Sunday, January 31, 2010

IBM Extreme Blue Case Study Competition

CU-WISE and uOttawa WISE held the Extreme Blue Case Study Competition with IBM yesterday, and it was a great success!

The event stemmed from the lack of women in last year's Extreme Blue program. From my personal blog:
Why is it that out of 20 awesome students in last summer's edition of IBM's Extreme Blue program in Ottawa, not one was female?

That was the question the current program lead here wanted to know the answer to, and she came to CU-WISE to ask it. We had a nice lunch meeting where we discussed why some of us had applied once and never applied again, how girls can be turned off by things that sound too technical, and how we are known to underestimate our abilities and thus avoid seemingly out of reach opportunities like this.
Read the rest of the post here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Global Game Jam 2010: Anyone is Welcome

So I just found out about this event being held this weekend and think it sounds really fun so I figured I'd share.

The Global Game Jam consists of groups all over the world getting together this weekend, seperating into local teams and spending 48 hours developing a game prototype relating to the years topic. But what really hooked me was the NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY not so fine print. To quote their website:
Although having computer skills is helpful, code experience is not necessary. Designers, developers, artists and anyone is welcome to try their hand at making a game during the GGJ.
I'm in computer systems now but coming out of high school I laughed at my friend who wrote a program to calculate the quadratic formula on his graphing calculator because I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to spend their time working with bloody computers. I still don't get along with computers on a regular basis which is a constant source of amusement to people who know me as I'll be happily typing along one moment and the next time they notice me i'm literally growling and shaking my fists at it since throwing my laptop across the room would be a bad thing. The point is I now really like programming and the logic puzzles it presents but I simply don't have the experience to jump into most projects that are looking for programmers.
This competition is a chance to get to see how a game is made and contribute ideas and pieces without anyone expecting you to know all of it or understand half of it.
Yes there's sure to be some top notch programmers which is all the better for a beginner to team up with as you can follow what they do and ask questions. But if programming isn't your thing but you'd like to help design a game you can also do graphics or audio or a whole bunch of other stuff i probably don't even realize is involved in making a video game.

Check out the Carleton Game Day Mini-Conference and School of Information Technology's Game Jam site to sign up (registration for both events is free)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My first 2 weeks as a software developer

Ever since I graduated, I've been learning a lot of things about building a career outside of school. The major lesson I learned is that you really are only as good as your network. So for all you students out there, I suggest gaining networking skills before you even graduate. There are plenty of organizations you can get involved in, networking events you can attend, as well as networking workshops you can learn from. Which reminds me, CU-WISE is panning a career event just for that purpose, so keep an eye out and make sure to attend!

After a couple of months of applying for jobs, networking, creating a website portfolio and going to career workshops, I got a job offer as a software developer. I started 2 weeks ago and enjoy it very much. What I noticed is that I really like "doing" as opposed to "researching". Specifically I like the fact that I am solving real problems for real clients with a team of very knowledgeable software developers. One thing that surprises me is that I wasn't once discouraged by the fact that I know little about software development. I think the reason is that all my coworkers are always happy to take the time to help me and to give me the time to learn what I need to know. So don't be afraid of venturing into something new and unusual because you will have the analytical skills and the resources to succeed in whatever you choose to do.

And of course I have to give CU-WISE a big thank you again for giving me all those skills that weren't taught in class. I miss you ladies!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Finding Ada

Check out this site about Ada Lovelace, the world's first programmer (who happened to be a woman!). It's called Finding Ada: Bringing women in technology to the fore.

Who was Ada?
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was born on 10th December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella. Born Augusta Ada Byron, but now known simply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote the world’s first computer programmes for the Analytical Engine, a general-purpose machine that Charles Babbage had invented.

Ada Lovelace, 1838

Ada had been taught mathematics from a very young age by her mother and met Babbage in 1833. Ten years later she translated Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, appending notes that included a method for calculating Bernoulli numbers with the machine – the first computer programme. The calculations were never carried out, as the machine was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

Understanding that computers could do a lot more than just crunch numbers, Ada suggested that the Analytical Engine “might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” She never had the chance to fully explore the possibilities of either Babbage’s inventions or her own understanding of computing. She died, aged only 36, on 27th November 1852, of cancer and bloodletting by her physicians.

Last year, on Ada Lovelace Day March 24th, a flurry of blog posts were written about peoples' female heroes in computing. Some were about big names like Grace Hopper or Ada herself, and others were about colleagues who inspired, probably without even knowing it. I wrote about my fellow CU-WISE teammates.

