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I'm re-reading Richard Hamming's talk on You and Your Research because I felt like I needed the kick in the pants to do great work this month after some very busy months of doing necessary but not necessarily great things.

In this reading, I was struck by this anecdote:

John Tukey almost always dressed very casually. He would go into an important office and it would take a long time before the other fellow realized that this is a first-class man and he had better listen. For a long time John has had to overcome this kind of hostility. It's wasted effort! I didn't say you should conform; I said ``The appearance of conforming gets you a long way.'' If you chose to assert your ego in any number of ways, ``I am going to do it my way,'' you pay a small steady price throughout the whole of your professional career. And this, over a whole lifetime, adds up to an enormous amount of needless trouble.

On a surface level, I've long believed this is true. I've been long primed in the art of social hacking, first by my father and more recently as a security researcher/hacker. Anyone can watch the subtle variations on how I dress on teaching days or days when I'm going to the bank and you'll note that I pay attention to fitting in to the environment and manipulating the way in which I'm perceived. But as a child of the Internet, more or less, my experimentation hasn't limited to physical presentation. Especially as a teenager, I spent a lot of time grossly mis-representing my age and gender as well and watching how that changed my interactions with folk.

But what gets me this time is the end of that quote: "[If you don't appear to conform,] you pay a small steady price throughout the whole of your professional career. And this, over a whole lifetime, adds up to an enormous amount of needless trouble." Sometimes it's important to change the system, but sometimes you just want to get stuff done.

I can dress the part, but I don't generally change my gender presentation in real life. Is my female-ness adding up to an enormous amount of needless trouble over my lifetime given that I work in a field where that's going to make me non-conforming? I suspect it is, although I'm fortunate enough that my gender presentation is often canceled out by my racial makeup (Asian girls are totally good at math, don'tcha know?) so I can console myself by saying maybe it's not as enormous as it might have been. But not every person who doesn't fit the norm for their field has that consolation prize. Are we all paying the price of being different?

It's easy to get a little saddened by this. All that time explaining that no, I really am a techie, has added up to a lot of time I'm not having amazing conversations and doing great work. But before you get too saddened about how your hard-to-hide features like race/age/gender are affecting your ability to Do Great Things, you should stop and listen to Duy Loan Le's excellent 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration Keynote. In it, she talks about what she does to fit in to environments where she felt that letting go of her ego made it possible for her to get more good work done. I think it's really worth a listen, especially if fitting in isn't just a choice of what suit to wear for you.

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You can now get an aggregation of my daily twitter posts by subscribing to [personal profile] tko . I thought it was funny to use my shortened name for the shortened blogging. Also, I actually hate reading aggregated twitter posts in people's blogs, so I didn't want it sent to my regular blog in case people felt the same way as I do.

If I hate reading it, why did I set this up? Well, I've been telling myself for years now that I'd figure out a way to back up my twitter feed, but I never seem to get around to it. However, I have a perfectly nice way to backup my dreamwidth posts that I have all automated so I don't have to think about it. So click click, a new journal and a subscription to a service, and I've solved my twitter backup problem at least for the new posts.  

Fun usability enhancement: My friend Valerie actually had to go searching through my twitter feed to find some links I'd posted on a given day (because I was tweeting recommended reading from Barbara Liskov's talk at GHC10). This is a pain through twitter's regular web interface, but nice and easy using a dreamwidth calendar. Woo!

I obviously won't feel offended if you don't subscribe, but it's there if you want it!

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I'm home, and trying desperately to remember all the people I have to contact about various things. For my much smaller academic conferences, I find I usually want to follow up with 3-4 people, and that's easy enough to mostly keep those names and ideas in my head. But Grace Hopper has a lot of people, and a greater diversity of backgrounds (and thus types of neat ideas to follow up on!) than my usual, and I suspect I'm going to forget some folk.

I was at least proactive enough to get business cards and poken "high fours" to get contact details from the folk I wanted to find. But because GHC is super social, I also got contact info from people who I just want to casually follow on twitter or whose blogs I wouldn't mind reading. I met lots of folk who are just generally neat and who need to be added to things like my personal Technical Women twitter list or connected to on LinkedIn or friended on Facebook. But it's hard to sort out the ones who I need to get in touch with about specific things from those who I'm just glad to have met!

Those of you who have a system, even a messy one, what do you do to make sure you follow up with the people who you need to contact? I'd love some organizational advice here, and lots of it, because I find picking and choosing ideas from many sources often results in something that works really well for me.

Here's a few folk on my list who will be getting another ping from me this week:

  • I need to talk to JR about maybe writing for CompSci Woman because she's totally interesting, and her story about how she got involved in CS is totally unusual, awesome, and really speaks to the power of hanging out with neat women.
  • I need to talk to VB and others about maybe setting up a security track for next year. VB and I were in a talk where it became clear that there's lots of concern and interest in online security, but maybe not as much understanding as we'd have liked. There's lots of women in security @ GHC, so this should be easy ;) (and if you're one of those women, feel free to get in contact with me preemptively so I don't forget you!)
  • Thanks to SD, there's already a mailing list for a neat idea that should be coming out of the impromptu slumber party post sponsor night. I am *so* excited about this!
  • I need to revise my resume and send it to CS and set up potential interview times with this company that seems like it might make it possible for me to work in industry without having to give up all hope of doing research in the short term.
  • I need to revise my CV (which I got amazing help on at GHC10!) and send it off to get a shot at this amazing postdoc working with one of the women who I most wanted to work with in academia.

