Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two CU-WISE execs as speakers at the NCWIE

In mid October, after going to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (, I found out that there was another conference happening in November called the National Conference on Women in Engineering (, hosted this year by the University of Western Ontario. I was very keen on going to another conference, especially since it’s right in my field and since the last conference was such a great experience for me. But I found out that the NCWIE was focused on undergraduate students and so I started thinking about how I can make a contribution instead of just attending. It didn’t take me long to think of my baby, CU-WISE. The wheels kept turning and I checked the theme of the conference, which was “Discover Your Place”, inspiring delegates to “look beyond what has been defined as the traditional roles for females in society and to challenge these stereotypes”. I thought to myself, how perfect! So that same day, I wrote to one of the organizers of NCWIE and asked if she would like me to present a session about CU-WISE and its successes. She didn’t take long to accept my proposal. I mentioned this to CU-WISE, and Gail didn’t hesitate to hop on board! Gail and I both love presenting, improving our skills, and we make a great team, so things were coming together quite nicely.

About a week later, Gail and I wrote up our bios and an outline of our presentation. It was titled "How to build a women in science/engineering/technology support group” and included the following,
  • how we built CU-WISE from scratch. Passion and good team work.
  • our mission and vision. CU-WISE wants to create a hang out for women in science and engineering, and introduce younger women to these fields while taking down barriers, perceived or otherwise. In the end we hope science/engineering will spark their interest and increase diversity in the workplace.
  • how we promote our group. It’s important to recruit your group in person as well as to build an identity, a professional/up-to-date website, and a strategic plan in order to make sure people take you seriously.
  • how we keep organized. Google groups, docs, calendar, forms, and mailing list.
  • ideas for events. Social, academic, mentoring, and outreach.
  • funding and support. We learned from the Grace Hopper Conference that you need to “ask, ask, and ask again. And if you’re not hearing ‘no’ enough, then you’re not asking enough”
  • travel to conferences. Networking is a huge part of life, you will get much further with it.

Gail and I took the VIA Rail to London, Ontario on Nov. 20th, and presented on Nov. 22nd. Our presentation is posted on The feedback we received was very positive. The students said that Carleton's success story with their WISE group was inspirational and informative. It was amazing to see about 40 students scribbling down notes and participating in discussions. The discussions also allowed Gail and I to learn from the audience. Some topics that were raised were:
  • male involvement (how their support is essential to our success)
  • how to create a website (we recommended using "Joomla!")
  • Go Eng Girl (one group organized a panel discussion with parents at this event)
  • Girl Guide outreach (an excellent opportunity to speak to groups of young females)
  • mentoring (one group described their mentoring program for first year students)
One other discussion topic was improving communication between support groups across Canada. The NCWIE session was very useful for the students, as well as CU-WISE, and therefore a means of continuing communication would be very beneficial. One student mentioned the letter written to Ontario WISE (Women in Science & Engineering) and WIE (Women in Engineering) student groups from Rebecca Gatto, ESSCO WIE director. Rebecca is looking to create a WIE network and database for easy information sharing between chapters. In response to the thoughts put together by the students, Gail and I decided to create a wiki called "Canadian WISE groups", in hopes of connecting women in science/engineering groups all over Canada. We found it beneficial in the past to work with both science (particularly computer science) and engineering students, therefore we decided to continue to do so in the wiki ( I let ESSCO know about this initiative in hopes of having them incorporate the wiki in their future endeavors.

I was very happy with the outcome of our presentation and hope to do it again. With hard work and dedication, CU-WISE is making a difference, and I'm very proud of that. I’m also thankful for everyone who supports this group.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Over the years, I've been a member of several different women's organizations. I'm sure you've all heard of the Girl Guides, but how many of you have heard of LinuxChix?

LinuxChix is an online community for women who like Linux and anyone who wants to support women in computing. It's global, and aside from one women-only mailing list, men are also welcome to join. It was founded by Deb Richardson (then in Ottawa!), who wanted to provide an alternative to the "locker room atmosphere" shown in a lot of open source projects at the time. There are only two rules: "be polite" and "be helpful."

