Monday, March 30, 2009
This is an incredible experience for any woman in computer science or engineering. There are technical talks on a wide variety of topics, and other more general issues are discussed from work-life balance to new outreach initiatives. If you happen to be one of the many males in engineering, this conference might still interest you. Though the guys who attend have to contend with the paradigm shift of suddenly being in the minority, they can learn a lot about how many awesome things women in the field have accomplished, and how they can support us in our endeavours.
But it's not the only the official program that makes this conference so great. Travel with some of your classmates and colleagues, and you will see your friendships blossom. You will also be meeting some of the greatest names in the field (most female, but some male too!), giving you the networking opportunity of a lifetime. Really, no matter how you look at it, this is an event that can't be missed!
The official Grace Hopper website has now opened to scholarship applications! These cover your lodging, registration, and some travel expenses. But you should start working on yours now, since you will need to write essays and get recommendation letters.
Hope to see you in October at this year's conference in Tuscon, Arizona!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Earth Hour is about bringing attention to a problem and showing politicians that people care. It’s not supposed to solve global warming by turning off lights for an hour a year. Recycling is not supposed to make society into a waste free one. Recycling is supposed to lessen the impact of those processes which we cannot avoid in order that future generations can continue to live on this planet.
I’m not about to tell anyone to go buy a hemp dress or even live without their iphone for a week. All I want from you is that you stop and think about all the problems we are currently covering with bandaids and then pretending they no longer exist.
Yes recycling helps. Using recycled paper helps. Reusing the other side of misprinted copy paper helps. Reducing the size of diagrams in your notes before printing them so you use fewer sheets of paper helps. But none of that negates the waste produced by the factory making those packs of paper.
I’m starting to sound a bit extremist here so let me just regurgitate the argument that started this train of thought.
You go to your favourite coffee shop on the way to work each morning. Your coffee comes with a fancy little java jacket. You read the bold letters proudly proclaiming you saved 70% more cardboard then if you had asked for a second cup because your coffee was too hot to hold and feel good about yourself.
We’ve all done it. I don’t even drink coffee and I’ve done it. I feel better when I’m in Leo’s Lounge on campus and we have java jackets because otherwise people use two cups. It doesn’t save us any money, we pay just as much for a java jacket as we do for a coffee cup, but it makes our conscience feel better.
So you use a java jacket and save some cardboard, only a little bit but enough that if everyone did it even once or twice it would start to make a difference.
But what if you brought in your own cup? All those thermoses used to keep your coffee warm in the winter, what if one day in the summer you brought in one of those?
You’d be saving the 70% of not using a second cup PLUS the 30% of not using a java jacket PLUS the 100% of not using the first cup!
Recycling IS good, we just need to remind ourselves that the problem hasn’t been solved yet, and that’s something I hope you’ll all take a moment to think about.
While you can use a translator service, I would like to share with you the story of women who inspired me. One of my first memories is singing the times tables while my grandmother walked me to kindergarten. She was one of the first female entrepreneurs in my home town Aguascalientes, an uncommon job for a housewife in Mexico 70 years ago. As a self-taught teacher, she also taught me to read and write when I was 3 years old. The next generation of women in my family also pursued uncommon careers: my oldest aunt was the first women graduating from Engineering in Aguascalientes, and later on, my mom, was one of the first graduated women from Electronics Engineering, in the Mexican National Polytechnic Institute.
I knew from my family experience that being a female engineer was not popular and they encouraged me as they encouraged many students for 30 years, specially women to pursue higher education and achieve success in engineering without barriers, perceived or otherwise. Does does sound familiar? My post was dedicated to them and all those women who will never be recognized with a novel price, but have touched our lives.
I was very lucky to be surrounded by Adas during my childhood and also today, in one of CU-WISE talks entitled "It's not women that need fixing" I feel lucky and proud of being a Women in Science and Engineering.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
You may have already seen the movie "A Few Good Men". Basically, it is about one man who will stop at nothing to keep his honor and to find the truth in a courthouse of the U.S. government. The movie has nothing to do with engineering or science. In fact, it is about military law… but the movie is a perfect analogy for why men and women should consider participating in Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).
