The keynote for this morning was supposed to be Arati Prabhakar, Director of DARPA. However, she was not permitted to fly due to the government shutdown and so Valerie Taylor took her place.
Valerie Taylor is a successful academic at Purdue University. She did her research work in modelling and parallel distributed applications. She was referred to as a “multiplier”, a person who makes everyone around them more successful.
Valerie talked about diversity and what’s she’s learned on her journey. She first came to GHC in 1994. She met Anita Borg as a grad student at UC Berkeley who told her about Systers and they talked about under-represented groups in computing. Valerie went on to start Systers of Colour.
To understand diversity in a complex world, Valerie tries to look at commonalities between groups. The three things she talks about when dealing with diverse groups or colleagues is:
Valerie told us an anecdote about a conversation that she had with a male colleague years ago. When the colleague learned that Valerie was from Chicago, he asked her whether she was from the projects, if she was familiar with gangs, and whether she was a first-generation. Valerie replied “no” to all of these. Later, the colleague came back and apologized about asking about her background in this way. She was glad that he had at least asked her about her background, but then proceeded to tell him about herself. When you’re approached with a stereotype, you should try to educate the other person about it and talk about some of the issues surrounding it.
It’s hard not to make assumptions about someone else and it’s only by engaging others that we learn about people. Someone asked her how to know when it’s okay to ask about someone’s background without the other person become uncomfortable. She said to ask open questions that they can answer vaguely if they want to, such as, “Tell me about yourself,” and based on their response you can try gauging how much they would be willing to share.
This was a panel discussing the advantages and disadvantages of native and web apps, best practices, which to build first if starting a company.
The panelists were Jennifer Tsai from pinterest, Sara Haider from Twitter, and Kate Tsoukalas from Microsoft. I picked out some of the questions that came out with the most interesting answers.
Q: What is your company’s preference? Web first or native first?
Jennifer: Pinterest started in 2009 and was developed with a desktop site in mind. We then switched to mobile web app. Then we noted how the industry was changing and that mobile had a bigger presence so we developed an iOS app. Our focus has shifted to developing native apps.
Sara: Twitter began as an sms service so it was a little ahead of its time, and they focused on the desktop site. But now, they’re a mobile first company and design their sites with mobile in mind. The use the web apps for internaltional markets when native apps are not as popular.
Q: When you’re developing for other countries, should you build a native or web app?
Jennifer: A web app would be the better way when expanding into international markets. There are psychological barriers in other countries when it comes to downloading an app and incurring the download costs.
This talk was by Pooja Sarkar, the Founder and CEO of Piazza. Piazza is an online learning platform. Pooja talked about her history and how she ended up starting her own company.
I enjoyed her talk because she was very honest about her experiences. After she graduated from IIT, she came back to the US to work because she felt it was a better place for women. Pooja ended up joining a 20-person startup and loved it. She then joined Facebook that was about 500 people at the time but felt that that was too big a company for her.
She then went on to Stanford Business School. It was there that she met other people who were starting there own companies and started her own. She never thought before this that she would be a founder for a company.
Today, Piazza has 250+ million students using it and it helps professors and students feel empowered. During the question and answer period, she was asked how she convinced professors to start using it. She started at her own school and then expanded to others after gaining feedback. She would meet professors and demo to them and show them how it improved courses where it was already being used at Stanford.
She was asked about how terrifying it was to code her own product being someone who didn’t feel very comfortable programming initially. She said that she was grateful for her experience at Oracle where she learned code under a more structured format and mentorship. Then at Facebook, it was less structured but at that point she knew how to code. It was still terrifying starting her own company, but not that bad.
I attended the party on Friday night and it was a blast! Dessert was served, there was great music, and lots of dancing. It was like being at an amazing wedding where all of the guests were really cool technical women.
Vint Cerf, President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) welcomed us with a video since he couldn’t be here in person. He encouraged us to join ACM-W, ACM’s Women in Computing group and welcomed us to the second day of GHC. He talked about how it was a “waste of talent to not have more women in CS”. He also had a message for his male colleagues: he is “very disappointed that some women have been treated badly in the computing professions” and he hopes that “every single person that has the opportunity to stand up for women will do so”.
