Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rana el Kaliouby and Tracy Chou's Formative Moments

As a belated celebration of #WomenInSTEM day, I wanted to share a couple of really great videos (and below explanation) shared with me. Enjoy!

Expanding the number of women pursuing careers in computer science is an ongoing challenge, partly because female tech leaders are underrepresented in the media. But Reddit and Google Cloud Platform are working to highlight the achievements of high-profile female tech pioneers, through a new web series called Formative.

The premise is simple: Formative invites tech innovators to share the one “formative” moment behind their success. The guests are nominated by Reddit’s Entrepreneur community, a group of over 170,000 members, who suggested innovators not just in business, but also in education, the arts, and science.

The series’ second episode features Rana el Kaliouby, the Chief Strategy & Science Officer at Affectiva. El Kaliouby shares the personal journey behind her start-up success—leaving Egypt to attend Cambridge and MIT, where she worked on developing wearable high-tech glasses for individuals with autism.

In the fifth episode, Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest, shares the story behind her decision to pursue computer science, and how she brought Silicon Valley hiring practices to the center of a national conversation about diversity in tech.

All episodes of the Formative series are available now on Reddit’s YouTube channel.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

First Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing (CAN-CWIC)

For the first time ever, I attended a women-in-computing conference with absolutely no student affiliation whatsoever (I recently de-registered from my PhD for the time being). But that's not what made the first ever Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing special; not exactly. The thing I really, really enjoyed was spending time with my past students and colleagues from my time at Carleton.

I went to the first ever local ACM-W celebration held in Ontario way back in 2010. At the time, it was the Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing. I was doing the student thing full-force at that event, with two posters and one talk that covered both research and our Women in Science and Engineering group. Since then, other local celebrations cropped up around Canada until this year, when they amalgamated into CAN-CWIC.

The format of CAN-CWIC was similar to what ONCWIC did years ago: dinner, keynote, and social on Friday night with various talks and workshops on Saturday. At this year's banquet, I sat with an awesome group of mostly Carleton students and one lonely uOttawa student. And it was so nice. I loved catching up with everyone, and even had opportunities to give mentor-oriented advice.

The time I spent with my own former students made me realize that in fact most of the attendees were students. I would really love to see more industry representation, and not just to stand behind recruiting booths. I feel like more balance would meet provide more mentors and role models for the large student contingent. What could CAN-CWIC do to attract more industry professionals? Maybe looking at Grace Hopper's career tracks would give some ideas.

This year's tracks at the conference were interesting nonetheless. The speakers I saw were quite good. I particularly enjoyed Amber Simpson's talk on medical computing (more specifically, how image analysis can help with cancer diagnosis). It was also great to see Jennifer Flanagan, CEO of the Canadian STEM outreach non-profit Actua, talk about Actua's involvement in computing outreach. I'm really pumped about trying to team up and contribute to bringing computing education to all K-12 across Canada.

I do have some nitpicks about the conference location this year, the main one being that the space was too small and segmented. Hopefully next year's event can be in a larger, more thoughtfully laid out space. But my concerns are small in comparison to the impact conferences like this have. I hope CAN-CWIC continues to grow, and that it's somewhere awesome next year so I'll be enticed to go again. ;)