Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hoppin' GHC

This post was written Friday night, but I wasn't able to get net access until now (Satyrday night). 

I had a kind of rocky start to my GHC08 - had to spend Thursday morning fixing an emergency situation for a deadline back home. I missed breakfast and lunch (I really was looking forward to the Systers lunch - darn!) and my spa appointment, so by the time I got to the event, I was totally stressed. I apologize to anyone to whom I was shrill or strident. By the time I got there, I was close to tears from exhaustion, frustration, altitude, and low bloodsugar. Several women were very generous with their time and let me vent, which helped. And I got trailmix, to hold me until dinnertime, which also helped.

I did manage to attend some great sessions Thursday afternoon. Then I went back to the hotel to change for dinner, and ended up staying and watching the VP debate in the hotel bar with a bunch of rowdy women (I admit I was one of the rowdiest), eating cheezburgers and drinking cosmos. (There was a guy there too but he wasn't terribly rowdy. ;-)

Today, I made it to the morning sessions and lunch. The sessions I attended were mostly on "Do you want to go to grad school? " I ended up have a great conversation with one of the panelists who gave me some great advice. Had lunch and chatted with Anna Koop (with the fantastic dreadlocks) - the turkey sandwich was pretty vile (soggy bread!?) but it was food. Attended a couple more sessions and then went back to the hotel to nap and change. Dinner was decent - although I was a little confused about how to get to a table - ended up getting stuck in a tshirt line (I've already got far too many tshirts!) but finally found a place to sit. Met a wonderful woman faculty member who had some more great advice on navigating academic politics. Then I danced way too much -- had a *wonderful* time dancing, but my hip is definitely feeling it. (They say you're only as old as you feel - right now, I feel about 80.)

Some highlights:

The session Thursday on outreach to girls was great - it had actual hands-on, specific, here's activities you can do. It was so nice to attend a session on outreach that didn't just preach but actually gave us *tools* on what to do!

The women in FLOSS session was fun although a little too focused on industry for my taste - I got to put in a plug for the Python community ( which encourages participation at many levels (bug-reports, documentation, conference organizing, unit tests, answering questions on our newbies email list, submitting patches, etc.) and PyCon 2009 ( where we *want* lots of proposals for presentations from women. If you're a fellow pythonista - please submit a proposal. If you're not into Python, OSCON is the big Open Source Conference by O'Reilly and they'll be taking proposals in January. Start thinking now about what you could propose. It'll be in San Jose in 2009. (If you present at OSCON, you get in for *free*. What a deal!) The session brought up a good point about why the low participation of women in FLOSS - in the past (up until a couple years ago), participation was almost entirely amateur/volunteer work. With women being the primary caregivers in their families (whether of kids, elders, or spouses) and having other interests, our spare time tends to be pretty limited for volunteer efforts of any sort. Add to that the sometimes rough and tumble nature of some online communities and many women find other uses for their time.

There was a presentation on gender equity in engineering from the Denice Denton (?) award winner. She did a good job of presenting reasons why women aren't well-represented in the engineering and science fields - and showed how she had worked to reverse that.

The sessions on grad school (getting in and doing research) were really useful to me - it was nice to hear from women who hadn't known all along what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. And also, helped me think about whether I want to go to grad school, and what the benefits of it might be for me.

I had a lovely chat with a woman at morning break who showed me her poster - it was really interesting to see how she had solved the problem she was working on. It made so much sense - and was "obvious in retrospect" but her approach and her solution was fun to hear about.
I met a woman who lives just down the street from me and we're in contact now.
I met a woman who's the first woman in the US I've met who knew who Anastacia is.
I had lots of lovely hall conversations with random people - including the very nice young women who showed me their kitty photos.

Unlike many folks, I didn't join Connect. I would have liked having a sticker for Undergrad, but didn't like having to limit my "who I want to meet" on their registration website. It felt, for me, overly restrictive. I've found that when I drop expectations and constraints on who I'll meet and how that person might affect my life (or how I might affect theirs) - I meet all sorts of folks from all different affiliations and education and work levels and various industries and interests. And I've found that the most unexpected connections can be some of the most rewarding. So - while I'm sure their service will be very useful to many folks, it just didn't fit the way I network. I do wish them well and hope that they thrive. Anything that helps women find each other for support and mentoring and networking is great.

Speaking of women - an observation:
I chatted with several women this conference who expressed that they'd been really nervous or unsure about attending Grace Hopper. Some of them were the "always the only woman" and "just one of the guys" kind of women (like I was) who'd either never really interacted much with other women, or who'd had bad experiences with women living down to stereotypes (gossip, backstabbing, malebashing, etc). Their questions boiled down to:
1. what would I get out of a conference with all women?
2. am I going to fit in/feel comfortable/feel safe?

While I'm glad that I wasn't the only one who'd felt that way their first time -- it was really nice to hear them say it out loud so I could reassure them that they're not the only one who felt that way either. I also was happy to hear all of them say "I'll be back!"

A big part of what I find valuable at Grace Hopper is hearing lifestories of other women - particularly those who, like me, followed a circuitous, non-traditional route to CS. Another plus is meeting people who don't look at you funny for being a girl and talking about geeky stuff. And it's great to meet the women who can mentor - the ones who've been there done that -- and the young women who are just starting out and so enthusiastic. And it's just fun to see and hear about all the different ways women are "in computing". It gives me hope for the future.

I look forward to tomorrow.
And to next year.


suzanne said...

Thanks for mentioning the OSCON call for participation, we'd love to see more women speakers (and attendees) there.

Another open source speaking opportunity is the MySQL Conference & Expo. It's happening April 20-23, 2009 in Santa Clara, CA and the call for proposals is open until October 22 (see for more info).

-Suzanne Axtell, O'Reilly Media

Tracy Camp said...

Anna Martelli Ravenscroft wrote:
"Unlike many folks, I didn't join Connect. I would have liked having a sticker for Undergrad, but didn't like having to limit my "who I want to meet" on their registration website."

Hmmm ... it appears you mis-understood the purpose of 'who I want to meet' in the CONNECT registration process. The purpose of this question was to ensure each of us thought about WHO we wanted to meet at GHC, and then to encourage each of us to meet those that we wanted to meet. This does NOT mean that you couldn't meet people outside the list you created for yourself! In fact, ALL connections made were stored and information on ALL connections is being shared.

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