As you are about to graduate and become a professional engineer, it is critical to keep your honor, especially in the field of equity. We have come a long way in history. As you may have noticed, in the past, women in some parts of the world were not allowed to go to school, to obtain professions or to achieve equal pay. Today transformations are taking place in various countries and institutions in order to provide women with equal opportunities to men. WISE plays a vital role in that transformation, helping support women in male dominated fields, ensuring their needs are met, and giving them a chance to hang out with other women going through similar things.
As professional engineers, it is our duty to our colleagues and the engineering profession. I am not a professional engineer, yet. However, I try my best to assist my colleagues and the engineering profession. In September 2008, one of my engineering colleagues introduced me to CU-WISE. I thought it was a great organization and I felt that I could add value to their team. I thought to myself: I could learn some valuable lessons from them. As a result, I joined CU-WISE. Since then, I began to see engineering from different perspectives. For instance, I learned about women’s health and their needs in order to design a medical device in the form of a bra known as the ‘tBra’ for early breast cancer detection.
In the global marketplace, it is essential to promote equal education and opportunity for both men and women in order to gain competitive advantages. I urge you to participate and promote Women in Science and Engineering. CU-WISE is for everyone. You can make a difference. "Yes, you can!"
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.
Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Entrepreneurs, innovators, sysadmins, programmers, designers, games developers, hardware experts, tech journalists, tech consultants. The list of tech-related careers is endless.
Rather than talk about some of the historical role models, I'd like to talk about someone who really inspired me on a personal level: Sheila C. Alder.
I worked with Sheila for a few years at the National Capital Freenet, where she was the office manager and I was a volunteer.
Now, as far as technical jobs go, phone support has got to be among the worst. And that's what I was doing, for free. And you know what's worse than just being on phone support? Being on phone support as a woman. I'm sure the guys get plenty of abuse, but it's even more infuriating when the fellow on the other end clearly believes you're incapable of understanding his incredibly complex technical problem because you sound like a young woman.
So what did I do? Sweetly said, "oh, sure, I'll transfer you to my manager..." and hand them off to Sheila. Who, if they were being particularly abusive, wasn't afraid to give them a piece of her mind. No boys here, boys.
Sheila taught me by example to just let the rude comments and insinuations that I couldn't do my job just run off like water on a duck's back. She knew I was competent, I knew I was competent, and most of the people who phoned could tell, so what if a few couldn't? I didn't have to let it get to me.
And she knew a lot about not letting things get to her: Sheila has Fibromyalgia, a disease which causes quite a lot of pain. And if the pain weren't bad enough, there are people who believe that it's a disorder that doesn't exist, and may claim that you're crazy if you claim to have it.
Sometimes get told I'm crazy when I mention that discrimination against women happens in Open Source circles. Or wherever. And I think of Sheila. She showed me that sometimes, it's the rest of the world that's crazy and you have to stand your ground and point out what needs changing over and over until you've convinced the world to change. And maybe you can't change everyone, but at least you've learned who to ignore and contradict.
Obviously, there were days when Sheila was in so much pain that it was hard to stay pleasant, but she tried. She'd be there working through it all, the good days and the bad. She spent a lot of time trying to make information about fibromyalgia, and about computers more accessible to a wider range of people. And she took time to teach me a lot about accessibility through her stories: how frustrating a broken elevator can be when you rely on your wheelchair. How a simple choice of the tap on a sink could make a huge difference to someone with limited motion. And to see from her example how the battles you chose could make a huge difference to how you lived your life.
