Friday Oct 03, 2008

GHC08: Final Night

What a fantastic conference this has been. Unlike many other conferences I've attended, I seem to have no downtime. I'm constantly networking, attending sessions, blogging... and this year, fighting an uncooperative dying laptop. The energy here is fantastic, the balance of technical talks with "soft skills" is perfect. I only wish we all had more time together, that the sessions were longer, and the breaks were longer (for more networking). Of course, that would only be possible if the conference itself were longer... but a woman can dream, can't she?

I staffed the Sun booth yesterday morning, fielding all sorts of questions on OpenSolaris, Solaris Security, types of jobs we do at Sun, opportunities for students and just general questions about what Sun does. I enjoy what I do here, so getting an opportunity to talk about it was a true pleasure. If I missed any of you at the booth, please send me an email or drop me a comment here.

While here, I got to meet so many students, I think I even met all of the students and faculty from Purdue as well. I really enjoy hearing about the new research and areas of focus.  The conference is only 50% students, though, so I also met so many inspiring career women.

Tonight Sun hosted a small private reception for the Sun employees and some outstanding women we all met throughout the conference. It was great to talk more in depth with these women, but again it seemed we just did not have enough time as we all rushed off for dinner provided by Google and Microsoft. Yum!

In addition to healthy, delicious food and cute t-shirts (Microsoft's t-shirts being made from bamboo and organic cotton - yay, Microsoft!) we again had DANCING! Imagine hundreds of women (and about 5 men) line dancing. Truly a site to behold. Unfortunately, I didn't bring the cable for my camera, but hopefully photos will be uploaded soon. It was quite a site to see!

Now I'm tired and need to start sorting through my stuff to see what I can fit in my suitcase. All the giveaways in the bag this year were really good, and anything folks didn't want someone has been collecting to give to charity.

Until next year :-)

Valerie Fenwick

GHC08: Keynote: Mary Lou Jepsen: unofficial blog

Sleeping has been difficult here, I think it's the altitude (and staying up too late trying to get this laptop to cooperate....), but I was very glad I drug myself out of bed this morning to make the Keynote.

I wasn't the official blogger for this session, but got so much out of it I wanted to add more to Kate's entry.  Ms. Jepsen was such an inspiring speaker - describing how she started a completely different adventure (it's hard to describe One Laptop Per Child as just a career) based on her strong desire to make a difference.  She leveraged her expertise in optics to come up with an amazing new monitor for the OLPCs - one that uses low power, is normally just black & white (with a higher power consumption mode that uses a backlight and color as an option), and has the CPU behind it (so your lap doesn't get hot!).

I just love seeing when someone just follows their dream and finds success. It's inspiration for all of us!

GHC08: Unofficial blog: The Imposter Panel

I'm sitting in the Imposter Panel, though not an official blogger for this particular session, I am just overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in here. It's great to know thta I'm clearly not the only one that often feels like an imposter in various technical situations. These women on the panel, in addition to all being very funny, are all very insightful.  They are all so very accomplished, yet they al feel like (or have felt like) imposters at one time or another.

Dr. Williams made a great comment: "I am the creator of my own experience."

Essentially, nobody ever told her she was an imposter, she was telling herself she was. So, she decided to stop telling herself that, and her confidence gets better & better every day.

The entire panel was wonderful - I just wish there were more hours in the day to attend sessions at Grace Hopper. They all seem to end too soon.

My computer woes have gotten worse and worse - now my networking driver is failing to attach, the wired connection is working, so I assume this is an additional hardware issue. Oh, and the CPU is throwing errors now, too. So, that brand new laptop has become a very expensive, slow to boot, word processor (does "vi" count as word processing  software?).  One of the fanstastic Sun recruiters lent me her laptop, and I ran off to the imposter session, desperate to upload my last blog from my thumb drive.  Alas, this session was so crowded, I couldn't obtain an IP address! But, small wonders keep happening at this converence - a wonderful woman sitting next to me offered me her laptop, where I'm blogging from right now.

Valerie Fenwick

GHC08: Women in the Brave New World of Open Source

This was my first time speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and it was so exciting! I had just met most of the other panelists yesterday (didn't meet Stormy Peters until lunch today), and found it was so cool to find all the things we had in common and just as interestingly, all the differences we had in experiences, opinions and careers. The panel went really well - the more we talked, the more ideas we all had that we wanted to share. It was great sharing my eperiences with working on OpenSolaris with others, particularly the students. I hope between the OpenSolaris bite-sized bugs, the Linux "janitorial" work and the Google Summer of Code that we will gain many new women in the world of open source after this conference.  I wish we'd had more time, and do hope to hear more from the students that were there as well as the other women in industry. Together we can learn and discover more in the world of computing. More later...

