Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A View from the GHC 2011 Panels, Workshops, and Presentations (PWP) Co-Chair

Anticipation is building for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2011 Conference! The “What if?” conference theme sparked many, many fascinating proposals. I was fortunate to serve as industry co-chair with Elizabeth Jessup (University of Colorado at Boulder). The challenge for our committee was to whittle down the two hundred or so proposals that spanned a wide range of topics to a bit over forty. I’d like to share some insights into the process and seed some preparation for this year’s attendance.

Diversity in participants/perspective

One of the biggest challenges that the Anita Borg Institute faces each year in preparation for GHC is how to best serve the community of women in technology. We have amazing participation from women who serve in a variety of roles across the spectrum of technology. Industrial attendees come not only from computing and IT backgrounds, but also from financial, insurance, defense, and banking industries, at all rungs of the organizational ladder. Computing itself spans many academic disciplines, including biology, medicine, engineering, and education, and we have undergraduate, graduate, and faculty representation, including many distinguished academics. We have K-12 teachers who are dedicated to bringing computing into the classroom and fundamentally changing the way the world thinks about computation. We have international as well as national participation, and thus our community is quite diverse. That is the beauty of GHC – it is truly a celebration of women in computing. Whether you consider yourself technical or not, whether you are industry, government, defense, entrepreneur, academic or K-12, whatever your gender -- we put our differences and self-interests aside and unite into a community that spans across boundaries, languages, cultures, technologies, and disciplines.

Our tasks as PWP co-chairs and the review process

Liz and I had to first and foremost assemble a sub-committee of PWP reviewers, done in late 2010. We invited women from across industry, academia, and national labs to participate. We chose both senior and junior women, national and international, PhD students, and women of color. Several of our reviewers were working mothers (some very recently so), juggling motherhood, work, and a desire to contribute to the conference in a meaningful way; all have served mentors and advocates, and are very active in their fields and communities. Serving as a reviewer came with a commitment to review around twenty proposals each and provide useful feedback (with a bit lighter load for the new moms). Liz and I did our best to match assignments to skill and interest sets, and our committee worked diligently after the submission deadline in mid-March to hit the review deadline in mid-April. Liz and I took a first pass at the rankings to group proposals into one or two specific tracks and set a bar for acceptance. After feedback and review by the committee (both via email and teleconference calls), we had a program ready to be reviewed by the GHC Steering Committee, who made the final decision on conference content.

One of the first insights into this role was the challenge of assembling a diverse set of panelists and presenters on a short timeline. Second was making good assignments, and third was once the ratings were in, how to put topics that would appeal to a large enough number of attendees into relevant tracks, and together, form a cohesive and engaging program. This is where preparation for GHC 2011 comes into play. You might have had a proposal that was not accepted for a previous conference, but with a bit of tweaking and some diversity, networking, and collaboration, you could turn it into a successful GHC 2012 submission.

Getting the most from the actual conference

The program schedule has been published and one of the things we recommend doing in advance is to plan each day of attendance. Add the sessions you are interested in to your calendar with enough detail so you can make a decision quickly (add the list of panelists, the room, and the abstract; you might consider double or triple booking a time slot). Identify people you would like to meet, and familiarize yourself with the layout of the conference rooms so you can move from one session to another in a timely manner. Make time to sit with people you don’t know rather than staying within the comfort zone of your cohorts or colleagues. It’s just as important to listen as it is to share your voice. Offer your experience, insights, and sometimes, even a shoulder to lean on. Learn from the experiences of others and share these experiences upon your return so that the collective wisdom continues to grow as our communities grow. Take with you your newly expanded network to develop a proposal for GHC 2012.

If you think something is broken, help us fix it!

It was a difficult process to choose program content, because what is best from one perspective may not be best from another. There were many proposals that we agonized over, as we strived for balance across many viewpoints. Harder still was sending out letters of rejection, and responding to specific inquiries, hence our desire to add transparency to the process of identifying compelling conference content. GHC 2012 will bring new opportunities to participate on a variety of committees and in a wealth of roles. Identify a role you would be interested in exploring and talk to us, to the GHC staff, and to people you trust and respect. Roll your sleeves up and make a commitment to sharing your insights and concerns, growing our community, and improving the offerings for next year. We invite your feedback and participation. Help us make GHC even better next year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Three Ways You Can Take a Deserving Applicant off the GHC Scholarships Waiting List

Yesterday 178 happy applicants received the news that they are receiving scholarships to attend the 2011 Grace Hopper Conference to be held November 9-12 in Portland, Oregon. However, another 150 applicants received the news that they are on the scholarship waiting list, dependent on additional funding. That's why I'm taking the unusual step of doing a fundraising post here on the GHC blog.

