Luck of the Networker

15 03 2015

There have been many times in my life where I’ve thought that I’m very lucky. I’ve had so many opportunities granted to me that could have easily been missed if just one small thing had happened differently. I’ve even been told by friends and colleagues that I seem to have better luck than other people and have been asked a few times what “my secret” is.

As much as I’d like to share the true secret to good luck, I certainly don’t know it. What I do know, though, is that there is a way to seriously increase the odds of having opportunities fall into your lap.

If I could attribute my luck thus far to anything, I’d attribute it to other people. Not because I’ve just been fortunate enough to have people want to help me out or give me things, but because I ask. I talk to people and I’m not afraid to ask them for help or opportunities. While there is no doubt I’ve had to work very hard to get where I’m at, I think I might feel like it was all for naught if I hadn’t been able to ask other people for assistance along the way.

For example I work in a coffee shop part time to pay for my school. Recently a man walked in to get coffee wearing an employee badge from a large tech company. I took his order, then asked him “So,, what do you do at [your company]?” and he happened to be looking for summer interns at that time. Before I knew it, I had an interview.

OK, maybe that interaction did involve some dumb luck, but the point is that when asked for help, I find that most people want to give it! There was a time when I felt awkward asking for help in school and with finding jobs because I thought it meant I was trying to take advantage of people. Over time, though, I began finding ways to help others and to repay favors to those who had previously helped me. This made me understand how good it felt to help others find success and made me realize that those who have helped me in the past likely did so because they felt good about what they were doing, too.

So to give away “my secret”, I’d say that the only way to feel lucky in finding opportunities is to ask for them and plan to help somebody else feel just as lucky.

-Hailey Hanson

The New Guy

23 01 2015

My team at work recently got a new addition. Each of us has a different background, and The New Guy is no exception. But the new insights and talents he has brought to the team are a great reminder of just how much we all benefit from diversity.

In my group there is no shortage of problems to solve, things to learn, or systems to improve. And as individuals, our strengths typically guide the way we choose to approach each issue, and I suppose I had gotten used to the thought processes of the teammates I have worked with for several years. But now that we have someone bringing a fresh, different perspective and a new skillset to the table, we have new ideas to incorporate into our solutions, and new talents to leverage. It’s an exciting time at work, and I am looking forward to all the things I can learn from The New Guy, and the ideas that we might come up with when we put our heads together.

This is the benefit of diversity. Diversity isn’t just something that’s important because it’s The Right Thing to Do, or because it’s a fancy buzzword, or because it’s politically correct. Diversity makes a team stronger, and it challenges us as individuals to expand our thinking. Diversity ultimately makes us all better.

When I think about the well-established lack of diversity in STEM fields, I feel like we’re all missing out on the benefits of that diversity can deliver. What kind of gadgets would we have today if all groups had been well-represented in the STEM fields for the past one hundred years? Maybe we would all have self-driving flying cars.

There’s not much we can do about the homogeneity of the STEM fields in the past (at least not with our current technology), but there are things we can do to promote diversity in the future. So I encourage everyone to attend the 2015 NWrWIC conference to support women in technology, to learn new perspectives, and meet great new people.

– Vanessa Cullinane

9 03 2014

Recently, I came upon an article called “10 Best Things About Having All Boys” which instantly drew my attention and curiosity since I’m a mother of a 11 month old baby boy.  Perhaps I was optimistic or naïve, but I thought I would be able to discover something profound from this article.  Although there is some degree of satire in the writing, I was still left with an unsettling feeling after reading it due to the large amount of generalizations.

