Thursday, August 27, 2015

GHC15: A Past, Present and Future Journey!

This year GHC will be awesome!!!

Oh, ok. Let me back up a bit. Did I say 12K women? Have I mentioned the sessions? Have you heard that it's "Our time to lead!"?

What happened?

First, some background information about why I am really excited. My first GHC was back in 2012, and I think it was the first time I really feel like I'm not alone -or, to be more honest- I'm completely normal! I get to meet with an enormous number of women in STEM fields and although it was my first time, it felt like I was within GHC community for ages, where everybody has a similar story and is more than welcome to talk/share/consult/mentor/mentee/help anytime. I know it sounds a little cliche if you haven't experienced being a part of something so huge but so intimate; but believe me, that was the closest realization for "It's a small world" attraction of Disneyland. As happy, as connected, as pretty, as diverse, utopian!

As a recap, on the first day, the first ever session I have attended in a GHC: A wonderful interactive networking talk, given by two speakers from Lawrance Berkeley Lab and Google. After 3 years, I'm still so glad to catch this session, it was like a jump-start for the conference. This session taught what I was doing right unconsciously when approaching people (as an introvert), what I was totally wrong at, and what I actually should do in different situations. I probably created an elevator speech for the first time in my academic life, because of that session.

I have attended the Graduate Poster Session, where most of the posters were related to interesting security, cloud computing research, with some posters also in graphics: telling to this little fresh graduate student "Hey, over here! This is what's coming up for you soon!". Then I wandered around the Job Fair, having my first tips on career development, also having some interviews to boost up my confidence (this was real, no laughing please). Switching to talks... these girls were clever! I clearly remember that there was a talk for secrets to success, and it was prepared like a musical! How cool it is, right? You never saw anything yet, young Padawan. I will not explain the awesome technical talks or grant writing and funding sessions.. But, another GHC-specific talk: imposter syndrome. Wait, what? Of course I hadn't heard it before, and I was dragged into it by a senior friend of mine. Remember that uneasy feeling that you're not sure about whether you can achieve what's expected from you? (Don't argue with me, I know you had that before!) Yes, that's a tiny bit of imposter syndrome. And I would never ever be aware of that virus if GHC was not making everyone that is left (or made felt) outside of the circle...

Enough with the day, let's discuss the nights! The social events in the conference were spectacular. The awards ceremony was so inspiring that getting to know such work and such amazing people was a motivation all by itself. There was also a celebration for the 25th years of Systers community, which was like a closing party, and it was in the Maryland Science Center... This might still be "the event" of my life. Let me elaborate. Imagine a science center, full of dinosaurs, body parts, machines and experiments, with a planetarium! Now imagine islands of desserts, hills of cupcakes and cheesecake, and sweets that you ever saw. Finally, imagine hundreds of women in science. Now put them all together... Amazing, right? Oh, just to mention, there was a live disco right outside too. And when you get bored of dancing, you can just watch a wonderful night show in the planetarium. It was an amazing experience overall.

Anyway, enough with the memories, but hey, I still need to tell how awesome GHC in 2013 and 2014 was! I know you're getting bored, maybe I'll reflect them another day. For now, these stories [1][2][3] can feed your curiosity. Coming to the main idea, did you notice that how many "first time"s for me have been unlocked by GHC? This makes you realize that you're important. Which brings us to the next part...

What happens?

Attending Grace Hopper is a wonderful experience as well as a precious responsibility. It is not just a regular conference that you attend to, and then forget about; but it shapes one's lifestyle, priorities, and perspective. It makes everyone feel that we are never alone.

The organism

It gives tremendous amount of motivation by sharing, just sharing. Stories from your everyday life, experiences from reactions you are subject to, what-if scenarios if you do not assess those situations, emotions if the imperfect situation captures you, challenges to beat the imperfect situation, in summary, everything you have experienced and might experience in your everyday life is shared. This connects everybody to support others' cases, to union and to act together for the parallel challenges. So both for academic and volunteering activities, GHC community always keeps this collective organism fueled up.

