Month: March 2014

My 21st birthday present

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I’m 21 in 2 months and at that stage where my brains gone back to thinking, “crap, I graduate next year”.
Anyway, at Christmas this year I sent my parents a link to some things in pimoroni I’d quite like. Xmas came. They failed me because ” it wasn’t specific enough”.
Recently Gordon sent me a link to a nice little kick starter that apparently, works with surface: link
Whether I want it because ooh shiny or not, I sent this to my dad who backed it and it’ll arrive in July. Eeek!
In other news I’m on a journey back from ‘ull, and I met my project supervisor for next year, so I’m pretty excited about that as its not “a tower defence game” or “something by compscis for compscis”, its a sheet music library with hopefully, conversion or reading of music XML – meaning its editable.

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My crowd/university funded wearable workshop: the big writeup #wearableWednesday

It’s been around 3 months since I decided to take up Sophie on her request for female STEM ambassadors to help the girlguides learn something about…well..STEM.

I’ve spent that time crowdfunding, emailing and generally going nuts over GEMMAs, LEDs, wires and code. Mostly the first 3, I really only wrote the program on friday…heh…last minute organisation for the win.

Anyway, it went down really well, and the girls seemed inspired and proud of what they’d achieved. As a quick run down of how it went:

Arrived – met sophie, dumped my stuff and planned out how to set up the room. David of electronic fashion (another STEM ambassador) saved the day with enough battery holders for the workshop, and about 7 or so laptops to which I added my own.

The girls gradually filed in whilst this was happening and helped put up enough tables for everyone and lay out lots of chairs. Embarrassing when a 14 year old is stronger than you…

Sophie introduced me to the girls, where I talked about uni and working in Bristol, and we got them all sat down in pairs. After a couple of minutes chatting David pointed out I should probably tell them something to do (it’s really weird for me to lead and I’d not actually planned the speaking part out in my head 😛 ), so I pulled out the GEMMA of one of my kits and explained what it was, and took them through the first couple of steps on my worksheet. Since some of the girls were slower than others and it was kind of hard to make sure everyone was following, from this point we got them to follow the instructions (with a lot of running around putting out metaphorical fires).

One of the biggest “fires” was that after a couple of minutes, a girl came to me and said “uhm charlotte, what’s a led?” so I called attention and explained it properly. Note to self: never assume kids will understand anything. Not to say that’s their fault, just it’s really difficult to lower the technical-ness of the way I talk about technology. That’s possibly the hardest part, and I made sure whilst talking to girls who were stuck that I asked, particularly the quietest girls who are more likely, I think, to nod and pretend they know what’s going on, “do you get what I’m saying?”. The other trick is to know when to do it for them, and to know when to ask “so, how do we do this?” or “so what do we connect this to?” – sometimes if they’re really stuck, it’s easier to get them through that step and try and get them to learn at the next point, others they know the answer but aren’t sure whether they’re right.

A lot of times the girls would worry they’d done it wrong when they were perfectly fine on 90% of the wiring and coding, just 1 wire was out of place, or they’d know how to fix it but weren’t sure on it and were afraid to try it out without “expert” help – I actually find this with girls my age who I’ve helped previously when they’re struggling to code, and it takes more of “so what do you think we do here” to find out that they’re scared to experiment.

After a while the girls migrated over to the computers once they’d all managed to get the LEDs flashing girlguiding blue from one to the other, and this was where I felt the girls were really inspired. Tips for writing a workshop sketch:

  1. Put the code on the board with a default setting first. That way the kids can see it working and want to make it their own.
  2. Comments and variables are your best friends. It’s far easier to put in all the options for changing colours like “//uint_32 colour[1]={0x441103}; // whatever colour this is” than to explain that they need to change the hex value to a specific other value.
  3. Similarly, I found a switch/case really neat to put in to avoid having to teach algorithms. This way the kids could see you can make the lights flash differently without spending a lot of time on it, and besides that, most of them just wanted to change the colour and brightness since they’re immediately obvious, although 2 girls did make them green and go so fast they looked like lights to take to a rave…

 

I’m curious now what proportion of the boards will be multicoloured, since as I walked round and asked “ok so what do you want to change? the colour? what colour do you want? red, green, blue, orange, yellow, multicolour-” “MULTICOLOURED?! YEAAAH” was usually the response, or else “how about purple?” which I’d not programmed in, but 4 or 5 girls were trying to figure out as a team how to make a new hexadecimal number I’d not put in there, which whilst it wasn’t really intentional to teach them that, I was very happy that they were that into it that it accidentally made them learn something I knew of when I was that age, but didn’t really know how it worked.

With a big group the hard part is some girls will get through it fast, and some kids will get through it slow. Some will be loud, some will be really quiet to the point where they struggle to get across what they want your help with, and that takes a lot of patience – particularly when you have 3 or 4 girls stood round going “please can I have your help”. One of the particularly quiet girls took the most patience to make sure she got what I was saying, but that made me all the more proud when she managed to customise her lights with less and less prodding and suggestion after time.