I won’t hit on all the points in this article, but I wanted to touch upon where the author starts with prefacing the fact that not all girls want to be princesses nor do all boys like trucks, but regardless still launches in some serious gender typing statements.  Apparently, “boy toys” are cooler, because there are real life versions of them and girls live in la-la land with their unicorns and princesses.  It astounds me that we continue to perpetuate this typecasting and gender divide among toys.  I recall my childhood of happily playing with Legos, train sets, and Hot Wheels, because I naturally gravitated towards them.   There were no overly pink and frilly Lego sets to draw me in.  The fact was a lot of kids my age back then loved Legos.  I also enjoyed the act of building and constructing and I remember staring in awe at the “K’NEX” commercials, because it was my dream toy.  On the other hand, there were occasional moments where I have also used my imagination to play out a fantasy character as well.  I really don’t see a reason to draw a distinct line between tangible and fictional play in terms of gender.  As a child, I had no issue embracing both.  Furthermore, if my son picked up a doll to play with, I wouldn’t bat an eye.  I believe our children should play with all toys or whatever interests them rather than creating gender specific toys and having them conform to them.

The author continues to generalize again that it is easier to get boys out of the house compared to girls, because apparently girls need to be done up before they get out of the door.  The author says, “No hair styling, no tights, and no braids or barrettes.”  While I see no issue with these types of accessories, I also didn’t realize there was a dress code for young girls.  From my own experience, my parents never braided or styled my hair before we left the house.  It seems interesting when these clothing nuances are really a factor of the parents’ choice.  I’m sure the girls just like the boys would rather waste no time getting out to the swings and park rather than have their parents spend excessive time on their hair.  In all honesty, boys and girls at such a young age don’t really give much thought to their apparel.

I was also a bit shocked that the author seems to acknowledge the challenges that women face in the industry, thus is uncertain of whether to encourage her theoretical daughter to pursue her career aspiration.  However, she has no issue wholeheartedly supporting her son.  How outrageous is this?  Instead of being part of a solution, she decides to be part of the problem. These are the type of parents who are inhibiting our future women leaders and enabling the gender barriers in the workplace and it is a scary thing.  However, this article was found on a blog called Scary Mommy.  Hmmm, it seems to be an apt description.

Albeit it may have intended to be a humorous article, it still proves as another example of gender stereotypes still being perpetuated.  However, it does reinforce something for myself and my son.  And that there is one best thing about having a boy, which is the opportunity to ensure he is a part of a future generation who will help pave a flatter path rather than an uphill climb for women in the workforce.  And to my theoretical daughter who wants to be an engineer.  I say go for it.

– Anita Heredia

Find Your Passion – Grow Your Passion

2 03 2014

Not so long ago I attended a speed mentoring session at a tech conference. I was in a transition period of my career path. I told one of the mentors, “I’m unemployed, I need a job.” She was a well known force in the local tech community whom I found to be slightly intimidating, but I trusted her advice and took it to heart. What she told me was, “You don’t need a job. You need to find your passion.” I just stared at her agape. All I could think was, “I’m unemployed, of course I need a job.” Later that night and over the next few days, I pondered what she’d said, and wondered how I could find my passion.

How does one go about finding one’s passion? I know my passion is in software. But the positions I was applying for were not just software, they were programming in language X, using tool Y. What was my passion? Language X? Tool Y? Of course I had my favorite language and tool, but what was it I liked about them? I can learn any language and any tool. I guess I like my preferred tools because I am comfortable with them and they make sense for the problems I solve. Problem solving, I like that. But what do I tell an employer? How do I define my passion?

So how did I start seeking definition for my passion? Somehow I found and I searched for “hackathon”. I found one and signed myself up. I joined a group, we worked hard, we won first place and got some money. That was thoroughly enjoyable, and it would have been a wonderful experience even without the money. I enjoyed the problem solving, and I enjoyed the teamwork. But I still didn’t have definition. So I found and went to several local techie meetup groups. The people were wonderful. They wanted to share information, and I as seeking knowledge. It was a win-win situation. I persevered, continuing to attend hackathons and meetups, at every point analyzing, trying to pinpoint that definition.

Still with undefined passion I had interview after interview, and always found myself at a loss when asked what I like to do. I knew I liked problem solving and teamwork. I was then hired into a leadership role. I enjoyed being a key player in the discussion of who would do which pieces and found that having input in the product roadmap was exciting. This taught me that I have good ideas and I want them to be heard. As that project fizzled (small startups sometimes run out of money), a colleague whom I’d met at outreach events and hackathons asked if I’d be interested in writing some code to implement his idea for a project with a new SDK that Intel had developed. I said, “sure.”

