Month: October 2014

My Grace Hopper Experience: Friday-Saturday #GHC14

Friday morning I missed most of the keynote: I didn’t have any corporate breakfasts to go to and my brain wanted sleep from all the early mornings and late nights. I went in for the last few minutes, before queuing with everyone else for the opening of the third day of the Careers fair, and my final booked interview, which was with *dundundunnnn*…Facebook.

I felt this went well, which I have to say is a shock: for anyone else who’s considered not interviewing with the big companies because of the tech interview, do it, but look over the various blogs and questions people have out there. Preparation I think this time around (I did a practice with Google in February which I sucked at) was key to making me understand the process and feel ok about it: the blog that helped me was from Cate Huston which was pretty much exactly what I needed – a list. She also gave me moral support over twitter and the advice “find a way to stay calm”, which are words to live by.

Of all the books I purchased in the two weeks I had notice of the interview, Programming Interviews Exposed is the one that┬áprepared me the most. I had serious difficulty not looking at the answer and puzzling out everything myself, and for most I just read the answer, but because of the style it’s written – aka breaking down the problem piece by piece, writing out the algorithm in text, and then writing code and refactoring – this helped to get into my head how to go through the interview.

Key piece of advice: talk before reaching for the paper/whiteboard, and if you’re stuck, say why you’re stuck and see if you can get any tips. Whether or not the interview went well, I walked out smiling and thought I did my best, and here’s a shock: I enjoyed it.

Moving on:

– Wearables talk: went along to see some presentations on wearables, including an interesting one on swim watches and reading from them on windows phone.

– More careers fair! I tackled the coding exercise at the Amazon stand who had Coding Ninja challenges every day which saw quite a lot of women stood around their stand with pads of paper and puzzled looks on their faces. The one I dropped in on was C++ which I hadn’t done in quite a while, so it took a lot for me to finally understand the answers (referencing and inheritance puzzler). Towards the end as it was reaching the close of the Careers Fair, I approached one of the Amazon programmers and said “I’m giving up: how close am I?” to which she looked disappointed, told me I had one answer correct but nudged me towards the right answer on the other, and gave me the prize anyway, which is a female Ninja with “Amazon” written on the top: supposedly Amazon will be having a gallery of where these dolls have travelled to, which as I frequently take pictures of wherever I’ve taken Charlie Babbage, is quite a doable task for me ­čśŤ

– IOT/wearables talk: some more presentations later in the day on how we can innovate this area and why women are probably going to be the ones to innovate it

– Dinner at a local Thai restaurant & celebration party thing: as aforementioned the two women I met at the VMWare party invited me out for dinner, which was quite nice, after which we went together to the final celebration, glowsticks and all. Here I made sure I had my LED necklace turned on and got plenty of comments on it, mostly “did you make that? where can I buy one?” which once again makes me wonder if that should be my path after university…

I said goodbye to my new friends, and despite only knowing them a couple of days felt sad to not know when I’d see them again. By the power of the internet though I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

The following day, my housemate and I got breakfast at our hotel and headed out to try and find a shopping center: I took far too many dollars for a conference where almost everything was free, and where I had to pay for anything it was done using a prepaid debit card given by ABI/my sponsor.

Due to this (after not finding any shops, whatsoever!) I headed to the airport a bit late, and almost missed my flight. Whoops!

I had a brilliant few days at Grace Hopper, and despite the work and stress catching up on things I’d missed, I would recommend this to any of my friends as it’s an awesome experience…just don’t go to Phoenix for shopping, although next year it will be Houston and the following year, Memphis. A big thanks to everyone who made my trip possible, and all the people at GHC who made my experience so awesome.


My Grace Hopper Experience: Thursday #ghc14

Continuing from my previous blog, day 2: day 3 will be a further post.

Thursday morning brought a guest speech from Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer to the US. Being UK based I didn’t really know much about her, nor did I even know countries had CTOs…so…learned something that day. She seemed like a very humble and inspirational lady as were many of the people at GHC. Not really much else I have to say on that…

Following this the keynote from Satya Nadella: whilst this was a huge thing in itself, being the first male to keynote at Grace Hopper, one answer made the story a huge controversy all over the internet, and much of what he said here got a little twisted.
The keynote was a chat with him and Maria Kawe, director/president of Harvey Mudd College. One of the many questions was “what would you say to a woman who is too scared to negotiate her pay?”. For anyone not aware of this problem, there’s quite a big pay gap between men and women, (i”‘ll look up figures and references in a minute) and most think this is due to women’s under confidence at negotiating their initial pay, and asking for raises.

