Friday, March 26, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: The Technical Women that Inspire Me

Technical women who have inspired me while doing my Masters here at Carleton University have been CU-WISE execs and officers as well as some of my friends I met along the way. I would have to say Jennie Pryor, Sukaina Chandoo, Saeideh Ashtarifar, and Kimia Ansari have each taught me a valuable lesson during the past couple of years.

I've also learned a tremendous amount from the CU-WISE team especially Gail, Barbora, Heba, Ros, Terri, Lindsay, Katherine, and Salia. These girls have all been an inspiration to me and each has a different gift to offer.

One other technical woman that I admire tremendously is Sawitri Mardyani. I first met Sawitri in our first year Calculus course. She is one of the most intelligent and compassionate people I have ever known; truly technical and an exemplary human being.

I think we all need to strive to be role models for those around us and every one of these girls has been a role model for me. So I thank you!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: The Technical Woman I admire

I am sorry! I am late for this one! 
An excerpt from my blog:

She has been a big motivation and help for me during my research. I will always appreciate her accepting to be a co-supervisor for me. Her researching and questioning skills have inspired me and taught me a lot. She doesn't know that, but seeing her has given me enough reasons to come back for a Ph.D somewhere down the lane.

Click here to continue reading and see who's inspired me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: Perspective from a Guy

This guest post was written by Jamie Madill, a Masters student in Carleton's School of Computer Science, to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. Thanks for taking the time to give your perspective Jamie! :D

I wish there were more women in computer science. It's not that there aren't any, it's just that working in an environment of different ages, backgrounds, tastes and personalities is more fulfilling. That said, I happen to notice that my supervisor's grad students are numbered 3 women and one man, myself. It's quite lucky then, that I work in one of the few such labs, and even more so to be around such smart, hard working and skilled scientists. Oh, and the kicker: they're all Ph.D and I'm the only Masters. Hopefully that would give ol' Ada a smile.

Ada Lovelace Day - the 3 Natalias

I thought that it would be easier to write about a technical woman for Ada Lovelace Day. Last year I wrote about Dr. Monique Frize. She inspired me after one of her talks at McMaster University about how she was helping deserving women receive scholarships. This year I can't choose between the many awesome women I got to know in the past year. So after thinking about it all day, I finally decided to write a little bit about the 3 Natalia's I know.

The first Natalia I met was a fellow CU-WISE executive. She is really something. I admire how honest, selfless, smart, friendly and hardworking she is. Today she is expecting a baby and has taught me that there are much more difficult things in life than to do a PhD and to make it in a male-dominated field. I guess I forget about things like that sometimes and she's the one who brings me back to Earth.

The second Natalia I got to know is what I call a super woman. She has been finishing her PhD in mechanical engineering, working full time and working out with a personal fitness trainer... all at the same time! Yeah! Superwoman! And yet, when I meet her for dinner, we spend all evening laughing, as if life was easy-peasy. I admire this beautiful lady.

And last but not least is the third Natalia. I recently met her at a green exhibit at Algonquin College but never got in touch with her until my mentor recommended we meet. She e-mailed me and we met for coffee. Now I will admit that I was too chatty and diverted from talking about green energy. Now that I think about it, I think I stuck to cars (because I'm looking to buy one for myself) and boys (because I'm a girl I guess). But I promised her that the next time we meet we'll talk more business. Natalia has experience in politics and environmental science. She's close to completing a degree in each... with experience! She currently works at OneChange where she helps create a gateway to broad public participation in conservation and efficiency programs using community-based social marketing. Boy am I glad I met her! And this lady has such a bubbly personality, I feel like a young girl again around her. Hmm, maybe that's why I diverted from business so much.

So here are the 3 Natalia's I know. All 3 quite amazing, hardworking and fun. This year is for you ladies!

Ada Lovelace Day profile: Jennifer Redman

This was originally posted on my personal blog

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

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, whatever they do. It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited.

