Posted in Explorations

The One at Grace Hopper Conference.

Ah, so this will be a fun one (A girl can hope). A recollection of an amazing and full of unexpected experiences week. I should have written this post sooner as the details have started to get fuzzy in my head and I had already envisioned so many events that I had to include, hopefully this piece does justice to the way I had wished I could convey my journey. The post might seem random and full of highly opinionated musings at places so it might be safer to call a recollection of a journey into self-awareness rather than GHC, for a better recollection and breakdown of the events themselves, please visit the official GHC website.

Let’s begin by getting formalities out of the way, GHC, what is it? Frankly put, it is the largest gathering of women associated with the field of computer science across the globe. When I say big, I mean big. This Big:

 

So it began, on a shiny happy morning when I received information about my acceptance for the travel grant, from then to a series of legal proceedings later, I was on board a tad long (22) hour flight bound to Houston. In spirit of full disclosure, this was my first foreign trip so had that air associated with it. But that feeling wasn’t long lived because of the welcome and warmth I felt from everyone I met went a long way to eradicate the “foreign” sense of things.

Cut to the first day. Whoa! is all I felt. One advice to fellow conference attendees especially if you are a student travelling almost alone, Make Friends! As many as possible and as soon as possible. Talk to a few people ahead of time, talk to people as you wait for food/badge/entry and especially in the shuttle rides. These people can be older, younger, more experienced or first timers but everyone will be carrying an opinion and outlook on life that will make you appreciate or at least think about the world more. Some might end up being friends you get to meet again and again at various events and even be our all as fellow women in tech as you join the workforce. Some of the people I met on the very first day….well most of them were fellow former Google interns but from across the world, which made the start promising.

And the conference begins! Doors open to the welcome note which is a popping party in itself. I have to say it was an honor hearing about the real struggle the women on the stage had faced and still strove through just because of their passion for computer science, I could not help but feel thankful for the opportunities we have, in many ways due to them. I for one do not believe that today there is any great hurdle for women in to succeed in computer science if they wish to, yes, there is a matter of changing perceptions and an acceptance that is still missing in some parts of our society but I am sure of the fact that it will change soon. After seeing and hearing first-hand how these women never gave up in face of one struggle after the other and knocking on several closed doors, any excuse I might have ever wanted to make for not trying till the very end just vanished.

Megan Smith, CTO, United States of America, Former Vice President of Google[X].

 

The Career Fair

Where the Magic Lives.

The first thing I did was (not so proud of this) visit the career fair. Because come on, that was like Disneyland (Disney Tech itself was there!) for someone about to join the tech industry. And it surely lived up to its expectations! An endless sea of men and women from the most renounced companies in the world just mingling about like it’s every other normal day! If only I could clone myself and visit all of the booths!

While I was not actively looking for a job, my main motive was to be able to talk and gather knowledge about what it is that these companies are looking for when it comes to hiring candidates and what I could improve or inculcate in me to be a better programmer. For me it was about getting to know the community I would be joining a year down the line and see the world from their eyes. The result? Almost everyone I talked to was friendly, helpful and most of all passionate about the work they do. There was no lack of ideas and spirits and they were even open to hearing your opinions on their work. For a 20 something kid, being heard and respected by the top engineers and professors in the industry, that’s an experience you cannot trade for all the money in the world. I know I might be painting a too rosy picture of everything and the disillusionment might come once I am on the other side of the table, but till then I would like to believe that if things are even as half as good as they seem, I’ll be happy.

Going for the serious look, never a good idea.

Oh and yes, in attendance at the conference were all the top universities of US where I got to meet esteemed professors and faculty and wow! Were they even more excited about their courses than the students who came to talk to them! Despite perhaps knowing the fact that graduation courses at these universities are the most coveted ones on this planet, they were genuinely trying to convince the attendees about their benefits and offering help in all possible forms.

 

 

Open Source and Systers

For those of you who have worked in Open Source or any remote projects will understand the feeling of working with peers you haven’t seen or even talked to for long periods of times and having formed a kinship with them. For me, that community is Systers, the technical wing of Anita Borg Institute. From giving me my first mentor to first mentorship opportunity, I have come a long way with it. At GHC, I was able to meet my mentors and ideals whom I had been guided by and whom I had assisted in various endeavors.