To this Satya said something along the lines of “perhaps this is a good thing: if you don’t negotiate, karma will come back and help you eventually” (paraphrasing). Online the media went crazy and this has been posed as his first gaffe as CEO…to the point where fellow scholars posted things like “I hope he resigns”.

I found this a massive overreaction, and one which gives me cause for concern: we should all remember Satya coming to speak at GHC, and saying in an email to his employees that he was here to listen and learn, is a huge statement on his part that he is committed to supporting and changing the status quo of women being a minority.

Whilst the pay gap is a problem we struggle with which won’t get fixed by society or karma, reacting like he just killed Maria Klawe or something is not going to convince more ” male allies”, as the conference referred to them, to help the cause. So this really worried me. Maybe he needs to do more research before speaking, and some people will disagree adamantly with my view on this, but the reactions made me want to scream “leave Satya Nadella alone, okay!!!”

Following this:

– my first interview: I felt this went well, and generally after sitting feeling wracked with nerves beforehand I felt comfortable once the questions began.

– A wander round the career fair: the trouble with GHC is its hard not to get sucked into the career fair, because there’s so many stands to visit and people to talk to. I appreciated this opportunity a lot now because I’m graduating summer 2015, so for me having a lot of big name employers in a room was brilliant and let’s hope something comes back from them. You could however, spend 2.5 days in there and miss all the cool sessions really easily.

– my first visit to Hard Rock Cafe. Like. Ever: Lunch was with 2 execs from my sponsor, Nationwide Insurance who I’m very thankful to for everything, and the 3 other ladies they sponsored. We had a good chat and its nice to talk to two real women about work life balance and how they got where they are, and at the end of it we booked in an interview for that day.

– More career fairing. I wasn’t lying about it sucking me in!

– interview with nationwide as above, went pretty well.

– VMWare party
Whilst I don’t know an awful lot about VMware, the party was pretty awesome and here I met a couple of girls I got on really well with, who I then went for dinner with the next night. I also met a very nice lady from VMWare who sat chatting with us and gave me some advice on how to deal with people who have bad or sexist views and air them, loudly. (The tip was just say “excuse me?” Or “you don’t really believe that, do you?” Whether this works, we’ll find out!).
She also pushed me to think about what I want to do when I graduate which I’ve been asked so much in the last 6 months I’ve lost count. The deadline was a month for me to tell her exactly what I wanted. No idea if I’ll make that.

Following this I headed outside with the girls I’d met and bumped into Maria Klawe I mentioned earlier: we took a few photos and she again gave us some insight and inspiration for continuing, before heading home.
We moved on to the evening dance party, where I bumped into Anne-Marie Imafidon and her clan of Stemettes, which was nice: even after two days of being around another culture, receiving “oh you’re from England that’s so cool, how long was your flight?” 20 times a day was tiring.

My Grace Hopper Experience: Tuesday and Wednesday #ghc14

Having been flying since 1.30pm Arizona Time Saturday, I finally got back to Hull around 6 or 7pm GMT Sunday, and whilst that was a very long journey back, the 3 days I spent at the conference were brilliant and definitely worth going for.

Looking at my stack of work, I’d much rather write about why than actually do my work, so here we are.

It all began on Tuesday, arriving at Phoenix Airport via Amsterdam and Minneapolis, where I met up with my room mate, picked up my badge and other swag from the conference, and went over to the meet and greet with the other scholars. This gave us all time to get better acquainted with each other and with the program managers, Tina Pratt and Elizabeth Bolin, as well as meet several of the Anita Borg Institute staff who organised the conference.

The next morning my room mate and I attended the Facebook sponsored breakfast, put on for anyone interviewing with Facebook, working there or who had received a scholarship to attend through Facebook. I expected this to be a little more nerve racking than it was, but it helped to calm my nerves of the next few days and of the upcoming interview on Friday, and in general the atmosphere was of openness and community, so a great way to kick off.

This continued with:

– The newcomers session, where Tina Pratt talked a little about the conference, her experience and welcomed questions to herself and other conference organisers

– The opening plenary with CEO Telle Whitney and head of the ACM Alexander Wolfe, followed by ABIE award presentations and an awesome keynote from Shafi Gosswasser, a noted cryptography researcher.

– Aaand lunch break.

