Public speaking at GHC16

Book cover (pic from amazon)

Karen Catlin and Poornima Vijayashanker are two amazing women empowering technical women to improve their public speaking skills and help them take their rightful place at the table. Both of them started off as software engineers and later got into consulting in public speaking and other topics. They've co-authored a book on the topic - Present! A Techie's Guide to Public Speaking. I got the amazing opportunity to attend a workshop where they shared some tips from their book.

Karen Catlin

The workshop was presented in a 'I show then You do' fashion where the presenters talked us through the steps to achieve, walked us through a real-life example and then made go through the exercise ourselves. 
Poornima Vijayshanker

They walked us through the steps of identifying what we can speak afer inventorying our achievements over the past year, whetting interest in the topic with others at the table and coming up with a suitable story to open our story with. Almost every attendee walked away with a topic they could potentially present on. That was the best part!

They shared some tips to overcome stage fright, prepare good slides, practicing etc.

Apart from the techniques to identify what you can speak on, my key takeaways were the following - 

  1. Power Posing ala Amy Cuddy
  2. Meet and greet your audience before the talk to overcome nervousness and gather data for Q&A
  3. Story telling to draw the audience in
  4. How to handle Q&A (crowd source if you do not know the answer, use the meet & greet data to create questions)
I'm looking forward to develop my speaking topic further and see where it takes me. For more details on the session, refer to the handy notes on the systers wiki.

Also, I've started reading their book to learn more. If I've intrigued you enough, you can get your copy from here.

Grace Hopper Kickoff Keynote

The Grace Hopper Celebration keynote this morning was a great start to what will be 3 days of networking, classes, and celebration of Women in technology in computing. We had amazing speakers, who were top technology industry leaders, sharing their ins...

Communicating for Influence and Impact – GHC16 – My Perspective

The first thing that comes to my mind while thinking about communication is there is nothing that beats a clear and effective communication. But at times we aren't able to do that and whatever we want to convey just stays with us. 
Also, if you want to communicate something specially in the workplace you will surely want it to be heard by the intended recipients so that you get some outcome . With all these things in mind I sat for the "Communicating for Influence and Impact" session by Denise Brosseau in GHC'16.

The session started with an introduction by Denise, CEO, Thought leadership Lab and Nicholas Creswell, VP Talent & Development - Enterprise Technology and Operations at Thompson Reuters.

They both talked about their respective career journey - what they are today and how they reached this level. I specially liked the way how Denise showed her career graph with a candy land model. Something like this -

It was really interesting since our lives' journey is never linear - it has its ups and downs, good moments and bad moments and together they make this whole awesome thing called life :).

After that we gradually started delving into the sessions some more, We all have seen companies telling us that their organization structure is either hierarchical or flat but when it comes to communication flows we never see it going that way. 
We always tend to have few key people who communicate the most and take the word of others forward. Also, they act as mediators who not only connect people but also listen very carefully to each and every individual so that they can in turn help them. And these are the people who end up having the maximum amount of influence and impact in an organization.

The session was pretty much hands on with loads of exercises that we did that focussed around how you can be a competent and sympathetic listener at the same time. I wouldn't go into details of them but will do some special mentions.Since it was a 3 hour session (2 - 5 pm) there was a lot of thing that was covered.

One thing that deserves mention here is how to effectively present your ideas to your peers and superiors and what are the different phases for the same -
(1) PREPARE ( the BEFORE idea phase) You start with good amount of preparation  where you do your research - do a rough draft and final draft and also make sure you have good backing to hold your idea .

(2) PRESENT ( the DURING phase) How you present your idea to your peers/boss or anyone relevant to the conversation.
(3) PREVAIL (the AFTER phase) the final phase of your idea and how to make sure that your ideas stick around and finally gets implemented.

And not to forget all these phases are always added by Feedback from your listeners. In my opinion, feedback is something that should always be there,
An effective communication can never be 1- way, it has be 2 way where after we take feedback we act upon the same as well. And what can be better than a different perspective. Isn't that how all great ideas are born?