The self

Inherently you share too. You see the newcomers, and wanna be there before they fall into that hole you have fallen before. You want to pass your experience, pass to torch as the others have passed to you. You want to carry the organism with you and make it more invulnerable.

It sounds silly, but realizing that all the wonderful 'godlike' people are also a part of the organism, (that they're always in reach or they make mistakes or they eat cupcakes or they moonwalk), makes you feel more rewarding and confident. You realize that it is only you, what makes it special. If you forget how to enjoy, or if you sacrifice your unique character to become a slave, that's when you being to lose, that's when trying to be perfect harms you. You realize that balancing and being in charge of unbalancing should be the key to their success, so as yours.

The product

At the end, you want to keep those connections and improvements alive. Thus, you come to a point that you understand that GHC is not limited to 3-4 days. We are all connected with Systers, WISP/WIE programs, CRA-W, and local CS people. And after a while it becomes a life-style, to protect and develop the self and the organism, by taking part in all events, volunteering for all opportunities, and advocating wherever you see something wrong.
You also get amazed (see my first lines:) ) that how such a huge product can consistently be kept alive. You admire the creators and defenders of our fragile but connected world, most of which are only volunteers, and appreciate all efforts, all time commitment, and all the love given to our community.

What will happen?

Of course, GHC will keep impacting the world, again this year.


I have been saying that after a while you just need to be "more" a part of it, right? Well, after being a Communities Volunteer for 2 years, this year I'm proud to be on the Communities Committee and help organizing this awesome "get-together with friends and systers". Thus, it's an honor for me to actually spend labor in this event which I completely believe in. Rest assured that our committee is working like bees to enable everyone to make the best out of the conference, with new events, gatherings, channels, and news!

This year is especially important for me, because I'll be presenting my pretty buildings in #GFX session. Looking back and realizing that how far I have come since the misty first days of PhD, I can't wait to share my awesome work while looking each one of you in the eye! If you want a trailer about the presentation, I suggest you to have a look at our papers [4][5]. Else, you're invited to my talk on Wednesday Oct 14 at #GHC15.


You'll definitely level up! Both motivated and armored! Socially, academically, and personally.

Maybe after reading this, you will want to be a volunteer and start being a part of us, now!

But more importantly, I believe you'll become one of us, you'll find yourself both similar and different enough to be comfortable with the crowd, and you'll realize that the imperfections of any systems (human-centric, data-centric, process-centric), can be overcome by a little environment support.


For me, GHC become like an annual celebration where I spend quality time with friends all around the world, colleagues from all disciplines, and anyone interested in our battle for humanity:) I really want all of us to share that same feeling, that our safe environment is getting larger and larger by all of our efforts and we can accomplish anything we want! The chamber that had 8.000 women in computing fields, has reached a record of registration for the celebration and this year we're expecting a 1.5 times larger circle of 12.000 women! Not comparable to us in size for #GHC15, but I want to conclude this excitement with some of us that can convey that feeling with their smiles, to show us, just us...

Can you imagine? Can you think about the accumulated knowledge we can obtain from this year's GHC? Now, is it possible to not be excited about such an adventure??!

I'm already amused and can't wait to be in Houston. I hope to see and meet each one of you, to embrace our community, to be useful for our living organism, and to carry this perspective onto the new generations.

Thank you everyone, see you in Houston!

Ilke Demir

[1] Purdue CS @ GHC 13:
[2] Purdue CS @ GHC 12:
[3] Purdue CS @ GHC 14:
[4] Proceduralization of Buildings:
[5] Segmentation of Buildings:

Post syndicated from Over The Heels and Far Far Away

Friday, August 14, 2015

GHC15: A Whole New Box!

At my company, we have a metaphor: life is a series of boxes. You start off in a box, right at the bottom. As you learn and grow, your box fills with your knowledge and accomplishments and pushes you up until you're at the top of your box. climb out of your now full box. Straight into another box. Right at the bottom. And the process begins again.