The keynote this morning was Megan Smith, VP at Google[x]. Google[x] is the branch at Google that works on experimental and secret projects, like self-driving cars and Google Glass. She talked a lot about finding your passion and getting to feel the power of what it is to invent and change things.
In her sophomore year, she was working at IBM on a rig where she used tools to discover how deep they were and what was in the soil there. She was the only female on site and the other riggers would stare at her. She decided that she was okay with that. There was some advantage in being the only female: after a while, people would come up and show her new and interesting things. She said that “having the courage to let people watch you is worth going through because on the other side, you get to have cool experiences.”
Megan had a lot of examples of diverse people making a difference. She talked about George Washington Carver, the scientist who brought diverse agriculture to the South in the early 20th Century; Catherine Swifter, the female runner who had her numbers ripped off during a marathon; and the group that cracked the Enigma machine during WW2 was composed of several women and Alan Turing.
I think the thing that I’ll take away the most from her talk is the idea of Moonshot Thinking. Moonshot thinking means that when you look at problem, you think about how to make it 10 times betters instead of just 10% better. I think trying to get yourself to think this way forces you to come up with novel approaches to problems.
Elaine Weyuker is a researcher and visiting scholar at Rutgers University. Her talk was about her research which is a statistical model to determine which files in a software system will contain the most bugs.
The tool that they built has two parts:
The information they used for the predictions was:
Her team worked with a huge system and looked at their version control and bug history. They were able to predict where the bugs will be in the next release very accurately.
I can see how this could be useful but I think there would be some barriers to adoption:
This panel was actually 4 talks that related to gaming in some way. The one that I enjoyed the most was by Shannon I. Steinfadt whose talk was titled “Gaming the System: Gamification for Nuclear and High-Hazard Response Training”. She talked about how she worked with a group that creates immersive 3D virtual training grounds for nuclear and high-hazard facilities.
Her work is especially appreciated in teams that only have access to facilities once every three years for training, and so the virtual environments help them become familiar with the layout of the buildings and where things are without actually being there.
An example of a group that they work with are firefighters. They also incorporate mobility limitations into the game based on what gear a firefighter would be wearing. With these types of “games”, firefighters are better able to retain what a building looks like. Training when on-site goes better and results in cost savings.
Another area where this kind of system is useful is when designing buildings. For security systems, having a 3D environment can help you understand where fences and guard towers will be needed. It can help you look at lighting and where to put security cameras by allowing you to see what the camera would see.
Overall, day two went well. During lunch, I saw with a group talking about Systers. Systers is an e-mail community composed of women in tech at various levels in their careers.
I did not attend the party on Thursday night but I heard it was a lot of fun and I really wish I had gone. I missed it because I was feeling a cold coming on and thought it would be better to rest. =(
This is my first time attending the Grace Hopper Conference. After day one, I am impressed at how well organized the conference is, the people I met, and the talks I attended.
At the opening ceremony and welcome this morning, the presenters discussed about how important it is to network. We were encouraged to talk to people in line while waiting for a panel. They have “topic tables” during lunch which is fantastic for someone who doesn’t know many people at the conference. I sat at random tables for each meal, felt welcomed right away, and was able to talk to women from various companies about what they do and the panels we attended.
I attended the keynote this morning with Sheryl Sandberg in conversation with Maria Clawe and Telle Whitney. I posted my notes earlier today and thought it was such a high note to start the conference. Update: Here’s a video of the talk.
The next talk I went to was called “Be More Strategic! Stories and Tips from Experienced Technical Women.” Karen Catlin, cofounder of Femgineer, moderated a panel on defining strategy and steps to being more strategic. The members of the panel were Ann Mei Chang, Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the US Department of State; Meena Kaul-Basu, Director of Engineering at Oracle; Mary Fernandez, CEO of MentorNet; and Christine Reimer, Director of Professional and Implementation Services at Intuit. I also posted my notes on this panel earlier today.