I haven't talked to Sheila in years now, but a quick web search turns up that she's still doing her contracting business Computer Tamers and Woman to Woman Computing. Yes, not only is she a tech savvy woman who's not afraid to tell the world it's wrong, she also owns her own business! She's still out teaching people (especially women!) to use their computers and not to be afraid of technology. And beyond her teaching, I'm sure she's still inspiring people just through her amazing strength.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. I am very happy to contribute because I think women are underrepresented. And why is it called Ada Lovelace Day? Augusta Ada King was Countess of Lovelace and wrote the world’s first computer programmes in the 1800's.
This is for all the women who stand up for other women and don't expect anything in return.
Dr. Monique Frize is a very prominent woman from Ottawa/Carleton University who received many awards and recognition for all that she has done for Engineering, Science, and women. But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to tell you about how she helped deserving women receive scholarships.
Dr. Frize used to be part of a committee of judges for very valued scholarships. She spoke to a group of women about this at the "McMaster WISE International Celebration of Women conference" this month, that's how I know. Dr. Frize told us that the committee was all male and that she was the only woman. She said that every time she would choose the candidates she thought were the most worthy, she always had more females on the list than the rest of the committee. Were the men old fashioned? Were they just not used to accepting that women had equal potential as men? Dr.Frize believes all these factors played a role.
For example, Dr. Frize asked one of the men of the committee why he chose this candidate (male), over this candidate (female) who clearly had a better application. He told her that the candidate was doing very interesting work, and also the same research he used to do. This was clearly biased. Dr.Frize fought for that female applicant and won.
So if you're a woman who received a scholarship, remember that someone may have fought for you, and that someone may have been a woman. When you get the chance, I encourage every woman to do the same.
Computer Science Programs Make a Comeback in Enrollment
New York Times, March 16
In 2008, for the first time in six years, enrollment in computer science programs in the U.S. posted an increase, according to an annual survey from the Computing Research Association. The boost in CS enrollment is significant, according to computer scientists and industry executives, who in the past have pointed to declining numbers of science and engineering students as a troubling sign of the nation’s weakening ability to compete in the global economy. The number of majors and pre-majors in U.S. computer science programs was up 6.2% from 2007. As student perceptions of the discipline change, insiders are optimistic about increased attention paid to computer science education.
Interest in computer science appears to have turned the corner, as student perceptions continue to change. Moreover, with the implosion of the financial services industry, the nation’s college students will likely turn away from future careers in fields like investment banking and finance in favor of careers in computer science and engineering. The Taulbee Survey, with data tables covering different time periods, also found that the number of new undergraduate majors in computer science increased 9.5% and that the rate of decline in new bachelor’s degrees improved to 10%, from 20% in the previous report. Total Ph.D. production grew to 1,877 for the period July 2007 to June 2008, a 5.7% increase over the previous period.
According to the Computing Research Association, there is a sense that computing science skills are increasingly being seen as a toolkit for pursuing a number of modern careers. As a result, schools like Stanford are seeing significant increases in enrollment. However, the latest survey was not entirely optimistic.
The study, which for the first time included data from schools of information, indicated that diversity in computer science programs continued to remain poor. For example, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women remained steady at 11.8% in 2008.Click Here to View Full Article
A couple of months ago, I signed an interesting pledge: "I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same." Boy, time sure flies, and it's now time to write that post!
The women (yes, plural) I would like to write about are my fellow executives for Carleton University's Women in Science and Engineering. They have been inspiring me since ever CU-WISE really got going a year and a half ago.
Serena, Natalia, and Barbora put the wheels in motion a couple of Septembers ago, and then asked me to join in, due to my experience with the computer science undergrad society. Later, Lindsay joined our team when four executives just weren't enough to keep up with the awesome program we were creating! Since then, we've hosted a variety of successful events, gained over 150 members on our mailing list, and participated in multitudes of outreach for young women and girls of all ages.
What I admire the most about these ladies is their dedication to the cause. None of them are in it for themselves - they all simply want to make the university science and engineering experience the best it can be for each and every woman who enrols for these programs at Carleton. We all work together beautifully, and more than that, we seem to have become incredible friends, offering each other support in all our endeavours, school or otherwise.
