terriko: (Default)
2013-12-15 11:09 pm
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Just a quick note: if you aren't following the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag on twitter, you're sort of missing out. It started as a discussion on Asian feminism, but has branched out to be a bigger discussion focused around race.

I'm just gonna put this comic here while I try to remember how to log in to tumblr...

And a note to self that perhaps I should write a public version of the "not f'ing docile" post.
terriko: (Default)
2013-08-15 01:41 pm

Interview with me up on FastCoLabs

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)
2012-10-16 03:04 am

Ada Lovelace Day profile: Robin Jeffries, Her Systers Keeper Emeritus and HCI expert

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)
2012-03-02 04:13 pm

"[Being different] over a whole lifetime, adds up to an enormous amount of needless trouble."

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.

terriko: (Default)
2012-01-15 06:36 pm
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Women in Free Software blog aggregator

Once upon a time, there was a blog aggregator for Women in Free Software. Then it broke. Repeatedly.

I found I sort of missed the FOSS Women Planet, so I made myself a new one: http://terri.zone12.com/wifs/

That's currently seeded with the feeds from the original list. I know lots and lots of women who aren't on the original list but who do have public blog feeds, so I may add some from my own reading lists. Meanwhile, if you'd like to be on there, feel free to let me know, and if you also missed the old one, feel free to use mine.

I'm thinking maybe I should get a better url for it and make this more obviously a public thing that others might read, but I don't currently own a suitable domain. Suggestions? It's tempting to make womeninfreesoftware.nowwemustfight.com but I'm pretty sure that's not the impression I want to give.
terriko: (Pi)
2011-11-15 12:24 am

Trying to use my post-GHC energy wisely

Honestly, I think I make more resolutions after GHC than I do at new year's. I'm always so inspired!

Thing 1: Pushing the development of the GNU Mailman UI

Two things came together for me at the conference:

1. One thing I heard frequently while working the free and open source software booth is that there are plenty of folk interested in getting involved with open source, but they're not sure where to start.

2. I came home with a suitcase full of paper prototypes and pictures from the Mailman 3.0 part of the codeathon for humanity on Saturday. I was looking at spending my evenings digitizing them and turning them into functional prototypes.

So... I asked for help! Transcribing paper prototypes isn't the most glamorous of work, but it's a great place for a beginner to start, and given that we're hoping to have a Mailman 3.0 release as soon as possible, new contributors would have a chance to ramp up to doing real code commits very quickly. Plus they'd be able to see their code go out and be used in the real world sooner rather than later!

I posted to the Systers list knowing I wasn't the only one feeling the post GHC rush, and I posted to the Mailman list knowing we had a would-be contributor who wanted to help.

What I wasn't expecting was that I'd have talked to NINE volunteers in less than 24 hours. How awesome is that? And most of them are women as well!

Now I have the problem of making sure I have enough for everyone to do, but with a variety of skill levels I'm sure we won't have any trouble finding stuff for everyone. I'm so excited, and I hope they are too!

Associated goals:
- Allocating more of my time to serious Mailman development.
- Getting more women involved in open source.
- Improving the usability of Mailman 3.0
- Speeding up development of the Mailman 3.0 UI.
- Doing some teaching/mentoring since I love it but won't be doing it at work this year.

Thing 2: e-textiles

The first thing I did after I got home from GHC11 was sleep. But when I woke up in the middle of the night, the second thing I did was order stuff from SparkFun. :)

I've ordered a couple of simple e-textiles kits and the goal will be to play with them. I made an awesome monster at the GHC e-textiles workshop and I was eager to do more. The end goal is to build a set of lights into my new coat that respond to my movement in some way (See the tentative wishlist), but for now I'm going to make a lit cuff/armband for walking at night and experiment with the neat little aniomagic chip 'cause it looks like so much fun!

