Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CRA-W Grad Track - How to build my professional network

Building a professional network is another one of those skills analogous to when we say 'common sense is not that common'. We are naturally social beings and need a network of people to go about our day-to-day lives. However, in addition to a basic social network, it is crucial to build a professional network and guess what.. it does not come naturally to everyone and is in fact a practiced and honed skill. So none of us are born with this knowledge; only as we climb up our career ladder and interact with peers and leaders, do we begin to gradually learn how to go about it.

Whom to network with?
Everyone! You many never know which contact of yours would end up helping you out at a difficult stage or furthering your success. Especially at conferences such as the GHC, you may not even be aware that the person you just casually passed at the escalator, belongs to the same field as yours and could be a great contact to build. So next time, do not hesitate to strike a conversation with the person standing next to you. Or in a general case, be open to making new connections with all the people in your circles. Important pointer - do not exclude social networks to make professional connections. That is a great way to leverage your existing connections to strike a professional chord with.

When you introduce yourself to someone, it is important to make a personal connection every time. You should be confident, cheerful and exuberant to meet the other person. A smile can go a long way and make sure to look the other person in the eye when you're speaking. This ensures that you will both remember each other and not forget this casual conversation at the turn of the hour.

So how does networking further your career?
A good network has manifold advantages. It makes you and your work known in this era of information overload where you need to strive to make your mark. Also it provides a source of recommendation letters from your advisors or managers, co-workers, directors, other areas of your company, and recruiters in industry. Through your network, you can get invites to give talks and interviews, or to be on several program committees. You can find your network useful in joining technical or community service organizations that help you contribute to the progress around you. Essentially, talking to more like minded people leads to new ideas on topics of interest or different slants on old ideas, thus helping you in your work or when forming new collaborations. Last but not the least, networking also ends up creating long and lasting friendships!

Now comes the harder part.. how do I talk to complete strangers?
The approach is simple - have an "elevator speech" ready and practiced. This is a very concise introduction to you and your work, enough to pique interest and limit it to 2-3 sentences with one sentence each explaining what your project is, what is the value, and what problem it solved. Be sure to explain in layman terms as well to make it relevant to the other person. Convince the person in this short while that what you work on is new and cool. That shouldn't be a problem right? Well it can be if you tend to ramble when it comes to explaining your work or research that your whole world revolves around. Hence, practicing the "elevator speech" frequently will keep you on top of your communication skills while meeting new people.

And of course, do not be shy. I can relate to this as I sometimes hesitate ever so slightly before striking a conversation, thinking why would the other person reciprocate? The trick is not to suddenly go from shy to extrovert but simply to believe in yourself and be confident. If they are not able to interact with you directly, more often that not, they will always direct you to some of their contacts who might help you. You can see how this helps to grow your network through mutual connections. Talking about reciprocation, you should equally show interest in their project and discuss about it; be curious and ask questions about how they got where they did today, what was the journey and the joys and challenges faced.

Follow-up without fail!
It doesn't end there. Following up is as important as anything else you do in the meeting. YOU need to initiate the follow-up. Be ready to be out of your comfort zone and ask for definitive replies to achieve closure on your discussion. Making new connections might come easily to some but maintaining them is equally important and tactfully following up helps achieve that. Earlier in the follow-up process, make sure you remind the other person of the venue and context that you guys first met at and as correspondence grows, this might no longer be needed.

Along with the TO DO's, there are also some important DO NOT's to professional networking. Firstly, don't burn bridges - do not inadvertently commit networking-suicidal mistakes that will ruin your relationships. In a company scenario, one way to avoid burning bridges is to always be humble and respectful towards your managers and to adapt yourself to their feedback instead of being arrogantly adamant and doing something unaccounted for. Don't have a low tolerance on constructive criticism or take things personally (being women, that means overcoming our natural tendency!). Don't use too much of people's time (e.g. hold frequent unnecessary conferences instead of covering ground in your work). Secondly, dont treat your professional network as dumping ground for your personal problems, or for gossiping around. Also do not go overboard with including people from all your circles into your professional network and draw the line consciously, prioritizing ur needs. Do not treat your network as "resources for use" but relationships to nurture and do this tastefully.