While the focus is on Linux, lots of people talk about other free software projects, programming, women, knitting, starting a business, advice regarding bad colleagues ... whatever tickles their fancy! There are a variety of different mailing lists on different topics, as well as an IRC server, blog aggregator, and people even run courses online. Some are on the sorts of topics you might expect: Linux kernel hacking, LaTeX, networking... But one of my favourite courses was one called "Spineful living" which was about how to stand up for yourself. I don't think advice on how to be assertive ever been so funny!

I love that it's a global community, so often when someone asks a question, we'll get responses from people in different places saying "wow, [that dubious thing your employer asked] is an illegal question here!" or offering other bits of advice based on their very different cultural backgrounds. I also love that it's not all tech or all women all the time, so people can share other little victories in their lives, be it learning to bake bread, or figuring out how to fix a car.

And I love that having a friendly community has given a lot of our members support and encouragement when it comes to not only using, but also contributing to open source projects. Open source projects claim to be a meritocracy, but it's very easy to be too shy to contribute, or feel intimidated by heated discussions. And sometimes people just don't realise they have the skills necessary to contribute until they hear the great things other people have been doing! When more people can contribute to free software, everyone wins!

For more information on LinuxChix, please check out our website, go take a look at the LinuxChix mailing lists or maybe stop by IRC to chat with other 'chix!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Old Boys’ Computer Club

This is a copy of an article posted on, the blog of the National Women's Law Center.

A recent article in the New York Times examines reasons why there are fewer and fewer women entering into computer science, even as the number of women pursuing degrees and careers in other science fields rises.

There are many possible causes mentioned, but what stood out to me the most was the one that was missing: since there is evidence that once upon a time in that apparently enlightened age, the mid-1980s, women were just about as interested in computer science as their male peers (to the tune of 40 percent), the argument that “girls don’t like computers” or “men are naturally better suited to the hard sciences” is refreshingly absent. Considering that so many other articles take that easy way out, citing “natural gender differences” instead of delving any deeper, I’m going to call that a win.

A qualified win though; along with the lack of a biological argument, the article does not delve into the many barriers that young women face when pursuing non-traditional academic or career paths. Just because women have made major strides in other areas of science does not mean that they no longer face discrimination. There are still counselors who will discourage female students from the hard sciences, and there is still sexual harassment in classrooms and professors who make their preference for male students known. The possibilities that are included in the article are important ones that should be considered and examined, but not the only ones.

Continue reading "Old Boys’ Computer Club"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where did all the women (in Computer Science) go?

In the article "What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science?" of the New York Times on November 15, 2008, Randall Stross addresses the fact that the number of women in Computer Science has decreased in the last couple of decades and (which is not the case in other Science and Engineering areas).
In 2001-2, only 28 percent of all undergraduate degrees in computer science went to women. By 2004-5, the number had declined to only 22 percent. Data collected by the Computing Research Association showed even fewer women at research universities like M.I.T.: women accounted for only 12 percent of undergraduate degrees in computer science and engineering in the United States and Canada granted in 2006-7 by Ph.D.-granting institutions, down from 19 percent in 2001-2. Many computer science departments report that women now make up less than 10 percent of the newest undergraduates.

Stross points out some of the reasons for this behavior:
Last week, Ms. Margolis said that “a lot of the girls who were doing computer science came from families of computer scientists and engineers.” Her explanation: “It was in the air. There was the expectation that they could do whatever they wanted.” Ms. Spertus’s father was an M.I.T.-trained engineer. She learned programming even before personal computers had arrived, using computer terminals in her house that were connected to a Honeywell mainframe used by the family’s business.
Twenty-five years ago, more young women in colleges and universities were drawn to computer science than today. From 1971 to 1983, incoming freshman women who declared an intention to major in computer science jumped eightfold, to 4 percent from about 0.5 percent

I can relate to this, I come not only from a family of engineers, but female engineers.