Associated goals:
- meeting more people in the local community
- actually becoming a member of a hacklab to support my projects
- making it safer for me to walk home in my beautiful-but-not-visible new black coat
- experimenting with e-textiles
- doing some more hardware-oriented projects
- making sure I had a project that would take me away from the computer

Not-quite-a-Thing 3: Not biting off more than I can chew

A common theme at GHC is reminding people that we have to really be careful about time management so that we don't get overloaded, so I'm choosing those two things that cover lots of my personal goals, and I'll aim to do them well and save the other things I want to try for later. Wish me luck!

I'd love to hear how other people are using what they learned at GHC11!
terriko: (Default)
2011-11-10 12:45 am

GHC11: Day 1 - Volunteering is a great way to meet people!

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!
terriko: (Default)
2011-10-08 02:33 am
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In case you were wondering why you haven't seen an Ada Lovelace Day post from me...

In the past few days, I have wrapped up whatever I could, flown something like three thousand kilometers and changed countries and time zones, got woken up repeatedly by an alarm clock that appeared to be switched off (and thus couldn't be turned off, either), dealt with my insurance company and two banks, obtained new credit cards and a new driver's license, looked at some of my water-damaged stuff, failed to finish my thesis defense slides, caught up with half of my family who I haven't seen in a month...

Needless to say, I have not written a post for Ada Lovelace Day. But you can click on that link and read other people's posts, and you can still write your own post about someone awesome. I mean, you don't need a special day for that, you know?

I, meanwhile, have unplugged the haunted alarm clock and am going to try to actually get some sleep.
terriko: (Default)
2011-06-13 01:37 am

Why I don't like to be called docile

Some time ago, my sister and I raised a stink with my online gaming friends after one of the guys said that the Japanese were docile. Half Japanese ourselves, we reacted by being anything but docile, and in the end the dude left the group (permanently). Despite our attempts to educate, I doubt if he ever really understood why we were so upset by his casual racism or even that it was casual racism.

I read this article today that really resonated with me about the historical reasons why calling Asian women docile is so offensive, and I want to share this quote which puts the problem in some crude but clear focus.

Much of the concept of Asian women as sexually submissive comes from the victimized condition in which American soldiers found these women when they arrived in combat zones throughout the Pacific.


This particular form of racism has myriad consequences for Asian-American women. A significant amount of the attention we receive from non-Asian men is in the form of creepy, excessive enthusiasm… as if they grew up at Pappy’s knee listening to legends of how Asian women will do anything to your penis that you want them to. Then there is the offensive assumption that anyone who is half Asian is the product of an American GI and an Asian woman he met standing on the corner saying “me love you long time.”

-- "Asian Women, American GIs, and Modern Rape Culture"

I have other, more personal and Canadian-context-sensitive reasons for disliking the stereotype too. As if the reasons above weren't enough!

The saddest part of my online gaming story is that the guy is married to a Japanese woman and has kids. His daughter(s) will be exposed to this kind of crud regularly as she grows up. I certainly hit terrible variations of this stuff as a young teenager (amplified by the "geeks love Asian women" meme). I hope by then he's a little bit more understanding as to how an offhand generalization can be part of a pattern of internalized racism.
terriko: (Default)
2011-03-09 10:50 am
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Q debate on international women's day

I was finding it a little frustrating to listen to (it's all the same arguments I've heard before), but here's a gem of a sound bite:

"What if men and women just want different things?"
"Where are the women who want 80 cents on the dollar?"
terriko: (Default)
2011-02-28 02:00 am

The advantage of being me

From The Advantage Of Dual-Identities (A Case Study of Nabokov), I bring you this quote:

It’s also important to note that the advantage of having a “dual-identity” – being both a novelist and a scientist, for instance – isn’t limited to Nabokov. According to a study led by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, people who describe themselves as both Asian and American, or see themselves as a female engineer (and not just an engineer), consistently display higher levels of creativity.

So as a female, half-asian all-canadian researcher, I'm clearly better at creativity than all those boring white dude researchers?

