Tag Archives: GHC13

GHC 2013: Day Two

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 stage in the main ballroom was pretty cool.

The stage in the main ballroom was pretty cool.

In Effort There is Joy

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.

Megan’s talk has been posted online.

Looking for Bugs in All the Right Places

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:

  1. Extracting data needed to make the predictions
  2. Analysis on data, making the predictions, and displaying them.

The information they used for the predictions was:

  • Size, larger files = more bugs
  • Recent changes, new code = more buggy. She also mentioned that looking at who changed a file was a poor predictor.
  • Past performance, if the file had more bugs than average in the last release, it will be so for the new release.
  • Programming language, some languages tended to be more buggy

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.

Prediction results for 9 systems.

Prediction results for 9 systems.

I can see how this could be useful but I think there would be some barriers to adoption:

  • Let’s say you know that a certain file will contain a lot of bugs. You still do not know where these bugs are. I suppose that if the file is for a specific feature or functionality then you can re-test that part of your software more thoroughly.
  • The severity of bugs is not provided. There are bugs that we prioritize higher than others and some that we don’t really care about. If there were some way that the severity of bugs could be predicted, this tool would be more useful.
  • We are constantly building new features, which means new code and new files. Because this relies so much on historical data, I doubt it could be very accurate when comparing new files. So it would fail to give you a priority on what needs to get tested the most.

Gaming Lightning Talks

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.

From left to right: Gail Carmichael, Brittany Arthur, Rosa Thomas, and Shannon Steinfadt.

From left to right: Gail Carmichael, Brittany Arthur, Rosa Thomas, and Shannon Steinfadt.

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. =(

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GHC 2013: Day One

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).

Microsoft Booth at the GHC Career Fair.

Microsoft Booth at GHC Career Fair.

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.

Arduino Dress poster by Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

Arduino Dress poster by Jessica Dickinson Goodman.

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Be More Strategic!


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.

From Left to Right: Karen Catlin, Ann Mei Chang, Meena Kaul-Basu, Mary Fernandez, Christine Reimer.

From Left to Right: Karen Catlin, Ann Mei Chang, Meena Kaul-Basu, Mary Fernandez, Christine Reimer.

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:

  • Mary: After talking about a technology at AT&T that was amazing but never went anywhere. “If you do not have the right stakeholder buy-in, nothing will get done. Sometimes you need to stick your neck out and find the right person.”
  • Christine: Talking about meetings where you say something brilliant and nobody listens. Later, you hear the same thought you had, re-articulated by someone else and everyone thinks it’s wonderful. “The right message at the wrong time is the wrong message. Pay attention to timing. Be thoughtful on how you are delivering your message and get feedback all the time.”

Key takeaway: Learn how to communicate effectively.

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Leaning In at GHC

Update: Video of the talk up here.

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:

  1. It is boring
  2. They think they won’t be good at it
  3. They “won’t be seen dead” with the people already in CS

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.

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Hello, Seattle!

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:

  • Graduated from Concordia
  • Travelled through Europe for 2 months
  • Moved to Seattle
  • Started working for Microsoft
  • Explored the following cities: San Francisco, Portland, Victoria, Vancouver, Las Vegas, San Juan, Austin.
  • Got some cats!

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!

View of Seattle taken from Kerry Park.

View of Seattle taken from Kerry Park.


My little girl, Arya.

Arya, such a photogenic kitty.


My little boy, Sir Robert.

Sir Robert the Bruce looks down on you.


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