If you read their bios (linked to the names above), you can see how amazing these women really are. Serena is always kind but honest, has a beautiful artistic touch, and has managed to succeed in a difficult undergrad program while remaining dedicated to CU-WISE. Barbora is never afraid to give and (perhaps more importantly) ask for constructive criticism, and will never let you down. Natalia has brought a huge wealth of experience from her hometown in Mexico, from helping start a new polytechnic university to participating in scouting for almost 20 years. Lindsay jumped right on board despite having just started at Carleton only months after finishing her undergrad at Queen's, and has done an amazing job of organizing many great CU-WISE events. I could gush about these women for many more paragraphs.
I know that each of you can find an inspiring woman close to you, whether she is in technology or not. All you have to do is look.
If you want to share your stories, it's not too late to participate in the pledge! If you write your own blog post, add it to the database here. Or, if you don't have your own blog, add your thoughts to these comments, set up just for this purpose. Check out the mash-up of all the posts made so far here.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I mentioned that there is a wiki aimed at geeky women that might be helpful, but foolishly forgot to get her email address so I could send her a link, so I'll point it out to all of you and hopefully she'll read this too!
It's not quite what we were talking about, but there's a lot of useful resources, role models, and links there. And they're always looking for more contributors, if you want to add to the information or discussion!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
One of our upcoming CU-WISE events is a talk by Dr. Christine Waechter. I got a chance to talk with her at Ottawa U after Dr. Tamaki Sato's talk.
Most of us only know our own experiences in technology, plus some tales from our friends. Some of us have been lucky and seen few problems in our careers. However, it's hard to draw conclusions based on such a tiny sample size. But Dr. Waechter has been going around gathering stories from women all over the place, and she's learned some things that are pretty surprising. I suspect she's managed to get stories that don't show up in the polls and statistics, and she's got some theories that make a lot of sense, including why a lot of people don't know the whole story.
I highly recommend this lecture to both men and women interested in what's really going on with women in science and engineering. (Perhaps even especially to the men!) It'll be an eye-opening talk!
Edit: the talk is Tuesday, March 24, 2009, 4:30-6:00 pm, 5115HP (Herzberg Laboratories) Carleton University.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I'm sure someone like Homer would tell you so, but nuclear waste does not look like glowing slime. It actually looks like dark grey metal (which is spent Uranium fuel) held in large concrete canisters. I am currently taking an introductory course in Nuclear Engineering (MAAE 4906) and I recently went to the Canadian Nuclear Association conference in February. These are the sources of my information.
So what’s the relation between the amount of nuclear waste and the amount of electricity produced? Eight thumb-size pellets of Uranium fuel can power an average home for a year. I always found it interesting to compare these 8 pellets of used fuel to the total amount of garbage the average home creates in a year. There’s definitely a lot more garbage! But how much harm does garbage cause and how much does nuclear waste cause? Well they both take up space and that has always been an issue. Also, a lot of garbage is not biodegradable and nuclear waste will take a long time to decay as well. But the upside is that nuclear waste is stored and monitored in carefully managed facilities, and in the 46 years of using nuclear energy in Canada, no member of the public was harmed because of it.
Let’s leave it at that for now in terms of waste management, but I do want to mention that I should look more into the harmful effects of mining Uranium. Let’s hope they start coming up with ways to mine Uranium while minimally affecting humans and the environment.
Nuclear reactor plants do not release greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. For example, electricity generated from nuclear reactors in Canada avoids 650 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, a total of 2.3 billion tons so far. Nuclear energy is in fact clean energy.
Nuclear power produces 15.2% of global electricity generation and is the fourth largest source of electricity in the world. Nuclear power accounts for 51% of the electricity production in Ontario, and 14.6% of the electricity produced in Canada. So as you can see, the world depends heavily on nuclear as a source of energy.