Angela Montenegro from Bones... I don't even know exactly where to begin on this. So I'm going talk about Bones for a minute. I've been watching it with my sister lately while we do other things (crochet, do mending, wander around looking for things in an mmo, eat dinner, etc.) and the other day she pointed out that she loves how the show deals with Angela, or really, how it doesn't. See, Angela Montenegro is the team's artist: she does sketches of the victims. But she doesn't stop there: she also coaxes data off broken camcorders and swallowed flash drives doing digital forensic work. She's an adept computer programmer who writes software that helps visualize and model what happened during a crime. What's cool about Bones is that it's totally taken for granted that she can be an artist and a coder. (And really, pretty much whatever else she wants to be.)

So I guess while I fundamentally agree that having multiple "identities" is a huge asset to my work and creative abilities, I sort of feel like... why are they making such a big deal about this, as if it's some hugely abnormal thing. Why can't they just accept that Angela can draw and code? Why do people insist on compartmentalizing people into single skill sets? I can drive a car and code and no one thinks that's weird, but plenty of people have commented with surprise that I can edit a magazine (yes, I used to do this) and write code. Hello, world?

The article just makes me a little uncomfortable. This worst part is the paragraph about how the US will be overrun by mixed-race folk like me with superior creative skills -- awkward racial superiority with a different spin -- but even the study methodology doesn't quite sit right with me at a first reading. But maybe the article is simply a journalistic reflection of research into of a real logical fallacy that people often employ: the assumption that one must specialize in only one skill to be the best person one can be. That's one of those things that might be true for programs, but I really haven't seen much evidence of it being true for people.

Despite my issues with the article, I think it's got a nice take-away message: it's a-ok, normal, and maybe even superior to have and use your multiple identities. And don't let incredulous folk tell you otherwise.
terriko: (Default)
2010-12-03 01:34 pm
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6 reasons event organizers should adopt the Conference Anti-Harassment Policy

Valerie and a number of my feminist friends have been working on a generic Conference anti-harassment policy which can be adapted to suit specific events. This is a response to quite a number of incidents that seem to crop up in geekdom. (And those are just the ones we know about and have recorded -- many people prefer not to talk about problems publicly for various reasons.)

You can read about the conference anti-harassment policy on geek feminism, and even hacker news has picked it up with the free link to the article on LWN.

I want to urge conference organizers to take a look at the policy and consider adapting it, even if you don't know of any problems at your event. Here's a few reasons:

  1. It's a signal that you're serious about the safety of the folk at your event. How can that possibly be a bad thing?

  2. It helps your staff recognize when there may be a problem. This makes it easier for them to do their jobs!

  3. It gives your staff a starting point for what to do if something happens. That also makes it easier for them know how to respond appropriately.

  4. It makes it clearer to attendees what constitutes appropriate behaviour at your event. This is a courtesy since explicit rules are much easier to follow than implicit ones!

  5. Remember that a number of geeky folk have particular trouble sussing out unspoken rules, whether that's due to being non-neurotypical, just being so focussed on geekery that other more social rules get missed, or any other reason. It's easier if people don't have to guess the rules.

  6. The point of the policy is to prevent problems from occurring in the future. Implementing it isn't going to imply to anyone that you've been hiding incidents, and being asked to implement it doesn't mean that people think you've been inviting skeezy, scary folk to your events. It's probably just an explicit statement of rules that you thought were obvious.

Think of it like a seatbelt: hopefully you'll never need it, and maybe it'll make a few folk uncomfortable, but you'll be happy it was there if you have to slam on the brakes. Wearing your seatbelt isn't an admission that you're a bad driver, it's just an admission that you can't control the behaviour of other people, so you might as well do your best to stay safe.
terriko: (Default)
2010-11-07 10:31 am
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Is decluttering anti-feminine?

