Saturday, 25 October 2014

Grace Hopper Conference 2014

Standing waiting for the shuttle bus to terminal 3 on a clear autumnal morning, with planes coming into land quite literally over my head, was when it finally hit me...we were going to GHC. It was real, it was here and it was now.

Our trip started with a meet up and breakfast Heathrow. The other girls who had been selected to come on the trip were are amazing, and I am so proud to have shared this experience with them. After what ended up as an 18 hour journey encompassing everything from hysterical giggles to naps to really-not-thumbs-up's, we made it to our hotel and allowed the jetlag to take over.

The next morning was the first we got to see Phoenix in the flesh. After
breakfast, we boarded the coach to the Phoenix Convention Centre where we would finally experience the scale of the Grace Hopper Conference. After registering and getting our badges (I got way over excited...!), we headed to the key note speech from Shafi Goldwasser. During her talk I was fascinated by the technical concepts and equations she was referring too, and although I was following the maths side and engaging physicist really made me want to research and find out more, so I could fully understand.

Stemettes gone Stateside
The first panel I attended was 'From the CIO's office: Technology roles in consumer facing companies'. The careers side of this talk interested me greatly, as someone who currently has no idea what to do in the future, and the advice given by the CIO's of four major companies was very useful. 'We learn the most from when we fail' was the best thing I heard on that panel, as I know from my own experience even just this far in my STEM journey. You can find the storify, bringing together all of our tweets live from the sessions on day 1 here thanks to Stemettes. I've been following Lady Paragons on Twitter for a while, and noticed that they too were at GHC, and indeed in the same room! So we arranged to meet after the panel which was great as we talked STEM, our experiences so far and headed over to the next panel together.

'Anita Borg's vision: A global community of women leaders' was my favourite panel of the entire conference. Moderated by Jody Mahoney, the panellists gave incredibly insightful inputs to the session, hearing about their work in various charities and communities was very powerful and truly inspiring. The Q&A afterwards invited the women in the room to share their own stories and experiences.

What happens before the careers fair

If you want to feel the full force of 8000 women in STEM, ask them to wait outside of a careers fair and then watch them go when the doors finally open. This is what happened on the afternoon of the first day. I have never seen so many women in one place at one time ! On entering I was blown away by the scale of the exhibitors stands, and it was great to walk around and talk to different companies, finding out what they do and of course collecting all of the necessary swag!

In the run up to the conference, women on twitter hit out against the proposed 'men as allies' panel...however, it did go ahead. I was in two minds about how this could turn out, but I
believe going ahead was the correct decision as; if what we are striving for is diversity and equality in the industry, surely we can't be discriminatory and do the same thing back. I do feel it was very safe, not having a Q&A at the end of the session, however, as again the power of twitter alerted the men on the panel to the views of the audience, another session was agreed. 'You talk we listen' is the session that happened the next day...and the stories that came from there were powerful, and I have huge respect for the women who spoke out and shared their experiences.

Day 2 started with a 'half' waffle the size of our heads, before we boarded the coach once more to the convention centre. We had an early start to catch the key note speech, and before that the presentation of the Technical Leadership Award to Anne Condon who said 'I wish all women all over the world happy opportunities' . The key note was a conversation between Maria Klawe and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, which took an unexpected turn and made almost global news when he made a comment on women not asking for pay rises that many did not agree with. However, one thing he said that struck me and I did agree with was 'success starts by being comfortable in your own skin' which I think is a very important lesson to learn. Nadella did commit to attending Grace Hopper next year.

Barbara Gee!
The next panel I attended was another new experience for me 'Integrating gaming and fitness'. As someone who enjoys the gym and wishes there was a more interesting way to do it, this was the perfect way to find out more about what's out there game wise from the people who write them. I liked how they talked about the story coming first, to make it a challenge and the fitness element secondary to this.

I spent the rest of the day networking at the careers fair, handing out my CV to different companies and finding out that actually there is room for the skills a physicist learns in the tech world. Getting a high five from the lady on the Twitter stand when she found out I was a physicist and a tweetaholic plus a notebook from them with #doodles on the front was definitely a highlight of the day. This was topped only by bumping into Barbara Gee on my Starbucks run, who is one of the most inspirational ladies I  have ever had the fortune to hear speak, and talking to her about the men as allies panel on the previous day before getting a selfie and her asking for a hug (!).