I'm loving that I have the problem that I interacted with so many cool technical women that I don't know how to contact them all. This is a great problem to have... thanks GHC10!
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There comes a time when you just have to code like a girl:

Open Source Codeathon for Humanity

So building on some success last year, we had a codeathon at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. This year, we were working on Sahana Eden, a free and open source disaster management system.

Open Source Codeathon for Humanity

I'm going to admit that the start was a litle rough. Even the mentors found the trainings a bit overwhelming and found that a lot of little issues cropped up when you were setting up your dev environment. One of my "favourites" was an issue where you'd have to run something twice in Eclipse before it would work. There were some perplexed faces!

Open Source Codeathon for Humanity

But gradually, people started having success, and having more fun chatting and hacking with the women around them:

Open Source Codeathon for Humanity

It certainly took some work, and some people even came back after the keynotes to keep hacking until late in the night. Fueled with some wine, though, it was pretty fun and I think there was even a patch going in when I stopped by around 11pm. Thanks to everyone who came out and gave it a shot!

Open Source Codeathon for Humanity

The open source track was graciously sponsored by the NSA, and we'd love to have it again next year, so if you have any comments about how much you enjoyed it, please let us know! You can post here, or Stormy Peters is collecting all the comments together and you can contact her at stormy at gnome.org.

Open Source Codeathon for Humanity

And if you've got suggestions on how we could make the codeathon run more smoothly or things we should do again, we'd love to hear those too! It was very challenging, from getting mentors trained to getting development environments set up through to figuring out what needs doing and how to do it, and I'm sure there are things we can improve upon for next year.

PS - You can see more of my GHC10 photos, including more from the codeathon here, and don't forget to check out our GHC10 flickr group and the professional event photos
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As always, I've got to say that it's a real breath of fresh air to hear people talk about their research at GHC. Often times, I dread grad student presentations (despite being a grad student myself!) because the quality of presentation isn't polished... but this is totally not the case at GHC. These women are enthusiastic, interesting, and great communicators and it's been a joy to attend these sessions. So here's the three women whose talks I caught today. (My apologies for the poor quality of the pictures: the room was quite dark and I was too busy listening to focus on photography!)

Laurian C. Vega talking about usable security in medicine

Usable Security in Practice: Collaborative Management of Electronic & Physical Personal Information
Presenter: Laurian C. Vega (Virginia Polytecnial Institute)

Security literature likes to imply that humans are the weak link in the security chain, but that's not actually true: much of the problem is that security work doesn't take the human into account when designing systems, so we wind up having to do things just that don't make sense. I sort of take this as a given, since it's a common theme within my own security group and our larger research network, but it's sometimes a hard sell in the larger security community.

So I was really thrilled to see Laurian's presentation about how she's investigated taking the human into account in security research for electronic health records. She points out that we need to go beyond focusing on getting medical folk to adopt them, figuring out their workflow, etc. and understand the entire environment in which a system is used, particularly when considering records in medicine.

Laurian's been doing active observation at childcare centres and physician's offices, specifically in rural southwest-virginia. Because she was working with rural sites, she's found a lot of the records are non-electronic, which in some ways can make things more secure: physical records can be hidden behind someone's desk, files can be hidden in the back, cabinets can be closed. One problem she found in childcare and physician's offices is there are quite a lot of interruptions, and many people do not return to the task when they're interrupted. Laurian's looking at ways to design systems which can handle this sort of interruption, as well as other realities of what goes on in the offices. This is pretty neat and not much like traditional security work, which assumes a user who's paying attention and will always do all the right steps. It sounds like some really fascinating work to deal with some very specific challenges!

Katherine Panciera talking about early lives of folk in online communities

In the Beginning: The Early Lives of Users in Online Communities
Presenter: Katherine Panciera (University of Minnesota)

From the title, I was expecting a more broad look at various online communities, but Katherine's work actually focusses on wiki contributions, specifically a site called Cyclopath where users can contribute cycling route information, including the roads to follow and details about what to expect along the way. The idea was to see how the top 5% of users ("cyclopaths") differed from other users, and how cylopath users in general differed from users of Wikipedia.

It turns out that you can actually determine which users will become cylopaths from day one: they start off by making many more edits than more casual users (50ish versus 5ish), and like Wikipedia users it turns out that people start high and then slowly tail off to a stable editing pattern. But what was even more interesting about Katherine's research is that you could see patterns in the future cyclopath uers use of the site even before they started editing.

I can only imagine how helpful it might be to be able to identify your top users and perhaps encourage them right from the beginning so they feel even more at home in the community. Very neat!

Lijun Ni talking about helping support computer science teachers over their whole careers

Building Professional Identity as Computer Science Teachers: Supporting Secondary Computer Science Teachers through Reflection and Community Building
Presenter: Lijun Ni (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Lijun says she got interested in computer science teachers because there are very few of them at the K-12 level, so there's a great need to prepare and support the teacher. She's focused on two problems: it's very difficult to retain teachers (46% will leave teaching within 5 years, and math and science are worse than some other subjects) and teachers have some resistance to change (many in-service teachers will not adopt curriculum innovations). It's also surprisingly difficult for CS teachers to develop a sense of identity as a CS teacher, since there's inconsistent certification, it's hard to fit them into the school hierarchy, they have few peers, etc.

What I really thought was interesting about Lijun's work is that she's working on finding ways to support teachers over the course of their carrers, giving them opportunities to learn and grow and develop an identity as a CS teacher. She's looked at how their identities change over time to see how to better support them. This is really interesting because most effort thus far has been in training them to start rather than retaining people with very little focus on retention.

It got me thinking that this is something you also see as a problem when talking about women in computer science: there's lots of programs for younger girls who want to get involved, but fewer programs in place to help keep women from leaving in disgust. I wonder if Lijun would be interested in tackling that problem next?
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