Enrollment Booms and Gender Diversity: How do we Keep History from Repeating Itself?

The pipeline of underrepresented groups in STEM fields is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for UMBC and the support I had to push me to be the best I can be.  Without the Meyerhoff Scholars Program I would not have found any role models that looked like me.  So, I thought I knew this subject backwards and forwards.

Jennifer Sabourin, Eric Roberts, Jane Stout and Tiffany Barnes opened my eyes to another challenge in recruiting and keeping women and other underrepresented groups in Computer Science.  The bust and boom of the technology industry leads to environments where supply and demand get off balance.  If there are too many resources not enough jobs, such as the dotcom bust, the industry becomes elitist and misogynistic pushing women out.  Conversely, if there are not enough resources too many jobs, the marketing becomes "even you can work on computers" and starts inviting women.

Previously, I am aware that sometimes there are lots of jobs technology and sometimes it is harder to find jobs (I was part of a layoff back in 2002).  What completely caught me off guard is how universities have to manage their capacities as a result of this fluctuation in students seeking computer science degrees.  There are a finite number of people qualified to teach Computer Science.  When the number of students applying to Computer Science departments the capacity a University can handle hits a brick wall.  The next thing you know the programs get very competitive in order to get a spot.  Historically, caps are introduced to weed out the applicants to programs are biased against women AND minorities AND people from disadvantaged neighborhoods.  The caps may be based on test scores or  they stop allowing students to transfer in from other departments or the branding becomes elitist which leads to women thinking they are not qualified enough to apply to those programs.

My main takeaways from each of the panelists are:

Roberts: Think about diversity when designing how to handle capacity so that women will not be discouraged to apply.  Also, encourage women to go to graduate school so we have more educators to fulfill the capacity and to be role models.
Stout: Diverse leadership breeds diverse workforce. More women are needed in the leadership role.
Barnes: Everyone should be taught Computer Science and as technologist we should explain to people why you love your job and how it relates to the "real world"

Identity & Access Management – Insecure Thoughts

The idea of using brain waves as a biometric authentication is intriguing so even though I do not have a vast knowledge of the intricacies of security I thought I would check out this session and hopefully learn something cool.  I was not disappointed.  Amanda Danko also began the talk letting us all know that she is not a security professional so that made me feel less intimidated.  Danko introduced the topics of what biometrics are and gave a little science lesson on brain waves as well.  I don't often have a chance to see a diagram of a brain.  Did you know you can measure the signals produced by myelin sheaths without an invasive procedure? As soon as she started talking about devices worn on the head I was immediately distracted thinking of Are you the gatekeeper?.

So there are actual devices that you can wear (over your pre-frontal cortex) in public without people thinking you are insane.  Danko has researched how people's brainwaves respond to images and if that can uniquely identify an individual using various devices.  She always evaluated the data to see how feasible it is to use these patterns to authenticate and impersonate.  The results are very promising that brainwaves can be used in combination with other authentication methods for security.

Responsible Information Sharing Talk: Takeaway

I attended Elaine Sedenberg’s talk Responsible and Privacy-Preserving Cybersecurity Information Sharing Using Public Health as a Model.  This talk was part of the Security/Privacy Track at the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration.  Elaine is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley. At Jefferson I work with PHI and was interested to see how that experience might help … Continue reading "Responsible Information Sharing Talk: Takeaway"

GHC16: The Digital Future: Defusing the Hype of IoT and Wearables

Speakers: Kiva Allgood, Esther Lekeu, Melissa Kreuzer, Sunny Webb, Siji Tom

The first indication that this was going to be a great session was the long line of ladies queued up half an hour in advance, waiting to get entry to the conference room - and our expectations were more than fulfilled. On the panel were five women all working in the IoT field, with different backgrounds - Kiva Allgood from Qualcomm, Melissa Kreuzer from Proctor and Gamble, Esther Lekeu from Meta, and Siji Tom from Apple, with Sunny Web from Accenture acting as moderator.

Sunny kicked off the discussion by asking whether IoT is a real thing, or if its still a myth. The panelists seemed to agree that while IoT is indeed a real thing, for a lot of people, its still a myth. Esther pointed out that while countries like the US and China are at the forefront of technology, other countries like Australia, where she comes from, don't really have a high level of adoption yet. Melissa concurred - while there are a lot of interconnected devices available in the market, there's also a wide range of adoption - those in developing countries have little or no access to a lot of the technology.

The panelists then went on to try and define IoT. Siji gave a base definition -  its essentially an internetwork of smart devices or devices that have sensors. Each of these devices can collect data that can essentially be used to make decisions that influence other devices. Kiva gave an example of how they used wireless sensors in an area in a developing country that had only 2 hours of drinking water supply, to collect data that allowed the supply to be increased to 6 hours. Melissa said that their company views IoT as a technology platform to utilize.

Sunny's next question was to ask each of the panelists to name her favorite smart device. Siji, who works on the Apple Watch team, had an obvious answer - the Apple Watch! :-) She loves being able to turn the lights off at home remotely, or to reply to messages from her watch. Esther thinks of her smartphone as an extension of her arm, particularly because it helps her stay connected with family and friends back in Australia. Kiva uses her smartphone to track her kids' location, and completely relies on it for connectivity with her family.

The next topic of debate was what the largest open challenge in IoT is. Siji felt that the biggest challenge her team faces right now is getting consumers to adopt the technology. Also, data privacy and security are major concerns for users - and this is something that there isn't a lot of regulation in yet. Kiva's point of view was that interoperability is a major concern for players in the IoT field, particularly given the large number of devices that are hitting the market. Business models need changing as well. Melissa pointed out that data is a commodity that's being monetized right now, but no company is as yet willing to share the information that they have. This is something that needs to happen in a transparent manner. Esther agreed, and also felt that companies need to adjust to the large number of open-source software packages being released. Siji mentioned that a tenet that her team at Apple holds strongly to is that data that's collected essentially belongs to the user.

The last question was what advice the panelists have for aspiring IoT engineers. Kiva believes that its important to come up with a good problem statement and to solve it diligently. She also thinks that one should be willing to take on new challenges. Esther suggested finding a mentor and trying to get visibility. She said that this was something she had to overcome, as for a long time, she was the only woman on her team, and found it hard to speak up. Melissa gave a great analogy - opposition is like antibodies; you know you;re leading change when people start pushing back. She likes to get "killer issues" (ie, critical assumptions) out early.

There was also some time set aside for questions from the audience, and there were several amazing ones. One audience member asked if there was a downside to IoT. Kiva and Melissa agreed that as parents, they are often worried about the social impact that constant use of devices has on their children. Esther mentioned that her group at Meta, which works on augmented reality, spends a lot of time with neurosurgeons, etc, to make sure that their product has no side effects like eye strain. Siji mentioned that there are some regulations in place to cover health aspects. Another question was on whether there are any industry standards around data privacy yet. While the panelists weren't aware of much going on in that area as yet, Siji mentioned that Apple recently put in place a policy called "differential policy" - data is anonymized, but still contains enough data to be useful.
All in all, this was a great session, with insights into a field that is still considered "emerging tech".

(This post was syndicated from http://kodbalekaapi.blogspot.com/)

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