Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Long and Short of Answering the Grace Hopper Call for Participation

You have a great idea for a Grace Hopper conference session. A really really great idea! In fact, as you prepare to submit your proposal, you realize that your idea may be TOO great. How in the world will you and your panelists cover everything that needs to be said in the space of a one hour session? It's just not going to fit! What do you do now? First, know that you're not alone. Others are facing the same problem as they work on their proposals. Others faced the same problem last year, and the year before. So I asked Deanna Kosaraju, the Anita Borg Institute's VP of Programs, what advice she has for those whose GHC ideas won't fit neatly into a one hour session.

Deanna's top recommendation is that you really try to make the session fit into a single hour. Why? Because, based on prior GHC experience, Deanna expects there will be approximately ten times more conference submissions than there is physical space and time available at GHC 2010. In addition, the committees reviewing the program submissions will try to accept sessions from as many different presenters as possible. I'll offer some suggestions below for how to pare your session down. But here are your alternatives if feel you just can't make that work.

Can your idea be broken into two or more one-hour sessions? Divide them up with your collaborators and submit them (separately) as a mini-track. In the submission for each, describe how it is related to the other(s) and request that they be scheduled back-to-back (if that's necessary). But be forewarned: the committee may accept your multiple session proposals but only give you a single one-hour session to present them. This happened to me a few years ago when our two-panels-plus-one-BOF (Birds of a Feather) mini-track was accepted, but we were instructed to combine the two panels into one. We did, and used the BOF for the overflow conversation from the panel.

The other option is to include in your submission an explanation of how long the session should be. You will need to make a compelling case for why the session cannot be condensed into a single hour. You'll also need to show how the agenda will be broken up into chunks no longer than one hour, so that attendees will get regular breaks. Even if you do, the committee may accept your session proposal but only give you a single hour to present it. Deanna assured me this also has happened before.

Remember: The program committees will try to accept sessions from as many different presenters as possible. And they will receive many more great proposals than they can possibly fit into the available space and time. So let's go back to Deanna's original recommendation.

How do you condense a great session idea so it will fit into a single hour? Here are a few of my own suggestions, then I would love to hear yours:
  • One reason that sessions get too big for one hour is by having too many speakers. Limit the number of panelists you invite, so that each will have adequate time to share her contributions.
  • Select a subset of your topic to focus on. That might mean narrowing the problem space, e.g., focus on one special case or ignore special cases and focus on the general. It might mean selecting only the most important aspects of your topic, or perhaps the most popular (like a top ten list).
  • Move some of your content into a reference area in the back of your slides. You won't have time to present it but you can let attendees know it's there. Post your slides on the conference wiki for attendees to download. Or create an online resource area where attendees can go to find and/or share more ideas (this can also be done on the conference wiki).
Now let's hear from you. Have you streamlined a large session idea to make it fit? Have you combined multiple sessions into one? What tactics have worked well for you?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Close Encounters with Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

"I met Admiral Hopper, at Penn, but have lost my nanosecond."

The nanosecond referred to was one of the 30 cm pieces of wire that Grace Hopper famously handed out at speaking engagements. And this rueful admission by David Klappholz was part of an unexpected harvest reaped since launching the Facebook page for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing: Fans of the page immediately starting posting stories of their personal encounters with her.

It began when one of the page's new fans posted a variation on a famous quote from Adm. Hopper: "It's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission." The quote prompted Joan Deaderick to recall, "I actually heard Adm. Hopper speak at a DEC (Digital Equipment Co) symposium in the '80's. She told some wonderful stories including the quote ... mentioned."

Esther Massimini, a Principal Engineer at Honeywell, shared her own story. "Back in the early 80s, I was stationed at the Pentagon (in the USAF). I often found myself right behind Adm. Hopper in line for the credit union! Occasionally also found myself with her in an elevator in the DC area." It's notable that Adm. Hopper was so well-known that Esther still remembers these brushes with greatness.

Ann Finnie drew a flurry of responses to her story: "My dad was in the Air Force and he worked with Admiral Hopper in Philadelphia in the early 50s. They had the Univac 1, serial number 1 and my dad was learning how to use it so he could train the AF on how to use s/n 2. He wrote the first compiler for the electronic computer on the Univac 1 in Admiral Hopper's lab. She helped him get a job at Lawrence Livermore Labs when he moved to California. I never met her, but I wish I could thank her." Ann later told me that the Univac 1 with serial number 1 is now on display in the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, DC. After Ann's father died, she found in his office both documentation of his compiler and the original operating manual for the Univac 1. She and her mother brought these to the curator in DC and donated them to the Smithsonian.

Alfred Thompson of Microsoft reported that "I met her first in college. A bunch of us students had lunch with her. One of the students asked her why she joined the Navy. She blinked a couple of times and said 'There was a war on.' That was it - the whole story. I never forgot that. She had a sense of duty." This same sense of duty led Adm. Hopper to return to service in the Navy after retirement -- not once, but twice.

Sue Allen shared, "I was a Computer Science Major at Brigham Young University in about 1970 when I first heard Commander Hopper speak. She told us that the time would come when we'd work on small desktop computers and share storage. This was in the days of big mainframes and punch cards. We all thought she was a little crazy!"

"I have always admired this woman. What a gift she was to all women in math and engineering disciplines. WAY ahead of her time," posted Pat McGowan. And of course when Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing conference to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront, they were inspired by the legacy of Adm. Hopper.

Many thanks to Sue, Pat, Ann, Alfred, Esther, David and Joan for their permission to share their recollections outside Facebook. To see more of these posts, become a fan of the Grace Hopper Celebration page on Facebook.

Do you have a personal story about an encounter with Adm. Grace Murray Hopper? Please share it here or on the Facebook page. My hope is that there will be enough stories for a follow-up blog post.

Note: This was also cross-posted on the Anita Borg Institute blog.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Grace Hopper 2010: Collaborating (Online) Across Boundaries

The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) 2010 conference will be held in Atlanta, Georgia from September 28 - October 2. The conference leadership and staff are very excited about this year's GHC theme: Collaborating Across Boundaries. As Communities Program Manager for the Anita Borg Institute (the nonprofit that presents the conference) I know our GHC online community members and volunteers will be right at home with this theme. That's because they have always collaborated across the boundaries of geography and institutions using our online communities to collaborate on conference sessions and to find answers, panelists, rides and roommates.

Are you working on a proposal for a Grace Hopper conference session? Thinking about how to convince your boss to send you this year? We’ve got something for everyone in our GHC online communities. Our new Grace Hopper Celebration page on Facebook is attracting fans and, currently, stories of interactions with Admiral Hopper herself. The Grace Hopper Celebration group on LinkedIn is a great place to make professional connections before the conference, whether you’re looking for a job or putting together a conference panel.

Follow our GHC updates on Twitter and connect with other conference twitterers. Subscribe to this blog and review the great content from last year’s conference. If you’re new to social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, you’ll find everything you need to get started on the Community Home and Getting Started pages. And don’t forget that the Anita Borg Institute’s email communities like Systers, LGBT and LiC (Latinas in Computing) are excellent sources of GHC collaborators and advice.

The Grace Hopper 2010 Call for Participation is open, with submissions due March 16. Don't be shy! Use our communities to find the information and collaborators you need. Oh, and see How To Ask Your Manager If You Can Attend GHC for an email template you can tailor for your own request.

I'm happy to answer any questions here on the blog or in the various communities. See you online!


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