Valerie Fenwick

GHC08: Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Technical Women

Caroline Simard (Anita Borg Institute of Technology) and Andrea Henderson (CalState Northridge) presented a new study done by ABI and the Clayman Institute at Stanford University on men and women in the high tech industry in the Silicon Valley at 7 hight tech companies.

Ms. Simard started off the presentation with the broad statement that diversity is good for business and social tasks, which has been backed up by research study after research study.  And while it has been shown that women control 80% of the consumer spending, men are still designing 90% of technical products.  More frighteningly, women only make up 13% of the board of directors of Fortune 500 companies and less than 5% of the executives.

The research study they did found that men are more likely to be in a senior postion than women (24% vs 10%), even though men and women surveyed had nearly the same distribution of higher level degrees.

Ms. Henderson then continued the talk to let us know that women are more likely to make decisions like delaying having children (30% of women vs 18% of men) in order to advance their careers, or forgo having children all together (9% of women vs 3.5% of men).  Another odd statistic out of this study was that the majority of women in high tech careers also have a partner in high tech (68.5%).

The presentation then went on to perceptions of success, covering what men and women considered to be the top attributes of success and then self assessment of how many of those attributes they think they have. One big noted attribute is that women believe you must work long hours in order to be successful (a belief that the men in the survey did not agree with), but don't believe they can meet those needs. Such self discrepencies can actually be a big barrier to success all on its own.

Women in high tech companies really want to see more investment by the company in corporate development on the job (as opposed to relying on the employee to do it in their "spare time"), make mentoring a part of the corporate culture and fix the wage gap.  Ms. Simard notes that it is just not true that women don't care about financial rewards and being paid fairly for their work. Their survey showed that women care just as much about health benefits, financial rewards and salary as their male counterparts.

The survey showed that some of the most important things to high tech women was for the company to invest in professional development on the job, mentoring to be a part of the corporate culture and to see the wage gap corrected.

Discussion came around one of my favorite books, Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Apparently the authors did a follow up study and discovered that women who negotiated were more likely to be seen in a negative light by both men and women. Ms. Henderson & Ms. Simard noted that there was a lot of research finding that gender bias is very ingraned in both men and women, so as women we actually need to work at this ourselves and make sure we are aware when we are making such judgements.  Ms. Simard noted that women who are most successful are able to "tune" their assertiveness depending on the situation and whom they are talking to.

Valerie Fenwick

GHC08: Experiences with OLPC Technology in Ghana, West Africa

Suzanne Buchele, from Southwestern University, spoke to us about her experience in Ghana, West Africa with the One Laptop Per Child program.

She started with the background of the pros  for having OLPC in countries where many children don't have electricity or even anything better than a dirt floor in their house.  One of the big pros for this program is to help provide education for young girls, as families can't often afford to educate all of their children - so they tend to only educate boy children.  She also believes this helps bridge the digital divide for incredibly impoverished children.

Ms Buchele then asks, is it really the best use of money for these incredibly poor people, when the laptops, while cheap compared to standard laptops, are far from free - especially when you consider what it takes to deploy them and secure them.  She seems to think that it is, because it's just not possible to train the teachers appropriately in a country where the median age is 25 - and not all of the existing teachers even want to go into those very rural areas. These laptops help to put education directly in the hands of the students, giving them a unique perspective of ownership and pride of taking care of the laptop themselves.

She talked extensively about the current educational realities in Ghana. For example, that students there learn by rote, which means they may know that 9 by 9 is 81, but would have no idea what that means. Same as they may know how to copy a sentence, but they won't be able to tell you what the words mean.  Also, the teachers are grossly under educated or just not available, or there are just not enough classrooms or no classrooms at all.

So, there seem to be real benefits to providing these laptops directly to the children at no cost to their family, which gives the children more direct learning opportunities on their own timeline.

Valerie Fenwick

Thursday Oct 02, 2008

GHC08: Awards ceremony and DANCING!

There was no awards banquet this year, as the Grace Hopper conference took a more casual approach to the awards reception. Dinner was served buffet style in advance, which nice as we all got a chance to actually pay attention as awards were given out, instead of attempting to balance between eating & listening to the presenters. I really enjoyed the switch!

I have never seen an awards ceremony with so many heart fealt hugs and ear to ear grins. The wonderful stories told about Grace Hopper and Anita Borg were fascinating to listen to.  It was cool to see a fellow Gaslighter Alum, Elisa Camahort Page, and her colleagues win the Anita Borg Social Impact Award for their work with BlogHer.  I especially liked the acceptance speech from Elaine Weyuker for the Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award.

I was lucky enough to be entertained again by David Garibaldi, who dazzled us as he did 6 foot portraits of both Grace Hopper and Anita Borg in less than 10 minutes each (perfectly coordinated to music).  I saw him last time at the Professinal Business Women of California conference in April.

