Talk UX

Laser Cutting = Magic

Wellesley Magnets

This semester involved a lot of building and coding in the name of physical prototyping (like that time I built a game box!) The opportunity to work with my hands was a welcome departure from my usual hours in front of a monitor situation.

You know how they say that as soon as you get a tattoo (or eat a cookie) you can’t help but think about your next one. It’s an immediately addictive experience that opens a world of possibilities. Laser cutting in the same exact way. Once I learned to laser cut, I wondered what else could I make (answer: everything) and that would look cool (answer: everything).

I made a set of four Wellesley-inspired magnets based on the saying: “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss.” This language is problematically gendered and condescending, not truly expressing the full potential of what it would mean to look, act, think, and work like an amazing being. In my experience, when I think about what it means to be the best, I think about Wellesley…so I modified the quote.

Wellesley Magnets

SO MUCH FUN!

P.S. I’ll let you know if I make more. I’ve been approached about selling a small batch and would use the money to fund my research next semester. You know how much I love a good side project…

P.S.S. Before I laser cut another batch of magnets, I would definitely fix the typo. Oops!

#OurTimeToLead – Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Be Bold - Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Last month I flew to Houston, TX to attend my first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I was accepted as a Grace Hopper Scholar, finding my travel, food, and lodging, and affording me an opportunity I may not have experienced otherwise. So, before we get too far into this recap, I would like to formally thank the scholar review committee and Qualcomm, my corporate sponsor, for their work and generosity.

This year represented the largest conference (12,000+ attendees) with the largest, most competitive scholar applicant pool (2,000+ applicants with a 21% acceptance rate). Then again, if you’re going to hold a conference in Texas, where everything is bigger, you’ve got to follow suit.

The numbers of GHC attendees has steadily increased over the years, then there was Satya Nadella’s blunder last year, but while GHC has grown substantially in the last few years, it is by no means new.

The first GHC brought 500 technical women to Washington DC in 1994. The Wellesley Computer Science department sent, and continues to send, students to GHC every year. I can only imagine that other colleges and organizations are encouraging their women in computing to attend the conference.

Grace Hopper Celebration felt like home. My Wellesley home, that is. Being in a room filled with brilliant, passionate women is a very comfortable space for me and I wish it wasn’t such an anomaly. I intentionally carried my Wellesley tote bag to attract the attention of other people connected to Wellesley.

Wellesley at GHC
Wellesley at GHC

(Eventually, I found my tribe.)

Yet, I was surprised at how many women I met at the conference that had only heard about GHC months prior to attending. I was happy to see them at the conference, but couldn’t help but wonder how many women should’ve been there that weren’t. Who didn’t know about Grace Hopper and was potentially missing a professional-life changing opportunity?

Lately, I’ve been feeling that I owe it to other Black girls and young women to show them what a coder looks like; that a coder looks like them.

Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that having resources and support groups is enough, but we can’t forget that impact is directly correlated to access. Women can’t benefit from GHC if they don’t know about it.

More than anything, the conference was validating and proved that the work I’m passionate about is worth it and of value. I’m passionate about creating avenues for women and underrepresented minorities in the tech space; a charge that Grace Hopper is obviously in support of.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that I owe it to other Black girls and young women to show them what a coder looks like; that a coder looks like them. Once I left Wellesley with a CS degree, I fell in love with product and decided I wanted to be more on the product / business side. That’s fine and all, but I do love coding. This semester, I’ve been tinkering with circuits, and playing around with code – falling in love all over again. I’ve hesitated to expand my technical skills for fear of pigeonholing myself. If I learn more front-end development techniques, I’ll only be asked to do front end developer jobs. If I tinker with physical prototyping, I’ll only be asked to do physical prototyping jobs.

This may be true, but since when has expanding a skillset been a bad thing? Never. So, let’s do this.

#Wellesley2010

Wellesley 2010 5-year Reunion

Day 30 to 32 of #100inPDX

A tent in the middle of the Academic Quad. In a past life, I trekked through the grounds headed for hundred-year-old buildings to sit in classes that would stretch my mind. I saw the quad covered in crisp orange leaves, fresh feet of snow, spring flowers, and summer grass. Once upon a time, I sat in that very quad with a black robe and purple accents, celebrating an accomplishment four years in the making, with 600 other women who will. Now, I stood in a tent in the middle of the Academic Quad with dozens of Wellesley alumnae dancing to guilty pleasure music and running into familiar faces.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun played. Cyndi Lauper whispered the lyrics over a belting tent-choir. This was a space of love, acceptance, sweat, and bad singing; where being yourself was encouraged. We were who we were and during Girls Just Want to Have Fun was no time to apologize for our shortcomings. I turned and ran into another 2010er, we hugged. A genuine hug that said ‘It’s SO good to see you! How ARE you?’ The hug could’ve been superficial and I wouldn’t have been upset; that’s what reunions were supposed to be, right? Fake interest in people you haven’t thought about in years. That’s not what this was though and when I realized, I lost it. I cried.

At that moment, in a tent in the middle of the Academic Quad, surrounded by my Wellesley sisters, I realized that moments like these were far too rare in the world. Earlier that day, I sat in the Zeta Alpha society house, an old stomping ground, and navigated a conversation about the importance of meaningful friendships, the politics of gender, and campus updates in the last five years. The ZA house wasn’t mine (insert purple + gold hearts for TZE!) in college, just like Wellesley is no longer mine now.