A friend posted this article entitled "red winkle picker regret and the dark side of decluttering" to twitter, and I've been mulling over it for a couple of days and I still don't know exactly what I want to say. Here's the core of the article:

When I started questioning, I noticed something - The Religion of Decluttering is the kissing cousin of The Religion of Thinness.

Both have at their core the original sin of too-much-ness. Both have congregations that are filled with a large majority of women (no surprise since the teachings are largely directed at women). Both have their morality tales (Hoarders, Clean Sweep, Biggest Loser). Both have had me as a devoted member.

And, I will audaciously claim, both of them have a well-hidden shadow side that is about pathologizing the feminine in favour of celebrating the masculine. Think about it - bodyfat is inherently feminine because of it's necessity for pregnancy and childbirth. Yet women with uber-low body fat percentages are admired (even though many of them stop menstruating). Gathering beauty, making a cozy home, aka nesting- no matter whether it's done by a man or a woman - is an activity flavoured with the feminine. Yet shelter porn makes us think that a lived in house is unattractive. Think of the energy of throwing out and discarding compared to the energy of taking in and welcoming.

I call this the attack on the breasts and nests - part of a subtle backlash against the re-balancing of the feminine and masculine.

So... is it anti-feminine? I don't think it has to be: my mother's going through a decluttering phase that largely seems to be about making sure no one else has to do it for her later if she's ever incapacitated. I think you could say that's almost the epitome of feminine in a way. And I suppose the same is true of losing weight: it doesn't have to be a pathological pursuit.

But I'm not sure I can deny that the parallels between losing weight and decluttering are particularly stark when it comes to the potential hit to one's self esteem: Not pretty enough, not a good enough housekeeper -- these are things that plague a lot of women. Both the pursuit of pretty and the pursuit of a clean home can be about erasing one's identity, be it smile lines or those cute knickknacks you found in a thrift shop.

And here's where the whole decluttering thing freaks me out again: isn't it, for many folk, mostly about throwing things out? Isn't that pretty much worshipping the other side of consumerism, the very thing decluttering advocates pretend to abhor? I grew up in a family of pack rats, but my parents could almost always produce the pieces necessary for any project we wanted or needed to do, be it ancient springs or a piece of fabric the right colour, or whatever. (I grew up in a type of hack culture, long before I learned the meaning of the word hacker.)

I guess really this article reminded me that I'm proud of some of my clutter, and I like being able to go to the basement and find something that I can use to solve a problem rather than having to buy something new. Sure, maybe I could ditch a few more broken things that I haven't gotten around to fixing, give away more of the clothes I don't need, but I don't want my house to look like shelter porn any more than I want my body to look like a super model's.
terriko: (Default)
2010-10-04 12:18 pm
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How do I keep in touch with all the awesome women I met at GHC10?

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!
terriko: (Default)
2010-10-01 02:27 pm
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Open Source Codeathon for Humanity (a blog post in pictures)

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
terriko: (Default)
2010-09-30 12:20 am
Entry tags:

PhD Forum 3: UI/Education

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?
terriko: (Default)
2010-09-22 01:50 pm

CompSci Woman: How I Quit Computer Science (And What Drew Me Back)

I know, I know, I don't really need to be writing for another blog; I need to be writing my thesis. But my friend Cate and her friend Maggie started this cool project trying to make it easier for women to find real women in computer science when they hit up google trying to get a sense for what things are like. Their subject for Sept/Oct is "how I got into computer science" and I joined the group by sending in my story.

I suspect many readers of this blog have heard this story (some of you lived through it with me!) but here's a teaser anyhow:

How I Quit Computer Science (And What Drew Me Back)

To explain how I ended up in computer science, you have to understand the story of how I quit.


First year computer science was geared towards students who had little to no experience with computers, and I realised that I’d be wasting several years of my life waiting for my peers to catch up. On top of that, it was boom times and CS was being viewed a shorter path to a 6-figure salary than the more education-intensive med school or law school. The people who were there weren’t really in love with the discipline; many were just in love with the idea of being rich. I wasn’t interested in paying thousands of dollars per term to waste my time with peers I didn’t respect in a program that was boring me to tears.

