The Digital Agency for International Development

My first California Tech Fest

By Sarah Bird on 07 April 2014

Description and notes from the event are available at

It was my first event, and I didn't know quite what to expect. The attendees roughly split into two groups:

  • non-profits from California working on a whole range of issues, from labor rights, reproductive justice, American Red Cross, violence in schools, and so much more.
  • techies, maybe working in a a non-profit or for an organization (like Aptivate) that supports non-profits.

On a personal note, it was so great to meet other organizations like Aptivate who are making it work to build and support tech in the non-profit / social justice sector. As a remote worker for Aptivate, I now have a whole bunch of new people I can go hang out with in my area, who hopefully will understand me :D

Aspiration did a really nice job on the first morning of building the culture of an open, diverse and productive space. Words of wisdom like "agree to disagree and move on to productive knowledge generation." and then some physical exercises showing the spectrum of opinions in the room. The energy through the whole weekend was super positive like our Apticon. Aspiration tech will be publishing their materials of how they run events this year so we can learn from them and use them, and presumably contribute back.

The agenda was set on the first morning through a process that Aspiration has clearly refined that seemed to work pretty well. We all put up and then group categorized the topics we were interested on. (There were over 50 attendees so that was a lot of sticky notes :D) And then people stepped up on the fly to run sessions on the topics presented. There were four slots over the weekend with ~10 sessions each per slot.

See the full-list of sessions here

My takeaways:

  • A lot of non-profits use off-the-shelf proprietary software to fulfill all there needs. This may be painfully obvious, but living in my open-source bubble, I had kind of forgotten this. And if I want to serve the social justice community well I should know my way around those tools so I can genuinely help people understand what the right tool for them is, not just the one I have a philosophical affinity for.
  • I heard a lot of people saying agile doesn't work, you can't sell agile to a non-profit (they have to know time and budget to get funding). I felt like I did a really bad job of advocating and explaining our process and why and how it works, because again, lost in our bubble I forgot that peopel may not all work like this.
  • I facilitated a few activities and realize that I have a lot to work on in my facilitation skills. I knew that coming into TechFest, but now I feel motivated to do something about it.
  • Its better to facilitate something you don't feel you know a lot about
  • I still suck at drawing!
  • Design takes a long-time.

A huge thank you to Aspiration for inviting me and making it possible for me to attend by covering my flight to Los Angeles from Oakland. I feel part of the Aspiration family and am really looking forward to collaborating in the future.