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Elizabeth Churchill’s talk at the Grace Hopper Celebration wasn’t what I expected. As she is the Director of HCI at eBay, I was expecting to hear about all the sexy research going on at eBay. I didn’t hear about that and, in the end, I was glad.
It turns out her talk wasn’t what she expected either. She came to the conference prepared to present a talk titled « Foundations for Designing User-Centered Systems, » based on her new book. After arriving in Phoenix and chatting with conference attendees, she changed it to « Journeys and Destinations. » What followed was so in line with my interests, she could have titled it « This Talk’s for You, Keita. »
One of the four things she’s been reflecting on is this:
“All technologies & technological practices are sociotechnical, inherently social in their creation by us, adoption by us and adaptation by us, toward us and with us.”
I’ve been recently reviewing literature related to that concept so I found her thoughts on this particularly relevant. I’m intrigued and motivated by the socio-technical gap as discussed by Mark Ackerman in The Intellectual Challenge of CSCW (2000), the morality of adoption as discussed in Beyond the User: Use and Non-Use in HCI (2009) by Christine Satchell and Paul Dourish and the requirements of meaning exchange as outlined in The Social Requirements of Technical Systems (2009) by Brian Whitworth. She showed one of her favorite art pieces, a 3 1/2 minute video called « The Shy Picture » to illustrate true « interactivity. » In the video, a photo that would normally be static instead reacts to the viewer which, in turn, changes the viewer’s reaction.
The Shy Picture from Narinda Reeders on Vimeo.
While she didn’t specifically use the term « distance collaboration », Churchill spoke about her work on the YeTi project – a community bulletin board developed to overcome some of the challenges of being in Palo Alto and trying to collaborate with people in Japan. It created a connection between personal space, online space and public space (this was in the days before MySpace). About 3 years ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Judith Olson at UC Irvine and became very interested in the research her and her husband Gary Olson had been doing in the area of distributed collaboration. So much so, that my original thesis topic was on devising ways to improve system support for partially-distributed learning environments where some students are in one location with the instructor and one or more students are located elsewhere. I enjoyed hearing about the various social and environmental learning that went on as Churchill and her team iterated on the design of the bulletin board – playing up the scribble feature when they saw how artists used the interface in a cafe and adding video capture so others could « observe » you while you were making your post.
Whoa! I didn’t see this topic coming. But had I done even a simple Wikipedia search on Churchill, I would have known that she’s known for her work on Embodied Conversational Agents (ECAs). 3 years ago, I took an independent course during my Master’s program to specifically study the concept behind ECAs (see my class paper titled « The Credibilty of Embodied Conversational Agents » and to build a conversational agent. I may have even used her book in the class. She talked about the humanizing of technology and encouraged us to read the 1996 book « The Media Equation » by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass, and to decide for ourselves how much of it still stands today and how much has changed.
It was refreshing to see these things talked about at Grace Hopper. It’s what drew me to my first Grace Hopper conference in 2010 in Atlanta when they first introduced the HCI track. These social and contextual research concepts are what fascinate me about HCI but that I don’t see discussed much out in industry practice where much of the focus is on interface concerns: UI design patterns, wireframing, prototyping and user testing. Which brings me to another reflection that Churchill mentioned and that I think is perfect to end with:
The interface is always more than a screen. Focus on usage, not “the user.”
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my GHC experience!
The Friday of the Grace Hopper Celebration I was up bright and early again for my 7:45am Hopper shift (which was a struggle after dancing the night away the night before). My job was the same as before – tell people where to sit for the keynote speaker. This time, I had this sign here to let people know if seats were still available where I was standing.
This time, I stuck around to hear the keynote: Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of DARPA. She showed this video of how a quadriplegic lady was able to use her brain to control a robotic arm. I thought that was pretty neat! Technology has such amazing uses.
At the end of the keynote, they played this awesome video for next year’s GHC in Houston! Made me super excited for 2015!
After I signed out of Hopper duties, I met back up with the others and we decided to do a last stroll through the career fair – in case we missed any good swag opportunities! Boy, am I glad we did. We were just walking along and I happened to see a camera guy walk by. I looked back and I saw Gillian Jacobs! If anyone doesn’t know, she plays Britta from the TV show Community – which I happen to be a huge fan of. And as anyone that knows me can attest to, I’m a major fangirl when it comes to celebrities. So I may have had a mini panic attack when I saw her. Of course, the girls I were with didn’t really know who she was so they couldn’t appreciate my excitement. But I am super thankful for them (shoutout to Daphne and Lindsay!) because since they weren’t fans, they didn’t mind just walking up to her and asking for a picture (if it were just me, I would have just stood there starstruck instead of taking action). So thanks girls for this awesome picture! (also photo cred to Tess from ThoughtWorks!)
So that was awesome. Also at the career fair, we saw a few of those Intuit unicorns (they were having a contest where if you see a stuffed unicorn at the conference, snap a pic and tweet them for a chance to win something). We did all this and I got a favourite, so I thought maybe I could win one of the cute little unicorns (I mean look how adorable they are!!)
Unfortunately, we just missed out by a few minutes – they had given them all away already 🙁 We were very disappointed. So we left the career fair and headed for lunch at the food court. Before the sessions were about to begin again, we took pictures (and a selfie) to commemorate our GHC experience!
I then went to the Presentations in Security session. You can see the notes for this sessions here: GHC Wiki. I thought it was pretty fascinating how they were able to find cyber criminals in underground forums by looking at their different writing styles. I’ve always found computer forensics to be super interesting so to see that their work actually led to finding criminal doppelgängers is awesome!
After a cookie break, I attended my last session at GHC14: a second Presentations in Security that introduced cryptography. I thought this session would give me some insight for my project in my cryptography class that I am currently taking, but it was more of a introduction to the basics of crypto – which was still helpful! It reinforced what I already knew.
