terriko: (Default)
Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.

When I first met Robin Jeffries, I had no idea how important she was. My friend Jen said, "hey, you need to talk to Robin about this" and the three of us sat down and chatted about technical stuff for an hour or so in the middle of a busy conference. It didn't hit me until much later that I'd just spent a time geeking it up with a woman who half the women at GHC would have loved to shake hands with, let alone get a whole lunch with.

Robin has just retired as Her Systers Keeper, a role she took over from Anita Borg when Anita's health was failing. She's not wrong in calling managing a community like this a job of cat herding, but with her guidance Systers has long been a list with an unusually high signal to noise ratio, and one that many technical women turn to when they need advice, want to share a story, or want to rant about the latest news piece about women in computing. I started realizing how much of a role model Robin herself has been to so many when I'd mention her and people would go, "wait, you know Robin Jeffries? I've always wanted to meet her in person!" These were women who were inspired by the stories she shares and her ability to get to the heart of the matter when it comes to the experience of technical women.

I've been fortunate enough to work with Robin doing Google Summer of Code mentoring for Systers, where we've been doing modifications on an open source project dear to my heart, GNU Mailman. She's got an uncanny ability to find good chunks of technical work that our students can manage, a knack for inspiring the people she works with, a good system for managing us all and keeping us to our deadlines, and every time we sit down to talk about how to fix a problem she impresses me with her insights into better architectures and designs. I've rarely had the chance to work with someone of Robin's experience in human computer interaction (read her bio, but in short, she's crazy accomplished and I probably would have been way intimidated if I'd known how much so when I first met her). I'm constantly in awe of how easily she not only applies that experience, but how good she is at conveying it to others and how willing she is to share her skills.

We're probably all benefiting from her knowledge as she applies it to her job at Google, but it's the more direct personal experiences that really get me. For example, despite being in great demand with the Systers 25th anniversary celebrations at GHC12 this year, she came out to help me run Open Source Day activities for women interested in hacking with Systers and Mailman, quickly adopting a whole table of prospective volunteers and walking them through the first stages of evaluating and contributing to an open source project. She regularly makes me wish I'd spent more time studying HCI myself, and forces me to re-evaluate how I design software. We've got one big feature we want to see in Mailman and I'm really looking forwards to working with her on making it happen.

I admire Robin for her amazing technical expertise, for her support of women in computing, and for her ability to balance the two as part of her own busy life for so many years. It has most definitely been my privilege to work with such an amazingly talented woman, and I hope that some day I can approach her level of professional and personal accomplishment.
terriko: (Default)
This post entitled Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men was making the rounds when I got back from camping yesterday. It's a "just do it" rallying cry, which is not unreasonable (more women trying will likely result in more succeeding) but one that's made a bit blindly, unaware of some of the barriers that those who try are facing.

There's already an excellent response out there which says most of what I wanted to say: Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Playing the Blame Game. Basically, quit trying to blame it all on men or women or society or math test scores and try working together to create solutions. All of these things (and more) are to blame, but pointing it out isn't nearly as helpful as finding work-arounds.

But there's still one thing I'd like to pull out of the original article:

We beg women to come and speak. (...) And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.


Let me tell you a story. One year, it was announced that one student in my department was going to get a special job. Over the months afterwards, I heard a lot of grumbling. The problem was not that said student couldn't do the job: the person was an excellent candidate. The problem was that the student had been the only candidate. The university had quite a number of other talented students, and they had not been made aware of the upcoming position or given a chance to apply. The person who got the job was the same person regularly nominated for special scholarships, invited to special events, seemingly given first right of refusal in many other projects. The upper academia equivalent of a teacher's pet.

The problem was that the university saw themselves as having a single exceptional candidate, when in fact they had probably 10, 30, or more.

I think this is what's starting to happen when it comes to women in tech. Sure, there might not be enough of us. Sure, it's no where near the 50% of the population. But that doesn't mean you get to ask the 5 women you know or have seen speak before and then sigh and say "it's too bad no women want to participate." Like the university, you're probably missing at least 10 times as many who are qualified, but haven't been quite so heaped with honours so they're harder to find.

If all the women you're asking are all busy, it's not necessarily a sign that all possible excellent candidates are busy; it could just be a sign that you're looking in the same place as everyone else.

Because I interact with a lot of other techcnical women, I know there are many good people who just don't hear about speaking opportunities. And others have so many requests they can't handle them all.