This year will be my third going to the Grace Hopper Celebration. Each year, I have gone in a different capacity and this one is no different! Every year, GHC helps me expand my knowledge, grow, and push myself into a new box.

The first year I attended, I was just starting my Masters in Computer Science. A (somewhat) young student, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was so excited as I had never attended any conference aimed at women in computing, let alone one of this magnitude! I remember arriving and being absolutely flabbergasted that so many people could fit in one conference centre—and 90% of them were women! What an empowering moment!

I scheduled everything. I went to panels aimed at new grad students—my newest box—attempting to prepare us for the completely new world of grant applications, research, publishing, and conference talks that awaited us. I learned tips and tricks that later helped me both in my classes and my research (although no conference talks yet!). I also indulged in several of the security-related talks, my main area of interest.

I attended the conference with several other students from my school. It was a really inspiring and diverse group of girls. This experience alone was completely disjoint from any other conference I had been to. We were able to laugh, bond, and inspire each other with talks from the smallest things (like as how haggard we felt and looked after travelling) to deep conversations (such as illnesses in our family and the forces that had driven our passions to STEM). This group of girls really made the GHC experience for me. They, along with so many of the speakers I listened to and new connections I made, inspired me in a way no other conference ever had and had me raring to go back the next year!

For my second year, I was lucky enough to attend with my current company, Shopify. I had just finished all my classes and had signed a full-time contract with Shopify so I could work whilst I finished my thesis. I went this year, not as a student, but as a representative of my company. It was a complete contrast to my previous experience at GHC.

I attended few panels, but the ones I did check out were aimed at women just starting out in their careers. The panels covered a range of topics including how to discuss difficult topics at work, how to ask for/negotiate contracts and raises, and how to really get the most out of your experiences at your company without being overlooked.

While all the talks were inspiring to me, they couldn't come close to my experience taking part in the career fair. For those of you who haven't previously attended GHC, let me tell you that this career fair is on an entirely different level. It is the single largest job fair I have ever seen, and the fair itself is bigger than some of the Comic-Cons I have attended! It was a very humbling experience to see how small both my company and I are in relation to the vastness of the technology field as a whole.

I stood at Shopify's booth for three days talking to potential candidates ranging in age and experience, from young undergrads to women who had been working in tech for over 20 years and were looking for a change. Each of these women had a story to tell and something to teach. Being able to talk one-on-one with so many inspirational women was phenomenal. Hearing their about their struggles and triumphs and the lessons they had learned really showed me how I could become a better employee, programmer, and person. On top of that, I got to get to know some of the women from my company so much better through this trip, which was truly wonderful. Though this was with a different group, the bonding, laughter, and memories were of the same kind as I got to experience last year. This, as well, was an entirely different box for me. I had always been shy and kept to myself, never being the one to start a conversation. But this pushed me to my limits until I was smiling and chatting with anyone and everyone in sight, and I couldn't have been happier.

And now, for my third year, I am actually able to help organize this amazing conference. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be doing something like this, but I'm so happy to be able to help make this conference a reality for another year in the hopes that it will inspire other women as it has me. Already, just being able to work with the rest of the members of the Grace Hopper Communities Committee has been wonderful. They are such a diverse, intelligent, and kind group of women that have already driven me to new heights, and once again into a new box.

What I wanted to highlight most in this blog post is the sheer diversity of GHC. It really is suited for everyone at any point in their career, whether they are in academia or industry. The conference was completely different for me each time I attended, as my role had changed. As I have grown, so have my GHC experiences grown with me. GHC allows itself to be a deeply personalized experience for everyone, letting each attendee choose what they want to attend and focus on, so that we can all grow, develop, and learn as much as possible.

I know that this year will be no different in that regard, though I know that it will be a complete 180 in terms of what I do and learn once again.  I can't wait to see what's in store! See you all there!

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