But this conversation – the ability to dive deep into gender politics and come up for air to laugh about old memories – was all mine. I feel “so Wellesley” when I debate the nuances of my passion-topics and feel my brain stretching. I feel “so Wellesley” when I am less concerned with the way I will be perceived and more concerned with asserting my opinions. In all honesty, I feel “so Wellesley” all the time because it extends far beyond a geographic location or place in time. That is the Wellesley I love.

I’ve always felt at home at Wellesley, seeing myself reflected in the space. There’s something about returning to a place so frequently associated with unimaginable amounts of stress, competition, and type-A-ness, because it frames the way people share their stories. We graduated five years ago and by now certainly expected to be financially secure business leaders, but in reality, we’re in our mid-20s, struggling to claim our destiny, true desires, and fullest potential – life is a rollercoaster ride right now. I want everyone to know that there is a place for their narrative at Wellesley. There is a space for “I quit my toxic job and am working on what’s next”, “I’m behind on my PhD journey” and “I’m just living life”. I carefully asked “Where are you living right now?” Mostly because everyone is scattered, but also because that’s a question not loaded with implications.

Anxiously anticipating things you’re not ready for: the mid-to-late 20s plight. There’s something beautiful about hearing your classmates’ accomplishments, journeys, and realizations and listening to their journey. To fully understand their journey without comparison, judgment, or speculation. My classmates are pursuing or finishing advanced degrees, law school, business school, and med school. They’re single, dating, engaged, and married. They live a dream life abroad, a rent-free life at home, or a grownup mortgage life in a quiet picket-fence neighborhood. I don’t see my path reflected in every story, but I see similarities in the foundation. We are all driven, brilliant, considerate women that carefully consider our place in and impact on the world. We also love impromptu dance parties. That’s all the comparisons I want to do, because that’s all there is to do.

Returning five years later is Twilight Zone meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I spent the better part of the weekend grasping for the words to describe the way I felt and feel about Wellesley College. I may not have all of those words now, but I do know that Wellesley changed the trajectory of my life and made me a woman of which I am proud. #Wellesley2010

.let karma handle the finances

This piece is cross-posted in Wellesley Underground.

I listened to a student presentation today about how important it is to encourage women to pursue computer science. I listened with an open mind and suppressed the urge to correct “all girls school” (it’s definitely “all women’s college” – who doesn’t know that?!) and “women don’t…” (women are not a solitary entity) in favor of internalizing their message. The presenters talked about the stereotypical relationship women have with tech and computer science the way one would a fear of dogs. “If we can show them that it’s not scary and that it can be fun, women will love computer science. They’ll be cuddling and playing fetch in no time!”

There is a fundamental flaw in this ideology. This ideology isn’t about developing environments for women to pursue fields that interest them, uninterrupted. This ideology is about encouraging women to subscribe to society’s ideals about what it means to be a woman – oh yea, and pursue tech. If women see that tech can be easy and fun (things society assumes women are capable of) they will be comfortable pursuing technology.

Tech can be easy. Women can do easy. Therefore women can do tech.

I often ponder the factors that contribute to tech being a male-dominated field. I recognize that my upbringing (predominantly Black upper middle-class suburb), subject interests (always computer science), and formal education (Wellesley College) skew my perception. I’m even in a co-ed, tech-related masters program that is predominantly women. So, when we talk about the underrepresentation of women in tech I think, “but there are SO many brilliant women in tech around me“. I have to remind myself that this is not the norm. That there are entire business, academic departments, and development teams that can count their women developers with one hand in their pocket.

So I ponder. Today I had a revelation.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Satya Nadella’s complete screw up, in telling women not to ask for raises, but to let karma bring it to them. He attended the prestigious (and well attended) Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, sat on a stage in front of several women, and advised them to let karma handle the finances. In a world of women being told to Lean In, Nadella suggests we leave altogether.

As I thought about my colleagues in the audience listening to a successful man encourage them to not be pushy or aggressive, to wait it out and let things come to them it hit me: society refuses to recognize that women can do hard things. Of course women can navigate salary negotiations, pursue STEM career paths, and climb the professional ladder. (Also, do not soften the things women can do by throwing in “and have dinner on the table by 6!” Who doesn’t know that?!) The gender divide is not the professional equivalent of cynophobia, and cannot be solved with soft strokes behind the ears or puppy licks.

People are working to create environments in which women can pursue tech. Successful allies in the field (let’s just say men) support and extend the message because diversity is good. We are effectively asking women to subscribe to a system that has systematically put them at a disadvantage, and promise that tech will be different. Women in tech are brilliant, powerful unicorns until someone tells them to let karma handle the finances.

Every time a woman is discouraged away from tech, I imagine some patriarchal figure cooing “Don’t you worry your pretty little head off about that.” Nadella is basically saying that being a nice gal will get you ahead. But wait, didn’t we learn that nice finishes last? That hard work, determination, and pursuing the rewards you rightfully deserve are respected and encouraged in the professional world. The Boys have different rules and even in their advice to women, women still get 77 cents to the dollar.

A statement was released. Nadella took it back. But does that change anything? Not really.

While it’s disappointing that we’re still having elementary discussions about gender equality, its important that we continue to show up. That we encourage women (in and out of tech) to understand the issues, care about the impact, and show up.Create forums for successful women to advocate for collective interests and offer informed advice to other women. Push girls to pursue the things that interest them, to become women that show up for the things that interest them.

And anyone will tell you: when you show up, you better show out.