So I embarked on a new mission and found that this “new SDK” was new. Most folks know that if they want to learn something, they can google it. Developers do that. We google things like “how do I delete elements from an array in iOS” if we are new to iOS. Guess what? When you are using a new SDK, there are no answers. No one has asked the question yet. And if someone has, no one has figured out how to answer it yet, or if someone has responded, their answer doesn’t quite answer your question. Well, through reading and re-reading the rudimentary documentation and through lots of trial and error, I succeeded in implementing the project. That was exciting and empowering, reinforcing that I like to solve challenging problems.

What I discovered on this journey is that I cannot pinpoint my passion. That is, it cannot be defined in a single pinpoint. It is not a single term, X. My passion cannot be defined as a programming language or a tool. My passion needs several sentences to express itself.

I am passionate about solving challenging problems for interesting products. I want to work with a team whose members have mutual respect for each other and who are engaged in and excited about what we are doing. And though I don’t necessarily want to be in control of the product or company roadmap, I do want the power to be heard when I have an idea.

My other passion is computer science outreach. I love sharing my excitement about my passion with others. That is why I co-chair this amazing conference.

Seek your passion.

– Pamela Harrison

More than Appearances – Review of Goldman Sachs

18 02 2014

As many people have heard, Goldman Sachs recently got attention for providing cosmetic mirrors and nail files as swag at a WECode event at Harvard.

While I applaud Goldman Sachs for being “strong supporters of efforts to recruit and retain women in technology,” I can’t help but feel that their choice of items is a reflection of gender stereotypes and a reminder of society’s expectations of women.

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter what anybody looked like.  But until then, the unfortunate truth is that appearances do matter.  And even though we’ve come a long way since the Mad Men days, in our society, the importance placed on one’s appearance is higher for women than it is for men.

Goldman Sachs’ furnishing of mirrors and nail files for an event for women is a reminder of that truth.  That, even if I’d rather ponder the best way to visualize a data set, I should probably put that off until I look good, but not too good, because then everybody will assume I’m stupid.  Is this the reason for the gender pay gap?  Are women in the workforce supposed to be setting aside a portion of each workday for grooming, and we all just missed the memo?

Luckily, machines do not care about our appearances.  There is no correlation between the functionality of my code and the style of my hair.  The results I get at work are independent of how my nails look.  Maybe I spend more time than the national average thinking about querying databases (actually, I’m pretty confident that I do), and less time than average brushing my hair.  But thinking about data makes me happy, so that’s what I do.

– Vanessa Cullinane


13 02 2014

“In the United States in 2009, women earned 52% of all Math + Science degrees, but only 18% of Technology-Related degrees. What’s up with that?”

– The opening scene from the She++ Documentary

I highly recommend watching the full 12-minute documentary!

She++ does a great job of discussing the stereotypes that drive many girls and women away from Computer Science. Those of us who are entrenched in this industry know that, while these stereotypes can be true, they don’t have to be. I love to code, and I’m not anti-social, my hygiene is great, and I’ve only consumed one energy drink in my entire life (I got a terrible stomach ache). Industry leaders like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, show us very clearly that you can be a powerhouse in this industry and not fit any of the stereotypes.

“At this rate, literally the growth of the US tech industry is going to be throttled by the fact that US universities, and even the world’s universities, are not producing enough software engineers”

– Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering at Facebook

We are actually being held back from making technological advances that have already been conceived due to the lack of a skilled workforce to implement those advances. She++ points out that this is one of the most important reasons that we need women to join the technology workforce. We can’t afford to miss out on half the population when we’re so short on talent.

I also believe that the lack of gender diversity in our workforce inhibits innovation. Diverse teams come up with diverse ideas. Homogeneous teams tend to keep coming up with the same ideas over and over again. This industry is all about doing things that have never been done before, which is why diverse teams are so critical to technological advancement.

