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Celebrating Women in Computing at Grace Hopper Conference

Published: 19 October 2010

Six ECS students received scholarships from the School to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, held in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month.

The six students, Norhidayah Azman, Betty Purwandari, Jenny Lantair, Karolina Kaniewska, Carly Wilson, Rosy Ibrahim and Maria Apampa were accompanied by Jane Morgan and dr mc schraefel from the Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia research group in ECS. dr schraefel was the only international speaker on a panel of women in Human Computer Interaction, specifically discussing the nature of women's research careers in HCI.

Jenny Lantair writes about the experience: "I recently returned from the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference 2010 - it was quite an unforgettable experience. The conference itself is huge. Around 2140 people attend, mostly women, from 29 different countries, all of whom were students (960 of us), university staff or working in industry. At any point in the conference one could strike up a conversation with the women around, simply about how is it being a female in computing, job opportunities, or one of my favourite questions 'Do you offer internships'? So many wonderful companies offer well paid internships in the States that I shall have a hard time deciding which one to go for, they were all so persuasive.

The main benefits from attending GHC is the networking opportunities and the chance to hear a mix of inspiring and amazing cutting-edge women talk about their work and their lives, whether it’s one-on-one around the breakfast table, in a group at a workshop or in a crowd of thousands watching them upon the main stage. I found the chance to talk to women I would never have met otherwise really refreshing. Having a conversation with another woman and not knowing whether they head up R&D at Yahoo, are a lead researcher at IBM or just another student like you is quite an exciting experience.

For example I held a fairly animated discussion with two other women I assumed were other students (purple hair and dreadlocks are normally our area rather than businesswomen's) and it wasn’t until later we talked about what we had each been doing that summer that I discovered one was the head of the Google summer of code project and the other was the presenter of an American podcast I listen to! They both gave me their cards and that’s what I loved - everyone there is just another woman you can talk to. If I had tried to contact such people I would have had to jump through hoops, but at GHC an interested ear and some conversation is all that is needed.

The talks themselves were fascinating; what with the wide variety of lectures going on at any one point a talk could be found to suit you at any time of the day. Most of the day 9-5 there were nine different lectures going on ranging from security to industry, open source development to managing your own research team. If there wasn’t something on that appealed for you or you had just reached saturation point on lectures, you could stroll around the tables and talk to a range of companies, from the NSA to Amazon. The highlights for me were the Open Source track which was a whole day of Open Source talks from a range of panellists which culminated in a hackfest. This was coding as a large group for a group called the Sahana foundation. This is a group set up to help manage natural disasters, with the larger goal of saving lives. This was a great experience since I got the chance to code with other interested students and we learnt how large coding projects stretching the globe worked.

A very inspiring speaker was Jan Moolman who presented a talk about using technology to end violence against women, whether as an aid to prevent the initial violence, ensure the perpetrator was arrested or simply as a tool to help the victim recover afterwards. It was a very moving and at points scary talk as some of the animated recovery tools was a mix of brightly coloured cheerful cartoons, the emotionless voice of the victim recounting the series of events and the brutal violence which had occurred. Jan’s talk was very impassioned though and I’m hoping to get involved with the “Take back the tech” movement in the near future as a way to support her amazing work.

Finally every day there was a keynote speaker, all amazing women such as the CEO of Yahoo Carol Bartz, Barbara Liskov of MIT (creator of the LIskov Substitution Principle and Turing award winner), and my favourite Duy-Loan Le of Texas Instruments. Duy-Loan was a brilliant speaker who was very inspiring; she managed to mix sparkling humour with her life story, personal advice for the audience and serious messages about what helped her and others become successful women. She really made any personal problems one had feel inconsequential with what she had been through and yet not only did she survived through them, but she grew into a successful engineer and became the first woman to become a senior fellow at TI. After a tiring whirlwind of a conference we ended up at the Atlanta aquarium for a disco hosted by Microsoft and Google. It was a great way to end such an event and if any women (or men) are reading this and still aren’t sure I would say go for it, it’s an amazing event (being held in Portland next year which looks lovely) and it leaves you feeling refreshed and energized about your work. It’s a great way for final year students to meet prospective employers and get a head start over everyone else when graduation comes around.

Last of all I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped organise the scholarships this side of the Atlantic, especially Jane Morgan who made it such a good trip and ensured the rest of us could have an enjoyable time."

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