Who’s Next

A new Code & Supply conference is tackling mental health concerns in tech

Heartifacts is April 20 and 21 in Pittsburgh.

Justin Reese is founding director of Code & Supply, the organization behind Heartifacts.

Justin Reese is founding director of Code & Supply, the organization behind Heartifacts.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

Caroline Moore has spoken at conferences before. A photographer and designer, she usually does a talk once and that’s it. But there’s one topic that breaks that pattern and seems to really resinate with people: “Burnout and Cult of Busy.”

Moore’s talk about burnout, which includes tips to avoid it, is one of more than a dozen talks at Heartifacts, a new conference from Code & Supply, a Pittsburgh-based network for software professionals. It’s set for April 20 and 21 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown.

While most of Code & Supply’s events are more niche to tech and software, this new conference will focus on mental health and communication at work. And while it leans toward software professionals, the conference is open to anyone.

Oftentimes, software and tech conferences will have just a few sessions about mental health, said Justin Reese, Code & Supply founding director and a Who’s Next: Technology honoree. Having an entire conference about mental health is difficult, not only because of the stigma attached to mental health, but because employers often pay for their employees to attend and expect them to bring back technical skills, Reese said.

Yet, mental health and avoiding burnout are conversations Reese hears regularly from people working in software, so Heartifacts aims to open the discussion.

The ticket price ($110) is lower than other conferences to make it more accessible, and there’s a limit of 100 attendees to help attendees build connections and promote conversation, Reese said. Plus, scholarships are available. (Register here.)

Sessions will cover overcoming a fear of failure, mental health for new moms who work, and how to rebuild a career after a breakdown in mental health.  Speakers hail from across the Midwest and East Coast, and not everyone has a tech background, Reese said.

Pittsburgher Zach Zlotnik will speak about the mental impact of interviewing for jobs in tech. Often, those interviews include a white board with some sort of coding problem on it, and the job candidate has to solve it in a set amount of time.

That’s not a good test of people’s skills, and it can be taxing to go through that process over and over, he said. While there’s some discussion about how to prepare for an interview of that style, there’s little conversation about how it impacts mental health, said Zlotnik, who works in software at IBM Watson.

His talk will build awareness of that impact and address imposter syndrome, the feeling of being a fraud or not good enough even after being hired. Zlotnik also launched a website called “They Whiteboarded Me” about this issue.

Both Zlotnik and Moore agreed that a conference like Heartifacts is a welcome opportunity to talk about mental health, especially in tech.

There seems to be a bad habit in tech culture of working constantly to get a startup off the ground, Moore said, adding that can lead people to burnout or to not know how to set boundaries later in their career. If someone answers emails at 2 a.m., and it becomes the expected of them, it can be challenging to make a change and set boundaries, she said.

That’s something that you don’t have to work in tech to experience, Reese said: “Self-care and setting boundaries universally applicable.”

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