Pinterest Partay
The evening saw us take to the streets of Phoenix and head to the Pinterest was awesome. They had a craft table, photobooth (which we enjoyed very much!) and I met an astrophysicist who worked at NASA turned engineer for Pinterest. It was fantastic to hear the directions that can be taken from the degree I am currently undertaking...and inspiring to see just how much she had achieved. After this we headed back over to the conference centre to the official party and take part in the electric slide...a very new experience! The day 2 storify from Stemettes is here.

It was the warmest day we had woken up to so far, completely blue skies stretching as far as the eye could see and Phoenix at its most beautiful. Day 3 brought with it a sinking heart, as I realised that this experience had passed so quickly and been such a whirlwind...but there was still another full day to go and it was time to make the most of it. First stop was the careers fair, for a last CV dash and swag pick up before meeting Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen aka Tech Girls Superheroes who you need to follow on twitter because she makes super cool books specifically to get more girls into STEM.

We headed out onto the balcony at the top of the convention centre to shoot some video diaries and record our best bits of the conference, before splitting up for our penultimate sessions. I chose to attend the 'Data science in social media analytics' talk, which was composed of three different speakers in a completely new area for me. Learning all about big data and the science of celebrity tweeting was fascinating and many of the problem solving concepts and methods spoken about were relevent to my current studies. 

Sunset in Phoenix, Az
Finally it was time for the last session...and truly, GHC went out with a bang. The presentation we attended was made up of three speakers, the first Anne-Marie Horcher spoke about using the nose to authenticate smart phones and had us all giggling with her research. The next from Cate Huston, who spoke about distraction and hedgehogs...and finally Ramya Sethuraman on accessibility on the web. You can find our tweets from the day here.

That was the was over. It's a strange thing to see all of the signs being taken down and everyone leaving the place where you have felt so at home for the past few days. I learnt so much from this experience...the main things being don't give up, you and only you have control of your future...and there are opportunities everywhere, you just have to look.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible for us to go to Grace Hopper - the Student to Stemette scheme, Deutsche Bank Born to Be programme, my mentor Alexandra and of course to Anne-Marie and Andrew who accompanied us and made it such an amazing trip. Truly a life changing experience - thank you.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The road to Grace Hopper

The last few weeks have been a crazy whirlwind of starting a new year of university, this time first year which meant being given assignments almost from the word GO, working in the library as Welcome Team for freshers fortnight, applying for new jobs and on top of everything else...finding out I was selected to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration!

The posts below are my submissions we were required to write in order to be considered for the trip. Being a physicist (in training), I wasn't sure if I really deserved the opportunity to go, with many other girls on the scheme being more tech savvy than me, but as I enjoy learning new things and want to share my experiences with others I decided to go for it...and was truly shocked when I received confirmation of my place.

So the road to Grace Hopper has currently been trying to simultaneously work on assignments for early submission and find out all there is to know about the conference and the true icon that is Grace Hopper. This inspiring lady was a maths major, gaining her Phd in mathematics from Yale in 1934, and during World War II served with the United States Navy Reserve as one of the first programmers on the Mark I (aka Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator).

The sessions I am most looking forward to are the careers fair, open source day and the panels on 'Bio-metrics: cool or creepy?', 'Accountability and Metrics for Gender Diversity' and ' Integrating Gaming and Fitness' along with many others.

So watch this space as we head to Phoenix tomorrow and keep you all posted on what is sure to be the experience of a lifetime...

Monday, 8 September 2014

What are your personal goals?

My contribution to the Grace Hopper conference would be making the most of the opportunity to put into practice the new skills I have learnt both from my mentor and the webinars so far. It will be a chance to develop both my knowledge and skill sets, networking and finding out more about lots of companies and professionals.