I also went tothe panel called “Using Volunteer Opportunities to Drive Forward Your Career.” The moderator was Lisa Schlosser (Thomson Reuters) and the panelists were Erica Christensen (CA Technologies), Josie Gillan (salesforce.com), Audrey Van Belleghem (NetApp). They discussed how to gain experience applicable to your career by volunteering: How to find the right opportunities, starting your own networking group, and how to hone your leadership skills. This was more geared to women who are in management roles or want their careers to move in that direction.
There were a lot of sponsors at the career fair! I had to force myself not to grab any swag since I usually end up throwing it out several weeks later (and then I feel bad for the environment).
I walked through the poster session and there were some pretty cool projects. There was one in particular that I thought was simple yet a great idea and that was the Arduino Dress. It seemed like such a fun way to combine technology with fashion and get into Arduino projects. Btw, you can see a full-res version of the poster on Jessica’s site.
Karen Catlin moderated a panel on how to be more strategic. Karen is a cofounder of Femgineer, whose mission is to educate, encourage, and empower female tech professionals and entrepreneurs. The members of the panel were Ann Mei Chang, Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the US Department of State; Meena Kaul-Basu, Director of Engineering at Oracle; Mary Fernandez, CEO of MentorNet; and Christine Reimer, Director of Professional and Implementation Services at Intuit.
Karen said she decided to do this panel when she heard someone talking about how they got feedback about needing to be “more strategic”. She started talking what a “strategy” is: A plan for future success. There are two parts to this where people get stuck. The first is “what does future success look like?” and the second part is “how do I get there?” This panel was for women who don’t get it and what to do about it.
Ann Mei talked about three steps or rules that help you be strategic. Those are: 1) be audacious, 2) take big risks, and 3) articulate your goal.
She used an example from when she worked at Google in the mobile business. At the time, they were only a 50 million dollar business (small for Google =D).
When it came to being audacious, they decided that the goal they wanted to reach was to become a 1 billion dollar business. They ended up hitting that goal in 3 years. Her words were, “If you don’t imagine it, it won’t happen.”
This was around the time that the iPhone had just come out and before Android. Ann Mei’s team decided to bet big on smartphones which was a controversial bet at the time. The thinking was, “If we’re going to be a billion dollar business, we have to take big risks.”
She talked about articulating your goal and the need for having a one-sentence pitch that lets people know where you’re headed. She used an example from the Department of State. The research showed that women are 23% less likely to have access to mobile phones in developing countries. The one-sentence pitch her team used was, “Reach gender equality in broadband access by 2010.” This goal made it easy to agree on what they were working on and move towards it. Ann Mei says, “Be as clear and concise as possible.”
Meena talked about how to create a strategy. She said that you need to understand the context/environment you are working in. In business, you need to also find a way to leapfrog across your competition. And finally, you need a solid plan that you can communicate to your team. She used an example from when she worked at Sun Microsystems. They were investing in a new technology for deployed virtual clusters on boxes. Some people were not sure whether this would work but they worked hard to make sure that the team was completely committed to it.
Mary sees strategy as “one leg in a three-legged stool.” The other two legs are mission and leadership. She says that strategy is always in service to the mission and set down by your leadership. She talked about crises and how you should avoid them.
She listed what crises are not. Things that are not crises: funding being cut, new leaders appearing and disappearing. These things are business as usual. Crises happen when there is a threat or a failure to the mission and/or the leadership. How do you avoid crises? You don’t. Crises will happen and they will happen when you least expect them. The cause will be a surprise and the answers will not be clear. However, since you can’t avoid it, be prepared for it and this is where strategy comes in to play. You have a responsibility to the mission of your organization and you need to be aware of what’s happening with your leadership and how your strategy will be impacted.
Mary also talked about using metrics effectively. She said that metrics only have value when they are aligned with the mission and strategy of an organization. She touched on “vanity metrics” which are metrics that make you feel good but do not reflect on what you actually need to deliver.
Christine talked about communication and how to find time to communicate effectively. She used an analogy describing oars for a boat. At best, if someone on a team does not understand how and what you are trying to do, their oars will be in a neutral position and result in drag. Sometimes they are actively against you but in her experience, 90% of the times it’s because they have no idea what you are doing. By properly communicating your plan, you can maximize impact by bringing people along.