So in the spirit of being useful, here's some wider places you should look if you're trying to find some great women speakers. Maybe not all of them have given keynotes and been interviewed a dozen times, but they're still interesting people who could enhance your event:

  • The Grace Hopper 2010 schedule includes a many women speakers on a number of topics. (I'm on the open source track!) I found the calibre of speakers at GHC 09 to be especially high, so it's a great place to start when looking for a great speaker. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of candidates? Talk to @ghc and ask for help making the right connections.


  • Geekspeakr.com is intended to help events find technical women speakers and vice versa. You can search by keywords or just browse around. These folk have all signed up saying they're willing to speak!


  • My university Women in Science and Engineering group ran the Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering last spring, and I was especially impressed with the the technical speakers during the day (i.e. before 5pm) because they were presenting graduate level research and ideas in ways that were accessible and fascinating. These women are definitely a cut above when it comes to science communicators!

  • There are many women's groups around you can ask. I'm a member of Systers (originally for women in SYStems, now a more general women in technology group) and Linuxchix (a group for women and allies interested in Linux or other open source). But there's lots more such groups.



And that's only scratching the surface of places I'd look if I wanted to find good female speakers. Need some more help? Just ask!
terriko: (Default)
Getting over jet lag might be a bit easier if it weren't for the fact that my GSoC team meeting was at midnight my time. Such is the peril of having students and mentors scattered across the globe!

Still very excited about everything, but also very sleepy. ;)
terriko: (Default)
I'm helping to mentor some totally awesome students working on improved archives for Mailman as part of Google Summer of Code this year, and before they start writing code we'd like to gather some data on how people really use the Mailman archives. If you have a minute, it'd help us a whole lot if you could fill out this survey to tell us how you use the existing archives and how you'd like to use them:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF9XcGRsYUpsOUtxYjBWRUdnVXN4X1E6MQ

I know I'm always inundated with survey requests, but I promise this one will help us create Archives Of The Future. ;) Seriously, this should lead to more usable and useful Mailman archives, and who doesn't want that? Feel free to pass it around to anyone else who might want to help, and if you have any questions or concerns please contact me.
terriko: (Default)
Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines, whatever they do. It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited.


To be honest, I didn't feel much like writing for Ada Lovelace Day. It feels like writing is all I do lately: a paper and a poster proposal due this week, plus the all-consuming nature of my thesis proposal that I finally submitted this month after more than a year of work. I love research/coding and I even like writing, but when they're too far out of balance I start to feel like I'm one of those people who's all talk and no action.

But Jennifer Redman is one of the people who's been pulling me out of talking and into doing, which makes it even more important that I honour her today.




I don't honestly remember when I first met Jen online -- probably through Linuxchix or maybe Mailman -- but I got to meet her for the first time in person at GHC09 after she invited me to help out with the Systers code sprint.

Jen really grabbed my attention because she was using Systers to focus on something that sometimes gets overlooked: getting individual women who already know how to code to the point of making open source contributions. And not just in a general supportive way, but in a specific, defined, "here's a project, let's hack!" sort of way. And it doesn't hurt that geeking out with other women is fun. Not that computers for girls isn't a great idea, but getting more women involved now means we've got the role models we want for those girls. And here's Jen with some grand ideas and bugs to fix and a pile of virtual machines to get women playing around in open source software sooner rather than later.

I often hear talk of such ideas, but often no one has time to follow through. What makes Jen especially incredible is how dedicated she is to the follow through. She helps keep the Systers mailing lists running (and on-topic!) She got that code sprint together, and already has plans for next year. And now she's assembling an all-star team of mentors for the Systers GSoC 2010 projects, getting us all talking and thinking, and making sure we're committed, and ready to go both mentally and technically as the students start to arrive. She's got a great level head and a willingness to say what needs saying when things get rough -- her sane commentary on some really horrendous geek feminism issues made me feel just that much more grounded when we chatted at GHC. And I'm sure she's doing all sort of other awesome stuff that I don't even know about because I'm so wrapped up in my own world.

I've been scaling back my volunteer/open source activities for the past few years as I get more deeply involved in my PhD, which means that I say no to a lot of things. But Jen and Robin Jeffries chatted with me about doing archives at the code sprint, and managed to come up with exactly my perfect project: Mailman development (on archives, no less!) where I get to work one-on-one with students and women in computing. That's three of my favourite things right there! But I'd probably still have said no if some stranger came up and offered that to me. What makes this a project worth rearranging my life for is Jen: I don't know everyone else yet, but I know that if she's involved, things will happen, and I'm going to be proud to have been involved.

So thank you, Jen. Here's to a great summer!
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