As it stands right now, nuclear is the way to go. Due to growth of demand and aging nuclear plants, by 2020 Ontario will need to replace 80% of its electricity generation. What will we replace it with? Solar panels? Wind turbines? Those alternatives are just not enough to keep up with demand. For example, one fuel pellet (the size of a thumb) supplies as much electricity as four wind turbines. Think of the difference in terms of land needed, cost to build, noisiness, etc… As for solar panels, they’re just much too expensive right now.
Let’s hope that new scientific discoveries will lead to breakthroughs in sustainable, renewable, and clean energy sources. If you consider that the sun provides 6,000 times the energy needed to power the globe, I have my fingers crossed for solar energy.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
This week, Dr. Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC, spoke to an audience of male/female students and faculty about women in science and engineering. The talk was organized by WISE Ottawa and I would like to summarize and expand on what I've learned.
Why don't women get nominated for the very prominent awards?
Suzanne talked about scholarships and the number of women receiving them. She found that women are not nominated enough for the more prominent scholarships like the Accelerators or the Herzberg. I got the impression that Universities are the nominators, so that's one possible source that could be looked into, but the main cause is much more difficult to deal with. Here goes...
A typical schedule of a prominent researcher
Suzanne described the schedule of a very prominent man, a highly cited author in his field (no name given). He wakes up at 3am to write grants/papers, goes for a run at 6:30am, and gets to the lab at 7:30am. Most evenings he spends at business dinners and meetings, and the rest of the evenings he goes home to spend time with his family. On weekends he sleeps in until 4:30am. So what is the conclusion? Well who's with the kids? What woman can follow this kind of schedule? Women can't compete if these are the requirements to get those top scholarships/award/grants... unless they have no families. Very few women would accept that.
Could this be why there are few women in industry and faculty positions?
This is the same reason why the women diminish in industry or faculty positions. It's possibly too competitive and they don't get enough support (maternity leave, etc...). Not to mention they need a husband who can share their work load with the family and support their career goals. I have heard of many women who broke up with their boyfriends, not because they didn't love them, but because the women realized that they weren't the kind of supportive men they needed to help them reach their goals.
The number of women in Science & Engineering (S&E) is still low, and declining. What are we doing wrong?
Suzanne also mentioned the problems with the low numbers of women in S&E. She gave three reasons that I have heard before, which indicates how important they are: limited role models (they need encouragement), low confidence (for example, most girls think they aren't good at math, while studies show boys and girls are equally as good), and the last one is stereotypes (many think S&E does not involve working with people, nor make a contribution to society, therefore they don't think it will be rewarding). And unfortunately outreach efforts are not working as well as we would hope and Suzanne does not yet have the solutions.
A surprising clue from the audience
There was a woman in the audience who works in Women's Studies. She said something that I rarely hear from speakers: that from her research sexism and gender issues are still present. Then I realized that she's right! I heard stories from women about their coworkers making sexist remarks over casual meetings, or their brothers demeaning them, or young female University students crying in the bathrooms because of comments made by their male classmates. Another thing that came to mind is how feminism is continuously portrayed in a bad light, by both women and men.
Feminism, let's clear the air
Feminism is defined as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men". Now I don't know how you perceive this definition, but let me first warn you that it has nothing to do with being against men. And I ask everyone, including women, not to use it in that way. Women and men both have a lot to offer, and diversity is the key. We all know that. So what do the women from WISE groups at University of Carleton, McMaster, Waterloo, and Toronto say it means? In a recent round-table meeting at McMaster's WISE conference, they said feminism is supporting women so they can achieve equally as great goals as men. I hate to break it to you, but males and females really are different, and fields like Science and Engineering are still dominated by a male culture. This means that women's needs are still not met, and the fact that we want to take care of a family is probably the biggest area in which we need support. I hear about it everywhere, it rings in my ears, and it hits home. As I mentioned before, this includes having husbands who share the family workload (chores, kids, and all). And so we would love for men to come out to our events and at least make an effort to understand our issues so there are no false perceptions. Men are part of the solution and we need their support!