Equipped with this knowledge, and as you gather more and more new experiences, you will not only enhance your academic and professional network, but also enhance your personality and be a better and successful person :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grace Hopper 2010 - The Celebration Begins!

Less than a day till the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing starts in Atlanta!

I learnt about the conference last year (was too late to register) and ever since then I've been waiting for GHC 2010. Since this will be my first time at the conference, I've been reading blogs from veterans of the conference (check out the GHC blog feed) and following #ghc10 and @ghc on Twitter to get pointers on how to prepare for the week.

And prepare you must! The sheer volume of planned activities is mindboggling, leave alone those impromptu meetings and outings that are bound to happen. I've taken some time to look through the abstracts of the various seminars and mark those that are most interesting to me.

I'm especially excited about the track on Open Source as I am taking a course on Open Source Business as part of my Masters. I hope to share what I learn with my classmates. There will also be a chance to participate in open source development via the Codeathon for Humanity for the Sahana-Eden project. As a facilitator for this event, I'm looking forward to learning more about their disaster management software platform and how I can use my coding skills for social good.

The codeathon is a brilliant example of the conference theme of "Collaborating Across Boundaries" and my aim will be to look at the talks I attend in this broader context.

I'm also eager to meet many of the accomplished women participating this year, especially those interested in mobile platforms and wireless applications and those who (like me) have taken or are interested in a business career path after a technical degree.

The rest I'm leaving to serendipity :)

Packing for Atlanta! [update]

It turns out I did have time to document getting ready for Atlanta!

Here's what I packed (click the photo to go the Flickr page with notes):

What are you bringing with you to GHC?

Packing for Atlanta!

Ed here!  I wanted to do a quick post about what I'll be bringing with me to Atlanta this year.  Usually I do a video episode of Ed & Ashley's 5 Minute Show, but GHC came up so fast this year!  So, I'm going to do some's good for the environment, right?

Even though we say GHC 2009, this episode applies to GHC 2010.  I'm going to be packing much of the same things this year.

It looks like the weather in Atlanta for next few days will be in the 70s.  Like last year, light layers will be really helpful.  I think sunglasses and sunscreen are a must if you plan on being outside.

I haven't packed yet, so if I have time, I'm going to post a video of some speed packing!  These are things I'm not going to forget to bring to GHC!

  • Light jacket or in my case an adorable cardigan :)
  • Water bottle
  • Business cards (although I'm hoping that I'll get to use my Poken a lot!)
  • Important documents (resume, schedule, boarding pass, etc.)
  • Electronics (Egg [my netbook], video camera, digital camera, phone, etc.)
  • Chargers!
  • Tons of excitement :)
I can't wait to get to Atlanta and see everyone!  I'll be wearing an orange Wheaties hat and I would love to meet you, so please say hello!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Introducing myself - Mona Chitnis

Hello all community members!

I am Mona Chitnis, Computer Science graduate student at Georgia Tech. Its great to see the level of preparation and enthusiasm for GHC '10 and to be an integral part of it. And lucky for me, its in Atlanta this time! I'm from Mumbai, India but for these years that I'm at Georgia Tech, Atlanta is my home. So welcome :)

My work and research revolves around Computer Networks, Distributed Computing and Mobile Apps Development. My motivation behind attending GHC, apart from great networking with researchers and employers of course, is getting to attend the various talks by some of the most accomplished women in computing. I am also a Hopper and I believe its one of the best ways to involve myself with the conference and its participants. So you would see me "hopping around" and trying to help out fellows.

I look forward to posting some very interesting articles covering the conference sessions as the GHC advances for a means of information as well as food for thought. Let us all immerse ourselves in this grand celebration of collaborating with women across boundaries! :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Attending GHC from Afar

As my friends well know, I'm really passionate about GHC. In person, I ramble on and on about the benefits of attending. Online, I blog about GHC, tweet about GHC, and post countless FB status updates about GHC. This year, I've even been helping out with the GHC Communities Committee to help spread the news about GHC through the various online communities (Flickr, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and here on our blog). You can understand my sorrow, then, when I realized that circumstances would prevent me from attending this year. Undaunted, I figured if I couldn't bring myself to GHC, I'd try to bring GHC to me! Thus, this year, I will be GHC-ing from home.