During the questions and answers period, Karen asked the panelists about a situation where things did not go well. Each of the panelists answered with a personal example. It was nice to see women who are so high up in their careers talk about how they failed at some point. Here are two quotes that I pulled from their examples:
Key takeaway: Learn how to communicate effectively.
The keynote talk the first day at the Grace Hopper Conference was a discussion with Sheryl Sandberg lead by Telle Whitney and Maria Klawe.
Telle Whitney is the CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She cofounded the Grace Hopper Conference. Maria Klawa is the president of Harvey Mudd College. Sheryl Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and author of Lean In.
I was looking forward to this talk quite a bit after reading Lean In. The book put to words misgivings I’ve had about being a woman in engineering, offered some advice about how to lead a successful career, and was full of data and research. I recommend this book in particular to women in tech and more broadly to anyone who works with women. :)
The panel started with Maria asking Sheryl questions. The first questions was why Sheryl wrote the book. Sheryl said that the world is still run by men, men have most of the great roles in technology and that’s not okay.
They talked about confidence and looked at reasons why women might be less confident. She cited research showing that when men and women performed a task at the same level, the men’s performance was remembered slightly better by both genders, and the women’s performance was remembered as slightly less. It’s these biases that conferences like GHC try to overcome. For a given job posting, most men will apply if they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas women will only apply when they meet 100%. One of the things I like about her book is that she always cites studies and research to back up her points. She talked about her own experience with GHC, when she was invited to speak for several years before accepting. She did not feel like she had the right to be on stage when she didn’t have a technical background, despite her success.
Sheryl was asked about how the book translates to other cultures and careers. She had different women write the forward for the book for different languages. She said that even though cultures vary widely, the stereotypes that we have for men and women are mostly the same: Women stay at home and take care of children, men go to work and support the family financially. She talked about some of the stereotypes we engender in children at a young age. For girls we teach them charity, being humble, and not needing to be as strong as their male counterparts. We call young girls bossy when they take charge whereas we never tell that to boys. This translates directly to how women can be called “aggressive” when they take leadership roles. Sheryl used an example from Facebook where a female had received peer feedback about how she was aggressive. This feedback gets submitted to the manager and when her manager read that, he went to those who had given that feedback and asked whether they would have said the same thing had a man acted that way. The answer was no. It’s easy to forget that we can be biased and can fall into the stereotype-trap even when we have the best intentions. I think it’s important to be vigilant about it. A little girl who takes charge is not “bossy”, she has “executive leadership skills”.
The panel then discussed the self-perpetuating stereotype about the type of people that go into Computer Science. Sheryl put it this way: “you can’t be what you can’t see”. There are not many women in CS so other women think they are not welcome or it is something that normal women can’t do. I’ve talked about the stigma around computer science with other women. It’s hard to convince someone to go into it when they have already made judgments about what it’s like (sitting at a computer all day) and the type of people they will encounter in CS (nerds).
Maria Klawe talked about some of the work she did at Harvey Mudd. Harvey Mudd had an initiative to have more female students take Computer Science courses. Since they started this initiative, the number of females enrolled in CS courses rose from 15% to 40% (I think this was over 5 years). Maria was humble saying that she had very little to do with this but Sheryl said that she couldn’t say that on the GHC stage! It was a funny moment and Maria finally admitted that she was more involved than she initially claimed.
Maria went on to list the three thing that stops high school-aged girls from taking CS courses. They are:
To address the boring issue, Harvey Mudd revamped some of their introductory courses and made the assignments and what they learned more fun. She also mentioned how they made some of the assignment more applicable to real problems in biology or physics. They also switched the language they were using to Python, which is more accessible than languages like Java or C++.
To make CS “less scary”, they split the courses into two groups: CS5-Gold and CS5-Black. Gold is for those students who do not have any Computer Science experience. This class comprised mostly of females and created an environment where they felt comfortable. They also made some of the assignments team-based and provided more help in the programming labs.
During the question and answer period, there was one question that really stood out for me. The question was about how some people think that events like the Grace Hopper Conference make women look bad. It gets people thinking that women might need help to get ahead.