At the end of the evening I chatted with the guide leaders who were impressed it was my first time and grateful for having done it, and overall I went home with a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside, and well ready for some apple juice.

I look forward to doing all this again, and as a side note, with both genders – in reality a bigger reason than “I want more girls in computer science” (which I always will) was that it was something I saw on the interwebs, and also that it wasn’t during work hours which most kids stuffs seem to be. Hopefully with all the prep work done, it should be easier second time running.

A plug for the folks who took the £5 reward thingy from my crowdfunding thang: Andre, Rob Miles, John Van Rijj and Emma-Ashley Liles who’s sadly an ex-Hulligan 😛 – Roger Boyle aaand Catherine Blease – you guys are brill and thanks in particular to those of you who shared this around, blogged it and tweeted it.

Extra special thanks to Black Marble who chucked in a huge £118 …

And uhm. There’s 32 names on my list. Time for bed :p When I have/find any photos the leaders took last night I’ll be sure to put in a couple 🙂

Inspiration: that infectious bug you don’t know you’re spreading

I’m having a cheesy and pensieve moment, so that requires a blog. Leave now if you don’t want to read a reheheally cheesy blog post.

I’ve just bagged up 34 gemmas, 72 LEDs, each soldered with 3 snaps to a gemma and 4 snaps to an LED, in an external bag containing 3 pairs of wires, 1 for each type of connection (power signal ground), having programmed each one with an arduino sketch I debugged on friday with the help of Jim and David who I met at Raspberry Jamboree, having recieved funding from my university and from 30 or so people around the country/maybe the world.

This couldn’t be clearer evidence of the inspiration people have had on me, because I’m quite an underconfident person who kind of sat through first year thinking “why are there only 7 girls here, someone should do something” without realising if you want something to change, get up and change it. Inspiration could be having a brilliant conversation with someone who gives you ideas for a new project, or talking at a jam about your big trak, or showing a child how to fix their python or scratch script (or an adult for that matter) – you’ve no idea you’ve done it, but right there you’ve changed that person’s life. That kid you spoke to the other day about your career and your degree might go on to think “hey, if they can do it, why can’t I?” or that 20something year old girl you convinced to give a talk might go on to realise she could carry on spreading the chain of inspiration by organising something on her own.

I told you this was cheesy.

Anyway, what I really want to say is thanks to everyone who’s lead me from the girl sat in the corner or hiding in the back of a lecture theatre to whatever I am now, because you’re all brilliant. However badly my workshop goes tomorrow, never forget the difference you make to other people’s lives by contributing to helping them get where they need to be.

And now I need sleep, because tomorrow is going to be one crazy day…

My day at Google

So a few weeks back, I applied for a brilliant opportunity to go into London and get a look in Google’s office, meet 64 other bright female Computer Science students from around the UK, meet a lot of Google software engineers, have lessons in confidence, take a Mock Interview, have my CV looked over and picked apart by actual recruiters and get some free food.

Somehow I got picked (I’m still non-plussed on that, got to be honest!), booked my day off work and my train tickets in, hung out with a Craig from the pi community and the following day, the big day arrived and I trekked through London to their Buckingham Palace Street office.

I’ve been to 3 womens events so far (yes. I’m aware it’s gender discrimination and I’m still a bit mixed up about how I feel about them, but they’re awesome opportunities, so I will still take them) and I think the Google day was by far my favourite, not least because of the free food and office tour where it took me a second to realise “hey there’s Google written on the wall…and uhm…on everything”, but because of how the whole day was handled.

We started by checking in, having an intro from Farrah, a recruiter and outreach kind of person who I’d met before and is quite possibly reading this blog, as well as Marily (I’m not sure I spelled that right…) who is doing a PhD at Imperial College in CS and got a scholarship to do so from Google. This progressed into the icebreaker which was fabulous and hilarious, as we were first told to write down 3 words to describe ourselves and then instructed that we’d each been given an animal on the back of our name badges, and at this point were told to make the sound of that animal – as mine was a snake, I sat there hissing and smiled when looking across the table as another girl was hissing and giggling back at me. We got up, joined together and listened out for more hissing. We then paired off to talk to each other about the words we’d picked, what we studied/where and various other things about ourselves, and were then told to introduce one another as Farrah ran round the room with a microphone.

Following this we sat back down, and a software Engineer and manager named Grahame talked about what he did, why Google is awesome and various stories about his life, after which people asked questions. This was insightful as he was completely honest and gave what he liked about Google, and what he didn’t like about Google.

This lead into a confidence workshop in which another google employee got us to get up, talk to 3 other girls from the group and discuss again, what we did, what we wanted to get across when networking, and just generally mingle. We then sat and discussed how that felt, what shows confidence and what shows nervousness, and how to avoid the nervousness part, with the input from 3 more female google employees.

Segue into lunch, where we headed upstairs and mingled with each other and with the employees we’d met and who joined us to talk over lunch, and then straight after was the mock interview session.

