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.

‘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.

EMF Camp 2014

I realised yesterday, as a few second years from my university were discussing EMF 2016, that I hadn’t yet written about this particular event.

As a brief intro, EMF Camp is kind of like Glastonbury for Geeks. That’s great for someone who’s been to Glastonbury, or in fact any musical festival, but erm. I…haven’t. So I had absolutely no idea what to expect and had only discovered this event about a month before.
Essentially, the idea is Hacking in Tents over 3 days (EMF stands for Electromagnetic Field, by the way…). Over 1000 makers, hackers and creators of any sort descend on a field together, show off what they’ve been making and teach others how to do the same. At EMF this year there were several workshops, ranging from creating the One Ring to laser cutting a useless contraption.

So I headed down from Hull on Saturday afternoon, tent, Raspberry Pi and various random components in tow, and set up camp. I knew a handful of people from Pi circles attending and another handful from the Bristol Hackspace attending, so as I wandered round I bumped into a few familiar faces and overall, had a really great time hanging out with old friends (I say old – I’ve been into electronics hacking for about two years now, and doing it socially for probably a year or less) and meeting some new ones.

The first afternoon I attended the Simon Singh talk on the Enigma machine: I found this a really great talk and he explained everything well. I’ve been to Bletchley Park maybe 2 years ago, but some of the information had dissipated from my brain.
Later that evening we headed over to the BarBot created by Nottingham Hackspace: a robot which mixes cocktails, the ordering of which being online. Despite the cocktails tasting…pretty bad, the amount of LEDs which some would deem unnecessary in drinks making means I thought this was an awesome project, and the generosity of Nottingham Hackspace to offer these without forcing payment is pretty generous: I did donate, like a good person, of course.

Before turning in for the night I headed over to the main stage tent to see what music had been put on for the eve: terrible rave music along with lasers and smoke machines. Standard.

The following day was meeting some new faces – among those, Chris from Element14 and Rachel from Raspberry Pi who I’d been meaning to meet for a while. Her Zoe talk was pretty interesting. Disapointed in myself that I missed the opportunity to throw things at Ben Nuttall, who was a few rows in front, as Carrie Anne deemed necessary to point out.

My last talk of the event was the panel session discussing the badges. If you’re unfamiliar, in 2012 EMF Camp volunteers decided to make a super awesome badge ready for 2014: the idea was ace, in practice…not quite as great, due to problems with sponsorship, hardware manufacture hitting a few roadblocks and various other issues which were covered in the talk. Nonetheless the badges provided everyone with a device to hack, with lots of hardware which would have otherwise cost a fair amount, and all software for both the badges and the server they intended to have working for the event was open sourced. Jonty, the main organiser, also announced that there would be a competition for the best hack, with the prize being tickets to EMF 2016 and the one day EMW (electromagnetic Wave…it’s held on a boat in London…get it?! Wave?!) event.

The overwhelming brilliance of the camp is that all of it is volunteer based, from the badges to the organisation to security on the gate – it’s as open source as it gets. I really enjoyed it and will definitely be going in 2016 assuming I’m in the country.

Gadgets and gizmos: microview and metawear

Recently I needed a break from tearing my hair out over another project, so I had my heart rate sensor insulated


…the wrong way round. Whoops. Luckily its only velcro’d on.

Anyhow, this sensor got given to me by Craig for Christmas, and well. Its been 9 months.

Having seen the microview video feature a blinking heart, I decided I’d use it for that purpose.
I actually cheated here a lot: I pinched the example code from sparkfun’s library and the example code from pulsesensor.com’s library and smashed them together. The result works pretty well, I just need to figure out a way to make a nonpermanent necklace mod to the microview.

With push the code to github in the morning!


Also my metawear board arrived: not really sure what to think? Have yet to utilise that little guy yet.


A couple of years ago I travelled from Bulgaria to Germany, skipped France and every country in between and flew to Spain.
I think I probably wrote a blog post in every city.
This trip I haven’t for various reasons. FYI this time I did Helsinki (Finland), ferry to Stockholm (Sweden), train to Malmo (Sweden), a 3 hour stop in Copenhagen (Denmark) and then a train to Hamburg (Germany – that train went on a ferry and it still freaks me out), train to Cologne (Germany) and finally, Amsterdam (The Netherlands). All in a period of 12 days.

Its been a really nice trip, some awesome people met, far too much alcohol drunk and money spent. I’m flying back to Manchester later today, and then driving back to Sheffield in the morning.

Next up? Leeds on Friday to drop into Farnell to do some work, Hull in the evening for a friend’s birthday, Bletchley on Saturday for Electromagnetic Field Camp which I’m so excited for, and then Bingley for two weeks to work at an educational ISP.

Hull is then getting me for at max 2 weeks before I head to Phoenix, Arizona for the Grace Hopper Conference. Quite looking forward to being in one place for more than 2 weeks..

Pi Passport now on Element14!