To keep up to date on this year's Ada Lovelace Day, you can subscribe to the blog, join the Facebook group, or follow on Twitter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Learn to Program with Processing

I wrote before about teaching yourself to program. After a list of reasons why you might want to learn, I suggested starting with Scratch and then trying something like Python. Now, after using Processing for a class assignment, I want to suggest this language as an excellent way to either learn programming or improve your skills.

According to its website, Processing is:
an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. It is used by students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production. It is created to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context and to serve as a software sketchbook and professional production tool.
The guys who made this language were really smart about it. It's based on Java, but they abstracted away the parts nobody wants to worry about, least of all the beginner. For instance, reading and writing files and drawing to the screen are made to be very easy no matter whether you are using your program on your own computer or as an applet on the web. This can be very tricky without Processing.

To see what awesome things can be done with Processing - and the code that goes with it - check out Open Processing. The best way to get started is by looking at other peoples' code and playing with it to see what changes. You can also read the tutorials on the official website, and check out Learning Processing.

My first little game made in Processing is called Bottle Sort. Share with us what you make!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Keep up the good fight

A fellow computer science student getting ready to write up his PhD dissertation wrote to me recently, asking for advice on using style files in LyX, since I had mentioned working on that in my blog. As part of his email, he wrote the below message, which he agreed to let me share here. I think you'll like it.
On a more personal note, I really like your blog. I hope it encourages more women to enter the field. I was sent back to grad school by my manager at work, one of the most intelligent and accomplished women I know. My day job is as a scientist for the goverment. My manager has her Ph.D. and is now one of the government's leading experts in a field entirely separate from her dissertation. Despite her success, I've seen her face obstacles and prejudices that she just shouldn't have to. I have a bit of unique perspective on these things. In addition to my schooling in computer science, I have an arts degree and my wife is a professor in the Faculty of Arts at Ottawa U. I asked her how she would characterize the difference between her job and my manager's and her response, without even having to think about it, was that her gender was just not an issue in her job. It would have been 30 years ago, but not today. Wouldn't it be great if we could say that about our profession one day. I hope with people like my manager and you, it will take less than 30 years to get there. Keep up the good fight.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Greenbank Middle School Science Fair

In the middle of December I was lucky enough to participate in a Greenbank Middle School Science fair in a capacity of a judge. I volunteered for it through the Let’s Talk Science Program. I had never heard about this program until someone from WISE told me about it this year. It seemed like a good idea to volunteer for the program in principle, but after the orientation session I wasn’t even sure it was for me. But as the Fall term was drawing closer and closer to the end I was getting a nagging feeling that I was not fulfilling the obligations I had taken on. So when a Science Fair Judging opportunity came up I felt I had to take it. Plus as I did not grow up in Canada I missed out on the science fair experience and here was my opportunity to be involved in one. I guess you could say I was curious.

I was so pleasantly surprised with the science fair! There were so many students who were genuinely interested in their projects and went well above and beyond any of my expectations for grade 7 and 8 students! The top 2 winners completely blew me out of the water! The first place winner built a fist-sized robot that ran around and changed direction when it detected obstacles. And it was such a simple and elegant design! The second place went to a magnetic levitation train model. Given the statistics you might not expect it, but both of these projects were made by girls! Their enthusiasm and technical knowledge where truly impressive. It wasn’t hard to tell that they designed and built their projects on their own. The most inspiring part was that despite the world telling them that engineering is a male dominated field (with all the implications thereof) they were so comfortable in their own skin! They truly belong in engineering and I hope they will find their way there.

Another project that left an impression came from the field of Social Science. The students were hypothesizing the superiority of female visual memory vs that of the males in their age group to try to explain the general trend of higher grades achieved by the girls. You can tell the students are genuinely enthusiastic about their topic when they design their own props/testing apparatus and procedure. It was impressive to see how well they followed the scientific method and their ability keep an open mind! They were not afraid to admit that their hypothesis was wrong according to their collected data and they were even quite excited about it! I think they are good candidates for the next generation of mythbusters!

All-in-all I was inspired and humbled by such passionate, capable young people. The future is in good hands! This Science Fair helped me rediscover the excitement for the Let’s Talk Science program and reminded me of an important lesson: to take as many opportunities as you can when they come your way. You never know what exciting new discoveries and experiences they will lead to!