I was disappointed, disillusioned, and wanted a challenge that was clearly going to be a long time coming in CS. So I dropped out.

Read the rest here.

(Those of you who are women in computer science are also welcome to join! the bottom of this page has more details.)
terriko: (Default)
2010-08-30 03:42 pm

Too Few Women in Tech? There's more than you think.

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)
2010-06-23 12:37 pm

I am not...

I really enjoyed this post titled Manifesto: I Am Not a Brand.

It makes me sort of want to make a list of all the other things I'm not that I keep getting suggested to me.

#1. I am not an entrepreneur. Yes, I have great ideas. Yes, some of them could make money. No, I'm not interested in sacrificing my life and sanity to push them. Some people really get a kick out of that sort of thing, but the idea of doing that stuff makes me feel vaguely ill. I know, there's all these studies touting the awesomeness of women entrepreneurs, and that's lovely, but I'm Not One Of Them. Thank you very much.

#2. I am not Japanese. No matter how much you want me to be, no matter how small my eyes are and dark my hair is, no matter how much genetically came from that country if you go back far enough, it's just not true. When I tell you I'm Canadian, I mean it, and it's the only ethnicity that really tells you anything useful about me. Accept it and move on.

I'll bet I'll think of more throughout the day, but those are the two that get shoved in my face most often of late.
terriko: (Default)
2010-04-20 02:31 am

Women in computing groups considered harmful?

I saw Hilary Mason's post, "Stop talking, start coding" and realized she had put in 4 words what I'd been debating taking as a personal philosophy.

Theory: The more time we spend on women in computing initiatives, the less time we have to actually get stuff done.

I've been turning down a lot of opportunities lately, and most of them have been in relation to women in $foo initiatives. Where $foo can be all manner of male-dominated geekdom. I've turned down chances at serving on a board of directors, recruiting, mentoring, speaking, giving campus tours, or running new women in $foo groups.

Why? Because I sat down and looked at my time a few years ago, and decided that I wanted to be the sort of person who gets stuff done, much like Sarah Mei articulates the answer in her post, "Why I don't work at Google." I like groups of smart people, but smart people like the GNU Mailman team who were working on version 3 held a lot more appeal that the Linuxchix folk who were just talking.

It'd be easy to blame women's groups as the problem, but then you'd miss the thing that I love most about women's groups:

The best women's groups aren't about separation and segregation: they're about providing an incubator for people who need a leg up to be part of the wider community.

That pretty much sounds like a recipe for making change and getting stuff done, and means the wider communities I care about are getting more awesome people. I love teaching. It's such a rewarding part of my job that I never feel that my time in the classroom working with my students is a waste. So why had I begun to feel guilty about my involvement with incubator organizations?

I recently went to a talk by Jane Goodall. She didn't talk about being a woman at all: she talked about the positive changes she's seen in the world, and how talking about these positive changes helps to inspire people more than shaking her finger seemed to. She believes this so strongly that she spends 300 days a year travelling and talking. But she says she's very careful to choose the right initiatives: Sometimes people are so desperate to Do Something that they sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. This isn't a problem exclusive to women in computing groups.

So I'm working on a checklist for choosing the right things for me:
  1. Do I want to do this?
  2. Am I the best person for this? (Or can I refer them to someone else?)
  3. Can I do it without negatively impacting my other commitments? (Will it take up too much of my time? Does it happen at a time when I'm busy?)
  4. Am I reasonably sure this will result in getting stuff done, so I'll be able to look back and be proud of what I accomplished?
I still answer my email and occasionally post a blurb from an organization that doesn't otherwise know how to reach women. It takes minimal energy to be polite and provide basic help, and I know I appreciate it when people do the same for me.  But the initiatives that get the bulk of my energy are going to be the ones where I feel like I'm really making change.