Leah Silber, Co-founder and CEO at Tilde, EmberConf organizer
Co-founder and CEO at @tildeio, organizer of numerous developer conferences over the last ten years, including EmberConf, RustConf, jQueryConfs and RailsConf. @emberjs Core Team Member and @jquery Core Team alum.
👩🏻💻 Job: As CEO at Tilde for the last 10 years I’ve been responsible for anything and everything. Initially, it was getting the company up and running, and then it became keeping it running. Sales, hiring, HR, product management, and everything in between. Over the last two years I’ve also been able to prioritize getting back to writing code, which I’m enjoying, even though I’ve still got lots more to learn.
🇺🇸 Portland, OR, USA
👶🏻 A four year old and an infant.
Career & Tech Conferences
Ember Conf happened at the end of March. What is the biggest challenge of being the organizer? What do you like most about organising it? How is it going with the transition to a virtual event?
Ember turns 10 years old this year, and I’ve been running EmberConf from the start (even back when it was still EmberCamp).
It’s been amazing watching a small project turn into such a successful and broad community, and I’ve worked with so many fantastic people I wouldn’t otherwise have met—people I know consider among my closest friends.
That’s part of why transitioning to virtual has been challenging. In addition to the logistics of running the event itself, there’s all of us being a little sad about missing our annual opportunity to hang out, grab ice cream, and just be round like-minded friends for a while.
We’re all optimistic about being back in person for 2022, and in the meantime, have a successful formula for a virtual event that works hard to reclaim some of our in-person magic. There’s no way to replace the face-to-face time we all miss, but we get as close as we can. Even virtually, EmberConf includes content for kids, fun non-technical sessions (like this year’s hand-lettering and stress management workshops!), attendee spotlights and a whole host of things designed to help us recapture some of what we’re missing.
Working behind the scene
You wrote a book on how to run memorable tech conferences, Event Driven. You do hard work behind the scene, have you ever considered giving talks at these conferences?
I’ve considered it, and I’ve done it! I’ve talked about event organizing a bit, about starting a startup, and given a number of talks about how to run open-source-centric businesses.
I like to give talks every couple of years to shake things up and challenge myself, as well as so I don’t forget the experience my speakers have, for empathy purposes. That said, the behind the scenes work is generally more interesting to me.
Career & Parenting
Setting reasonable expectations
You’re a multiple conferences organiser, EmberJS Core Team Member and CEO. How do you concretely organise to be on all fronts? Working on week-ends? At night? 😅 How do you organise to do it all with a kid? Do you have a specific routine?
I wish I had a formula I could share with other parents out there, but there really isn’t one. Every day is a new challenge, and no two days look the same.
Post-kids I really appreciate the freedom I had before them, even though I didn’t think about it that way before, but I also feel like my life is fuller and more enriched.
I work hard not to let work bleed into after hours time, but then I always did. Work/life balance is an important theme at Tilde, and I try and practice what I preach. Even before most of the team had young families, we all wanted the environment to be one that accommodated those who did, and that always allowed us to attract and hire folks regardless of where they were in life. It’s definitely paid off.
In general, there’s a lot of FOMO and pressure when starting a new company or project, to go go go as fast as you can, lest opportunity pass you by. But that formula too often results in burnout, a problem our industry is all too familiar with.
Setting more reasonable expectations all along the way, even when you can get away with pushing yourself harder, is a healthier and more sustainable way to do things that’ll sustain over the long-haul.
Side projects vs Family projects
Did you feel that your priorities have changed after becoming a mom? Can you still be involved in your projects/side-projects?
It wouldn’t be reasonable to say my priorities haven’t changed, but I would say my work life didn’t have to change all that much, thanks to Tilde’s general family-friendly orientation.
I think one of the most stressful parts is figuring out for yourself, how you want to think about your role, your identity, and how you want to prioritize your projects. Being perceived as a Mom is a very different thing than as a CEO (though maybe it ought not be) and lots of new parents have to deal with reconciling the two different roles. Even more so if they’re in less supportive environments.
