Wednesday Sep 30, 2009

GHC09: Jo Miller's Person of Influence: Another Perspective

I'm so glad I got here early! The tables filled up well before the 2:15 start time, a common theme at this year's sold out Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing! While I'm not the official blogger for this session, I want to take notes - so I figure I can type them into my blog edit window instead of a terminal window and share them with the world.

Jo Miller let us know from the top that unlike other presenters she's met, she's quite happy with people blogging and tweeting during her talk. Right on :)

Miller starts off strong: if you want to be a leader, you have to be a leader! Nobody will ever tap you on the shoulder and tell you they think you should be one - you have to take charge yourself.

She notes that power & influence can be used for evil manipulation, but it's obviously not her goal to send us out of here as her evil minions :)

Miller notes that if you want to become a person of influence, you need to make the impression from the get go that you are someone that has something to say and should be listened to. As an example, she says that at meetings you should arrive early, be prepared with talking points and sit near the main group. Your behaviour teaches people how to treat you.

We broke off into groups to discuss people we know who are influential and try to figure out why. Only one person at our table came up with a fully positive person of influence. The rest we came up with had negative aspects of their personality, but we knew they could get their way when they really wanted it.  This is distressing. I like to think of myself as a growing person of influence, but I don't want to be disliked for it.

Elements of Influence:

  • Positional Influence
    • This is the influence you get out of the gate simply by your job title and role in an organization.  What this tells me is that no matter what other people say, title really does matter, though Miller says title is not enough alone, you need a 30-second "commercial" for yourself:
      • Name, Job Title, "I am responsible for...a, b, c" and "Come directly to me when you need... x, y, z"
  • Expertise Influence
    • The influence that comes from you background, qualifications, experience and expertise.
    • Make sure you don't downplay yourself, don't defer questions to someone else not in the room if it's something you yourself can figure out, promote your accomplishments and set up presentations yourself to promote your expertise.
    • Miller quotes a Newsweek article that women underestimate their own intelligence and experience while men overestimate theirs, which may help explain the promotion disparity.
  • Resources Influence:
    • Having access to the resources you need to do your job well, knowing how to best use the ones you have and demonstrate that you can do so responsibly.
  • Informational Influence:
    • You've got to try to stay "on the pulse" of the business, both personnel and organizational issues, but you have to be able to filter out the noise and the gossip.  Doing this will help you make better business decisions and be able to change directions sooner when necessary.
  • Direct Influence:
    • You've got to be firm, professional and direct when you've encountered behaviour is detrimental to the team or organization.
    • BUT: this can't be how you run your team or organization or you will just have people that are afraid of you, don't like you, don't respect you and are demotivated.  Miller recommends doing this for only the 1% of the cases, doing it in private, being direct, giving specific examples and giving the individual a positive vision for how things will change for them if they change their behaviour.
  • Relationship Innfluence
    • Knowing who the key people are in your organization, profession and industry and building a network of them.

Jo Miller put the entire presentation on-line!

Grace Hopper: PhD Forum 4

Sitting in my second packed room of the Grace Hopper conference! Considering we're still before "official" launch time, I can't believe how many women are here and how packed every session is!  Here in my first session in the PhD series, I'm excited to see three PhD students present their research.

An n-gram Based Approach to the Classification of Web Pages by Genre: Jane E Mason, Dalhousie University:

Mason is looking for a novel approach to doing classification of web sites by actual genre - not just keywords. For example, searching for a health condition and only showing you information pages instead of pages by drug manufacturers attempting to sell you something.

Mason chose to use n-grams, because they are relatively insensitive to spelling errors, are language independent, and relatively easy to program.  She combines these and then processes them with the Keselj Distance Function, which is apparently "simple", but it has been awhile since I've been in Differential Equations :-)

Mason and her team have been looking at how to let some web pages have multiple genres, which means that some pages end up with no genre - noise! While it's easy for a human to identify a nonsense/useless web page, I think it's pretty cool to get a computer to do this for you, so you won't even see it in the search results!

Ant Colony Optimization: Theory, Algorithms and Applications: Sameena Shah, Institute of Technology Delhi:

I've never heard of this type of optimization, so this was very interesting for me. Shah chose to study this area of optimization because ants don't have centralized coordination and they  make great decisions based only on local information. She sees this as a great method to apply to distributed computing.  Now, how do we get computers to leave pheromones on the path of least resistance?

Other than the lack of pheromones, another problem she had to solve is that ants don't always find the shortest path - if enough ants have taken a longer path before the short path is discovered, all of the ants in the colony will use the longer path and ignore the short path. Obviously, she doesn't want that short coming in her algorithm :-)

Shah does have a slide in her presentation which shows the statistical "solution", but it's a much more complicated formula than I ever saw in my intro to statistics course at Purdue. :)

Using Layout Information to Enhance Security on the Web: Terri Oda, Carlton Univeristy:

Ms Oda is a woman after my own heart, starting her presentation with a xkcd comic :-)

She starts her talk out talking about different types of security, like secure networks between companies. Oda tells us about how the threat models are no longer obvious: those seemingly innocuous applications in facebook that have access to your private chats on the site and private emails, websites that don't properly protect passwords, and malicious users on the same forums. Her talk moved onto the types of threats she's actually trying to protect you against: cross-site scripting and previously good sites that have gone bad.

She makes an excellent point that most (all?) web pages are done by web designers (aka artists), NOT web security experts and with all their deadlines and basic functionality bugs, there is no time to even think about security. Is it any wonder we have so many attacks and vulnerabilities out there?

but how can we solve this? Schedules will never have enough padding and most people designing web sites did not receive a BS degree from Purdue (where we were told over & over again that security must be designed in from the beginning, not as an add-on)

She's looking at using heuristics to correctly identify different elements on a page so that it's visually evident which components on the page are from the site you're visiting or being served from an external site (like an ad).  I can't wait to see how her research turns out, and how much she can protect the user with a simple browser add-on!

Friday Aug 07, 2009

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing just around the corner!

Wow, I can't believe we're less than two months away from hundreds (thousands?) of technical women converging in Tuscon AZ for the next Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference!

I'm excited to be moderating a panel on Women in Open Source and being an official blogger again this year. I've been looking at the schedule and it is full of interesting talks! This is one conference I really have to set my schedule up for in advance, because once I get there, it's a flurry of activity and I really don't want to miss out on anything! This will also be my first year twittering at the conference (as an aside, I can't believe it took me so long to get on Twitter - I'm learning so much, meeting interesting people, and it takes so much less time than Facebook or LinkedIn).

I'll be arriving Tuesday night to make sure I don't miss out on any of the activities on Wednesday. I wish I could take part in the resume clinic on Wednesday, but that seems to completely overlap with the Becoming a Person of Influence workshop, which I don't want to miss.

Speaking of resumes, I hear there's a "new format" for them - it's probably time I did a complete update of mine. I hear plain text versions no longer suffice.  Hrm, perhaps even if I can't attend the clinic, I should still have one ready for women to give me feedback on them.

What are you looking forward to most?

Friday Oct 03, 2008

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


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


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