Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome by the Grace Hopper Team and Keynote Speech: Megan Smith

Lets start with three cheers to Technical Women!

Ok, so if you are done cheering, like I did, you MUST go watch this video first - 'I am a Technical Women' I was among the first few to watch the world premiere of this video. Yayyy! I am a Technical Women!:)

After you have done watching, you would want to know what happened at the welcome and keynote speeches at Grace Hopper Conference today, where the video got premiered :)
So here it is:

The welcome speech was delivered by distinguished women like Heidi Kvinge, Telle Whitney, Leteita Wooten and Wendy Hall. Can I ask for more?

The important takeaway from the opening speeches was this: These women
work very very very very hard.

Logistics of the conference - 400 presenters and over a 100 sessions. Put together by a brilliant group of passionate women. How do they do that? It amazes me! And boy, am I glad about volunteering here!

You had to be there to feel the power exuded by these women. We had the Jo Miller workshop yesterday on being a person of influence. And today morning was probably the best example of women who could directly influence you! (Read about sources of influence here)

And as Megan Smith, Vice President, took the center stage, I kept staring at her for a long while as she spoke calm and composed but with the power and intelligence that floored each and everyone of us.

"I am a technical woman", she started and there went a wave of "yayyy!" across the hall.

Conforming with the theme of "Creating Technology for Social Good", Megan went onto speak about her experiences, anecdotes and commendable work in the areas of Social Data Mining and related projects taken up by several organizations apart from Google. She gave thought provoking illustrations of the role of "Interconnectedness"
- something that is impacting and integrating people around the world on a huge scale today.

As she pulled up the search statistics (remember that globe thing you see in Google offices visualizing search traffic?) and showed that although Google gets billions of search queries from around the world, there is one place where you find close to zero traffic - Africa. As she talked about emerging markets in Africa, I realized how cut off African countries are from the rest of the world. Yet, some of the most brilliant minds hail from places like Nairobi! And how many of us today know about this brilliant team of animation experts in Nairobi or that SMS search is being adopted in a big way in east parts of Africa?

One major initiative from Google has been targeted towards Health care for some time now. To get the health records accessible and move all the paper based health records online. It is interesting to see how Google set up a real time information website to track the recent flu trends. Imagine what power comes with this information. This means days before the CDC knows about official epidemic numbers, you get to see geographically and in real time, information about diseases.

The next illustration touched my heart. And made me sit up and think. Megan talked about Interconnectedness of Civil Liberty and Personal Empowerment. Have you realized how facebook, twitter and social networks can have a greater reach in spreading the word? Illustrations included the "Voices against FARC" movement in Columbia, Alliance of Youth Movements Summit (held in New York City, March this year) or the New York Times special edition on women fighting against oppression. For example, in Congo, women are often victims of rape. So there has been
an initiative to alert these women through SMS or messaging about which streets are safe to walk home. Really, did you or me ever realize how important technology is when you start applying it to tackle the evils of the society? Ideas like these
can go a long way to change the world to a better place and benefit the mankind. Like in the case of Congo example, the idea can be as simple as sending across a message, but the impact is much more greater. As technical women, we can come together and fight the social evils of the society by using our power of technical abilities!

Several more examples, like Yunus Muhammad's micro loans idea, the movement for solar installations, OVC initiatives etc. made me sit up and think. And think hard.

Do you study Machine Learning or Information Retrieval and Storage? Did you realize how search caters to social good by just providing answers to people's problems everyday and every second? Are you a UI expert or working on large scale data systems or social networks and collaboration technologies? Do you know how your work can impact thousands of live across the globe? Think about it. You can be a technical woman and still fight all the problems in the society. And this power lies in you and only you. It is time to do some social good!

Have you got any ideas? What do you think you can do to contribute? Talk it out!

Remember the power is in your hands.


Brenda Liu said...

I have also blogged about the keynote on my blog!

Manju said...

Awesome! Great read. Thanks Brenda.

Ed said...


Great post on the keynote! Reading it brought back all the excitement that was in the room and it reminded how I felt, which was inspired and empowered! They Megan spoke about what she does and what's possible just makes you want to get involved NOW!

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