I still work on side projects I care about, but it’s true that I’m probably more selective now. Passion projects are competing with more family projects now, and the burden to be worth the time and energy is surely a bit higher.
Babies at work
I love the idea of an infant-at-work program that you set up at Tilde. It was really precursor as with COVID all parents had to deal with a kind of “babies at work policy” working remotely. As you were more baby-oriented than other companies, has your setup changed with covid? How are you organised these days? Can people go back to work?
We’re not back in the office yet, but we’ve thankfully hummed along well over the last year. The transition to remote went smoothly, though honestly we all just miss being around each other.
It would be silly to think that people haven’t been mildly less productive over the last year. But frankly that’s less related to where they were physically working from, and more about the state of the world. A pandemic, political unrest, the focus on the many human rights violations and indignities going on around the world and especially here in the US, and more, have affected everybody. And to be explicit, productivity wasn’t the goal last year: survival was.
We thankfully had the breathing room to give ourselves some grace during these hard times. There were more mental health days, more meetings that ran over because we all just wanted to talk about everything going on, and more personal life disruptions for lots of us as people we knew and loved got sick, or laid off, or any number of 2020-chaotic things. But we tried to all be supportive of each other, and to focus on being overall healthy and acceptably-adjusted human beings, rather than uber productive team members.
Overall I can’t put into words how proud I am of how the Tilde team made it through the last year. We were lucky, too, in that none of us got sick, which we’re all super grateful for (super quarantining really works, folks! Hang in there, it shouldn’t be much longer!), and in that we had each other to lean on.
As things hopefully continue to return to something resembling normal, we’re eager to get back to seeing each other.
Watching Tilde Baby Developers grow
How many parents have experienced the baby-at-work policy at Tilde? It looks a bit like a qualitative team building. Has your relationship changed with your co-workers since babies are at work?
The program has really allowed us to get to know each other (and our partners and kids) a lot better, and it’s been incredibly nice. One of the (many) sad parts about 2020 is that there would’ve been two babies in the program, and we only got to spend a tiny amount of time with them before lockdowns started. I feel a little like an aunt who hasn’t been able to see nieces and nephews during their amazing first year(s).
There have been four babies in the program, though again, some of them missed most of their window due to 2020 being what it was. Believe it or not though, there are a few more Tilde Baby Developers on the way though, so hopefully we’ll get to spend some more time with the next batch!
It’s worth mentioning that the program has also been a huge draw for candidates when we’ve interviewed since it started. There isn’t too much out there like it, and it has appeal for Moms and Dads alike. No one wants to miss out on their kiddo’s first year, regardless of the need to return to work, and this makes both things plausible.
Something that would be a concern for me with a baby-at-work policy is playtime with the kid. I would feel guilty watching my son in his Rock n’ Play and not being available to play with him. Was it also a concern? If so, how did you or your colleagues deal with that?
There’s plenty of time to play! For parents and coworkers alike! And even if you’re pair programming while your baby sits next to you playing with their toys (or maybe just hands), they’re still getting more parent time than if you had to leave them with a sitter, or grandparent, or anyone else. And babies just adore being with their parents.
Baby-wearing has also been a huge hit, and is super functional. No reason you can’t be wearing a baby while programming, in a meeting, or almost anything really.
Before they’re mobile there’s just so much flexibility, and barring any specific medical issues or unlucky things like colic, they’re just so pleased to be around their parent, that they’ll be quieter, calmer and overall easier to co-exist with.
To be clear, I don’t mean to minimize the concern, only to say that it didn’t really come to fruition, like so many other theoretical problems people bring up when first hearing about the program (all people, even me! I go into it in a fair bit of detail in my Medium article).
In general the program turned out to be simpler, and more fun than expected, for the parents and colleagues alike.
Babies at Work: It’s Weird that it’s Weird: The crew over at Tilde started the year  with a new somewhat uncommon policy: new parents (mothers or fathers) could bring their immobile infants to work with them.
Event Driven: Running a tech conference? Concerned about the details, the financial risks, the logistics and the wow factor? Event Driven will walk through the ins, outs and gotchas in an instructional format designed to help make sure you create the best possible event, and keep everyone happy along the way.
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