projects + events

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.

Microview necklace

In my last couple of microview blogs I posed the idea of making a removable circuit – meaning something to put a microview into which you can then take it out without requiring desoldering, and more importantly, without cutting off the microview pins.

I posed this question to twitter, and here were some suggestions:

The current winner is the final one by Grahame, mostly because I already had a dip socket with 14 inputs I wasn’t using.

I snapped this in half and cut off the unnecessary pins, and bent back the ones I did need:

I then got my soldering iron and stripper (whitwoo), cut off the ends of my heart rate sensor: I measured these so that it makes a circuit necklace similar to the necklace I made for york Raspberry Jam by placing the Microview in the center of my chest and pulling the wires to where they needed to be.

I then soldered these on, Data and ground to one header, power to the other and tried my necklace on again:

I look so impressed…

After some fiddling and getting it off my neck again I put some sugru I had from EMF camp on the headers to make it smoother and more finished, and some on the sensor itself to make the connection stronger:

Next steps after this are to put in a battery: I currently have one LiPo with me from my metawear kit I could repurpose: not sure where the best place to put this in is, possibly round the back of my neck again.

I also want to make the positioning of the microview more stable.

Ooh and for those who didn’t check my twitter: I’ve also released the code for this project on github.

@CASInclude #DefineSouth : the big writeup

I’ve been talking about #DefineSouth for quite a while, and today the day finally came.

Myself and Craig had an “unGodley” start (Arthur’s puns are aweful) to the day at 7am, and we drove over to Bath at 8am. I wanted to be there early as I was both talking and setting up my workshop for the day, and Windows likes to be a nastypasty about Gemma drivers so the more time to fix things, the better.

Got to Bath and met up with Graham, one of the members of the pi-pub Bristol unofficial meetup who’d agreed to take the trip from Cornwall to help out for the day, and managed to find The Royal High School Bath which turned out to look rather a lot like Hogwarts:

We were greeted by Laura (or Miss Dixon) who’s the head of ICT there and the head of CAS Include, who showed us to my very nice computer room for the workshop and introduced us to the ICT technicians who helped get the computers up and running with Arduino. This turned out to go without a hitch and I’d got time to run back to the hall and set my lovely talk up and meet Meri Williams who was the other speaker and a very lovely lady.

After I’d checked my slides were all good I went back to make sure everything was ready back in the computer room, had time to grab a cuppa and then get on with my talk.

I felt overall my talk – 5 reasons to be in tech, with focus given to the creation of new stuff rather than the “hard” programming bit – went well, I made sure to ask the kids if they knew what everything I had on screen was and most seemed to have an answer – the only issue being uhm. Mixing up my left, and my right, with the audience’s left and right…whoops. I thought it was going to be harder talking to kids or that I’d get nervy because I knew 3 or 4 people in the audience, but in actual fact it was easier – the hardest thing I find with public speaking is the fact when you’re up there, you get about 50 adults all looking at you like they’re bored out of their brains and grumpy about it. Kids? Nope they’re all grinning, particularly when you get them to participate. So there you go.

At this point helper number 2 Arthur appeared having decided to not get up at an UnGodley hour and we got our juice and cookies, then headed back to the computer suite to prepare for the hoardes of screaming children. (Not many of them were screaming.)

In the first batch we had a mix of kids ranging from the really bright and helpful to the ones who wanted to dordle on their swivel chairs, as is always the case with these kinds of things. Wisely we made the kids turn their screens off – I remember this being a thing in y7/y8 so I could tell from the attitudes of some of the kids who’d already pulled up google and changed the background to pink on it for jokes that it’d be a good plan.

Went through the explanation of what we were doing, slowly guided them through the signalling wire hookup and explained what it was, and then let them loose on the worksheets for the rest of the slot. About halfway through the brilliant David McAll turned up to provide some more help – he’d previously helped me in workshops and offered to pitch in again, which was lovely.

On the whole it went well: all the kids got a circuit going, but at the programming portion…uhm…well…it was a bit slow, due to the fact everyone was running arduino from the network school drive, which therefore meant compile time was something like 3 minutes. No matter, a lot of the kids got through it and these 3 lovely ladies proudly said they’d finished and were helping out all the other children:

[picture nicked from RHSBCareers twitter – hope you don’t mind!]