I like to share my experiences via social media, so being able to tweet and blog about the experience and share this both with my followers and with the other women attending the conference would make a great record of progression from the launch event through mentor meetings to the conference, and hopefully help to inspire the next cohort of STS mentees and more girls to go into the STEM subjects. Making connections in person and being able to follow up these meetings through LinkedIn and Twitter would ensure I could make the most of effective networking.

Listening to the speakers talking about their subject, and being able to immerse myself in a world of new technologies would be a completely new experience and one I would consider invaluable.

What would you say to the next cohort of girls?

A mentor is defined in the dictionary as "an experienced and trusted advisor" . Advisor is a pretty key word, as a mentor is someone who will guide you through a decision making process offering their own experiences as an aid.

Things from which modules to take, to which jobs to apply for and what to say in an application or interview are all things that my mentor has helped me with so far. Knowing you have someone behind you who is rooting for you gives you the confidence to think you can succeed, and grab every opportunity with both hands to make the time and effort your mentor puts in, worth it.

Usually a mentor has been in the same position as you or at least the same area, and this shared interest makes finding things like work experience a lot easier as they will share industry contacts with you and make the introductions you need to start getting out into the workplace.

Through this experience I haven't gained just my assigned mentor but many others who I had the chance to network with, exchange tweets with and who are there when I need them for advice on which route to take. If you lack confidence in your own ability, are unsure of which direction to follow up after college or university and you are willing to complete and research the things your mentor asks of you the benefits of the scheme are huge...take the opportunity and you will not regret becoming a Student to Stemette mentee.

What has been your best experience?

So far in the programme I have taken part in three webinars, three mentor meetings and the launch event of the scheme. Each and every bit has been a learning experience, where I've taken something new away, learnt new skills and been inspired, motivated to just go out and do things.

The most inspirational experience for me was the launch event, and having the opportunity to meet women who have been through the same process of university, apprenticeships, graduate programmes in STEM subjects and hear about their experiences. This is where I finally met the people behind the tweets and found out about a lot of career options I had never even considered before the event.

Each webinar sees three women in STEM speak on the chosen topic, sometimes using their own experiences and stories to get their point across. I love webinars. They are incredibly motivating and at the end you just want to go and do everything you possibly can, and having the opportunity to engage with the speakers on twitter afterwards and ask their advice or learn more about their respective companies is great and really interesting.

From this programme I have gained more independence, confidence and purpose. Walking in to a room of people you don't know in a place about as far from your comfort zone as its possible to be can be incredibly daunting, however, when its done and you make the most of the experience you just want to go out and do it all over again.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Current Status : A little on the reflective side

I've blogged so far on the launch event, webinars and my first mentor meeting, however between meetings you might be wondering what goes on...I've been thinking about the experience so far and also wanted to show YOU why you should sign up for the next cohort of mentees (or mentors!).

After our first meeting, Alexandra took a look at my CV. She pointed out that working together on it would help improve it and make it a strong accompaniment to any applications I might submit. We have arranged our next meeting to make these changes and email at least once a week, to catch up and answer any questions.

This programme really has changed my life...from going to London and navigating it by myself, to being able to actually speak to real people (as oppose to a virtual world, where I am much more comfortable) real inspiring people who made me think wow...I can go and do anything, to getting up the courage to network and push myself to seize every opportunity possible. Its very easy when an opportunity presents itself, to toss it aside and think "I'll do it later", by which time you have completely talked yourself out of it and pushed it to the back of your mind. However, when people have confidence and believe in you, you want to make them proud and show them what you have learnt. This programme has made me do that, to look for ways to prove to both my mentor and the Stemettes that they have made a huge difference to my confidence and helped me gain new skills.

Having a mentor means having someone there to guide you, not that they lead the way or show you where to go, but who can advise and connect you. Someone you can bounce ideas and proposals off, who can introduce you to lots of people that can help you out in your quest to become the best you can be is one of the most important people you will ever have in your life.
The Student to Stemette experience has shown me that already...I haven't only gained one mentor but many who I tweet or email for guidence and tips on different projects. Reaching out to people on your own sounds scary, but with the support of someone who believes in what you do, it becomes enjoyable as you actively ask what people do and look for ways not only that they can help you, but you can help them.