Due to the early sell-out of the conference, I don't think I'm alone in this. In fact, I think there are probably a lot of people in exactly the same situation. What can we do to keep the GHC spirit alive from wherever we are? Here's a few ideas:

  • Follow up on sessions by reading session notes on the GHC Wiki
  • Read our blog to get the latest updates and info
  • Have a real life meetup (local restaurant, coffee shop, etc) during GHC to network and discuss issues related to advertised sessions.

  • Are you unable to attend GHC this year in person? Which of these ideas would you use to participate from afar? Do you have other ideas on how to connect?

    p.s.: I'm in Seattle and would love to meet others who are missing out on GHC this year and learn about what you're working on! If you're interested in meeting up in Seattle or elsewhere, leave a comment below. I'd love to help people connect no matter where they are.

    New to Grace Hopper? So am I

    The Grace Hopper Conference is among us and I am very excited.  I have been perusing the website to find interesting talks and sessions to attend as well as picking my blogging assignments for the Community Bloggers.  Then it dawned on me, this will be my first GHC experience.  Do I know how to make the best of my opportunity to attend the conference?

    In undergrad, I attended a conference called ABRCMS (the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students).  In fact, after attending 3 times as an undergrad and 2 times as a graduate student recruiting for my University, I consider myself a pretty seasoned ABRCMS veteran.  Here are 3 things I've learned from my ABRCMS experiences that I hope to use at GHC:

    1. Plan ahead:  There are a number of times when I have gotten to a conference or networking function and realized that I forgot my business cards.  Not a good look for anyone.  Make sure that you plan out what you will take with you to the conference.  If you are presenting, guard your poster/powerpoint with your life.  Just recently I managed to accidentally leave my poster at the security gate of the Pittsburgh International Airport. Fellow blogger Gail has a great entry on tips on planning for the conference.  You can find her advice at Getting Ready For a Conference
    2. Attend the Conference:  Conferences are great places to learn about new fields, meet new people, and connect with potential employers, collaborators, and/or friends.  The key to taking advantage of potential opportunities is to ATTEND THE CONFERENCE.  Simple concept, I know, but sometimes I feel the need to state the obvious.  
    3. Elevator Pitch: You never know when you will find yourself in an elevator with or standing next to a potential employer. Have a short introduction of yourself prepared. Keep it short, sweet, and interesting.  If your 90 seconds go over well, maybe you would piqued enough interest to continue the conversation. ~ Make it better ~ Got an iPad (or similar mobile device)? Upload a copy of your most recent poster to display your research if the opportunity presents itself. 
    Now to all you seasoned GHC vets :-)  Please comment on this post with advice for making the most of the Grace Hopper conference.  I'm sure all the newbies like myself as well as others could appreciate the advice. 

    See you in Atlanta! 

    Photo credits to 

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    How to Make the Most of Twitter for Grace Hopper

    Short on time? Jump to "Networking Face-to-Face to Twitter (and Back!)"

    Twitter has hit mainstream. News anchors suggest following their account for the latest updates, companies updating their online presence create accounts, celebrities use it to create their own press. And it is a norm at conferences.

    Grace Hopper is no exception to this rule. Read on to learn how to make the most of it! (PS – Folks to which Twitter is old hat, jump to the NEW! highlights.)

    Setting Up Your Account

    It’s okay to use Twitter to only follow others. BUT – if you’d like to use Twitter to connect with other people, there are some steps you will want to take.

    • Personalize your account.
      • Having a name, profile picture, and bio is your first defense against being assumed a spammer. If you prefer to be more anonymous, you can omit your last name or use a nickname and upload an image that is not a photo. (Keep in mind having a photo allows other conference participants to recognize you.) The main goal is to make you look like a real person. Since, you know, you are. :)
    • Understand the impact of the “Protect my updates” setting
      • With this setting on, others must request permission to see your updates. If you would like your updates to show up in the public stream, this setting must be turned off. To do this, log into Twitter, click Settings, scroll down and make sure “Protect my tweets” is NOT selected.
    • Get out there and tweet!
      • Most important way to distinguish yourself from spammers? Start updating your Twitter account! People don’t follow people who have never tweeted before. They want to know what you have in common and if you tweet about things they want to hear more about.