Thing to remember about workshops is that size also determines speed: in this instance I didn’t bother suggesting sewing because well, programming took ages and there simply wasn’t enough time to have some children on circuits, some on programming and some on sewing as that would be difficult to manage.

One of my favourite moments of this section was both these girls pride at how well they’d done (“LOOK IT’S PINK! LOOK IT’S MULTICOLOURED!”) but also a girl sat in the back corner asking about studying Computer Science. It’s not something I’d ever expect because all the volunteering I do is a pipeline and it’s a while till they choose what direction to head in, but once again she’d been influenced by a family member who studied it and was wondering whether it was hard to get into it and required a lot of programming. I gave her my standard advice that no, it’s not hard once you get your brain into problem solving mode, and suggested she head towards codecademy for help learning to code, but also mentioned there’s plenty of roles in CS that don’t need code if that’s a blocker.

After an hour and a quarter they moved on, and David, Graham, Arthur and myself ran round the 11 pcs plus tester machine copying down the Arduino IDE from the network so that programming would be quicker. This meant we had no time for lunch but Graham managed to go grab us some sarnies during the next session, so none of us minded too much.

In the second session we had fewer numbers and older students, and in general it was more controlled: I properly explained the programming portion since I hadn’t bothered the first time round and this lead to it being a bit less erratic. By the third session which was another big group, I felt I’d got the pattern and got it all under control: iterations of workshops are so important because it means you know what works, what doesn’t, what needs improving and where people are likely to get stuck. That last part was why I explained the signal wire to the kids step by step, because during the Guiding workshop, this was the hardest bit to explain on the worksheet.

Another anecdote of interest was the moment I helped a boy with programming in the final workshop, who at the beginning had been dordling and not paying attention to my explanation of wiring, and was showing and explaining the colour changing bits at the top, and he went “OH this is hexadecimal isn’t it?!” without any prompting…I err. Yeah I wasn’t expecting that.

Finally the day wrapped up, and Emma-Ashley showed us the results of our efforts:

me and my helper crew set about getting the kits into bags and into my car, we headed downstairs for refreshments and got given cake and chocolates for helping out. Spoke to Emma-Ashley about her experiences at Hull and various catchup-y things having never actually met each other but again having several internet conversations (this is why I love twitter), and then we headed off to nando’s to carry on talking before Craig and myself went back up to Bristol.

Overall, a fab day, really well organised, great venue and a huge thankyou to Laura and the CAS #Include crew for organising everything and generally being that awesome. I loved every minute.

Future improvements on my workshop

1. A better storage method for the kits: I use 2 pimoroni tote bags at the mo because you know, I’m basically a walking talking advertisement for pimoroni at times, but I want to move to a reasonably big compartmentalised box with space for a couple of netbooks. This is because the packup process is a pain, so it’d be nice if not to pack all the kits back up, to separate them out into each component section for easy kit-recreation.

2. Work on making the sewing bit easier to integrate: I’m possibly thinking of getting a design done, similar to what kitronik do with the cat kits or what Lisa did for Jamboree bags, and printed to fabric, like a bird or a cat or something with markings for each bit. The thing is the main thing I want the children to take away from the workshops is programming and that electronics aren’t that complicated or expensive, so sewing’s always a bit of an extra if I have longer workshops.

3. Delete all my code from my laptop and start again from github – also check for the bugs we had during workshop: I think I must have several copies of the sketch on my drive somewhere and we’d got the wrong one which had a couple of buggy bits in there. Code worked for the day, but still a little annoying having one particular algorithm not do what I thought it would do.

4. Add a 5th takeaway sheet to all my resources which has all the links to where parents and teachers can get resources, tutorials and kits: I meant to do this but forgot (as I did with wearing my GEMMA necklace so I had to make do with showing kids the vines I have of my necklace), in order to make sure anyone who’s interested has access to all the stuff they’d been using.