A few months back myself, Ryan (@ryanteck), Craig (@craigargh) and a few other friendly faces were talking about a project we since referred to as Pi Passport.

We planned out the idea, and then kind of dropped it for a long time.

Having been offered hardware and support by Farnell/Element14 to work on projects, I since remembered this project and started working on it. I’ve posted the intro post on Element14 today, and will be posting every week or so an update so you can build your own system – you can read the first post here

If anyone’s been asking about my review of the NFC board I tweeted photos of a while back, this is it. Hopefully when I have more time I will work with the board again, but using full NFC data transfer as the board I have can also send information.

Playing with my microview

Today I had a few problems working on other projects, so I started to get going with this lil fella:



As this was my 21st birthday present, my daddy darling picked the 75 dollar reward tier which included a nice learning kit:


It’s pretty sweet as particularly for people who don’t always have the gear to start with arduino straight away, this provides lots of things: LEDs, including 1 RGB LED, resistors, sensors like temperature, photoresistors, flex, but also a motor and a servo, and lots of other things I’ve not mentioned.

Initial thoughts:

As soon as I plugged the microview into my surface, it popped up with a welcome message, a few demos and then a tutorial showing where to plug in wires and eventually, an LED which flashed on and off. This is a brill use of the screen and means it’s literally a plug and play device.

I went on from this to try and get going with changing the code and went over to codebender – I’ve never used this before but heard good reviews. After a few minutes of installing things of which codebender provided all the links for, my microview popped up with “Hello World” and a little image, so sure enough, I signed up for codebender with my github account. As both a windows user and a surface user, I was dead impressed at how easy this was and well, the fact it definitely works with a surface pro 2 is a big plus (bit like the Swiss flag…)…although I’m still thinking of getting rid of my surface. Gotta be honest.

Further thoughts

Anyhoo, that was a few days ago – I then put it down to work on other stuff and to wait for my heart rate sensor to get set up this weekend, but this eve was at a loss for what to hack, so I cracked it out and went through the tutorials which come with the kit (http://kit.microview.io for anyone who has the same tier as me).

Once again I’m impressed at how smooth all of the tutorials are and how well it explains everything, plus the codebender plugins meaning I don’t have to open up the codebender page and duplicate all the tutorials is amazing. Soon enough I was addicted to completing the tutorials and I’ve now done 9 of them – I’ve only stopped because it’s half 12 and I think I need a break.

^^doing the glowing RGB LED tutorial.

I’m hoping they continue to add to these as there’s still a flex sensor and a shift register unused in my box, but if not I guess that’s a good project to work on, figuring out how the flex sensor works…

What I don’t like

There’s only 1 thing I don’t like: whilst the MicroView kit didn’t cost me anything as it was a present, I’m probably going to reuse it rather than buy another one as they’re a tadge expensive for me while I’m on a student budget. My first intended project is a necklace using my heart rate sensor (I really like making jewelry that lights up, ok!) , but if I for example, connect a jumper up to the pins necessary, that leaves several that will leave pocmarks around my neck…so I’m thinking of 3D printed pin cover with hooks for a necklace chain, but it would be nice if the pins could be retracted or flipped 90 degrees to the sides.

#FWIC2014, @ghc and microview

There’s a few things and opportunities I’ve yet to write about so far.

I’m aware recently my posts have been more about the awesome places and events I’ve been able to go to, rather than “hey I got this from pimoroni” or “hey I made something containing LEDs”. Don’t worry – my hacker posts will be back in a little while, although there’ll probably be another big lull during third year.

Anyway, the last event I went to: FWIC, or the future of wireless international conference. I haven’t written about this yet because I’m supposed to be writing something for the official blog, but I figure an abridged version couldn’t hurt.

For this conference I managed to get free entry, due to being of the millennial generation and entering a competition for one of 5 free places – that is, essentially, anyone who’s grown up whilst technology as we know today has been evolving, so anyone under the age of 30ish, the aim being to attract young people into the embedded and in particular, wireless embedded industry.

I had a really good 2 days at Churchill college Cambridge, and went away with lots of confidence in my ability to get into this industry (if that’s what I want?!) and several contacts to make it happen.

Next up is future things: this week I received word that my microview – you can go back in my archive and see what I wrote about that – arrived at Godley HQ, so I should get that by dadtaxi (parents are visiting for the Bristol harbour fest, and to ship some things home as I’m moving out soon) this weekend, so you can expect at least a couple of blogs about using that if I get time in the next couple of weeks.

Last and probably the most exciting announcement I’ve ever written is that last Saturday I found out I’ve won a full scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, Arizona this October. I’m still finding it hard to believe this is happening and I have lots of things to book and do before this point, but thanks so much to the Anita Borg Institute, and to the companies who sponsor these scholarships every year, for giving me this chance.

I’m incredibly excited. GHC is probably the biggest women in tech event held in a different state in the USA every year, and it should be a great opportunity to network, learn, share and meet more people from around the world.
Plus, y’know, who’d ever pass up a free trip across the pond.