Volunteering at the GSoC booth for Systers was a moment of honor in itself. (The fact that the Anita Borg Institute booth was perhaps the celebrity pit stop for the conference highly helped matters as I was able to interact with these amazing women who many a times came up to you and started the conversation when you were too shy!).

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Now those who know me know that I blabber a lot about Open Source and why everyone should give it a try but this meeting just affirmed my belief that everyone should without the desire of material benefits [I have never been a GSoC student myself] be a part of one or the other community which will not only improve their own skills but provide a medium to help others down the road.

Truly memorable was the Systers lunch, the company was good, the food was amazing the energy in the air is still riveted in my mind. Systers for me now is more than a community, it’s a fabric I am well woven into.

 

Technical Talks.

The talks and workshops were one of a kind. Even the most difficult of the concepts were broken down into tit-bits that could be understood and meant to ignite an interest in the attendees that they could take forward. For me, attending the talks did not just mean concentrating on what was spoken about but how it was delivered. I have been a speaker at some events back home and have experienced my fair share of moments of stage fright and the occasional butterflies in the stomach. What attending the various talks here led me to believe is that alongside the content, its delivery has to be in a way that your audience can connect with you and come to the self-realization of whether what you talked about makes sense to them. They should be able to reach a decision of pursuing your teachings. The answer can be yes or no, but if they can make it, you would have done your job of presenting them with the opportunity which is at any moment better than having left them confused or unsure in the end. In the end, it’s the practice that matters, so I urge everyone to submit proposals and attempt to talk at local events and more if this is something that interests you and not wait for the moment till you feel you have enough qualifications. Every experience is unique and it counts.

 

After-Party

The conference cannot end without mentioning the After-Party. Which was too crazy to be true. Well, when they let their hair down, they take the town with them. All of the students, the organizers, the speakers could be seen shaking a leg together and trying to grab a picture with the who’s who of the tech industry who were quite hard to differentiate in the otherwise rainbow of colors and spirit that the event was. (Yes, being true Indians, we did manage to request the DJ to play a Bollywood song. Who knew Balam Pichkari was quite famous out there?)

Farewell Houston

A small parting comment on Houston. I found the city blissfully calm and at peace with itself. There seemed to be no rush to anything (quite a change of pace from Delhi) and the people were friendly and welcoming. Had a fun two extra days to explore around with a partner in crime I have known for years. A chance dinner at Hard Rock Café and dancing with the locals was not what we thought was in the books when we were roaming the unfamiliar roads, Houston quite surprisingly shuts down well before night time.

Going over the board touristy.

Especially enjoyed visiting the NASA space center, the birthplace of the ominous

“Houston, we have a problem.”

phrase, indicator of galactic proportioned troubles ahead.

Live band and dancing, fitting end to the trip.
Posted in Explorations

Best of Both Worlds.

How I landed in my current situation is a bit of a fix. Wanting too many things often leaves you with conflicting and complementing scenarios and that is precisely what happened with me. Being an intern at a Software giant and a Mentor for Google Summer of Code is not how I imagined myself this summer but thats how it is going to be.

Learning is a very simple process but the forms it takes is what makes it beautiful. The dual roles I am in are teaching me new things everyday. At one side there is the corporate rush of finishing a task on time, facing technologies that both challenge and enthrall you while on the other side I learn how to be patient, elucidate various concepts and being responsible to be able to provide proper guidance to ensure building of a fine product. At one place I am allowed to make mistakes and bug my seniors for doubts while I assume the role of the source of clarification in the other.

In all honesty, the dual perspective has enabled me to peek behind the curtain in either role. As a learner, now I know how willing our mentors are appreciate their efforts all the more. I am able to put forward my difficulties in an easier to understand manner and communicate with my mentors better. When I don the other hat myself, I am significantly more articulate then I was before and am able to break down the work in smaller, achievable tasks. All students transition into the phase of mentoring and guiding others and we wish to recall the experience we had to be better at the task but I feel like getting the live preview of both. I am able to in many cases immediately apply what I learned.

The point of the long post you may ask? Well, I am not sure. Maybe the way how after a day of enriched learning made me want to extend the same experience to the ones I can continuing perhaps the most sacred of cycles made me appreciate the situation I am in. And that one thing is for sure, whatever conflicts I had to incur to reach here, I am glad I did. All left to do now is hope that I don’t mess both of them up!