Top tools for electronics projects

So I was thinking the other day how my dad knows, without fail, what I’ll need sooner or a later for electronics work. For birthdays and Xmas since I got my pi, his present has been some form of tool rather than component (usually from aldi).
At first this annoyed me because I wanted an arduino for Xmas, but then I started using them and realised he’s a mind reader/genius.
But not everyone who starts playing with embedded projects has my dad, so here’s some tools you’ll probably need somewhere down the line. As always please shout me if there’s anything you have to add:

1. A breadboard. These are those plasticy holey board things you see on projects: basically a prototyping object without anything being permanent. These come in big and small sizes and are just generally awesome.

2. A soldering iron. Not sure I need to quantify this one. Somewhere along the line you’ll need to solder, once your breadboard prototype is ready or if there’s a kit you’ve just bought. Learning to solder isn’t hard and there’s plenty of tutorials around. It’s also really fun and addictive #demfumes

3. A solder sucker. For when your soldering has gone awry.

4. A third hand tool or table vice. Personally I have the latter, courtesy of my dad last Xmas. This is a must as usually electronics hacking is a personal thing unless you work exclusively at a hackspace, and you usually need to solder one thing to another which means 3 objects to balance. I prefer my vice because its very sturdy and really easily adjustable. It also doubles as my lanyard holder:


5. Automatic wire strippers. I used to do wire stripping in the one term of electronics we had at school, and owch did that hurt my fingertips. Automated ones are soooo much better.

6. A multimeter, to test all your outputs and input voltages etc are correct.

7. Tweezers, particularly for surface mount soldering. I use mine sooo much these days.

8. A magnifying glass. I dun goofed one time and soldered a header the wrong way up. Magnifying glass was really useful for figuring out which pins needed more desoldering.

I think that’s everything. If you have any to add please comment or tweet me!

The Institution of Engineering and Technology Present Around The World: The Writeup

Last night I took part in Present Around the World, an awesome competition in which 18-26 year olds get the chance to present a technical idea in order to gain experience presenting, as well as potentially win some monies.

I found out about this through my good friend Mr. David Whale and entered a talk on my recent Wearable Electronics workshop.

Other people spoke about e-taxi, an alternative to taxiing an airplane from the gate to the runway by using electric motors; utility belts for actual people, not just super heroes; the Internet of Things (yes, smart fridges were mentioned…); and producing energy from waste.

I spoke about my own interest in Computer Science, the statistics and problems with the school curriculum as it focuses on consuming, not creating technology, the statistics and problems with minorities not electing to take an interest in technology, which lead on to becoming a STEM ambassador, my own DIY projects in wearable tech and finally, the workshop and how it was funded and ran itself, as well as the future I have planned as far as this project goes.

At the end of my 8 minutes (intended to run on for 10 minutes: I don’t know what I missed out, as previous recordings I’d got up to about 10:10) I had 5 minutes of grueling questions about what I did, about wearable technology and why people should buy these devices, as well as what device I would make if I could make anything with it.

After everyone else gave their talk, the other competitors and I, of which 2 were Airbus interns and 1 of those was from Hull University’s business school, had a chat whilst the judges left the room to make a decision. One of the other competitors was particularly interested in how you become a STEM ambassador which is heartening, and amongst what we discussed we learned about what we were each doing for a job.

After what felt like hours but was actually around 45 minutes, the judges returned, and told us they’d decided on the two top people, myself and Campbell who spoke about e-Taxi, but were not sure which won. This led to tie-break, for which the question was “why did you choose this subject and what’s your passion in it?”. I honestly don’t remember my exact answer: something like “I like computers and electronics and I got bored of the lack of girls and the lack of creativity in the curriculum so I want to change it” but put more eloquently – which led on to “What message would you want people to take away from this talk?”: again, not sure what I said, it basically came down to “the school aren’t teaching the right things about technology but through my workshops and other embedded technology we can teach it creatively as well as combine other subjects like electronics and physics”.

They left for another 10 minutes, in which the other competitors congratulated myself and Campbell and we discussed who’d win.

The judges returned and told me I’d won, and that they’d like for me to wait another 10 minutes in order to give some verbal feedback, which I found extremely helpful. During the feedback session where I took a whole bunch of notes, the head of the Young Professional network, George who organised the day, said as we both work in Airbus, he and the judge working at Rolls-Royce would be happy to help coach at a later date before the next round, which will be in Southampton in June, and for which the IET pays for all travel and accomodation.

