Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013-11-21: 2013 Southeast Women in Computing Conference (SEWIC)

Last weekend (Nov 14-17), I was honored to give a keynote at the Southeast Women in Computing Conference (SEWICC), located at the beautiful Lake Guntersville State Park in north Alabama.  The conference was organized by Martha Kosa and Ambareen Siraj (Tennessee Tech University), and Jennifer Whitlow (Georgia Tech).

Videos from the keynotes and pictures from the weekend will soon be posted on the conference website.  (UPDATE 1/24/14: Flickr photostream and links to keynote videos added.)

The 220+ attendees included faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and even some high school students (and even some men!).

On Friday night, Tracy Camp from the Colorado School of Mines presented the first keynote, "What I Know Now... That I Wish I Knew Then".  It was a great kickoff to the conference and provided a wealth of information on (1) the importance of mentoring, networking, and persevering, (2) tips on negotiating and time management, and (3) advice on dealing with the Impostor Syndrome.  (Watch the video)

During her talk, she pointed out that women's participation != women's interest.  She had some statistics showing that in 1970 the percentages of women in law school (5%), business school (4%), medical school (8%), and high school sports (4%) were very low.  Then she contrasted that with data from 2005: law school (48%), business school (45%), medical school (50%), and high school sports (42%).  The goal was to counter the frequent comment that "Oh, women aren't in computing and technology because they're just not interested."

She also listed qualities that might indicate that you have the impostor syndrome. From my discussions with friends and colleagues, it's very common among women in computing and technology.  (I've heard that there a few men who suffer from this, too!)  Here's the list:
  • Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you're not as bright/capable as they think you are?
  • Do you attribute your success to being a fluke or "no big deal"?
  • Do you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared, or not doing things perfectly?
  • Do you believe that others are smarter and more capable than you are?
Saturday morning began with my keynote, "Telling Stories with Web Archives".

I talked a bit about web archiving in general and then described Yasmin AlNoamany's PhD work on using the archives for storytelling.  The great part for me was to be able to introduce the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine to lots of people.  I got several comments from both students and faculty afterwards with ideas of how they would incorporate the Wayback Machine in their work and studies. (Watch the video)

After my talk, I attend a session on Education.  J.K. Sherrod and Zach Guzman from Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, TN presented "Using the Raspberry Pi in Education".  They had been teaching cluster computing using Mac Minis, but it was getting expensive, so they started purchasing Raspberry Pi devices (~$35) for their classes.  The results were impressive.  Since the devices run a full version of Linux, they even were able to implement a Beowulf Cluster.

I followed this up by attending a panel "Being a Woman in Technology: What Does it Mean to Us?"  The panelists and audience discussed both positive connotations and challenges to being a woman in technology.  This produced some amazing stories, including one student who related being told by a professor that she was no good at math and was "a rotten mango".
After lunch, several students presented 5 minute lightning talks on strategies for success in school and life.  It was great to see so many students excited to share their experiences and lessons learned.

The final keynote was given on Saturday night by Valentina Salapura, from IBM TJ Watson on "Cloud Computing 24/7".  After telling her story and things she learned along the way (and including a snapshot  from the Wayback Machine of her former academic webpage), she described the motivation and promise of cloud computing.

Sunday was the last day, and I attend a talk by Ruthe Farmer, Director of Strategic Initiatives, NCWIT on "Research and Opportunities for Women in Technology".  The National Center for Women & Information Technology was started in 2004 and is a non-profit that partners with corporations, academic institutions, and other agencies with the goal of increasing women's participation in technology and computing.  One of their slogans is "50:50 by 2020".  There's a wealth of information and resources available on the NCWIT website (including the NCWIT academic alliance and Aspirations in Computing program).

Ruthe described the stereotype threat that affects both women and men.  This is the phenomena where awareness of negative stereotypes associated with a peer group can inhibit performance.  She described a study where a group of white men from Stanford were given a math test.  Before the test, one set of students were reminded of the stereotype that Asian students outperform Caucasian students in math, and the other set was not reminded of this stereotype.  The stereotype threatened test takers performed worse than the control set.

Before we left on Sunday, I had the opportunity to sit in the red chair. Sit With Me is a promotion by NCWIT to recognize the role of women in computing.  "We sit to recognize the value of women's technical contributions.  We sit to embrace women's important perspectives and increase their participation."

All in all, it was a great weekend.  I drank lots of sweet tea, heard great southern accents that reminded me of home (Louisiana), and met amazing women from around the southeast, including students and faculty from Trinity University (San Antonio, TX), Austin Peay University, Georgia Tech, James Madison University (Virginia), Tennessee Tech, Pellissippi State Community College (Knoxville, TN), Murray State University (Kentucky), NC State, Rhodes College (Memphis, TN), Univ of Georgia, Univ of Tennessee, and the Girls Preparatory School (Chattanooga, TN).
There are plans for another SEWIC Conference in 2015.

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