These jobs are also extremely fun. They’re creative. They’re intellectually rewarding. They are financially rewarding. And women are missing out on all of that. Historically, where women’s participation in the labor force grew fastest, the economy experienced the largest reduction in poverty rates. This is a historic opportunity to take gender equality in the workplace to the next level in the United States, and doing so will lead to happier women, but also happier, healthier families and a higher degree of economic and social empowerment for our children.

— Jen Miller, Program Coordinator

Conference 2013

5 11 2013

NWrWIC. Northwest Regional Women in Computing Conference. October 19th. What an amazing day! We, on the planning committee, were exhausted but ecstatic after the event. We could not have hoped for a better day. Our photographer, the amazing Hal Harrison, of Rose City Photography, captured 300+ images during the conference. We look back at those images, and see that the entire day was full of smiles and laughter and focus and interest. Students, as well as professionals, were engaged through the entire day.

Those of you who attended know that Rajani Ramanathan of Salesforce, a veteran technologist, started us off speaking about women and technology. Afterwards, attendees became so involved in our post keynote activity, The Hunt, that we had a hard time convincing them to go take a break before the next talk.

Following The Hunt, Alex Zafiroglu and Jennifer Healey, cultural anthropologist and engineer talked about how they work together. Not only is their research interesting and apropos to the future of technology, but they were FUNNY. Oh, my goodness, had I not know that I were at a technical conference I would have thought we were at a comedy club. Alex and Jen have such differing understanding of the world and how things work, but they were comfortable enough with each other that they could easily laugh about their sometimes difficult communication.

The lunch panel had insightful information about current and future technology jobs and what employers are looking for. We were excited to have an amazing panel of professional hiring folks from Tripwire, Thomson Reuters, Adobe, and Salesforce. Following lunch was the fascinating research from the Ubiquitous Computing Lab at the University of Washington, presented by Lilian de Greef and Sidhant Gupta, covering many of the labs’ current research topics and devices. Then Karl Koscher did the finale technical talk with his research on how he and his fellow researchers were able to hack into car systems and prove to car manufacturers that they need to beef up car security.

Later in the afternoon we had mock interviews and resume reviews for which we had overwhelming demand. We ended with the career fair with still a high level of enthusiasm and smiles and focus. I spoke with most of the schools and companies who had tables at the career fair – they were excited to be there and are looking forward to coming back in the spring.

Take a look for yourself to see how engaged the attendees were throughout the day:

– Pamela

Nothing to Prove

5 10 2013

I love this video by Girl Geeks & the Doubleclicks. I can’t even quantify how much time I’ve spent trying to prove myself in STEM — trying to prove that I’m smart enough, creative enough, committed enough, and nerdy enough. For years, I hustled for my worth, working much harder and often achieving much more than my male colleagues. Despite my efforts, sometimes I still experienced treatment that made me feel that I was being viewed as not smart enough, not creative enough, not committed enough, and not nerdy enough.

This may sound like a sad story, but you know what? It really isn’t. For every man who refused to respect my abilities, there were easily nine men who treated me with the respect I deserved. At a certain point, I decided to ignore the dissenters and move forward with my life. The energy I was spending trying to prove myself to an unimportant 10% of the male population in STEM was energy that was being wasted. I needed that energy to continue kicking butt.

The last line of this awesome song really resonates with me. “Haters are Gonna Hate.” It’s funny, but it’s true. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman in STEM or a dog in a tutu. Haters are gonna hate. They’re going to hate just because you’re doing something that is unusual and possibly innovative. Ironically, our desire to be unusual and innovative is what draws most of us to STEM in the first place. We want to use our talents to do things that have never been done before to change the world.

I’m a huge fan of constructive criticism because I’m constantly looking for ways to grow and improve, but hate isn’t constructive — it’s just hateful. If it isn’t helpful, you have to ignore it. You’ve got nothing to prove to a bully.

– Jen

Math Anxiety – Fiction?

15 09 2013

Test anxiety. Symptoms include sweaty palms, twitching, shortening of breath and nervous energy. Many of us, men and women alike, have experienced it. But why is that women are more commonly portrayed to suffer from this? Surveys of high school students have shown that women are more likely to suffer from test anxiety than males, especially in math classes. In my experience, my female classmates were more expressive about their test anxiety while males where cool, calm, and collected. But does the outer appearance really portray individuals’ true experience?

