terriko: (Default)
Today is a good day: I get to be famous for being snarky!

There's a short interview with me up on FastCoLabs today, regarding my (in)famous slideshare presentation about women, biology, and computer science.

She did a nice job of trimming down my original answers, but I am sad that she missed the part where I said I didn't answer the question about what does cause the disparity in my slideshare presentation because half the point of the presentation was to get people to think rather than mindlessly accept shortened arguments with good face validity. (The corollary being that there's a meta-joke in the presentation because it is a shortened argument with good face validity.)

I edited out some of the other snarky things I said before I sent 'em. It's probably just as well. ;)

Anyhow, in case anyone reading this hasn't seen the original presentation before, I'll just embed it here:

In case the embed doesn't show up for you, here's a link: How does biology explain the low numbers of women in computer science? Hint: it doesn't.

terriko: (Default)
So, it turns out that not only do I dislike half the samples I can find online of good philosophy of teaching statements, I also hate everything I write on that front. But the deadline is today and my references have already sent in their letters, so I think I've just got to suck it up and submit what I have.

I am, however, pleased with the ideas in this paragraph on failure:

But perhaps the biggest lesson was about failure: Many students seemed to believe that any failure was a sign of fundamental, unfixable inadequacy, and this was especially toxic to the women and other minority students who were more likely to feel like imposters. But many self-taught programmers learn through experimentation and repeated failure, so we encouraged students to do this in tutorials and even celebrated ridiculous bugs together by encouraging the students to share them and help each other debug. The students who had difficulties at the beginning could see other students failing and then succeeding, and the change in their confidence levels was noticeable, as was the resulting change in what they attempted and what they achieved.

That's a little piece of what made teaching tutorials such a different experience from lecturing, and something I really loved watching happen every year.
terriko: I am a serious academic (Twlight Sparkle looking confused) (Serious Academic)
One of the things I occasionally talk about at work is that my experience in the standards process completely destroyed any illusions I had about standards being made for the good of all[1]. Which is why this quote about the process of deciding on IPv6 amuses me so:

"However, many people felt that this would have been an admission that something in the OSI world was actually done right, a statement considered Politically Incorrect in Internet circles."

- Andrew S. Tanenbaum regarding the IPv6 development process in Computer Networks (4th ed.)

And since I imagine few of you follow my long-quiet web security blog (I didn't really feel like writing more on web security while doing my thesis or shortly thereafter), here's another quote that amused me from the same book:

... "some modicum of security was required to prevent fun-loving students from spoofing routers by sending them false routing information."

- Andrew S. Tanenbaum regarding OSPF in Computer Networks (4th ed.)

In case you're wondering what's up, I'm reading this textbook to brush up on my basic routing terminology with the plan to do some crazy things with routers in the future. It's quite useful for this purpose, but I keep getting distracted by how awesome Tanenbaum's writing is; you can see from his humour and deeper insights why his texts are considered standards in the field of computer science. I think the last time I was this struck by a textbook author was while reading Viega's Building Secure Software.

This sort of carefully crafted understatement is a huge contrast to the other book I'm reading currently, The 4-hour Workweek, which I'll probably review in a later post if I don't give up in disgust. (It's full of useful ideas, but the writing style is driving me nuts.)

[1] Standards are made for the goals of the companies involved in the committee. Sometimes those happen to be good for all, sometimes not, and the political games that happen were very surprising to me as a young idealist.
terriko: (Default)
I got a really interesting query today that boiled down to, "How much math do you need to write code?"

The short answer to this is, "Not that much" or perhaps "it depends on what you want the code to do." But here's part of what I actually wrote back:


To be honest, the level of math required to write code is pretty small. A grade school understanding is often sufficient; there's a reason we can teach 7 year olds to program! Modern programming languages are much less math-oriented: I once spent an afternoon teaching my then 11 year old sister and her friends how to write dynamic database-driven websites, and the only math they used was to add up the scores on the "what animal are you most like?" quizzes they wanted to write.

The math in computer science comes a lot later: for deeper analysis of algorithms and running time, we use algebra and mathematical proofs in an academic setting. But... to tell the truth, relatively few programmers need or use this kind of deeper understanding in their day-to-day jobs. And in my experience teaching students, many people find this stuff easier to learn by doing, so they only really begin to grasp it *after* they have gotten comfortable writing programs.

In short: you probably have all the math skills you need to write code, and if you decide you want to do more hardcore CS later, it'll be easier to learn the math along the way anyhow!