There are three ways that you can help take a deserving applicant off that waiting list:
Why should you invest in a GHC scholarship? If you've been following our Scholarship Spotlight posts on the conference website, you know that these scholarships are high-impact:
  • Kiara Williams' work as Student Coordinator for the Indiana Celebration of Women in Computing (INWIC) led to a scholarship to attend Grace Hopper 2010 in Atlanta. The help she received on her resume at GHC 2010 led to interviews and a job at Microsoft.
  • Amantha Lott is minoring in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) so she used her scholarship to attend sessions on the HCI track at GHC 2010, including a tour of the Georgia Tech HCI facility. 
  • Inspired by GHC 2010, Valentina de Rosa helped launched a gender issues commission at her university in Italy. Participating in the conference also led to interviewing for a dream job with Google.
  • Nanditha Iyer has been an active member of the GHC India planning committee since it began. Her scholarship to GHC 2010 in Atlanta helped her get accepted for graduate work at Georgia Tech.
No donation is too small. I'll keep you posted on how many additional scholarships we are able to fund. 150 deserving applicants are waiting for your help. So what are you waiting for?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thinking about stories and why you write

At last year’s Grace Hopper Conference, I organized a panel that focused on the vital connection between the everyday work of computer scientists, engineers, researchers, industry professionals, and academicians, and the mastery of excellent written and spoken communication skills. The topic of the panel was a direct expression of my own experience teaching Academic Writing and Great Presentations at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Columbia University in New York -- It is crystal clear to me that our potential to affect change, mentor, and lead is directly aligned with how well we are able to develop and apply our language abilities.

Let’s begin with writing, and look at both what we write about and why we choose to write in the first place.

When I first started to teach academic writing, I would say to the students --- “The single most important part of the writing process is the writer’s understanding of the story she wants to tell her readers. But you all know the stories of your research work, so we won’t spend much time here -- Let’s move on to other issues of the writing process.” So on we went to discuss other ingredients of excellent writing, like audience, genre, transitions and flow, introductions, data commentaries, abstracts, word choice, grammar, editing strategies, and so on.

It didn’t take long for me to see that my assumption about “knowing the story” was not accurate. Many of us, and perhaps all of us at one point, struggle with the precision of our topics. What is the context for my story and where does my specific contribution fit in? What are the details that are necessary so that a reader will know what I mean? What is the best ordering for the unfolding of these details? What can I leave out? Where am I going with all of this -- what is my point?

Well, now I spend a lot of time talking about stories in my classes. In fact, my view is that it is the unhesitating commitment to your story that is the foundation for the clear communication of your ideas, and without this clarity in communication, you cannot expect your readers to understand your meaning. And why else do we write if not to communicate a specific meaning to our readers?

So having a story to tell is the key ingredient for the writing process. Decisions we make about what to say, how to organize our ideas logically, how to glue the ideas together so there is a flow, which specific words and phrases capture the precision that is required, how serious or humorous or collegial we want to sound and so on -- are decisions made for the sole purpose of advancing our story; making our point; and presenting our ideas so that our readers can follow our meaning and learn, be motivated, be inspired.

But how we approach the actual writing requires another kind of understanding. In my view, before we make the commitment to share our knowledge and ideas through our writing, and before we sit down to compose, we must look at our philosophy of writing. It is vital to examine your thoughts and convictions and develop a personal writing philosophy. You will rely on your philosophy to drive your approach to your composing, and you will find that you will always go back to your personal philosophy as you reflect on each and every choice you make as you write your story for your specific audience of readers.

Consider these questions:

1- Why do you write?

2- Why do your readers read?

3- What does it mean to create meaning and knowledge?

4- How does your writing contribute to the creation of meaning and knowledge?

5- What gives a paragraph its strength?

6- If your intentions in writing are, for example, to inform, motivate, challenge, expand, create meaning, create knowledge, and so on, what principles should you embrace in your writing? For example,

• Clarity - Why is it important in your writing and for your readers?

• Precision in word choice, logic, and expression - Why are these principles important in science writing?

• Readability - What is it and why should we care about it?

• Organization - Is there only one Way?

7- What does excellence in writing mean for science writing?

These questions ask you to consider a number of very important ingredients of excellent writing, including such things as audience and the type of reader you will write for; your purpose and intent; the language you choose; the flow and development of your argument; the standard of excellence that you embrace and the respect that you are willing to extend to your readers. All of these elements are deserving of your careful reflection, so that when you sit down to write you have a clear orientation and framework for the hard work of composing, redrafting, and refining of your story.

Going forward, my idea is to look at The Art and Craft of Writing and Speaking -- to consider some of the universal characteristics of written and spoken discourse that will be useful as we prepare for the exciting events of Grace Hopper 2011. So take some time to contemplate your feelings about the world of words -- and excellence in communication.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

‘Amazing Grace’ Hopper’s 2011 Milestones

This post by Bill Doughty originally appeared on the Navy Reads blog and is reposted here with Bill's gracious permission.