Sheryl understood the question right away and mentioned that at some point all women feel that way and most will reach an inflection point where they change their minds. You think “I don’t want to go to this women’s-only event even though I know it’s good for me because I don’t want anyone to notice I’m a woman and I don’t want to be treated differently by my peers”. She said that ignoring the issue has not been working: there are only 23% of tech roles that are occupied by females. She wants to put gender issues back on the table and says the only way to overcome this and make things better is to talk about it and do something about it. It is an issue and it should be addressed; We need to acknowledge the biases and differences and change them.
Telle Whiney answered that when you see this type of reaction about coming to events that are for women you should encounter it head on. Tell them how something like GHC has impacted your life and why it makes a difference.
Sheryl ended with how technological change is driving so much progress in the world. It allows us to collaborate in ways we’ve never done before. Technology is going to change the world and to change it in the right ways we need women to lead with men.
It has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. Here’s what’s been going on with me these past several years:
I actually arrived in Minneapolis today and will be attending the Grace Hopper Conference that starts tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it and will be writing about some of the talks so I thought it would be a good idea to have a small update post about how I got here. :)
Tonight there was a welcome reception for all the Microsoft attendees. It was an opportunity to network and get to know some people before the conference officially starts. The team that looks into diversity at Microsoft talked about the work they are doing around attracting more women into Computer Science and helping them succeed once they are in the field, from high school up to Ph. D. candidates. I was not aware of how much we do in this area and I appreciate the team taking the time to set up the event. Also, free food and wine!
I applied to Concordia in Software Engineering without really knowing anything about “software engineering”. I had no programming experience but I was eager to learn. I also wanted to make the most of my university experience by getting involved and meeting new people.
My first CUSEC (Canadian University Software Engineering Conference) was back in 2008, only my second semester as a software engineering undergraduate. I still had only a small grasp of what OOP was and couldn’t code for my life. I was convinced by the Concordia Head Delegate at the time to attend the conference. His pitch in my SOEN 228 class sold me. The line I remember the most was after he had listed the speakers, he said, “don’t worry if you don’t know who any of these people are, you will find out at CUSEC.” That “don’t worry” made me realize that I wasn’t the only person in my class who was ignorant about these speakers.
My only apprehension was that I would not understand what the talks were about. However, I figured that it is a student conference, $60 wasn’t that much, and if I didn’t like it then I could always leave.
The speakers I remember the most that year were Jeff Atwood, Tim Bray, and Zed Shaw. Yes, I admit that some of the topics were over my head but for me, the important part was learning about what you could do in the world of programming and how to start doing something cool. That year, I was introduced to the functional programming paradigm. I didn’t understand it fully during the talk but it did show me that there were other ways to think about problems. This was, of course, later re-iterated in my Principles of Programming Languages class where the mantra was, “If you only have a hammer then every problem is a nail.”
I went to CUSEC, met tons of smart students and speakers, and learned things I would have never covered in class. I was in love with CUSEC and hoped to go back in 2009.
In 2009, I was voted in as the CSE Representative. Since I was supposed to be providing help and services to Computer Science and Software Engineering students, I decided to become one of the Head Delegates for Concordia. As an HD, your responsibility is to promote the conference at your respective univevsity and help out during the conference. You also attend meetings with the other organizers and find out the latest happenings at CUSEC.
It was during these meetings that I really understood what CUSEC was all about and met those who are the most passionate about the conference. CUSEC is about awesome speakers talking to students in an informal setting (eg Brutopia). It’s about connecting with others who share your interests and deciding to work on a project. It’s about cheering on (and criticizing) your fellow peers when they go up to demo their work. It’s about talking to companies and landing internships. Finally, it’s about having a good time and being able to interact with those who understand your passion.
As an attendee, you don’t see the work that goes into organizing a conference. In fact, one of the things that was brought up occasionally is that the attendees, speakers, and other guests should think that planning and running CUSEC requires no work. We want it to look easy and have it run seamlessly (although that hasn’t always been the case).
As an organizer, you see the minute things that the chairs and advisors debate about for hours. You see the planning that goes into selecting speakers and contacting sponsors. Finally, you see the ten crises that happen daily and how the chairs and advisors solve them.