Quite personally, mine went horribly, but that’s a good thing (I think). I was paired with a girl named Mariya who had already done 1 internship with Google and had one lined up for the summer, so was far more confident than me and far more clued up on her algorithms, which is the important thing with a Google interview. Our interviewer, Ben, quizzed us on how best you would work out whether a string was in a list of strings of unknown size. I completely tanked the entire thing because suddenly, I’d forgotten how to program and it’s been a long time since first year. This is a good thing, however, because I could see exactly what I was doing wrong, and where I needed to improve.

After leaving the interview, later on Ben came back to me and asked if I wanted my feedback. Baring in mind at this point I’d taken a massive confidence knock where I suddenly thought “I’m a terrible Computer Scientist and should be ashamed at how badly that went”, I politely declined: yes, more feedback on exactly what he saw would be great, but I wasn’t ready for it, and before going off and doing any applications for google/get any interviews with them, I will make sure I am ready.

On returning to the room in which we were based, we were taken around the office, shown things like the gym and the massage rooms (where there was a lovely picture of a cat massaging another cat with the caption “massage in progress”) and then given an open invite to ask the tour guide any questions about anything.

We returned to the room, and were taken out of it again for the CV workshop, where I was again with Mariya and a couple of other girls from my table. This was again an insightful workshop where I scribbled bits out of my CV and was told exactly what google’s looking for, which is very heavily focussed on technical ability – for example, he mentioned a 19 year old guy got hired because he had “#1 in the UK on TopCoder” on his CV and was dropping out of university.

The final session was a Q&A with 2 software engineers and one recruiter about their jobs, what they liked about London and various other topics, for which Farrah asked most of the questions since we were struggling to think of any.

Overall I had a really great day and it’s something real to aim for if I want it enough, as well as meeting more girls and talking some more about the necklace I was wearing (my 16 neopixel ring + gemma one, programmed so that it randomly flashed through the standard google colour scheme) and being told “I’m expecting a nice blog on this charlotte” by Farrah (no pressure or anything!)

[will add photos later. maybe]

 

#rjamboree and Google

The past couple of…OK, the past week, has been pretty crazy full of preparing for the second birthday of the pi, in which Alan runs a reasonably big event in Manchester called the jamboree.

Two day event, Manchester central, yadayadayada. Unlike last year where I kept to myself, did my talk which I’d done no preparation for, this year I spoke to the usual crowd plus a few extra who wanted help with wearable technology or people who quickly realised they wanted wearables after 5 minutes of talking to me :p I’m curious if I’ll ever go back to being “that girl who writes a blog”…

Aaaanyway for the Thursday the event was spread within the Education innovation conference, since the event is actually for teachers. I think some people fail to realise the aim is to educate and support people in teaching computing to others, and wanting to be a segregated little hacker conference just continues the idea that the pi has fallen into the wrong hands, so whilst it was more spread out, this meant people who’d come just for EICE got to learn a little of both.

The whole event was a mix of talks, workshops and staring avidly at the first dsi screen prototype the foundation have been busy with, as well as socialising with people, giving advice and explaining how I live in Bristol, I’m from Sheffield and I study at Hull university, which is a continuously confusing mix of cities.
My own talk went OK I think…nerves hit me but I got through and stole some of Amy’s chocolate afterwards :p

Towards the end of the event I’d signed myself up for a guru spot which is just standing at the OCR stand waiting for people to ambush you with questions – personally I didn’t prepare for this and didn’t know what to expect, but I spoke to Martyn who is from Sheffield and was curious about getting running with GEMMA and who I discussed a few bits I was hoping to do with my month back in Steel City.

I also met Claire, a hull based person working with Alan and curious when I would be back in Hull and what help I could offer toward doing a wearables workshop back there.
Stuff like this makes me sad I’m not everywhere at once – I posted one of my earrings up to Glasgow on Friday for a similar reason because I couldn’t post myself to Glasgow to help with an event happening on Monday, but I duely told both Martyn and Claire when I’d be back (and that I’ll be doing a lot in Hull with the support of the department) and that in the meantime I’d keep them posted with what I’m working on and any resources I could pass on. All I can really do!

Some great people I met from twitter – Carl monk, jarle teigland, jim Darby, Andrew Mulholland, matthew TB – meant both days were super awesome and that we did some naughty soldering mid conference…

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The after party was fantastic and even included Amy Mather getting yet another award for being awesome from The IET:

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Overall a great few days, and I look forward to getting home this arvie.

For anyone who missed me since I had to run off both evenings, if you need help tweet me @charwarz, I’ll be trying to get more troubleshooting blogs running and I’m hopefully going to compare how easy it is to use the four main wearable boards I know: GEMMA, FLORA, lilypad, and square wear, for my own benefit and for other educators.

Some footage of the pi party:

In other news, on Friday I got some really awesome news: I got a place on a training day at Google’s office in London, and they’re paying for me to get there. The day, from what I’ve gathered, is going to be lots of networking, application tips and interview training, as well as hearing from Google engineers about what life is like there and the opportunities open when I graduate. I’ve dreamed of Google for a long time but they’re so…prestigious that I never really thought I’d get anywhere toward a job there, but hopefully this should help and I’ll get a realistic picture of what Google is like.
AAAAAAH *excited scream*

[More photos to come when I edit this later]