Coming back to the session , we had all these exercises that were done in groups of two or three and also there were people who shared some of their own experiences and ideas to the entire group. And trust me that was the most exciting part of the session. First of all kudos to these women who were bold enough to do that. They not only made the session more interesting but also when you hear things like how with their influence and ideas they were able to bridge cultural gaps, motivate others, help their peers, achieve something in their careers that surely makes your day and ends up in motivating you in turn!
The session finally ended with exercise and this one was something that we as women never acknowledge , that is 'how each one of us is a super women in our own way'. As women aren't we always shy of compliments and if we do something better than others we always thing that "oh that's nothing big really". But have we ever seen men doing the same? Men love to brag about everything but i have seen very less women who are doing really great and bragging  about it as well. A small 'thank you'  and accepting a compliment graciously instead of 'that's fine' or just turning back when we are being applauded, can't we all put that in our daily routines 
As i mentioned earlier there were lot of things that wee covered in this session, and if anyone is interested in the slides, here is a link where you have to register and they will mail that to you - .
Also, I managed to click a photo of Denise  (psst I cropped myself, as it was definitely not one of my photogenic days :|)

Thank you Denise for this amazing session!



P.S. comments and suggestions are always welcome!

GHC16 Plenary Session: Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at X

Dr. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots (CEO) at X

Dr. Teller's talk focused mostly on the mantras followed at X to foster innovation. He began with an anecdote illustrating how his management style has developed over the years to what it is today, and how that impacts X's culture. It started with a photograph of Dr Teller with his two famous grandfathers, one a Nobel-Prize-winning economist (Gerard Debreu) and the other the famous theoretical physicist and founder of the Lawrence Livermore Labs, Edward Teller. He spoke about how, given his illustrious family background, he always had the feeling that he was the "dumb one" in the family, and how that spurred him on to work harder and study harder than anyone else. This was what led him to eventually graduate with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. Soon after graduation, Dr. Teller started a business, and as CEO, felt that he always had to play speed chess with his employees to be an effective manager. Six months down the line, he realized that that wasn't actually the case, and the best way to lead was to amplify his employees' skills. This is what he has dedicated the past 20 years to, and at X, although his title is "Captain of Moonshots", he spends all his time on people and culture, rather than hands-on involvement in tech work.

Dr. Teller then went on to define what a moonshot really is. At X, anything is considered to be a moonshot if its a huge problem that needs solving, if there's a radical solution that's being proposed to fix that problem, and finally, if that solution involves breakthrough technology. Some of X's recent "moonshot" projects are Google Brain, self-driving cars, and Google Loon.

The first of X's mantras to more effective innovation is to fall in love with the problem being solved, rather than the technology. For instance, saying that one wants to work on machine learning is akin to saying that one wants to build something that has transistors in it. Dr. Teller gave the example of a recent X project, headed by Kathy Cooper, which tried converting sea-water to methanol in a carbon-neutral way, as an alternative to gasoline for the approximately 4 billion internal combustion engines in use today. While the team was trying to figure out ways to effectively make the conversion, they were also thinking about alternative solutions if their original plan didn't work. Although they were  eventually successful in making methanol from sea-water, the associated cost was too high, about $15 a gallon. The project therefore had to be killed, but still garnered Kathy and her team a lot of recognition at X and beyond. The main take-away from that story is that its OK to fail - if people aren't given credit for all the hard work they've put in on failed projects, then no one would ever have the courage to walk away from ideas that didn't work out. At the same time, sharing Kathy's work with the world means that other folks who want to solve the same problem have a body of work to look back at. X even makes it a point to celebrate all projects that have failed on the Day of the Dead.

Another mantra followed at X is "inspiring innovation". When people are inspired by the problems that they are trying to solve, they bring more of themselves to work, and are also encouraged to think differently. Astro Teller mentioned the famous "mutilated checkboard" problem as an illustration - simply putting the same problem in different ways causes people to shift their perspective on how to solve it. This is known as perspective shifting, and is deeply ingrained in X's culture.

A third mantra at X is "T-shaped people". X doesn't necessarily believe in hiring persons only with a suitable background for a given position. On the contrary, at X, people from different fields are welcomed in the belief that they bring fresh perspectives to the table. As an example, Astro Teller spoke of a fashion designer who was brought on board the Loon team to design and perform quality assurance tests on the balloons, ensuring that they survive in any kind of environmental conditions.

