informing me of the selection, it didn’t feel real. I knew I really wanted it, but I had felt so uncomfortable. I was nervous. But why? This would be an incredible opportunity for me. Would I be one of the few females? Would I be up to par and understand the talks? Would there be other students attending? How would I find them? If there were, would there be 5 others, 30 others, 100 others… I didn’t know what to expect. The one thing I did know was that those six days would be very important. I had to make sure I did it right. But how could I prepare myself when I had no clue what was to come? So I had told myself I would blindly dive in, head first, and hope for the best.
I don’t think I was alone in feeling so small. In such a huge community, at times it can be hard to feel as though we, as an individual, can make an impact. Being surrounded by some of the brightest and most passionate members of the tech community was no doubt an incredible feeling. However, it was also kind of.. well… intimidating.
I looked up as James began to prepare for his talk. Was he nervous? I watched a few of his episodes on Channel 9, The Xamarin Show. He is a bubbly and brilliant person. I sat there and wondered what it was like to be in his shoes. He was doing some incredible things for the Xamarin community and everyone knew him. Could I inspire people like he does?
I thought back to the Sunday that had just past, November 6th. It was a day before the conference began and I was joined by twelve other students from all over the world. Japan, Switzerland, Dubai, China, France, Mexico, Poland, Germany, United States, India, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. I felt a relief. I wouldn’t be totally alone. So we were up bright and early at 8 am. We were having a pre-conference summit just us thirteen students. We’d have a jam-packed day in front of us, two Azure workshops followed by a night of bowling and dinner. We had headed off to Redmond and spent the day at Microsoft’s garage. We were surrounded by robotics, Legos, crayons, yarn, and many other creative knickknacks. It was surreal. It was like being in Willy Wonka’s factory, but for technology.
Throughout the day, we each got to share our own unique story with the group, and we got to write some code. As I got to know the other twelve students, I was immediately taken away by the energy they each radiated. They were all incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about technology and sharing it with the world. It was contagious and I didn’t want to leave. Inside, I was that child kicking and screaming. We had created a great bond so fast, I wanted more time to connect since the next day we would split up and head off to the talks we wanted to attend. Again, I would go back to feeling like a tiny fish in a huge ocean of unknown.
The days were filled with chatter of new and upcoming Microsoft technologies, arguments fueled by passion, programming jokes, and lots of coffee. At first, I was worried. I was almost half the age of the normal attendee, and I even look younger than I actually am. It was like walking around in a giant clown costume. There was nowhere to hide. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Exposed and vulnerable. Not only did I feel the age difference, but I suddenly felt just how inexperienced I was. I had so much to learn still. Most of the people have been developing for years. Would they take me seriously?
As I sat listening to James, my mind wandered off to what I would want to accomplish. What would it be like? What would it feel like? I didn’t know it at the time but after the first day, I would swallow hard and begin engaging in conversation with some of the professionals. I would soon realize, that the professionals were just like me. Normal, everyday people. And they more than willing to lend a hand. At times, it was hard to take it all in at once. The more I spoke with these developers who have years of experience, I began to feel empowered. I began to feel like I could make a valuable contribution, that I could help others, and that I could be helped in return.
Of the 12 other students, I just about learned something from each one of them. And I hope they know I am very thankful for that. One showed me the importance of family. Another, showed me the importance of hospitality and giving without seeking something in return. Another, the importance of trying new things, whether you are ready for them or not. And another showed me the importance of persevering against the odds. This group taught me that everyone has something to share, no matter who you are or where you come from. You may not see it for yourself, but we each have something unique that we can share. And that we should do just that, share a piece of yourself with the world. It was interesting to see that no matter where in the world we were situated, we were all very similar. We all wanted to build each other up and we wanted to see each other succeed.
As I sat there listening to James, someone I looked up to, I smiled. We were all making our own impact in the community just as James was. We all just do so in different ways. We’re all different, but together we build up this indescribable energy. In that moment I was so thankful for it all and for where I was. I began thinking of all the worries I was having, all the late nights I stayed up working on building my community and wondering if it was making a difference. It was. Even if it was just one person that I am impacting, it was all worth it.
And just like that the rest of the summit blew by. A very intense week with lots of new people and a huge amount of information. The individuals I was fortunate enough to speak with helped me see my options, helped me see where I could be and help reassure myself that this is where I want to be. It was clear to see that the attendees were there because we are passionate about technology and we all care about our community.
I am beyond excited to know that even though the summit has ended, that it is not the end. It is just the beginning. I’m glad I dove in head first, but now I have a long swim upstream. I am strapping in for the great, long journey that lays ahead of me in a such a vibrant community I am proud to be a part of.