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Posted in Explorations

All Play and No Work

This is perhaps going to be my first non technical blog entry. I could place the blame on not doing much in the that department recently, things need a spark I suppose (more pondering on that later). So the question now is, what I was up to if not slaving away in front of my other heart (laptop). Well I was playing. Literally. Playing what you may ask? No not Counter Strike or NFS but actual real to ground sports (geeks can raise their eyebrows at me now). The week started with the Annual Sports Fest being organized in the college and for some reasons it had more fervor this time around than all the previous editions.

Unsure at first on spending all the time and energy (and the dreary prospect of sweating under the Sun) but a long story short I ended up signing up for a couple of sports. The week did not start on a good note as I ended up on the receiving end of a very well placed Volleyball smash, rendering my hand to the following state, looks cool right? 😉

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Ouch 😛

Taking responsibility that it was perhaps not the best decision I opted to play and omitting the blow by blow here I would rather like to talk about the things sports once again taught me.

You cannot and should not underestimate anyone. Let me narrate some examples of same:  One of the underdogs went on to defeat every other team to make it to the finals in one sport. In another the projected favorites lost to the underdogs at a crucial moment.

People can surprise you. Sports test the nature of a person, not just as a player but as a leader, as person under pressure and person who can quickly adapt to situations. With the right kind of motivation (what works for whom is another surprising factor 😀 ) people can outperform themselves. And some people are plain junkies,  they live for the thrill of crossing that finish line no matter how bangled up they are (broken limbs and fainting out of exhaustion is just another day for them).

Another fascinating phenomenon I observed was the hidden abilities and passion abounding from the unlikeliest places, that nerdy little girl throwing the discus so far, that gangly looking guy smashing the ball into the ground, that shy introvert leaving the wind in his wake as he runs. For many this time brought back nostalgia of the pre sabbatical-from-the-world period of Indian students studying for entrance exams where the only exercise involved traveling to your coaching institutes 😉 .

To sum it all up, I had a great week. Ups and downs, fights and hiccups, sweet victory at places and struggling to breathe after an embarrassing run at places. I don’t remember a single day wherein I didn’t fall on my bed nursing a new bruise. Currently I am limping a bit and have an inability to hold a pen (a great excuse to skip classes) and will promptly begin my abstinence from sports for a while, but the experience? It will leave me smiling for a few days.

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New addition to the cabinet

Note to self: Stop procrastinating and go back to work now.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Explorations

Learning “How To Teach”

I am a bit young(or at least I assumed so) to find myself at this stage but I do find myself at a place where I am in a state to teach others something. Be it anything. It is a surreal feeling in itself. Keeping aside the feeling of pride and vanity, there is a sense of wonder in being able to impart knowledge to others and see the expression of gratitude light up their face. This is a small foray into how I reached here and what I plan to do now that I am here.

It began with explorations of my own, naive and unskilled, a bit late to the race actually, I ventured in the world of tech and let it unleash whatever wonders it could on me. I tried competitive coding, web development, game development, AI, android development and the hunt is still on for the next challenge. In this journey, I left my shyness behind and sought help from whatsoever source presented itself. Seniors, blogs, friends, forums I searched them all and was fortunate enough to find people willing to mentor and assist in mundane tasks, spending time and effort. That was it when I decided that some traditions are honorable to carry forward.

Following in the footsteps, I welcomed juniors and friends seeking my help and guidance in matters I had some knowledge of and it is a task I took up diligently. What amazes me is the ease with which I can recognize even over a Whatsapp chat (coherent conversations over which are difficult anyway) exactly what the problem someone is facing and is not able to convey. I guess my own days of trial and error have taught me too much about making mistakes. There are some plans in motion to expand my reach and take up more elaborate sessions. There is a sense of fear and responsibility with this task that you cannot deny but the overwhelming joy of sharing the best of what you had learnt, giving a simpler solution or at times even making someone understand the problem better is a reward that urges you to fight through your fears. It is a satisfaction and gives a high like rare other things can.

I am not an accomplished teacher, far from one actually, taking my first steps. I don’t wish to make a career out of this but will always attempt to build a stronger community which can survive and grow by supplying knowledge from within. That is my dream and that is why even if my efforts are meager and audience small, I believe they matter.