Another explanation for this behavior in this article is the pejorative figure of the "nerd" or "geek", not very appealing to girls and young women.
At least we know one thing: it’s possible to have about the same number of men and women in computer science classes. That just about describes classrooms of 25 years ago.

Although it's not clear what happened the last two decades, I hope we can change this tendency, I'm happy to be part of CU-WISE, where we believe that women should be able to seek higher education and achieve success in science and engineering without barriers, perceived or otherwise. After all, we are "cool geeks".

See the full article online.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Most Influential Women in Web 2.0

ACM CareerNews Alert summarizes The Most Influential Women in Web 2.0:
While women are still underrepresented within the broader computing field, a growing number of women are emerging as influencers within the world of Web 2.0. With the goal of finding the most influential and innovative women changing the way that we interact online, Fast Company profiles some of the biggest names in the social media space – including entrepreneurs, technologists, and technology evangelists. Some are leaders at established companies such as Google, while others are superstar executives at emerging start-ups in Web 2.0 areas ranging from blogging to social networking to video.

Within Silicon Valley, one of the best-known names is Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience. During her ten-year stint at the company, she has been a major player behind many of the company’s most popular products and services. Within the social media space, Caterina Fake is the co-founder of Flickr (now owned by Yahoo), which pioneered the online photo-sharing model, while Mena Trott is the co-founder of blogging company Six Apart. Other influential women include Leah Culver, founder of social networking site Pownce; Rashmi Sinha, CEO and co-founder of SlideShare; Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO of; Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post; and Gina Bianchini, co-founder and CEO of social networking platform Ning.

These successful women have shared a number of lessons for their peers entering the world of Web 2.0. Unlike some technology jobs, they say, Web 2.0 positions typically offer a number of ways to combine both social and technical skills. Secondly, if you choose a corporate employer rather than a start-up, don't just look for a role that will suit you -- find a company that will help you grow. Thirdly, don’t hesitate to start evangelizing about your company or brand, whether it’s by writing a blog or communicating using other social media.
Read the whole article.

Friday, November 14, 2008

CU-WISE in CarletonNOW

Look Ma, we're famous!

CU-WISE was recently featured in Carleton University's newspaper, Carleton NOW, which "strives to be an inclusive, relevant and informative publication focused on building and fostering an engaged campus community." Check out the article online!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Men and Women Really Are Different, But We're Just As Smart

Psychology Today explains that men and women are physically different from the moment they are conceived, yet we gals are just as intelligent despite our physically smaller brains.
It's safe to talk about sex differences again. Of course, it's the oldest story in the world. And the newest. But for a while it was also the most treacherous. Now it may be the most urgent. The next stage of progress against disorders as disabling as depression and heart disease rests on cracking the binary code of biology. Most common conditions are marked by pronounced gender differences in incidence or appearance.
Check out the whole article called The New Sex Scorecard.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

NAC performances for just $11

If you're a full-time student ages 13-29, you are eligible to become a Live Rush™ member ( and be able to purchase tickets to NAC performances for $11. The NAC is the National Arts Centre located downtown and the performances include theatre, music, dance, and opera. You can buy 2 Live Rush™ tickets per member, per performance, so you can bring a friend!

This is how it works. Live Rush™ tickets for theatre, music and dance go on sale starting at 2:00 pm on the day before the performance, and until 6:00 pm on the day of the performance. Tickets purchased online can be picked up at the NAC Box Office any time until the curtain rises or avoid the line-up and print your e-ticket at home for an extra $1.75 per order. Opera Lyra Ottawa tickets are $15 and are available from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm on the day of the performance with some seating restrictions.

When purchasing and picking up Live Rush™ tickets or when entering the hall you will be required to present proof of age, full-time Student ID or equivalent (bus pass, ISIC card, etc.) and a valid, registered Live Rush™ card. You can get a card in several locations around Ottawa (, one of which is at Carleton (CKCU-FM studio on the 5th floor of the Unicentre).

I have used this deal for years now, and I enjoy their dance performances and their operas the most.

Enjoy the show!