Some women are not open to a group like WISE
Time and time again I hear from other women that women still prefer to have male bosses than female ones. I also notice that women think that they will fit in more if they don't show their feminine side, or show any visible effort to specifically support women. I hope the information provided here will help them realize that by avoiding this kind of mindset, they can help impact the futures of young women. Many of the female speakers I have listened to have said "do what you love, but make a contribution too because life will be much more rewarding when you give back."
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Now, this doesn't have anything to do with women or science and engineering. But it does inspire me to ask myself and all of you: how will we make a difference in the lives of women at Carleton, and girls who might consider studying here with us one day? From attending CU-WISE events to participating in outreach opportunities, there are so many ways we can touch the lives of those around us.
Here's the video.
Friday, March 6, 2009
It was one of our older First Year Experience posters, which had the face of a young woman in a classroom on it. It had been defaced some time ago with the words "psychology student" -- the implication to me being that a pretty girl couldn't possibly be in CS.
It irked me, but I didn't bother to do anything about it. Frankly, Carleton does do photo shoots where they take whoever volunteers and shoot them pretending to be students of which ever department needed photos; maybe she was a psychology student who someone knew?
But this week, someone had added further defacement to the poster in the form of pornographic stick figures, labelled so you could tell exactly what they thought their very male computer science student should be doing to the female psychology student.
Um, yeah. Not Appropriate. I had the defaced poster removed.
It boggles the mind that I even had to do it.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The short version: FRHACK, a french security conference, was offering an award for "IT Security Girl of the Year."
It was a rather tastelessly advertised award, it could be said: Check out the advertisement here. It certainly says "pinup girl" a lot more than "competent security professional" (right down to, apparently, having the award handed out by a former beauty queen!)
And then FRHACK threatened legal action against the person who posted that screenshot along with critical commentary, because the image contained copyrighted material. The obvious suspicion is that it was a way to censor any controversy.
But a little research later, turns out FRHACK didn't own the copyright of the image in question. They wound up being the ones asked to take it down, while the blogger was allowed to keep the screenshot to go with the post about how inappropriate it was.
I'm kinda appalled by the award to begin with, but also amused by how this particular story worked out in the end!
(For more details here's the original post.)
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Marissa Mayer is the woman in charge of Google's homepage. She gets the final say for how the site looks and feels and how it functions. No small feat considering the ubiquity of both the company and the search engine that is now a verb! She was the 20th hire the company made in 1999 and was its first female engineer.
Recent rumours of her departure were both false and unsettling to her employer.
Mayer has become of a celebrity in the geek world. She can be seen frequently on television and has appeared in countless newspaper and magazine articles. One of the really cool things about Mayer is she refuses to take the “poverty is noble” mindset that so many (even the very rich) in Silicon Valley adopt.
She attends lavish parties, spends like a drunken sailor at charity auctions and lives atop the Four Seasons in San Francisco. This is not the humble start-up life but it does speak more to Google's corporate culture. The company takes risks and wins big. Mayer believes that as well.
At just 33, Mayer has carte blanch control over every new feature or design for Google's homepage, from the wording to the colour of a toolbar. She keeps some impressive company as well with full access to the Google founders. Her keen sense of style and design make her unique in the world of engineering and contribute greatly to the decisions she makes. She is also a billionaire.
Mayer's tenure at Google includes the introduction of more than 100 products and features, many of which are very successful including: Google News, Gmail and Image Search. She is a teacher and mentor to the ever-growing young staff at the world's largest start up and remains hands on with her teams. Mayer manages 200 product managers who supervise 3,000 engineers, or more than 10 percent of Google’s entire staff.
Though she is not arrogant, Mayer is not humble either and does not take issue to her privacy being invaded by the press or news outlets. They love to publish pictures of her and her fiancée and get the skinny on all their social activity. She also spends time online talking about herself and her likes and dislikes. She is a self-described athlete and has run multiple marathons.
Mayer is a great example of the success women can achieve in engineering and the unique perspective they can bring to this “man's world.”