So...if you're lacking a STEM career direction, confidence in your ability, the resources to help on your career journey, sign up for the next STS cohort...I promise you, its something you will never regret.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Student to Stemette: Webinar #2

Career management roles and responsibilities

Tonight was the second webinar of the programme, and wow..what an experience it was. You can listen to it here, and this is my summary.

Anne-Marie, head Stemette, kicked things off and explained that the three guest speakers taking part in the webinar all came from different areas and would be speaking about career development. These were recruitment, academia and industry giving a great overview of a number of routes that can be taken into STEM careers.

First to speak was Dee Clarke from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where she manages the recruitment of university students and interns. She shared with us hints and tips on how to create and manage a career plan, starting with a great diagram. Step 1 on the plan was asses, she told us it's important to take stock of where you are. Step 2 is the exploratory stage, looking around at what options are available to you, whether it be because of limited opportunities or overwhelming choice of fields to move in to. Dee gave examples of how she set up conversations with people, spoke to her friends and family and used this to 'drill down' to the analysis stage. This is all about 'where do I want to go?', trying to focus on one or two paths in terms of industry and goals. Step 4 is to act, the hardest one! This is all about finding your skill gap and building on what you already know to get yourself up to the next level. Dee next went on to speak about marrying together your passion and interests, and not worrying if the course you are studying doesn't match up with your expectations...that's the beauty of graduate recruitment. Transferable skills are what companies look for when taking on new recruits, and the ability to explain what makes you tick...why you want and deserve this opportunity. She explained getting feedback from people is a great way to find what you need to build on. Thinking about brand is important, you have to realise what you can bring to the table - so know your story, what you enjoy and why you're different.

Next was Dr Sarah Bohndiek from Cambridge University. The first thing she spoke to us about was trying new experiences, getting familiar with the different institutions such as the IOP (Institute of Physics) and reading around the field. Dr Sarah spoke about job shadowing and volunteering as a great way to experience different types of science and careers available, and spoke about work experience giving examples of her own experience at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich which confirmed to her what path she wanted to go down. She told us that internships are a great way to grow your skills, and the Nuffield bursary scheme for research placements for sixth form students. Another way of doing this is to extend your qualifications - learning a programming language shows motivation and organisation, studying for additional mathematics qualifications or writing practise essays shows your commitment and drive. Dr Sarah said "We may often fail...but remember if you don't succeed at first, try and try again" which really stuck with me and made me want to go out and find opportunities to try new things. She also spoke about balance, the work life balance is important especially when developing your career which requires good time management and organisation - its all about realistic goals.

Now it was time for a poll on 'what new evidence will you keep track of in your personal development file?' with the options:

  • feedback you've received
  • details of voluntary work, courses and training
  • show your working out - how did you get to your finished idea
  • notes and reflections on recent achievements
  • project and work plans
The final speaker of the evening was Bee Thakore from ARM Holdings Plc. Growing up around an airfield meant she always had an interest in planes and how things work, although her parents wanted her to follow a different career path. For a year at university, while studying for a degree in aerospace engineering, she worked with Rolls Royce on jet engines before entering the world of planetary robotics and also becoming board director at the Planetary Society. She explained the applications of the robotics work she did, and encouraged us like Dr Sarah did, to learn to program and take on projects with things like arduino and Raspberry Pi. Bee has her own company, which is a consultancy, and helps companies to realise the future of technology, and works on space policy with the eventual goal of landing people on Mars. She spoke about the best ways to make career decisions, always asking yourself 'what excites me about this?', keeping mentors on hand and actively asking them for help can really make the difference when you need advice on your next career move. Like Dee, she spoke about asking for feedback and about how to challenge yourself to make sure you're the best you can be. Bee spoke about volunteer work as a great way to keep areas of interest open, even if you aren't working in the sector and how important it is to seek out new opportunities and keep asking for help.

The webinar then opened for questions and brought together some really fantastic advice from all three ladies. I was bouncing down the stairs afterwards, completely inspired and ready to seek out new opportunities and more determined than ever to get coding under my belt along with being brave enough to tackle new experiences. Thank you Stemettes and guest speakers!