There's some nuance there that I didn't really tease out -- the deeper understanding of algorithms and program behaviour is what characterizes the real "science" out of computer science. And maybe the world would be a better place if more programmers did actually use deeper analysis in their day-to-day jobs. But you don't have to be an academic-style computer scientist to write code! Still, it's a very interesting question, given that historically programming actually did require a lot more math, and our perceptions and stereotypes haven't really kept up with the reality of the field.

Perhaps it's time for me to write another presentation? ;)

(For context: my old slideshow about women, computing and math got included in this TechCrunch post about Racism and Meritocracy, so I've been getting a lot of mail, including the one that spawned this post.)
terriko: (Default)
People often comment on the number of ribbons on my badge, and I always tell them that I get a lot of them because I like volunteering at GHC. Volunteering every year keeps me with a nice balance of meeting new people and having an excuse to sit and chat with friends who I met volunteering in previous years. Plus, badge ribbons are just fun:

My day started with an orientation for Hoppers, and I was not nearly awake enough to take pictures of that.

From there, I headed to the Free and Open Source Software booth, which is kinda unusual among the booths at GHC11 in that we're a collection of people working on completely unrelated projects, and you'll get to hear about completely different things if you come back a few hours later. Plus, some of the coolest and most inspirational women I know are working at the booth. One of the things about open source is that it attracts a lot of people who are willing to just Get Things Done and who are able to not only get the technical details right, but also able to organize their own time and other people's to make sure things happen. If you went to Jo's session in the afternoon and realized you want to be known as the sort of person who really gets stuff done, you should be looking to these people for tips!

Then I moved on to the PhD Forum. Here's pictures of the lovely presenters, but I'm too tired to dig out my session notes so I'll just suggest you mosey on over to Valerie's blog about the session.

There's a blur of meeting people and chatting and getting caught up between every session. It's awesome!

I also got a chance to meet with the other community volunteers, yet another illustrious crew of smart awesome women who are passionate about using social media and all our other tech tools to share the experience of being at GHC11 online. Anyone who comes to GHC11 and takes a picture, writes a blog post, tweets, and participates in our online communities can be part of our team! If you want to know how to contribute your stuff to the online communities, just ask!

A few people were willing to humour me today by playing "real life angry birds" with me at the open source booth. I crocheted a bunch of birds to play with, and used it as an excuse to take pictures as a community volunteer. Lots of people have asked if they can have one, and I wish I had time to crochet them for everyone, but alas, I'd get a hand cramp long before I finished! However, please stop by the booth and play with them and take pictures over the next few days, just remember to leave them for the next visitors.

Next up, I went to Jo Miller's session on building your personal brand. Once again, I suggest you visit Valerie's blog to learn more about Jo's talk. I'm going to echo what someone I talked to today said and point out that the neat thing about Jo is how she really motivates this stuff. Brand-building sounds like marketing or startup culture speak to me, but she had a great story about a women she met who felt she was "the best-kept secret of the company" -- but you don't want to be a secret! I may write a post about this later, but for now, read Valerie's. :)

Towards the end of the session they did a speed-networking thing, and I totally made the rookie mistake of leaving my business cards in my purse when we got up to stand on this weird grid thing to facilitate moving and networking. The most amusing moment for me was when we got over and everyone was too busy networking to listen to the instructions on how we should network!

Then it was back to the open source booth for me, where I got to talk to more super cool people and play more angry birds:

I talked about how open source is awesome when you're in grad school. I talked about to get internships at open source companies or through google summer of code (we loooove students!) I talked about what drew me to GNU Mailman (short answer: technology that helps build communities and fun developers to work with!) And I got to hear about people's backgrounds and worries and projects and how their companies use open source software.

Then my final job of the evening was as a Hopper working the registration desk. I figured after the bustle of the open source booth, working a quiet registration desk would be boring... But I sat down next to Kate and had a blast talking about Margaret Atwood, working in technology while wearing a skirt or even a suit, our (relatively) new jobs, and everything else we could think of for a few hours. It was great!

And then back to the free and open source booth where I got to sit and chat with Mel who I admit I probably fangirled all over because I love the way she's been blogging about viewing academia from an open source perspective, and she is just totally one of those people who always seems to be doing cool things and thinking about them in insightful ways and I was so very exited to meet her. Hopefully i didn't talk her ear off too much, given how tired we all were by this point!

When the show floor closed up, it was time to head back to the hotel, and now I've stayed up too late processing photos and blogging. Oops! Tomorrow's 7:45am breakfast meeting with my security panel is going to feel very early!

But thankfully, you don't have to get up before 7:45 to talk about the panel; you can all just come see the finished product at 11:30am-12:30pm in B113-115 where I'm on a panel about online security for technical women. Hope to see you there!
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