    Twitter Basics for GHC

    Use the #ghc10 hashtag for ALL (before, during, and after) GHC10-related tweets. Doing this ensures your related tweets show up in the conference Twitter stream (provided your tweets are not protected). You can view the real-time stream by searching for #ghc10 on Twitter. To add a hashtag, simply include #ghc10 somewhere in your tweet.


    The official conference Twitter account is @ghc. Following @ghc connects you to the latest conference news. It is also the account to which you can direct GHC questions. (Make sure to include the conference hashtag in your tweet to @ghc. If someone else knows the answer, they may be able to respond before the official account can get a chance!) If the @ghc account is following you back, you can also address private messages by starting them with d ghc.


    Before, During, After, All Year Round!

    Session/Workshop Hashtags NEW!
    I've already mentioned using the #ghc10 hashtag, but new this year are session/workshop hashtags. When tweeting during and about session/workshops, include BOTH the #ghc10 hashtag and the corresponding session/workshop hashtag. This provides context for those following your tweets and people looking at the overall #ghc10 conference stream.

    Update Your Poken with you Twitter Details NEW!
    I just found out about this so excuse my uber excitement, but Pokens are available to all GHC attendees this year! They are FREE for students and $15 for non-students. (Seems reasonable to me!) You simply touch your Poken device to the Poken of the person you’re connecting with to exchange contact info. So make sure your Poken includes your Twitter details!

    Twitter Lists NEW!
    If there is anyone on these lists that is of particular interest to you, make sure to follow that person so they show up on your Twitter homepage.

    • @ghc/ghc10-attendees
      • This is where you can find all the #ghc10 attendees that are on Twitter. If you're attending GHC and would like to be added to the list, tweet or send a direct message with your request to the @ghc account.
    • @ghc/ghc10-speakers
      • A great list where you can find all the presenters from GHC10 that are on Twitter.
    • @ghc/communities-committee
      • See all the tweets from the members of the GHC Communities Committee.

    Networking Face-to-Face to Twitter (and Back!)
    Include your Twitter name on your conference badge, so the people you meet know they can connect with you online.

    If you pardon me jumping on a soap box a bit, Twitter is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE way to network. The nature of Twitter allows users to loosely stay connected. There is no need for the formal replies email, LinkedIn messages, and even Facebook messages require. Twitterers can choose which tweets to comment on. This leads to awesome scenarios such as receiving a solution from a contact I would not have even thought to ask as a result of tweeting a challenge I was facing. The other general benefit of being connected to your network by Twitter is best described by the video Twitter in Plain English.

    Do take advantage of (and feel completely free to!) follow people in the #ghc10 Twitter stream that are tweeting about things that interest you. The main chunk of my network from past GHC conferences was from connecting with the women on Twitter prior to the conference, briefly meeting them in person (if at all), and then getting to know them over the course of the year via Twitter! Now I look forward to meeting up with my tweeple in real life! :)


    RT – Abbreviation of the word retweet. Retweeting is the action of quoting another user’s tweet. You can either type in RT @username and copy/paste the message or use Twitter’s Retweet button. You would use the copy/paste method if you would like to add a comment.


    Hashtag – A hashtag is a word, phrase (no spaces), or abbreviation that is preceded by the pound (#) sign. It acts as a tag in your tweet.

    DM – Abbreviation for direct message. Direct messages are private messages. To send one, the recipient must be following your Twitter account. Precede your message with d username.


    Tweeple – What I like to call the folks I interact with on Twitter. :)

    Any suggestions or tweaks to my suggestions? Add your thoughts in the comments!

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Transportation while in Atlanta for GHC10

    Some more tips from your local chair.

    To and from the airport:
    The Hyatt and Marriott do NOT provide complimentary shuttle service to or from the airport.
    Marta is the public transportation rail line in Atlanta. There is a rail station at the airport which will take you to within a block of the Hyatt and Marriott hotels. It will run about $3-4 one way from the airport to the Peachtree Center location on the red line. The ride is close to 20 minutes.
    If you take a taxi, expect to pay around $30 for one way with extra charges for additional people.
    If you call the Hyatt, they will hire a car which runs about $40-50 one way.

    All the places I listed in a previous post for sightseeing were within walking distance of the hotels so you would not really need transportation.

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