To be honest, I didn't feel much like writing for Ada Lovelace Day. It feels like writing is all I do lately: a paper and a poster proposal due this week, plus the all-consuming nature of my thesis proposal that I finally submitted this month after more than a year of work. I love research/coding and I even like writing, but when they're too far out of balance I start to feel like I'm one of those people who's all talk and no action.

But Jennifer Redman is one of the people who's been pulling me out of talking and into doing, which makes it even more important that I honour her today.

I don't honestly remember when I first met Jen online -- probably through Linuxchix or maybe Mailman -- but I got to meet her for the first time in person at GHC09 after she invited me to help out with the Systers code sprint.

Jen really grabbed my attention because she was using Systers to focus on something that sometimes gets overlooked: getting individual women who already know how to code to the point of making open source contributions. And not just in a general supportive way, but in a specific, defined, "here's a project, let's hack!" sort of way. And it doesn't hurt that geeking out with other women is fun. Not that computers for girls isn't a great idea, but getting more women involved now means we've got the role models we want for those girls. And here's Jen with some grand ideas and bugs to fix and a pile of virtual machines to get women playing around in open source software sooner rather than later.

I often hear talk of such ideas, but often no one has time to follow through. What makes Jen especially incredible is how dedicated she is to the follow through. She helps keep the Systers mailing lists running (and on-topic!) She got that code sprint together, and already has plans for next year. And now she's assembling an all-star team of mentors for the Systers GSoC 2010 projects, getting us all talking and thinking, and making sure we're committed, and ready to go both mentally and technically as the students start to arrive. She's got a great level head and a willingness to say what needs saying when things get rough -- her sane commentary on some really horrendous geek feminism issues made me feel just that much more grounded when we chatted at GHC. And I'm sure she's doing all sort of other awesome stuff that I don't even know about because I'm so wrapped up in my own world.

I've been scaling back my volunteer/open source activities for the past few years as I get more deeply involved in my PhD, which means that I say no to a lot of things. But Jen and Robin Jeffries chatted with me about doing archives at the code sprint, and managed to come up with exactly my perfect project: Mailman development (on archives, no less!) where I get to work one-on-one with students and women in computing. That's three of my favourite things right there! But I'd probably still have said no if some stranger came up and offered that to me. What makes this a project worth rearranging my life for is Jen: I don't know everyone else yet, but I know that if she's involved, things will happen, and I'm going to be proud to have been involved.

So thank you, Jen. Here's to a great summer!

Participate in Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Have you blogged about a technical woman you admire for this year's Ada Lovelace Day? You haven't? Well, you're in luck - it's not too late! Just get your post done before the end of the day (or sneak it in a day or two late), and let the world know at the official website.

I just finished my post. I wrote about a researcher I admire:
I met Michelle for the first time at last year's CRA-W Grad Cohort in San Francisco. We were both second year grad students, so we happened to sit at the same table when given time to mingle with our cohort.

I quickly learned that although Michelle was also a second year grad student like me, she was much further ahead in her research. In fact, she had finished her Masters thesis in January! She was going to do her PhD in September and work on cool stuff until then. She told me about the projects she'd been working on, and I just couldn't help but be impressed.
Check out the rest of the post on my blog, then get started on your own. A short paragraph will do!

Don't have a blog? Just email and we'll post it here for you!

Need a little inspiration? You can follow many of the blogs written all around the world for Ada Lovelace Day on Twitter via #ald10.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Research from ABI Highlights the Characteristics That Lead to Advancement of Technical Women

This is an excerpt from the latest Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology newsletter. You can subscribe to it here.

A new research report released today by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI) sheds light on the attributes of senior level technical women who, at only four percent of the 1,795 technical men and women surveyed for the report, represent a rarity in the technology industry. The report, titled Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success, examines the characteristics of high-ranking women in technology, how they perceive themselves and their top attributes for success, and what organizational practices they most care about. The ABI report is publicly available at

Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success explores the demographics and attributes shared among women who defy the odds and achieve senior level positions on the technical track. It also makes recommendations for companies looking to retain senior technical women and for women seeking to advance to senior level positions.