If she didn’t invent the computer revolution in the United States, Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper gave it a voice – and a language in which to communicate.

“Amazing Grace” Hopper (1906-1992) played a pivotal role in developing COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) and creating FLOW-MATIC (the first data processing language to use English).
She promoted computer standardization for the Navy with the Air Force and eventually throughout DoD. A lifelong inventor who preached common sense, she considered herself a discoverer rather than an inventor, according to Kathleen Broome Williams, author of Grace Hopper – Admiral of the Cyber Sea, recommended by the Navy Professional Reading Program.
Always unconventional in her thinking, Hopper scorned the customary and traditional, was impatient with the status quo, and approached problem solving with instinctive innovation.
In 2011, and especially in August, there are some significant Grace Hopper milestones to remember:

Eighty years ago, 1931, Hopper began teaching at Vassar College.
Seventy years ago, 1941, she earned a faculty fellowship at Vassar. On Dec. 7, 1941, there were no women serving as commissioned officers in the Navy, but Hopper wanted to joint the war effort. She became one of the earlyWAVES – Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service – during WWII and began working at Harvard on the Mark I computer (which was formally dedicated Aug. 7, 1944).
At the time, the few computers that existed in the world were the size of a room and were known as “computing machines.” The term “computer” was used for the women who operated the machines, entering data to generate calculations, according to Williams.
Sixty-five years ago, 1946, Hopper was promoted to lieutenant, recognized for her computer programming skills.
Sixty years ago, 1951, she began working on the world’s first compiler, completing it the following year. A compiler is a program or set of programs that transforms complex source code into a simpler code. Hopper’s invention or “discovery” was a fundamental contribution to the evolution of computing.
Grace Hopper helped develop COBOL.
In Grace Hopper – Admiral of the Cyber Sea, Williams takes us through “Amazing Grace’s” career. The author shows us that the biggest challenge Hopper faced was an established bureaucracy’s resistance to change, but many leaders in the Navy began to fully embrace the potential of computing between 1950 and 1960. In the 50s Hopper and her team developed some of the world’s first compiler-based languages for programming: ARITH-MATIC, MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC; by the end of the decade she was playing a key leadership role in developing COBOL.
Fifty years ago, in August 1961, Hopper was promoted and appointed director of research in systems and programming for the Remington Road division of Sperry Rand.
Forty-five years ago, 1966, as Hopper was about to turn 60, then-Cmdr. Hopper received a letter from the Chief of Naval Personnel, asking her to apply for a resignation from the Navy due to her age and length of service. When she then retired, Hopper called it, “the saddest day of my life.”
But, on August 1, 1967, the Navy recalled her from the Reserves to active duty. The computer age was accelerating.
Thirty-five years ago, August 1976
Hopper, who wrote curriculum for the Navy’s “A” and “C” schools (basic and advanced training) and set up an operational analysis division for the Bureau of Naval Personnel, was now a recognized leader in computer science and the information technology revolution.
Forty years ago, in August 1971, 12,000 copies of Hopper’s manual, Fundamentals of COBOL, had been sold – 25 years after she’d worked on the Mark I.
Williams describes Hopper’s principal role working with the Air Force, Secretary of Defense and Government Services Administration to standardize computer language throughout federal agencies.
On August 2, 1973 Hopper was promoted to Captain.
She continued to be a teacher, mentor and recruiter for the Navy in the 70s and early-mid 80s. Then, 25 years ago, on Aug. 14, 1986, Grace Hopper retired a second time, at the rank of Rear Admiral. Her retirement was held aboard USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. She was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
Twenty years ago, on Sept. 16, 1991, Grace Hopper was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the highest honor of its type in the United States. (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are other recipients of the medal, now known as the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.) Williams reports what President George H. W. Bush said at the time, that it was Hopper who “pioneered the revolution that put personal computers on the desks of millions of Americans – and dragged even this president into the computer age.”
The voice of Navy’s computer revolution was silenced when Hopper passed away on New Year’s Day in 1992.
Fifteen years ago, during the summer of 1996, Sailors – men and women – began reporting aboard a new guided missile destroyer bearing Hopper’s name. USS Hopper (DDG 70), “Amazing Grace,”was commissioned Sept. 6, 1997. The Arleigh Burke class destroyer, homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hi, is equipped with state-of-the-art computerized systems.
Author Williams achieves both a history of the development of computing in the Navy and a look at the professional milestones of this dynamic woman whose voice continues to echo decades later.
On July 30, 2009 USS Hopper (DDG 70) launches a standard missile (SM) 3 Blk IA, successfully intercepting a sub-scale short range ballistic missile, launched from the Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), Barking Sands, Kauai. (U.S. Navy photo)

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