GHC 2013: Day Three

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.

Embracing Diversity

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.

Valerie Taylor during her keynote.

Valerie Taylor during her keynote.

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:

  • Engage: Take the time to learn about others.
  • Embrace: Embrace people’s diversities instead of dismissing it.
  • Enhancement: One you understand someone, you know how to work with them in a better way.

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.

Native vs Web App

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.

Promise and Perils of Online Education

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.

PoojaSarkar, Founder of Piazza, talks about the promise and perils of online education.

PoojaSarkar, Founder of Piazza, talks about the promise and perils of online education.

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.

Party Time

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.

All they served at the party was dessert. It was fantastic!

All they served at the party was dessert. It was fantastic!

Ice cream bar!

Ice cream bar!

Dance Party!

Dance Party! Did I mention the glow sticks?

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