Overall, I’m over the moon, and again a huge thank you to Craig, who helped with slide design and gave me some incentive to keep practicing and recording myself what felt like 100 times in order to get my presentation right, and to improve my body language and overall style: I’m thinking of taking the recordings I still have (seriously, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “Hi I’m Charlotte Godley, I’m a computer science student from the University of Hull and I’m currently doing an industrial placement at Airbus”) and doing a cassette boy style remix…

Another thank you goes to David Whale who nudged me into this and who’s been a huge inspiration towards me becoming active in STEM and in Raspberry Pi, and is just generally a really great person to bounce ideas off of.

I’m completely over the moon and look forward to my trip to Southampton and to meeting the other folks from Local Network heats, and thanks so much to the IET for this awesome event – I will be nudging my fellow students into doing this when I get back to uni.

Lovelace 2014

Unless you don’t really pay attention to computing history (which, if you’re a computer scientist, you should be incredibly ashamed of yourself. Actually, even if you’re not, you should still be ashamed), you probably already know who Ada Lovelace was. If not, she was kind of a big deal. And the first programmer, ever.

Funnily enough, she was also English.

Anyhow, The BCS Lovelace Colloquium is a 1 day event occurring in the UK every easter, which is open to undergraduate females (and males as +1s) in Computer Science. I’ve attended this year and last year because why not, and for those who worry about money for getting to these things, entering the poster competition usually gets you a scholarship to cover your expenses.

Final year posters

It’s also pretty nice because they move university every year, so last year was Nottingham, a short 40-60 minutes from where I live, and this year was Reading, a short hour and a half journey from Bristol, where I live now, as opposed to a lot of things that happen solidly up North or down South.

Essentially, it boils down to talks from several women from industry or from research – this year saw Anne-Marie Imafidon who runs Stemettes, Prof Rachel McCrindle a lecturer at Reading University, Dr. Jane Haslam who works in computer vision at Vicon, a company in Oxford, Rebecca Little who works in Digital Marketing and Cate Hudson who works on mobile dev at Google.

Rebecca Little on Digital Marketing and finding the job you love

There’s also a chance to talk to the sponsors about job opportunities, lots of freebies and as mentioned, a poster competition for each year, sponsored by different companies and with prizes ranging from 200-500 pounds depending on the year and sponsor.

Blob modelling!

The talks were all pretty good – I took a lot of notes in Jane’s talk as computer vision’s a pretty interesting topic and it’s cool to see research and dev in industry, rather than just from an academia perspective, plus graphics is a big research aim at Hull. One of the overridingly good things was the python mentions – Jane mentioned how they use python for prototyping algorithms and talking to sponsors from CA, python’s becoming more and more prominent as something they want when they’re hiring (though Java is still higher priority) so I’m incredibly glad my placement is in python.


My poster

Anyway, so I entered my poster, with lots of help from Amanda from Aber uni who got it printed last minute when I knew my poster wouldn’t arrive in time, talked to some people about it (which was on the wearable workshop I ran last month), got judged aaaand a couple of hours later…found out I’d won which is pretty snazzy. I got a big android cuddly toy, a puzzlebot and a bunch of other googley things, as well as £300 from the sponsor which just so happened to be Airbus. Very happy to win and I’ll have to find something other than rent to spend my monies on!

He so fluffy!

Finally, there was a Q&A session with most of the people who’d given talks plus Sarah Lamb who started the Girl Geek Dinners initiative. Questions ranged from PhDs and research to peoples’ jobs and how they got them to the usual gender issues.

Afterwards we headed over to the bar for a CA Tech sponsored social which was quite nice: I was concious of time and driving so I only had one, and then hung around talking to people for a while about my workshop and about my necklace, then Babbage, pudsey and myself headed back up to the Shire to begin my lovely Easter break back at Godley HQ.

All in all, a lovely day and big thanks to all the sponsors and to Hannah and Amanda for making it happen, amongst other people at Reading uni 🙂

Entering third year. Again.

