Tuesday, November 22, 2016

GHC16 / What Are Tech Tools Doing That The Best Diversity Initiatives Aren't?

How can software help companies recruit and hire more diversely? Erica Joy Baker, Laura I. Gomez, Stephanie Lampkin, Liz Kofman, and Aline Lerner tackled this question on a panel at Grace Hopper this year. Most came from the perspective of creating the tools or working in tech, and one came as a social scientist studying the problem. It turns out that technology can do a lot, from removing biases to helping employees find good matches in prospective employers.


Here are my live notes from the session, edited slightly since I took them.

- we'd like to have the tech to kill the resume and allow for anonymous processes where everyone is evaluated the same
- what drives behaviour change? show candidates what's really going on in companies
- "I don't believe in unconscious bias training. I believe in results."

- compelling to see results of a fairer, more competitive process
- many challenges in academic research: one group, no change, another group, huge difference (why?); the more data we have, the more we can figure out what's really going on
- early feedback is that demystifying 'the pipeline' idea has been valuable

- technical interviewing it totally broken; interviewing as a process is as effective as putting names on a dartboard and throwing the dart (this is especially true of unstructured interviews, which have no correlation to success outcomes; structured interviews have a tiny amount of correlation)
- competency-based interviewing helps structure interviews as well as check later whether the interview ended up being a good predictor of future performance; issue is that managers don't know what competencies matter, so hand-holding in that regard is needed
- big companies need to have the same vocabulary and awareness of where the issues are

- want companies to dissect what makes a high performing employee, then capture that about a candidate; again, because traditional interviewing sourcing process is broken; need chances to capture data in soft skills, behaviour science, neuroscience...

- hiring processes are antiquated; why haven't we seen much innovation in this space?
- change is hard partly because those responsible for letting folks into the pipeline don't have the skills they're recruiting for; they have the wrong incentives

- anonymizing applicants: is this the same as that Wall Street Journal author's suggestion, which made many women and other feminists upset?
- even when we remove the name, there are other indicators; how you write can identify you, even when what you said doesn't change
- anonymization doesn't take away identity; it lets folks look at us differently

- audience question: should companies be aiming to improve diversity? how will anonymization help them identify those candidates?
- yes, there are companies actively sourcing; mixed evidence on blind identity (may not help companies that were already trying); have to understand the context of the companies, each of which are so complex
- not as simple as sourcing underrepresented groups; need efforts to improve the process and give resources to those that don't have them
- recognize that we do have biases, and give tools to interrupt them

- audience question: has bias affected how much funding your companies have received?
- bias toward funding previously successful founders, even though data shows this isn't a good indicator of success
- needs to be more examples of success because there's a lot of pattern matching going on
- Stephanie: need to set the example as a young gay black woman, farthest from an old white man as you can get
- having a personal brand ended up helping some of the panellists (though not deliberate); e.g doing a lot of writing on the broken hiring process and sharing data

Sunday, October 30, 2016

GHC16 / Building a Better Classroom: Lessons from Ed-Tech

One of the panels I attended at this week's Grace Hopper Celebration featured women from various companies engaging in ed tech, whether as their sole purpose or as a smaller part of their mission. Panellists included Prachie Banthia (moderator, Google), Lauren Janas (Microsoft), Stephanie Killian (Knewton), Jen Liu (Quizlet), and Sha-Mayn Teh (Teachers Pay Teachers).

iPad

The panel began with a discussion of the challenges in getting classrooms to adapt ed tech. Unsurprisingly, cost and difficulties in rolling it out topped the list. Then each panellist discussed what problems specifically they are trying to solve:
  • Learning can be static, tedious, and boring. Quizlet makes it more fun. Most users are middle and high schools using it for language learning, math science, etc. Some adults use it too, for things like med school and even bartending. Today, their focus is on K-12.
  • Knewton focuses on the problem in ed of 'one size not fitting all.' Standard models of education treat everyone the same (curriculum, pace).
  •  Some teachers were really focused on using tech in the classroom, e.g. to scale learning to class sizes of 45. Google Apps tries to support and reach the majority of teachers that aren't currently doing this.
  •  MS Office Mix supports developing materials for flipped classrooms. You can record yourself talking over a PowerPoint presentation, include quizzes, and distribute to students. The software provides analytics to improve lessons and see how well students are learning.
  • Teachers Pay Teacher helps teachers search for the right resources quickly.
Another one of the challenges faced by creators of ed tech is surviving the peak time of back-to-school. Advance planning is required to figure out how to scale the load capacity based on projected numbers of students. Launching any time after August 1 is really like launching the following year on August 1, because you've missed the critical window for adoption. The holiday season is the down-time, and that's where fixes and be made.