Report Highlights

Successful women in technology show the same attributes of success, human capital, and work values, as senior level men. Senior technical women are collaborative, assertive, moderate risk-takers who work long hours, and they have made significant concessions to advance.

Manager vs. Individual Contributor: Women in the study were significantly more likely than men to hold managerial positions. Conversely, men at higher level positions were more likely to hold individual contributor positions, suggesting that men and women are tracking differently at the senior level. Lack of representation of women in the highest individual contributor positions is a loss for companies, as it represents an absence of diversity of thought in the innovation process.

Family and Career: Senior women are significantly more likely to have children than are entry or mid-level women. However, 51 percent of senior men report that their partners have primary responsibility for the household and children, while 24 percent of senior women have partners who have primary responsibility of the household. This suggests that senior women face work-family challenges similar to those faced by women at the mid-level, with the additional pressure of a higher position of responsibility. Combining high level positions and family responsibilities comes at a price. Senior women are significantly more likely than men to have delayed having children, as well as cut back on their social life to achieve career goals.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Earth Hour

An excerpt from my blog:

The Metro, Ottawa today mentioned that ever since the launch of Earth Hour in Ottawa in the year of 2008, Ottawa has saved some electricity. The City people are hoping to have the darkest hour of Ottawa ever this year. From a 4% decrease in usage in 2008 to 6% in 2009 is definitely improvement. Can it get better? I say it can.
Click here to continue reading and see how you can contribute to the noble cause of saving some energy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How the WISE Steps to Success event came to be - Part 2

Barbara posted earlier this month on "How the WISE Steps to Success event came to be" and I just wanted to add some comments from my perspective.

I had attended quite a few workshops, network events, and career fairs put on by Carleton's Career Development and utilized some of their other services such as resume reviewing and mock interviews. For those of you that have not taken advantage of these, I urge you to do so, they are usually a fun break from school and very useful. Also, if you aren't aware, you maintain free access to these services as alumni, which is awesome. Again, I'd encourage everyone to start attending these events before you graduate though as there are far fewer services offered during the summer and you want to transition into the working world with full confidence in your professional skills.

As I was saying, I had taken part in a lot of these events, but found there was something missing. I often felt like I could use some more specific advice for my discipline of engineering and for being a woman in a male dominated field.

In terms of the gender issue, as an example, I feel like I'm in a different position than my male counterparts when it comes to networking. At a workshop I attended on networking, we were advised to first take a tour of the room to subtly see who was there and who you wanted to meet. However, when I go to an event in my field, I walk into the room and notice immediately that there are only one or two other women in the room and the rest are men. This can be quite intimidating and make you feel self-conscious. It seems like it would be very hard to walk around the room without other people noticing. I know there must be ways to turn this to an advantage, and those are the kinds of tips I was looking for.

Other workshops I'd attended did not have enough time to be customized to each attendee's background. For instance, when it comes to negotiating your salary, someone with a science or engineering degree is in a very different position than someone with a different degree and there are huge differences in starting salaries within the science and engineering disciplines. Furthermore, I was unsure of how a graduate degree should impact my salary expectations.

I had attended a salary negotiation seminar by APEGBC for women in engineering during my undergrad at UBC, and this addressed a lot of issues that I think are important. Woman continue to be underpaid on average as compared to their male equivalents in the engineering fields. I think this is ridiculous nowadays, but I don't believe it is generally intentional or due to discrimination. My understanding of the issue is that women (on average) take a less aggressive approach to negotiating their starting salary and this sets them on a lower course throughout their career. Of course there are other issues that come into play later on, such as taking time off for maternity leave or choosing not to pursue higher paying, more time consuming position, but in terms of entrance salaries fresh out of school, I see no reason why women and men shouldn't be earning equivalent salaries.