Lunch, for the 400+ scholars, was sponsored by Apple so obviously, this meant we had a little more swag given to us from Apple in the form of a notebook. The lunch had a more formatted approach than breakfast in that each table had a female Apple employee, who at a given moment, introduced herself, talked a little bit about her job and invited each of us to introduce ourselves in turn. This segued into talking about personal experiences and asking advice of each other, and at the end an announcement:

Just one more thing: turn to the back page of your notebooks, and there might be an apple sticker. If you have one, stand up. Each of you have won iPad minis

Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones, but nevertheless enjoyed my time at the lunch and found the discussions very rewarding.

Following this I attended:

  • The Student Opportunity Lab: I attended a session in here on cybersecurity and one on data science. I thought they were good, but neither really brought out my passion for either job option – whilst they were very factual and defined that the areas are useful and that every area has it’s needs for both, I was looking for something more to show me “this is why it’s fun and why I’m passionate about it”.
  • A talk on contributing to OpenBSD: I don’t have a lot of experience contributing to open source, and whilst OpenBSD rang a bell, I didn’t know much about it, so this talk was good for showing me how nice a community they have and the options for mentoring and support they provide
  • A talk on contributing to the Linux Kernel: again, this was a nice talk to show that whilst the Linux Kernel has some notoriously negative conversations and arguments, there is still mentorship options available and having a guide of where to start and what process to follow for contributing helps me consider working with more open source projects in the future. Presently I wish I had time to do all these things…

Afterward I headed in to the career fair for a couple of hours: I’d somehow managed to forget my CVs which are a vital part of the career fair as a lot of the stands will ask you questions based on what’s on it, but for the few that I went to I gave them business cards. After dinner I headed back to the hotel to chill for a while, and print some more CVs as I predicted I would run out the next day.

As this is already a very long blog with just those two days, I’ll cover Thursday/Friday/my journey back Saturday in another post, and in the meantime try and dig out the photos I took of talks and such during the first couple of days.

‘Murica, 2014 Edition: Grace Hopper & the beginning of the end of my degree

Around April this year I applied for a travel scholarship to GHC, a massive conference in the US that celebrates and supports Women in Technology.

July of this year I found out that I was in the 26% of applicants to receive the scholarship (as far as I know, I’m one of 2 UK residents to receive it, and the other attends Oxford University…so it’s kind of a huge deal and I still can’t believe I’m going), and for the past few weeks I’ve been preparing for interviews, networking, the career fair and spending 4 days in 30 degree heat (thank fully, the conference center and hotel have air conditioning). I’m flying out to Phoenix Tuesday morning (I’m actually doing pretty much a zigzag across the EU and USA: Hull to Manchester, Manchester to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Phoenix) and there’s a meet and greet that evening with my fellow scholars, so this week is going to be pretty exciting.

(Other than attending Electronica 2014 with Element14, I *probably* won’t be seen much at other events until next year, so I’ll see most of you lovely people in person, on the other side)

This is in the midst of preparing for final year, writing electronics projects for various boards, attending a bunch of meetings for Come Dine with Me and becoming a Computer Science Demonstrator, and well…drinking lots of…apple…juice.

I’ve also begun my final year project by producing a plan which has made me appreciate how big this project will be (but also how awesome it will be if I can actually pull it off and get in all the cool features I want in it): for those that don’t remember, I’m making a sheet music library, which reads, renders, edits and writes MusicXML, organises your files by Composer, instrument, and whatever else may be useful, and hopefully: converts it to MIDI for playback and converts flat images (for example, scanned in sheet music) to MusicXML.

The last two are kind of *I hope there’s time* points, but if I don’t have time to fit them in, I’ll be open sourcing the project and hopefully working on it more when I graduate. I like this project a lot because this is something I’ve wanted for a while: for composition there’s Sibelius and Musescore, but I’d like something which does composition, storage, organisation and accompaniment generation all in one, in a similar way to Spotify being my go-to app for music. If doable, I’ll be writing this in Python because I’m most comfortable with that language right now, which means that once finished, I should be able to port it to Raspberry Pi so I can carry around my sheet music in my handbag.

Something else I’d love to integrate would be cloud storage and integration with huge free music libraries like the IMSLP and the MuseScore community (IMSLP is a project which collects sheet music online from composers whose copyright has officially expired: so…most of the very famous composers’ work is on there, though the formats are still questionable and I’m not sure they have an API for me to poke at). This is probably a pipe dream, and I don’t know what the copyright ruling would be (sheet music copyright is even more of an issue than regular recorded music copyright), but it would be nice to have.

My other modules this term are Virtual Environments and Languages and Compilers: the latter enables me to learn C in a properly taught way – I know C to an extent, but it’s not on my CV, for example, so it’ll be nice to learn it properly and get the opportunity to apply it.