So how do these panellists view adoption of ed tech? They say tech in schools is fragmented, and so it is difficult to target a particular platform. It is very important for a company to earn the trust of teachers and administrators. Teachers are reluctant to test things on students. Too much setup time will make adoption harder: class time is precious. You have to make the barrier to entry as low as possible. And, of course, there are many issues around school networks / wifi. 

When it comes to the fear that ed tech might be trying to replace teachers, the panellists say this isn't the case; they want to empower teachers. Some call themselves teacher-preneurs and they all have such passion, and find creative ways to use technology to make their point with students.

A controversial question: are larger companies like Google and Microsoft more likely to succeed than the smaller companies, thanks to their resources? Having a lot of spare resources does give bigger companies a leg up. Smaller companies with education as a core product need to find a revenue model, which is challenging. Enterprise partnerships can help. All agree that it is good having the larger companies there, but also the smaller disrupters. Large companies have scale, and people already know how to use their products. Even still, monetization is hard for everyone (even Google struggles with this still). Smaller companies have the advantage when it comes to the ability to disrupt: Google can't take a pedagogical stance (65 million users whose trust can be lost), but smaller companies can.

Friday, October 21, 2016

GHC16 / Lyndsay Pearson on Valuing Inclusive Game Design

Invited technical speaker Lyndsay Pearson spoke at Grace Hopper this week about inclusive game design. Lyndsay has, as she puts it, grown up with The Sims, having working on the game in various capacities since nearly the beginning of the franchise. She shared some universally applicable advice on inclusive game design while sharing examples from The Sims.


By Dinosaur918 (Own work)

The first lesson, of course, is that the players are out there. Long gone are the days of believing all players are high-volume males in their late twenties whose central hobby is gaming. With such a huge diversity in players, there's an opportunity to develop games for even more inclusive audiences. To do that, we need to expand beyond the current factors most values in games: time, money, and number of games played.

So what can we do? Respect all players, invite different opinions, and intentionally build relatable experiences.

Respect All Players

Respecting players means truly recognizing them and their diversity. Coming to a game for a different reason that "most" gamers doesn't make you less valuable. Designers should ask themselves: how can I continue to connect with that player and relate to them? First impressions matter, which is why The Sims offered more options for body type and so on in their character creation.

Invite Different Opinions

The thing is that you have to do this even when it's uncomfortable. "We need to help bring people in and help them not bounce out," as Lyndsay puts it.

One example of this is ensuring you tune yourself to cultural sensitivity. For example, the Sims team learned that women were not allowed on game boxes in Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact they really didn't want to, they created a box with all men so that the game could be sold, and still be accessible in all the same ways to people in that country (especially women!).

Another example is religious sensitivity. They thought The Sims was good at avoiding overtly religious objects, but they later realized that the ghosts and voodoo dolls they included in the game also have religious origins. Thus, they realized were actually consistently inconsistent in this area. They had to own the fact they had no clean line and try to make decisions as consciously as possible.

The bottom line is that you need to get uncomfortable with these kinds of conversations. Do know that you get better at it the more you do it, though.

Build Relatable Experiences

Connect, relate, and interact with current world experiences. What's going on in the world that can be incorporated into the game? A nice example is finally incorporating women's team into the FIFA game. When they decided to do that, they became fully invested, considering all kinds of new possibilities, like a player leaving partway through a season to have a baby. The Sims also now has much more fluidity in its gender selection, helping break gender norms as we are trying to do in real life.

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Lyndsay gave us a lot to think about when it comes to designing inclusive games, but as she pointed out, the lessons apply to all software design. Let's all make sure to keep these things in mind in our own endeavours.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

HLF2016 / Spotlight on Preethi Srinivas: HCI Researcher Improving Coordination and Communication in Hospital ICUs

This blog post originates from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Blog. The 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum is dedicated to mathematics and computer sciences, and takes place September 18-23, 2016. Abel, Fields, Turing and Nevanlinna Laureates will join the forum and meet 200 selected international young researchers.

