On Saturday, Benjamin Hollway, a 16 year old front-end developer, wrote a post about his recent experiences attending industry events. He’s been coding since he was eight, and earlier this year he was shortlisted for Netmag’s Emerging Talent category. Yet none of the people in this category are able to participate fully in the sort of activities most of us take for granted.
Last week, Benjamin attended an event I spoke at in London. He’d saved up to buy a ticket and travel up to the conference, and after the event he followed everyone to the after party to chat about the conference and meet some of the speakers. Everyone was allowed in, but he was turned away at the door and had to head back home early.
This isn’t the first time he’s experienced this, and I remember far too well the same happening to me as well. Four years ago, I wrote about some of the difficulties I’d experienced as a young developer when it came to attending events. A lot of the meetups I wanted to go to were held in bars, and if there was someone checking IDs at the door, I couldn’t go.
After parties are a really important part of a conference. They’re where we get to network, ask speakers questions about the talk they’ve just given, and generally have a good time meeting like-minded people. But so many of these after parties, and even events, are held in pubs and bars, meaning they’re completely off-limits to young people.
I feel lucky that I live in a country where I could access most events when I turned 18 (although I have been prevented from going into others that are held in 21-or-over bars). In other countries, I wouldn’t be able to attend some events until I was 21.
@anna_debenham Agreed. There's nothing worse than being rejected for what constitutes the person you are and you have no control of.
— Anne-Gaelle Colom (@agcolom) September 27, 2014
I know a lot of amazingly smart designers and developers who are under 18, and many of them are physically prevented from attending an industry event or after party after traveling all the way up and forking out often hundreds of pounds out of their own pocket to attend. The more young people we encourage to join the fold, the more we are excluding from these events.
— Jaymie Thomas (@jaymiethomas) September 27, 2014
.@anna_debenham Couldn't agree more with your 2010 blog post. Had to leave tech events a few times before I was 18 🙁
— Jordan Hatch (@1jh) September 27, 2014
Holding events in age-restricted venues doesn’t just exclude those under 21. It also turns away people who don’t drink for medical and personal reasons, or because of their faith, such as Muslims. They can’t simply wait until they get older before they can attend, some of people will never be able to attend.
— Aijaz Ansari (@_aijaz_) September 28, 2014
— Captain Suleiman (@Sulcalibur) September 27, 2014
If you’re an event or meetup organizer, please don’t exclude young designers and developers by holding your event in age-restricted venues. When London Web Standards realized that young developers who wanted to go couldn’t attend, they switched to holding their events in offices, making them accessible to both young people and people who would be excluded because of their faith, or for other reasons. They were delighted when young developers started to turn up to their events.
There are a lot more creative things to do around an event that don’t involve hanging around at a noisy bar, which is something Rachel Andrew wrote about last year:
Finally, how about taking Benjamin’s suggestion and asking young people to speak at your event? They have a huge amount to offer, and will help suggest ways to make your event more open, not just to those under 18, but also to groups of people you may not have even considered.
@anna_debenham there also seems to be a valuable crossover between avoiding age restricted locations and creating safe spaces. Win-win?
— Matthew Wheeler (@Matt_Wheel) September 27, 2014
Oh, and if your event is open to young people, please add it to the Lanyrd list I’ve created for events open to those under 21 so that others can find it.