The evening then turned to dessert and dancing - what a fantastic combination! Though, I will admit, dancing is challenging at altitude! :-)

Valerie Fenwick

GHC08: Getting it Together: Empowering People through Information (Integration)

Laura Haas, from IBM, talked about how we have lots of information - but the problem is it is in lots of places.  There is a big challenge of integrating data so the right data is available to the correct people at the right time - and most importantly in a format they can understand.

This research has been going on for decades, but advances in technology are making easier to find the right information that needs to be collated together. 

She went on to describe how to use search, as well as "was this what you were looking for" type queries to better aggregate the data, and noted the problems with dirty data sets.

There are still a lot of problems to tackle - it still needs human input, and too much expertise to run.

Ms. Haas is very passionate about this subject and has a list as long as her arm of followon work. Definitely seems like there are a lot of opportunities in this area!

Valerie Fenwick

Laptop died!!!!!!

OH NOOOOOO! My harddrive in my brand new laptop just died... disk read error. Awesome. This entry is coming from the cyber cafe - I'll have to see if I can find a laptop to borrow for the other sessions I'm blogging, but I won't be logging into work anymore!

GH08: Future Mobile Technology Empowering Users: Understands, Guides, Decides

This session from Mary Smiley, from Intel's Emerging Technology group, was presenting on new micro technologies that enable all of us to "live large".

Some of the technology she covered were sensors, like the one in the iPhone or iPod Touch that can tell when you tip or shake the device. Some more advanced sensors that seem to be in the pipeline would be able to judge your mood from your body temperature, recognize your voice to determine more quickly if your phone might be stolen, and just check how healthy you are.

Some of their research leverage the Polar heart rate monitor straps and the mobile devices that measure activity to get an overall picture of their health. Clearly their are privacy implications for this, where you would not necessarily want to share all of this information with just anyone, and apparently those are being addressed.

Valerie Fenwick 

GHC08: Fighting Crime using Gunshot Location Systems

This is a very interesting talk on the ShotSpotter technology by Elecia White and Sarah Newman. This technology has been installed in several major cities, helping to solve crimes when the shooter can be pinpointed quickly.  In one example, a sniper shot someone from a roof, and actually stayed on the roof, relaxing and smoking a cigarette - thinking he was out of the expected shooting area.  But, the ShotSpotter technology had pinpointed him and the police were able to make an arrest.

Of course, this technology needs to attempt to differentiate between firecrackers, hammers, backfiring cars and gunshots. The technology takes a first pass at guessing what it was hearing (and gives a level of confidence), but then asks the police dispatcher to make a judgment call on whether police action is required or not.

They find this gets faster and better reporting than actually relying on people calling 911 (as there is a longer delay before they call and only about 50% of gun crimes are called in).  The system isn't perfect, but seems that it can definitely help!

Valerie Fenwick

Wednesday Oct 01, 2008

A great start!

What an adventure getting here to the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference, with busy shuttles and lots of hustling around.  I'm glad I'm here and have been able to reconnect with women I met last year at the conference, mostly from Sun and from Purdue.

The  poster session was outstanding, as usual, though they seemed closer together or something, so it was sometimes difficult to move down the aisle.  I saw a lot of interesting research on learning techniques and new ways to get students inspired to explore computer science as a career.  I was happy to see a few posters from Purdue's CERIAS lab as well.

Travel is exhausting, though, so I'm off to bed now! Busy day ahead tomorrow!

Valerie Fenwick 

Sunday Sep 28, 2008

a few more days....

Wow, it's just a few more days until this years Grace Hopper Women in Computing conference in Denver, CO! I am so excited!  Now just have to get my schedule straight for the week!

Friday Aug 29, 2008

With Great Anticipation!

I am on the edge of my seat with excitement about this year's Grace Hopper conference.  The first time I went was in 1997 in San Jose. I was a recent graduate from Purdue University and enjoying my plunge into the  tech market place. I'd always been involved in college with groups like Women in Computer Science and Women in the School of Science, but wasn't sure where to find the support that I was used to in the "real world".  My mentor from Purdue, Barbara Clark, recommended I go to the 1997 conference - and wow, it was an eye opener!  For reasons I cannot begin to even fathom, I somehow managed to miss all the next Grace Hopper conferences until last year's in Orlando FL. I have been missing out! I love the camaraderie, getting updates on fascinating technical topics, and learning about new job skills and job markets.  This year I'll be a panelist on women in Open Source, as well as blogging.  I'm a staff engineer at Sun Microsystems, currently still heavily involved with computer security and in particular the Solaris Cryptographic Framework project.  You'll see me a lot on the mailing aliases, and often making updates to the documentation for external (and internal) contributors.

(a copy of this blog appeared on  the official Grace Hopper blog)

Valerie Fenwick


Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at


« July 2016