So I felt that Carleton could use an event similar to the one I had attended in my undergrad to address these issues. I feel it's important for WISE Carleton members to learn about how to be assertive in the professional world, have confidence in themselves, and earn what they deserve. That's why I approached career services and helped get the ball rolling for what culminated in the WISE Steps to Success event two weeks ago.

I hope those of you that attended enjoyed the event and that all of you make use of the career services offered at Carleton and elsewhere.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering

Ever since I attended my first Grace Hopper in 2008, I've dreamt of having our own celebration here at Carleton, no matter how small. My dream is finally coming true. I'm very excited to announce the very first (and hopefully annual) Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering!

The idea with this event is to bring together Carleton women who are studying or working in any science or engineering discipline, and share with each other and the rest of the Carleton community what we've been up to. After the talks, the idea is to get the speakers together for dinner on us. The Celebration will be a wonderful opportunity to network and to socialize. It is important to show ourselves that we are not alone and that we do amazing things!

So take a look at our Call for Proposals, and consider being a speaker! You don't need to be an expert - you just have to share something interesting you've been doing lately. Only a short description of what you want to talk about it required, so what do you have to lose?

What Toastmasters Can Do For You

This is a guest post by Shirley McKey, ISSNet Director of Operations at the School of Computer Science. I spoke with her recently about her involvement with Toastmasters, and could tell how enthusiastic she was about it. CU-WISE members hoping to gain leadership and communication skills, and get more opportunities to network, should definitely check it out!

I have been a member of Toastmasters since 2003 and am convinced that you will flourish as a communicator and a leader if you follow the program provided by this international organization. The communication and leadership program offered through Toastmasters provides outstanding and economical professional development.

Carleton Toastmasters meets every Wednesday at 6:55 p.m. in 3324 Mackenzie Building on the Carleton Campus. Please join us to learn how you can use this proven program of professional development to enhance your communication and leadership skills and gain confidence in yourself and your abilities.

Toastmasters International is a world leader in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. The nonprofit organization now has nearly 250,000 members in more than 12,500 clubs in 106 countries, offering a proven – and enjoyable – way to practice and hone communication and leadership skills.

Most Toastmasters meetings are comprised of approximately 20 people who meet weekly for an hour or two. Participants practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared speech or an impromptu one to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian. There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by a member in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved. Good communicators tend to be good leaders.

For more information, please e-mail or visit (Carleton Club), (District 61) or (Toastmasters International). We look forward to seeing you.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day 2010

Happy International Women's Day!!

Today, March 8th, is observed as the International Women's day in a lot of countries all over the world to celebrate respect, appreciation, love towards women and economic, political and social achievements of women. This year, it is all the more special, as the world celebrates its 99th International Women Day. The first occurrence of women's day was on 28th February, 1909 in the US, and was called the National Women's day. The UN has always been a strong supporter of equality between men and women, and in 1977, also adopted a resolution proclaiming a UN Day for Women's Rights. A lot goes on all around the world to commemorate the International Women's Day.

Women smoothly transition from one role to another in their lifetime - from a girl to a woman to a girlfriend to a wife to a mother. Each of the roles require immense dedication and love. Women somehow have it in them to be able to be patient, supportive and always giving. Although a very rewarding experience, being a woman also has its challenges.

Women often have to deal with issues like gender differences and sexual abuse. In developed countries, differences between men and women are still visible, although it is still not bad as in developing countries. In developing countries, women are denied to right to education amongst other rights. In some countries in extensively poor families, the girl's education is given up for the sake of the boy's, on the pretext of the girl only having to manage the household chores. However, when given an opportunity, women have shown they are no less than their male counterparts in any way. Providing education is one of the best gifts that one can shower on a girl. It makes the girl capable of thinking what is right and what is not, thus making her more confident about herself and more capable of helping others in need. Women today are going to colleges and universities, contributing to research, and holding high positions in companies. They should continue the trend, thus making the gender difference bleaker.

