Friday, October 31, 2008

From the WISE Guy: I work for the Feds

This is a guest post written by a male who supports the cause of getting more women interested in working in science and engineering: Jeff Gordon. He wants to let us all know why working for the government in these fields is such a great opportunity!

I remember the day in second year when my classmates and I learned of our first co-op assignments. Many were off to companies with cool names like Ramius and Magma. Others had positions with well known companies like Adobe and Nortel. However, I ended up at some place called Public Works and Government Services Canada. Yuck! Clearly I had failed the company name awesomeness test. Was I about to become a drone in some stuffy cubicle sitting next to a Dwight Schrute clone?

Well, I later found out that this Public Works organization was one of many equally-boring named organizations that make up Canada's federal government, also known as the public service. Seriously if you ever have trouble sleeping at night, just keep repeating "Receiver General of Canada" over and over again. Nyquil's got nothing on that phrase. Thankfully, the work itself was far from boring. In fact the government does real work! I was so thankful because as a computer science student, I was not used to doing imaginary work. Virtual work yes, but not imaginary. Or is virtual a kind of imaginary? I digress.

During my co-op term, I got to research and create open source software for the government, a hot trend in computer science. My research became some of the basis for the current policies and initiatives regarding open source in the Canadian government today. I thought that was pretty neat for a "student". Maybe this whole government thing wasn't so bad after all.

In fact today, I still work for the government. I can't tell you which department though because it's a secret! But I know what you're thinking. I'm a spy. Working alongside the likes of James Bond and Sydney Bristow. Kicking ass and taking names! I'll bet you forgot from TV and movies that the government fictionally hires spies! But I'm not a spy. I'm just a web developer from a security conscious department. But the web is my passion. And the public service has allowed me to explore that passion in ways I could never have imagined before.

As a young person, I've noticed that there aren't enough young people starting a career in the public service. You know that there also aren't enough women in science and engineering overall. That means that the public service wants and needs young women like you in science and engineering type jobs. That's right, Uncle Canadian Sam needs YOU! It can be an amazingly rewarding experience with awesome pay, real job security, and the mobility to move around to different jobs and departments. Plus, the government will never go out of business!

So why not have a look at a career in the public service by visiting Get involved in Canada's future. The public service hire thousands of students annually through the university's co-op program and the Federal Student Work Exchange Program (FSWEP). So go have a look! And for fun, tell them Stephen sent you. They'll know what that means.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Join the Systers Mailing List

I belong to a mailing list called Systers:
Systers is the world’s largest email community of technical women in computing. It was founded by Anita Borg in 1987 as a small electronic mailing list for women in “systems”. Today, Systers broadly promotes the interests of women in the computing and technology fields. Anita created Systers to “increas[e] the number of women in computer science and mak[e] the environments in which women work more conducive to their continued participation in the field.”
This list is very well moderated to ensure that messages all members get stay on topic (less relevant conversations often continue off-list). There are so many different topics, ranging from "help! my supervisor hates me!" to "anyone know of a good job in web programming in this state?" No matter what is on your mind, you can be sure that there are nearly 3000 technical women willing to listed and help.

To give you an idea of the kind of thing you'll see on Systers, I would like to share this little tidbit that appeared there -- it is being shared anonymously with the permission of the author. She provides a really interesting analysis on the state of women in computing and how it has changed over the last few decades.
I started in computer science in the late 70's. Back then, about a third of the kids majoring in CS were women. I worked as a programmer at a hospital in the summer - all the programmers were women. They tended to work carefully, spending a lot of time on planning, talking to the users, and documentation. They all had children and left promptly at 5 to pick up the kids from babysitters.

Sometime in the late 80's, the field really changed. Everything became more male oriented. A cowboy culture started prevailing - the hero image was the lone gonzo developer who code frantically all night, but couldn't communicate with anyone. The ability to write and communicate seemed to be less valued by managers, whereas the ability to work long into the night became a way to score points. At my last job, many developers didn't show up until mid morning, but worked well into the evening. It was a real problem for me and the one other female developer - we both had kids and needed to leave by 5.

And now I have come full circle and am back doing healthcare development. But now, the hardcore developers are all men (the project managers and business analysts seem to be women though). And they can't write or communicate, and they brag endlessly about working until 3am.

