I’m geeky?

(This originally appeared on the cj engineering blog on February 9, 2016)

She’s Geeky 2016 “Unconference” was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on Saturday, January 30. I don’t typically label myself a geek, but I seized the opportunity to attend, and seized #1daughter to accompany me, on the “bring-your-daughter” companion ticket. Why, if I am not a self-described geek, did I wish to attend? Well…

  • mainly – for interaction and conversation with other women who work in technology
  • possibly – for connections that might steer more female candidates toward our hiring efforts
  • hopefully – to get inspiration for #1daughter…
  • and – bonus – it was the last chance to see the Babbage Difference Engine before it was relocated out of the museum!

Saturday, which was in fact the second day of the event, saw 200+ attendees forfeit their weekend morning lie-in in favor of this geeky gathering. Introductions and opening ceremonies completed, we swarmed at the agenda board with our suggested topics and, as happens in the OpenSpace method, a motley collection of hand-written pages metamorphosed into a coherent and colorful agenda for the day.

A sampling of the session topics: follow your passion, HTML5 and css, the classroom of the future, IoT recipes, diversity gaps, mentoring 360, hacker events, arduino starter kits, and much more. There are too many to delve into, but a few are worth calling out here. For more details, check out the blog at shesgeeky.org.

Impostor Syndrome: an engaging discussion. It made me realize that women working in tech commonly encounter discrimination, disparagement of their efforts and abilities, and unfairness. While it was disheartening to hear this first-hand from some who had experienced it, I felt grateful and a bit proud that this is not something I encounter here at CJ.

How to access a computer when you cannot use your hands: My feeble writing will not do justice to the courage and fortitude of this speaker. A software engineer who suffers from ALS spoke to us by means of the tablet, camera and software wired and configured into her wheelchair. She told us how these technologies enabled her to deal with, first, the loss of her dominant hand; soon, the loss of both hands, and, inevitably, the frightening loss of her own voice. Dasher, a zooming predictive text entry system, with a camera and eye-tracking software, is used for formulating speech. Invented some years ago at Cambridge University, England, development on Dasher stopped about 5 years ago. Frustrated with some of its shortcomings, this engineer cloned the git repo to work on her own enhancements. She and her team are poised to launch the first new release in years. Interestingly, Dasher is hopeless for writing code – an on-screen keyboard is better suited.

She too brought her daughter. It was one of the more profound sessions of the event.

Arduinos for all: A practical and useful hands on demo of arduino. I learned that arduinos are both cheaper and simpler than I had supposed. I will definitely invest in a kit in the near future. The next pedagogical experiment to try on my kids, perhaps?

Oh – and speaking of pedagogical experiments – how did #1daughter get on? Well, it seems the women in tech community did not terrify her after all. In fact she had this to say:

“Instead of a group of very intelligent people talking about very intelligent things in a very intelligent way, I got to meet a group of very intelligent people who were open, kind, and interesting.”

I’ll take it. It’s not every day a teenager will use those four adjectives to describe people like her mother.

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