The other major issue I feel in women's lives is sexual abuse. According to statistics, one in five women are victims of sexual abuse in their lifetime. This certainly is not a very encouraging statistic when we are living in what we like to call the modern society. Awareness needs to be raised on this issue and women need to be treated with as much respect as men.

Women have come a long way, and have had to fight for their rights in a lot of situations. But persistence and determination has remained their strongest asset always. Much still needs to be done in terms of women rights, and it has to be done by women, being supportively beside each other, and making their voice heard. The Women's day is one such opportunity that celebrates the achievements of women, and sheds a light on the issues and concerns that need to be worked on.

Kudos to all the women out there! Celebrate your day!

For more information on what's going on in your part of the world on this day to celebrate women, please see the website International Women's Day.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Night of Tips, Treats, and Revelations

On Tuesday night Carleton's Porter Hall was transformed into an elegant meeting space for young minds to mingle and learn how to thrive outside of the classroom at the WISE Steps to Success event. The white tables slowly gathered the often shy audience, providing treats for snacking and food for thought.

Many excellent points where brought up by the experienced mentors and guests who generously volunteered their time for the event. We were once again reminded of the importance of self-presentation to make that crucial first impression. Teresa and Terry Lee McCarthy of the Image Solutions Group shared their expertise on dressing and grooming for a business meeting. For a credible, formal business look wear a blue suit with the hair pulled back and just enough make-up to accentuate your best features. Invest in a good briefcase and a comfortable pair of closed-toe pumps. And, of course, don't forget to smile.

As important as your image is for leaving positive impressions and making connections, you can't go far without hard work as Dieter Hollweck was quick to emphasize. To advance in your career you have to be good at what you do and that takes work. Of this the Ambassador of Croatia, Vesela Mrdjen Korac, one of Dieter's guests, was an excellent example. She arguably stole the show and impressed many a young lady in the audience with her incredible career achievement and eloquent speech.

Pierre Lemasson addressed a rather important but sticky issue of salary negotiations. You might not know it, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with negotiating you salary once you get that coveted job offer. The trick, however, is not to think of it as a competition with the employer, but rather as a respectful discussion and to be aware of your fair worth.

The most important revelation of the evening for me, however, was a subtle yet extremely important point that Dieter brought up about networking. It's not a secret that you have to prepare for meetings and interviews. But more important, perhaps, then doing your background research is figuring out what your goals, values and aspirations are! Before you can effectively present yourself to others you need to know yourself and what you want!

It was delightful to see that by the end of the evening so many people were mingling among themselves and the mentors taking the opportunity to apply what they have learned about networking in a comfortable relaxed atmosphere created at the event. I hope that Steps to Success will become a yearly tradition of WISE and many more people will get the opportunity to benefit from the experience of the excellent speakers and mentors that WISE brought together.

Ontario's Not So Fresh Waters

Every once in a while something triggers a must protect my habitat response in me and this was one of those times. I was reading an article this morning and it kind of came back to me that the health of the watershed isn’t just another subject in the textbook that won’t really change affect me enough to be worth thinking about past the exam. Canada has 30% of the world’s fresh water supply, over 20% of which is in the Great Lakes. If we destroy them it would be like dividing all the students in the university into 5 equal groups and then telling one of them the only way they’ll ever get drinkable water again is by begging it off the other four groups.

Last summer one of the local television stations went about asking random people on the street

“how much of the water and dirt that goes down the storm drains each year gets treated before being released back into the environment?”

the number of completely wrong answers really surprised me.

Now granted I’m from South Western Ontario and for all intents ringed in by the Great Lakes and the boarders to the states. Now that’s not to say I could hike from my house to all five of them, but like the millions of other people in the region a half day’s drive would take me to at least four of them. I was taught in grade school that Canadians are super lucky that Canada has 30% of the worlds fresh water supply and that saving water is important because thousands of people die daily because they don’t have access to clean water. And growing up where I did I was taught about the invasive species appearing in the local watersheds and throwing the entire system out of whack resulting in native species becoming severely endangered more often than most Canadian students. And like most subjects you’re forced to learn I found it boring and annoying to have the same thing keep coming up again and again and I am more than a little obsessed with animals and by extension ecosystems. What really stunned me though was Obama pledging money not to just stop pollutant run-off into the lakes but to make the water safe to drink again.