So in short, I do think women are self-selecting out, but I don't think it is due to the nature of working with computers. The authors of that study are ignoring the fact that there used to be a lot of women in computer fields. I think that as the culture became more hardcore "male", women got out, starting a vicious cycle. The things that women often do well, writing and communicating, are now less valued, encouraging even more women to leave the field. Yes, I know we give lip service to the ability to work in teams and communicate with users, but the reality is that the developer who can bang out lots of code fast is always seen as more successful than the developer who can document designs well, or who is a careful tester.
I hope you'll consider joining Systers to discover the benefits of reading and contributing to topics like this one.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why you should join the CU-WISE team

As you may have noticed, CU-WISE is recruiting for one new executive member and many new officers! This is a very exciting opportunity to get involved with a group that makes a real difference in the lives of many Carleton women who study science and engineering, and young women who are considering it.

But why would you want to give up your time to get more involved when you could just enjoy our events and such? Well, here's my list of reasons that I think you should give it a try!
  • The experience looks awesome on your resume.
  • It's a very valuable learning experience where you gain team-based and leadership skills.
  • You'll discover just how many like-minded women are there for you to meet!
  • You'll form new friendships, sometimes in the most unexpected places.
  • You might get the opportunity to attend next year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Tucson, Arizona (no promises, but we're hoping!).
  • You'll be recognized on the CU-WISE website for the hard work you do.
  • We're hoping to give you a CU-WISE t-shirt that advertises your role as executive or officer.
  • You'll make a real difference in many women's and girls' lives, and most likely, your own.
I hope that's enough to get you motivated to fill in your application. We truly look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Grace Hopper Conference: We ARE building a better world

I've always admired people doing great things and making a difference and I look up to them for inspiration and role models, in particular if they're females.

What I really learned in this conference is that they struggle like us, have the impostor syndrome like many of us, love to go dancing like many of us, they're just ahead.
It was inspiring listening to Fran Allen, IBM Fellow Emerita at the J. Watson Research Laboratories, the only woman that has received the ACM's Turing Award (2006), first woman named an IBM Fellow and the first woman president of IBM's Academy of Technology. She shared her big steps on her career and achievements, but she also shared her hopes for the future, which I quote:
  • I'd like to see a new generation of women experience the excitement I feel for our field.
  • I'd like to see women creating the workplace that meets their needs.
  • I'd lie to see Computer Science become a core science of more interest to women (and others).
  • We achieve Anita's (Anita Borg's) goal: 50-50 by 2020.
  • Many Women Turing Award Winners.

Another treat for me, was listening to Mary Lou Jepsen, founding CTO of One Laptop per Child (OLPC), an organization whose mission is to deliver low-cost mesh-networked laptos en masse to children in developing countries. She created the machine many thought it was impossible and she shared with us the process in doing this. For this, she was named in 2008 one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
Mary Lou is such an energetic and inspiring person. She is currently leading her company Pixel Qi and her premise is that portables are all about the screen. And it was in screen innovations where she used her knowledge in Optics to design a cheap, yet reliable and innovative laptop.

These are just a couple of examples of the amazing women we met. I will continue with some of the discussions presented on panels such as: "The Imposter Panel" and "Women Wroking in International Development to Build a Better World". Follow-up posts coming up....

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

You CAN have it all, just not all at the same time

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference was a really great experience. It was inspirational, embedded more confidence in me, and made me realize how important it is for me to be able to help others through my career and passions. This was my first conference and I will never forget it. Not only did I get to spend some quality time with my fellow executive members of WISE, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.


This conference allowed me to network with other women in related fields who had a lot in common with me. These women from around the world gave me advice, told me about their experiences, and made me feel a sense of community.

Realistic Advice

Many sessions included guest speakers telling their stories based on the session topic and answering questions. Depending on the session, the questions from the audience ranged from maternity leave, to planning regional conferences, to outreach programs, to becoming a technical leader. Several sessions got into the topic of internships, and how valuable they are to discovering what options are out there. Other sessions included reviewing resumes and there were recruiters who spoke about what they look for in an employee. Many speakers mentioned the importance of having a mentor. Another session involved discussing successes of other women’s groups from around the world (British Columbia, Mexico, India, and Singapore). We got a few suggestions on how to improve WISE and delegate tasks to reduce our work load. The real life stories, experiences and advice were very valuable.