Meet Preethi Srinivas, our next featured young researcher in a series about some of the women attending this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum in September 2016.

Photo courtesy of Preethi Srinivas

Preethi is currently wrapping up her PhD at Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing and is originally from Chennai, India. She is also a Senior UX Designer at Regenstrief Institute Inc.

Preethi’s dissertation work has the potential for making a huge impact on communication in hospital intensive-care units. Notes made on paper and synchronous communication in ICUs can lead to issues in awareness and coordination. Preethi proposes a method for “rapidly generating, managing, and sharing clinical notes and action-items among ICU providers” as well as a “visual and tactile notifications system that induces minimal interruptions to an ongoing activity.” Long term, her research provides novel guidelines for mobile communication tools for ICUs. She says she is “proud of this little accomplishment although this research is a small, design-based contribution to the medical and HCI communities.”

As for many graduate students, Preethi’s ultimate success comes from learning to embrace failure. She also learned that it’s ok to switch projects if you aren’t engaging sufficiently with your current research direction.
I started my PhD program working on a research project that seemed to work well, but I soon learnt that I was not meant to be working on the project since I did not really find myself interested, even though I was working hard. This experience taught me that one of the huge factors to research is involvement or drive to being committed to a project. I soon moved onto another project that kept me committed, without which I would have never made as much progress as I did.
As someone who switched topics completely between Masters and PhD, and who went through a few project ideas before settling on a thesis topic for my PhD, I can relate to this completely!

Preethi is excited for HLF for the opportunity to interact with some of the world’s best and most passionate researchers. The forum’s interdisciplinary nature is also very appealing. She hopes to receive some great advice from fellow researchers on how to embark on independent research post-PhD, and is “looking forward to making new friends with whom I could potentially collaborate in future.” Plus, she loves to travel, and who wouldn’t want to visit such an interesting city as Heidelberg!

I believe you won’t be disappointed in the city nor the forum, Preethi. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Stay tuned to meet other young researchers, a special post about mentors, and the advice our featured women want to share with others.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Low-down on Speaking at GHC

So you're speaking at GHC16. What do you need to know? How can you prepare to be the best you can be? How do you calm your nerves?!


Although I wasn't lucky enough to have any submissions accepted to this year's conference, I have spoken at Grace Hopper before along with many other venues. Let me start by reassuring you that this is one of the very best places to present. I have rarely found a more wonderfully supportive audience.

Let's get some of the official stuff out of the way. As a speaker, you need to thoroughly read through everything on the speakers section of the conference website. In particular, note the quick references on the right.

I'd like to draw your attention especially to the Speaker Ready Room info. There, you'll learn about uploading your slides before your presentation, and you'll see a link to the slides template. Please take the time to design your presentation using the template right from the get-go. Trying to shoehorn an existing presentation into the template tends to look unprofessional, and not using the template at all even more so. Also make sure to leave plenty of time to upload your presentation and test it. You'll want to make sure any embedded media is actually embedded, and that your fonts and colours look ok.

The conference website also includes some tips on speaking. I'd also like to share another amazing resource that brings you weekly inspiration and advice on speaking: a newsletter called Technically Speaking. Subscribe now and you will benefit leading up to your talk, and check out the archives as well.

Finally, I have a few tips of my own:

  • Design your slides with as few words as possible. Convey the main idea through pictures and a short phrase.
  • Add speaker notes into the notes section of the slides. When practising, you can simply read the notes at first. This should make you familiar enough to be able to improvise more day-of.
  • Practice in front of colleagues at some point with enough time to receive feedback. Provide them with a written feedback form they can use to give you anonymous ideas for improvement.
  • On the day of your talk, arrive in the room early to give yourself time to calm your nerves.
  • Make sure you have access to water during the talk.
  • Before you start, take some deep breaths, maybe with your eyes closed. Think yoga breathing.
  • Invite the audience to chat with you after the talk, and stand somewhere where it's easy for the audience to actually do so.
Good luck with your talk – I'll know you'll be awesome!