We have the technology to do so many things today and are lucky to live in what is considered one of the most advanced countries in the world, but we use that technology to enable us to ignore the fact that we’re destroying so many things. Our water today is cleaned not only before its released back into the ecosystem but also before it even gets too our taps. The few places that still use wells today take samples to be tested constantly. Beaches all over Ontario are closed each summer due to the water not being safe. The E.Coli scare a few years ago caused many people to overreact and many cities to be over cautious and put in place far more stringent water purification systems. A hundred years ago no one would have considered testing the well water for anything other than manure run off from the farms. Lakes that were unsafe to swim in were the thing of horror stories or legends involving mutating people and animals. Today you tell someone you went swimming in the canal during frosh week and they’re horrified that you would be willing to jump into something that disgusting.

Apparently its ok to spend money on bottled water but not to ensure that the sources of those bottles remain safe to drink. We have the technology to do something about this. Many cities like my hometown boast that the water that is re-released into the watershed is cleaner than the water its being released into, which quite frequently is upstream from where the next city takes it’s water from to be purified and used by its citizens. If we’re leaving the water cleaner than when we take it there shouldn’t be a problem right? Unfortunately most of the pollutants in the system come from run off streams washed into the rivers and streams when it rains. But in the city most of that contaminated water that’s full of the salt and exhaust from the roads as well as any litter that gets washed along, goes into the storm drains where its cleaned right?

Actually, that run off is funneled directly back into the watershed bypassing all the purification processes the city had. Clean fresh water is actually a limited resource on this planet and we aren’t making the situation any better by washing tons of pollutants into it. It’s something to think about the next time you see someone throwing garbage out a car window or the tv shows beer being poured into a storm drain as part of the attempts to control the drunken crowds at various national events.

How the WISE Steps to Success event came to be

The WISE Steps to Success Professional Development event occurred on March 2, 2010 at Carleton University. The goal of this event was to show students how important it is to gain skills outside the classroom in order to be successful in their career. The event was elegant, had great food, great company and great speakers. There was a lot to learn, many opportunities to mingle and lots of contagious energy to catch. But I will let someone else write to you about the speakers and the atmosphere. I am here to talk about how this event came to be and why we hope it will become an annual event.

I took some time to search through my WISE e-mails until I finally found what I was looking for. On March 10, 2009, some of the CU-WISE officers were writing blogs about recent events we held. One of the officers was unsure of herself and sent the executives her draft for feedback. Her post was great and she was very excited to hear that we liked it. Her appreciation for our compliments got me thinking and I immediately wrote back talking about how CU-WISE should encourage students to gain more experience in using non-technical skills like writing, public speaking and networking. Rosalyn then wrote back suggesting that we organize an event for these skills. Soon after that, Rosalyn and I met with Carleton Career Services to discuss ideas, collaborations and funding. The planning was not easy, and furthermore, Rosalyn and I graduated soon afterward. Thankfully, the External Affairs Executive, Shafagh, and the Outreach Executive, Heba, were happy to take over. They were the principle planners from then on and I would like to again thank them for making this happen.

So that's the story, but let me leave you with some advice to help you gain those soft skills and stand out when you graduate:

Get involved in your community and volunteer in something you enjoy well before you start looking for work.

Focus especially on venturing out of your comfort zone and working on your weaknesses. Mine were public speaking, networking and writing... so I became the External Affairs Executive.

Ask for feedback, that way you will improve faster.

Don't make excuses that you are too busy. We are all busy. If you want to develop these skills, you must take as many opportunities as you can to practice them.

If anyone has any advice of their own or stories to share please don't hesitate to comment on this post! I would love to hear from you!