The fourth mantra - get in touch with the physical world as quickly as possible. This puts projects out into the real world early on, increasing the chances of discovering bugs and problems. For instance, recently, a self-driving car was out on a test drive in Mountain View, when it came across an old lady in a wheelchair, wielding a broom and trying to get a duck off the street. This simply wasn't a situation that the self-driving car project team had thought up unit tests for :-).  The car passed that little test successfully, waiting until the old lady had crossed the street. Similarly, there are countless other similar situations that would be difficult to account for until the project is out in the real world. Sometimes, this strategy could backfire, causing the project to be killed. But the thing to note is that if one couches failure as failure, then people are going to be wary of taking new projects on. However, if things are turned around and failures are, instead, viewed as learning opportunities, then people become much more willing to experiment, even if they fail. This is a culture that managers need to foster.

The fifth mantra is that we need to balance both audacity and vulnerability. A mix of both is needed to make sure that we innovate effectively. While audacity is what drives us to try new things, vulnerability and humility are required to admit when we go wrong, and to learn new things.  X's culture is to help people to achieve this balance.

GHC16 starts with a bang!

Ever seen almost 15000 women in a single place? You should have been at the Toyota Center this morning. The excitement was palpable in the huge auditorium while waiting for the opening keynote of the 16th annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) to begin. Popular music numbers by DJ Roonie DJ fed the frenzy in the audience.
The crowd at the keynote

Dr. Telle Whitney, the CEO and President of the Anita Borg
Dr Telle Whitney
Institute (ABI) opened the session welcoming the attendees and talking about the progress this event has made since its inception in 1994. They had about 500 attendees then and today it has grown to over 15000 attendees from across 83 countries (also includes 1000 men attendees) and the keynotes are being live streamed as well. Women, it seems, are ready to drive change on a global scale.

Dr Latanya Sweeney, Professor at Harvard, is an impressive
Dr Latanya Sweeney
lady. She is the pioneer in Data Privacy as we know it. With some concrete data-driven examples, she made it clear that we as computer science engineers need to 'algorithmically accountable'. We should not just be concerned with developing new technology and programs but also be mindful of the consequences of these technologies i.e. ethics/data privacy issues ideally in the design phase. She drove home the point that we shouldn't just think about data in my application but what information this data along with all available public datasets together can provide. Her call to action is that we should train/help the policy regulators help formulate the data policies in a rapidly changing technocracy we are living in.

Dr Anna Patterson, this year's technical leadership ABI award winner
Dr Anna Patterson
and VP at Google, is the most humble person I've seen in a while. She isn't afraid to say the hard things. Her leadership style is to be transparent and be over-trusting. It makes people go overboard to deliver their goals. She hoped that any struggles or difficulties women see at the 
Let your light shine
workplace will soon be as distant in memory as the fight for the right to vote. She was passionate about women exercising their hard-earned right to vote this election year. Thank you for reminding us of this responsibility to our nation.

The 2016 ABI award for the Top Companies for women technologists 
Dr Rebecca Parsons
went to Thoughtworks. Their CTO, Dr Rebecca Parsons, said that technology is at the epicenter of social growth and there has never been a better time for women technologists with attitude, aptitude and integrity.

Ginni Rometty, CEO and President of IBM, spoke next. So
Gnni Rometty
down-to-earth! Loved her 3 mantras for success - never let someone else define who you are, growth and comfort never go together and work on something bigger than you are. She reminded us that 'past is prologue' and this is the cognitive era. She also had a mini-panel where she pulled in 3 of IBM's best engineers and had them speak about their specialities - agile/user-centric design, Watson-based genomics and innovations.

The 2016 ABI Student of Vision award winner this year is an
Alyssia Jovellanos (pic courtesy ABI)
inspiring and cool 19-year old Alyssia Jovellanos. She talked about how a chat with a single software engineer changed her course of study. She said that letting new people into your life, finding a mentor and being a mentor can expand the world beyond your imagination. Someone to look out for in the coming years.

The keynote was so inspiring - listening to women working at the cutting edge of technology and being in a room with so many women was strangely empowering. Definitely an experience of a lifetime.

Women in Future Tech @GHC16

Have you ever seen almost 15000 women in a single place? You should have been at the Toyota Center this morning. The excitement was palpable in the huge auditorium while waiting for the opening keynote of the 16th annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) to begin. Music DJ Roonie DJ entertained us with popular numbers while we waited.