Friday, September 5, 2008

Role models

I'm a Ph.D. student and have been to GHC a few times. This year, I'm especially excited about the keynotes by two highly successful leaders. The speakers are role models for many of us, living examples of what women can and do achieve.

Instead of letting us worship these and other key figures from afar, however, GHC in many ways forces us to see the "human" side of today's leaders in computing. Not only can we party with them if we like, but sessions such as the imposter panel suggest that yes, even they know that familiar feeling of being a fraud! And no, all other aspects of successful people's lives need not be perfect, as indicated by how to manage your career when life gets in the way.

In other words, those we hope to emulate are in many ways no different from us. I should really stop referring to them as "them"! Certainly they're brilliant, determined, visionary and so on, but they are not super-human. That means you and I also stand a chance of achieving similar successes and becoming role models for future generations.

In fact, I like to think that each of us is already a role model in her own way. Teachers, professors and women in industry influence students. Students influence younger students. Even the youngest of students must have some influence -- on friends or siblings, for instance. Of course, it is up to us to try to make our influence positive. Hence I'd like to cheer for the panels on the artemis project and using robots in middle schools, where undergraduates have worked to pass on their skills and enthusiasm to schoolgirls. Also interesting is inspiring girls in technology: how to make every outreach a success.

But beyond these organized activities, women in computing inspire each other simply by being themselves. This especially struck me at past Grace Hopper Conferences, where an overwhelming positive attitude prevailed. It's hard to describe, but in that ambience, anything is possible. You may still feel like an imposter, but you know you can pull it off!

1 comment:

BJ Wishinsky said...

Better late than never, I hope. I totally agree with every point you made! Providing role models for technical women is an important part of the Grace Hopper Celebration and other Anita Borg Institute programs. I'm really looking forward to seeing what else you have to say on the blog, and to meeting you at GHC08.

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