Inspiration Everywhere

All the wonderful women around me gave me hope that I can reach all my goals if I really aim high and don’t be afraid of taking risks. Everyone has struggles and must overcome failure. They encouraged me to be persistant in my career and personal goals, told me to set boundaries in my life, and made me realize that you really can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Final Reflections of the Grace Hopper Conference

As I wrote on my own blog, the last couple of days in Colorado were truly amazing. I spoke to several wonderful women who were able to give me some great advice and ideas, and got to go hiking with some awesome Google girls. This conference was the most fun, useful, inspiring, and enlightening I have heard of or been to yet.

Here are some of the great things I learned or experiences I gained while at this conference:
  • New ideas for outreach activities that I can do through CU-WISE and the Let's Talk Science program.
  • I really do want to be an instructor and teach.
  • I should definitely do an internship that is not close to home, even though I'm actually pretty scared of leaving my house and husband!
  • CU-WISE might eventually be capable of running a local celebration of women in computing if we work with several other groups.
  • The girls from Google are great hikers and great company.
  • Hemp and bamboo shirts and soft and comfy (thanks Microsoft!).
  • Women's conferences actually give away shirts made for women. Finally, swag I don't have to give to my husband!
  • Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places.
  • Volunteering is the best way to meet new people.
  • Dancing with all women is a lot of fun (especially since most guys hate dancing anyway)!
  • The Macarena is usually cheesy, but looks cool when a whole room of people are lined up to do it.
I'm sure there's much more than that, too! I hope you will all make an effort to attend this conference before you graduate (or even after you do!). Hope to see you next year in Tucson, Arizona!

Friday, October 3, 2008


As you may have noticed, CU-WISE is hoping to get involved with many outreach programs around the Ottawa area. While at the Grace Hopper conference in Colorado, I attended several talks about specific projects others have done, ideas for new activities to try, and discussion on how to best attract high school women into computer science. If you're interested in this area at all, please check out the summaries of the talks linked to below. If you have any ideas or questions about outreach, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Quick update on Keystone

We spent most of our afternoon yesterday out on the lake. It is absolutely beautiful here at Keystone and the weather has been so warm in the afternoons (but still chilly in the mornings and evenings).

Today was our first day of the conference. Spent most of the time volunteering and running around from the resume clinic to various networking events. We were all exhausted by the end of the night. Our schedules for the next two days of the conference are already packed with sessions and events. Time to catch up on that sleep...!

Networking at Grace Hopper

If you ever doubted the power of networking, then be sure to attend Grace Hopper next year. They aren't kidding when they say that this is one of the main conference goals. Read all about it on my personal blog and let me know what ideas you have for improving your networking skills (leave me a comment).

Balancing your career/research and motherhood

After listening to the opinion and experiences of many women in academia and industry I am convinced that there is no such a thing as "the right time" to have children. After meeting amazing women today, technical women building a better world (the focus of this year GHC), I have realized that if you work in something you are passioned about you will find ways to also reach your personal goals. I was very happy to know that in this conference there is childcare available for all the attendees and that many moms are here with their kids and even their babies.

This is the kind of networking environment you will see here, successful women that have reached their goals, and not only at the professional level. It's always nice to see the theory in practice. Thank you to Seraphim Carlson from Yahoo who nicely accepted to have her and her baby's picture taken and published in our blog.

To end this short blog after a long day of conference activities and hopper tasks, I thrilled went I discover that the menu of the lunch and the dinner was mexican food, such a treat for me.
I feel lucky to be in the right place with the right people, and the conference has just started!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kayaking with the ducks and the geese

Today we had all day to explore Keystone Resort. One of the most exciting things we did was to kayak a little lake in Lakeside Village. We relaxed on the water while all the geese and ducks followed us around. Of course the view was amazing and the sun was shining bright. I hope we get a chance to go bike riding around the resort at some point. The conference starts tomorrow, so we'll be pretty busy the rest of the week.

A Lazy Day in Colorado

When we arrived in Keystone late this morning, our breath was taken away. The mountains were just beautiful. Then, while checking in, we saw the lake below the Spa and Lounge and its pure blue-green water. Just when you thought it couldn't get better!

The best part was that we didn't even need to fulfil our volunteer duties of the day when the morning shift of swag bag stuffers finished the job before we were even needed! So we used the free time to borrow a paddle boat and kayaks to float around the lake. What a peaceful hour and a half.

I wrote a more detailed account of our day, complete with a few photos, on my personal blog. Check it out to see just how lucky we are to be in paradise!