womENcourage past chair – organizing the event online

This year we are going to have the 10th womENcourage celebration, which will be hosted in Trondheim, Norway! We are so excited to share the journey we had so far and looking forward to bigger, greater and more exciting celebrations to come. We are acknowledging this milestone of 10 years with a series of blogs from past chairs who organized this event successfully so far. This month we have Olga Maximová, who was co-chair of womENcourage 2021.

1. Brief introduction about yourself: who are you, what do you currently do, and how are you connected to the computing field?

My name is Olga Maximová, and I serve as a Head of Development at Czechitas. This non-profit organisation inspires, trains and guides new talent to ICT/tech-related roles to increase diversity and competitiveness in this field. My role is strategic planning of fundraising opportunities, relationship-building with our supporters, and opening doors for new funding opportunities. I spent many years in diplomacy and sales, so I would not say I was connected to computing before joining Czechitas.

2. How did you hear about ACM-W Europe and then about womENcourage?

In early 2020 I received an invitation from Bara Buhnova (my colleague, a fabulous mentor and Czechitas co-founder) to a team call discussing Czechitas hosting womENcourage 2021 conference. It was the first time I heard about the ACM-W and the conference. Since Bara is in the academic environment, she took us through the initiative and her personal experience with ACM conferences.

Frankly, I joined the call out of interest, ready to brainstorm ideas. Still, I never imagined I would end up co-Chairing the conference. However, some people walk into your life to help you bring the best out of you and show you that you are capable of more than you think. And so did Bara, who asked me to join the team and serve as a co-Chair. I panicked – can I do it with all my work duties? Will I not disappoint Bara and the team? Do I know what I am doing? I know nothing about computing!

3. How were the preparations for the event?

Bara guided me through the whole process; she gave me a lot of trust and freedom to do things my way and helped me get the best out of me the following year. The community around ACM-W and all those who helped one way or the other during womENcourage 2021 were incredibly supportive and inspirational. Our theme was Bridging communities to foster innovation, and I am confident we bridged many! Folks from all walks of life. 

From a practical point of view, Bara and I did this together. We split the workload according to our mutual preferences. Whilst Bara overlooked the academic side of things and content – posters, programs, tutorials, and career fair, I led publicity, registration, local arrangement and supporters. The conference’s success was only possible with all the fantastic chairs on both teams!

I was incredibly thankful to my colleagues Ryan Turner for helping with the event’s publicity, getting the word out in circles hard to reach and to my great colleague Kateria Kralikova who helped with budget management. The latter was my nightmare and certainly something I needed help with and expertise on. So I want to reinforce the message: committed people on your team and knowledge in the area are half of the event’s success. We could also turn to the ACM-W chairs for guidance and a nod if needed, and sharing their best practice examples was tremendous. I especially appreciated their dedication and sincere interest in the ACM-W community and spreading its good name.

4.  How were the days of the event?

Fast forward to mid-September 2021 and the event days: our opening remarks, video teaser, first keynotes, and participation of almost 260 people from around the world, in fact, from every continent except for Antarctica – I could not believe it was finally happening and how gorgeous it was! I am super thankful for all the backstage work that the registration and virtualisation team did – great production, preparing speakers, everything was clear and timely, and there was absolutely no hiccup. 

Thanks to our supporters, we could choose an excellent online conference platform, which made a significant difference. You can have the best speakers with the best keynote, a career fair with the best opportunities, and great hackathon teams working together. Still, if the online platform fails, when people can’t network, talk, or use interactive features, you will not deliver the experience that they expect. I am also super happy for our Slack space that we got free of charge for our womENcourage2021 community from Slack. The teams could share their ideas, thoughts, experience and energy from the beginning to the end.

4. What would be your advice to other people that wish to organize either womENcourage in the future or any other celebration of women in computing? 

The conference was very successful, and I daresay on all fronts. We secured finances for running it, volunteers to help, experts to contribute, speakers to share inspirational stories, and the community to get excited. I learnt many things, met new people in a community I never thought I would be a part of, and delivered a word class conference. It required some capacities, the work of volunteers and time dedication – I will not lie. And apart from getting a great online platform in case the conference would be hybrid – online, my number one advice to all teams wanting to organise such an event: ensure you set expectations with the team on how much time they have and can dedicate to the organisation, including prime time and slow time. It takes about a year of planning and working, team syncing, and some hard decisions. You can succeed once you are sure the team commits to it wholeheartedly.

5. What was your takeaway from the entire process and from the event itself?

Thank you to Ruth, Beth, Rukiye, and the rest of the team on the ACM-W side, and thank you, my Bara, for getting me into this so elegantly! Without your trust and belief in me, I would not have thought I could get to be co-Chair of such a prestigious event. We bridged communities to foster innovation – metaphorically and literally and I will always be enormously proud of it.


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