A new study published in the journal of Psychological Science found that girls report test anxiety at a higher level than they experience. This study went beyond surveying the students, but also spent time in the math class watching the students as they took the exam. Surveys were administered before and after the exam. The results showed that women measured to have higher anxiety before exams were taken but during the class they had no more math anxiety than the men. This is encouraging even though it shows how much we as women have to break stereotypes.

The students tested were from grades 5 -11. Remembering back to this range, I remember trying as hard as I could to fit in. I wanted the girls to like me, and I wanted the boys attention. This was a fine balance to accomplish. The media portrays desirable women to let the man be the best. For many, this meant that being good at “tougher” subjects such as math or science was undesirable. The most popular method to get guys attention was to express worry over these subjects in hopes of them offering their support or sympathy. While this method worked, many of the friends I knew had a natural ability for math but refused to own up to it. Only once they entered college and recognized that being perceived as smart was a non-issue.

This study to me brings to light the importance of young ladies to understand that it is okay to be smart. Test anxiety is a real occurrence but women should not feel extra pressure because of their math ability. Most importantly, women need to give themselves permission to be good at math and science. Society should not persuade these young women to believe that are bad at math just because stereotypes state this. Lets change the way our youth believe they must be and allow them to pursue their passions.

– Marea

Who Are the Next Generation’s Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)?

12 09 2013

In the next five years, STEM jobs are projected to grow twice as quickly as jobs in all other fields according to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics. While all jobs are expected to grow by 10.4 percent, STEM jobs are expected to increase by 21.4 percent. Similarly, 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will require technical skills.
By this measure, future STEM jobs represent a huge opportunity to today’s students. But to put these numbers into perspective, of the 3.8 million ninth graders in the U.S., only 233,000 end up choosing a STEM degree in college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means only 6 percent of ninth graders will become STEM graduates. And of these graduates, women will be even more underrepresented in most STEM fields.
These are alarming statistics. How do we get more young boys and girls to be interested in STEM-related fields? It isn’t an easy task. Schools do not always adequately prepare students for these rigorous subjects, and college programs are designed to weed out the less persistent. Nationally, only 41 percent of initial White and Asian American STEM majors who begin a degree in STEM-related fields complete their degree in less than six years.
In addition, societal pressures continue to loom over girls who might otherwise consider the STEM fields. A couple of years ago, I met amazing parents, both of whom had a background in engineering and hoped their 10 year-old daughter would follow in their footsteps. They encouraged her to take an after school science/robotics program. When she got there, she found she was outnumbered 6:1 by boys in the class. As the only girl, she came home crying much of the time because she was teased and told that geeky girls are not welcome in the boys’ club. Ironically, by the time young adults are entering college programs in STEM fields, many complain about the lack of gender diversity.
Starting at an early age, even as young as kindergarten, we need to recruit, encourage and mentor the next generation leaders to consider pursuing science, computing, math and technology. And continue to mentor them through the grade school, high school and college years.
We also need to realize that for young girls to be inspired to pursue and stick with this educational path and later career field, they will benefit from the ongoing and collaborative support of the people that surround them: parents, teachers, friends and family members. Creating a fun and positive environment for these young promising STEM leaders will be key in order to get them interested in the first place and stay interested as they grow up.
Helping today’s students may begin in part with educating the educators and increasing rigor within our schools. Holding schools accountable to help teachers teach these subjects more effectively and structuring support for STEM pursuits is one way to help shift the dynamic away from subtle and overt discouragement to an atmosphere of encouragement and support.
Now more than ever, it’s important to help kids embrace the coolness factor of “geeky girls.” Challenging young kids of both genders to be interested in the technology field now through school activities or other mentorship programs will shape and mold our next generation of innovators and leaders in STEM tomorrow. Collectively, if we all agree having these sharp and original minds in the workforce is important both for our future and theirs, we can all take steps to encourage a young person to succeed in STEM.

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