I’ve done 8 months now at Airbus. Feels no where near that long, and it’s only a little while and I’ll be packing up the car, Hullward bound again.

I’m glad I’ve had this year to sit and think, really – uni goes by so quickly and it feels like the center of your universe whilst you’re in it and like all your friends are going to be with you forever, but the reality? This too shall pass, which is sad, but at the same time exciting.

I still don’t know what I’m doing after third year, I have a few options and a few different cities and countries, really, I’d be happy to live in (Bristol ranks quite highly, where before it wouldn’t even rank anywhere so I guess that’s something), and a few different pathways to go down.

Anyway, this isn’t about after uni, this is about thoughts on next year.

I wrote about this time last year that my final year project would be Life of Pi in mixed reality on a platform called CAVE (5 screens forming an immersive environment – 3 walls, floor and ceiling), which the Uni got just last year. I’m hoping Helen gets a student to do it this year, because I still feel pretty bad that I was all set to do it, and then “err…I’m going to Bristol BYE UNI” and it looked like a cool project, but at the time I wanted to come up with my own idea, but had very little time in which to come up with any inspiration.

This is where having a year to sit and think helps – I came up with something I’ve been wanting someone to make since…err…since I started scanning music in to use on my laptop when away from the Godley Sheet Music Library back at home. Can you tell what it is yet?

What I will be doing is a Sheet Music Library something akin to what itunes has done for people’s music collections – it will collate, organise and generally make using sheet music on a laptop a lot easier. I have listed I want to be able to use MusicXML as the main format which makes it easy to port your library out to software such as MuseScore in order to edit and play back (although I’m hoping I can put playback into the app itself…).

Why doesn’t this already exist? I have no idea. I don’t feel as though music innovations that hit the masses happen often – several orchestras probably already have something like this along with wireless page turners (something else I’d like to put in, but probably won’t have time – my theory is using Adafruit BlueFruit EZKey, trinket and a broken keyboard piano pedal, it shouldn’t be difficult but those are famous last words…) and conversion to and from editable music and MIDI for playback has been done both commercially and in the open source world, but that’s just it: musicians aren’t always computer scientist type people, so probably don’t know about the open source world, and quite personally if I see “OMR APP FOR JUST $300” I think “erm. no…I can live without that”, so whilst open source options are freely available, they’re not really that accessible. It’s also the case I have yet to see something that collates features from 3 different kind of bases – organisation, editing, playback – most will do one, but not all.

I like this idea much more than last year’s because it’s something I will benefit from not just academically, but in the sense that I can then take my music wherever I go. I think it’s important that your final year project be something you want and are passionate about, not just a generic game title someone else came up with, and this is why I didn’t go to my supervisor at work and ask for one: don’t get me wrong, planes are fun to get geeky over and the work I’ve done this year has been awesome, but my passion generally lies most strongly in my hobbies and therefore I think I will succeed and fair better with this project than any related to Aerospace.

As a techy note, I’m going to be writing this in Python because I feel very comfortable with python after this year, and I think that’s where there’ll be most open source libraries for research from, in addition to features python has such as the ability to wrap libraries from other languages in python using SWIG. This also shows where I’ve come from as last year, I was kind of hesitant to even suggest writing an FYP in anything other than C# or C++, fearing there’d be little departmental support, but when I mentioned to Jan who’s hopefully my new project supervisor, he didn’t seem astounded and was supportive: why should he, or any other academic be shocked at my personal choice? Programming is programming and you write in what YOU’RE most comfortable in, not the staff, and at the end of the day most CSy people, particularly academics, would be able to understand and debug python anyway…

Oh, and it probably goes without saying that I will be open sourcing my work once I’m done with it and it’s cleared from being assessed, and potentially making it into a system similar to the home media center style OS made for the Raspberry Pi so that it’s even more portable. But that’s for after uni…

A side note: I got come dine with me social sec (again – I was going to be doing this last year but then got an accidental placement…) which should be good fun. If any freshers or second years are reading this, you should really join because it’s a great way to meet new people and eat lots of free food. And discover new places to eat in Hull.

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 🙂

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…


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


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]