For me, CUSEC has been a way to expand my knowledge about software development. As someone who went into the program knowing nothing, I feel as if I am constantly playing catch-up. CUSEC continuously shows me that there are many things that I do not know but it provides me with the tools and the opportunity to achieve the things that I find interesting. Talking to speakers and other students and inquiring about their accomplishments and knowledge is the first step.
I was a member of the team that went to the local competitions in Potsdam. I found out tonight that our team was selected to compete in the Regional competition in Rochester, New York on October 31st. I am proud of our team. Nice work Sandy, Henk, and Matt (who was there in spirit). Special thanks go out to our coaches: Dr. Constantinides and Alex Vallée.
The competition consisted of seven problems. We had five hours to solve them and access to only one computer.
I will post the pdf with the problems we encountered during preliminaries once it is available. If I have free time, I will write a post discussing our solutions, what we could have done better, and what we were prepared for.
Now it’s back to studying for midterms (four left) and putting off assignments.
Spice Up Your Life was a success. It started a bit late and there were no spoons but the samosas were delicious and there was a good turnout. It was great talking to the professors. A special thanks to Skrud for stopping by and telling us about life after graduation.
Last night was the Engineering Games Lizard Lounge. ÉTS, Polytechnique, and McGill showed up. I’ll have to find and post a picture of the official ÉTS beer pong table. It’s made out of 3300 beer caps and is a fantastic work of art.
With the first month out of the way, it’s time to think about some more important things. Sure, you can worry about midterms, but you can also procrastinate those studies by spending some time with your fellow engineers. Here’s what I’ll be covering in this post:
1. Problem Solving Sessions
Concordia’s ICPC team for this year has been chosen. It would be good to start a regular group that gets together and solves algorithmic and math programming problems together. Those interested are planning to meet once every two or three weeks. If you join the group, the meetings are not mandatory, just come whenever you have free time. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at email@example.com and send me your availability.
2. Programming Summer Camp
Dr. Chvátal (yes, he has a Wikipedia page) is planning a camp geared for CÉGEP students to teach and get them excited about programming. This would be for next summer, around June. If you’re interested in helping out, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Dr. Chvátal.
3. Tutors On Duty
The Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science is offering this service to all undergraduate students. The program aims to help first- and second-year students by providing tutors for their discipline at certain times. The tutors will be third- and fourth-year undergraduates. The CS/SOEN tutors are available at the following times:
They’ll be in H-806-01 and H-806-02.
More information can be found on the Tutors on Duty website.
4. SCS Gaming Day
Date: Tueday, October 6th, 2009
Time: 12:00 – 17:00
If you were around during Frosh, you’ll remember SCS had consoles set up in the B-annex. They’re doing it again. It’s a great way to kill time if you’re on a break.
5. Career Fair
Date: Tueday, October 6th and Wednesday, October 7th
Location: Hall 7th floor
Time: 10:00 – 16:00
Update: Facebook event page.
I’ll update once I have the full details about the location and time. I do know that there will be 16 different companies each day so come with you CV ready.
Also, if you’re interested in greeting and helping the companies set up, e-mail Athena with your availability at email@example.com
6. Beer and Nacho Cheese
Date: Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Free drinks and nachos. Last year the B-annex was packed. the food was great and it was so much fun. Definitely not to be missed.
Corny joke time: What do you call cheese that isn’t yours? Nacho cheese! (Not your… get it?)
7. SCS Lizard Lounge
Date: Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Time: 17:00 – 20:00
8. SCS Eclipse Tutorial
Date: Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
Location: Hall 929
Time: 18:00 – 20:00
This tutorial will cover Eclipse basics such as creating a project, uses of the different views and perspectives. I’ll also delve into some of the refactoring capabilities as well as look at the java Debugger. Finally, we’ll look at installing plug-ins.
9. SCS Shell Scripting Tutorial
Date: Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
Location: Hall 929
Time: 18:00 – 20:00
Shell scripting is an important weapon in your arsenal of programming skills. I learned bash over the Summer while working and I wish I had taken the time to learn it earlier.