Once the last session was over, (sad face 🙁 ) we all met up at the ABI Communities dinner, before heading to the final celebration of Grace Hopper!! I was sad to see it coming to an end. The days just flew right by, before I could catch my breath – and some sleep! While not everything went exactly as I planned, I think it was still an amazing opportunity. Every now and then I would just look around – on the escalator, at the keynotes, in line for lunch – and just try to grasp the fact that every one of these women are just like me. Maybe we all have different backgrounds and maybe we come from different places in the world, but we all have the same struggles – the struggle to fit in, the struggle to be confident, the struggle to have faith in ourselves – and the same goal – to find equality for men and women. While we may all be here for various reasons, we still all have this ultimate goal: to celebrate being women in computing. We can debate all day about what was said and done, what is right or wrong, but at the end of day, the Grace Hopper Celebration is just that – a Celebration. A celebration of where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we can go next.
And Friday night was just that – a huge celebration! With dancing, glow sticks, good food, raffles, free shirts, and photo-ops – we all came together to celebrate ourselves. It was a fabulous ending to a fantastic event.
Although the Grace Hopper Celebration may be over, the celebration of women in computing never ends – each and every o
ne of us should celebrate ourselves each and every day!
Also, I will be heading to ONCWIC in 2 weeks – our own mini version of GHC in Ontario! If you are from Canada, feel free to check it out!
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Part 1 of my GHC experience here!
My second day of the Grace Hopper Celebration started off with the keynote speaker (as an audience member this time instead of a Hopper!). The special guest GHC hinted about ended up being Megan Smith! I know this didn’t come as a surprise to some people, but I was happy since I had never heard her speak before. (in case any one doesn’t know – Megan Smith is the newly appointed Chief Technology Officer of the USA) Such an inspiring woman.
After her short speech, came the much anticipated conversation panel between Satya Nadella and Maria Klawe. While there has been much controversy about this session, I think it was still pretty awesome for a CEO of such a large company to participate in GHC. Yes, he may have said some things that can be taken negatively, but I think he was just misinterpreted. Maybe I’m just gullible and naive, but I do believe he didn’t mean some of the things he said. I’m not taking anything personal.
Anyway, moving on. It turns out, the day before I had left my folder of resumes at the bag check so afterwards, I headed there to see if there was anyway it may have still been there. To my dismay, they were thrown in the garbage… I’m ashamed to say I did take the folder out of the garbage can to survey the damage. Unfortunately, coffee had been spilled on the one side of the folder. Thankfully, I managed to recover two resumes from the pile, but all the rest were destroyed. I was pretty upset since I had photocopied many copies and now I couldn’t give them out to all the companies I had wanted to, especially since I didn’t get to many booths the first day because of the crowds. (Note for next year: keep extra copies in different places as not to lose them all) I tried not to dwell on it too much and headed to the biometrics: cool or creepy? session. My main take from that was definitely cool: I like the idea that we can use our bodies – which are unique to ourselves – as security. Instead of having to remember that damn password that has to have a lowercase, uppercase, digit, symbol, punctuation and a math equation, we could use our DNA – which we have with us all the time. Okay, yes, someone can cut your finger off and use your fingerprint. But how likely is that to happen? I like to think not very often.
Anyway, I left a bit early (I like to avoid the crowds) and headed to the career fair once again. This time I went by my self (which was kind of a big deal to me – I don’t usually do this kind of networking on my own) and gave out the two resumes I had saved.
Surprisingly, I did well on my own, getting quite a bit of swag as well as some great conversations. I was glad that many booths had tablets set up where you could put in your information instead of giving a resume. Obviously a resume gives them a better sense of who you are but at least I had my info out there. I found it to be a struggle though when they would ask me what I’m looking for/interested in. At this point, I don’t really have any idea what I want to do, and I’m not hugely interested in one domain. I mean, yes, I’m in the software engineering stream, and I have some experience with mobile and web development and back end stuff. But as a passion? I don’t have any clue. I thought maybe looking through the different booths at GHC would give me some inspiration, but I feel even more confused now – there’s so many different areas, how am I to choose?
After getting tired of the career fair, I went to have lunch (I packed the second half of the sandwich from the boxed dinner from the night before – I felt so thrifty!) and to relax for a bit. I took this time to FaceTime my parents back home and unwind before the next sessions started up again. At one point I even took a 30 minute nap accidentally!
The next session I attended was Lightning Talks in HCI. I found the lightning talks to be a bit too fast for me – I didn’t always completely understand what they were presenting. But there was a neat talk on how dance is affected by technology, and another one about the fandom culture on Tumblr. As a Tumblr user myself, I thought it was pretty cool how they researched Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fans and their « feels » on Tumblr to predict viewer tendencies. You can see my notes on these presentations as well as the others here: GHC Wiki.
Afterwards, I then met up with the other Carleton girls and walked back to the hotel to freshen up before the evening entertainment. We went back to attend the Girl Rising film festival series. If you haven’t checked it out already, do it: girlrising.com. We only got a sneak peek at GHC, but I really want to see the whole film now. Once I get caught in my school work, it’s the first thing I’m going to do. Such an incredible story.
Afterwards, we headed to the dance party. Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate dancing. I suck at it, and I’m wayyy too awkward for it. And I was not feeling it at all – at the beginning. There were tons of people there and I just didn’t want to dance. But then Shake it Off by Taylor Swift came on (which is my JAM) and I couldn’t go back. I had to join in. And am I glad I did! It was so much fun! Everyone was laughing away, pulling the craziest and stupidest moves – but no one cared! It was great.
Next up – my final day of GHC!
This past week has been an incredible whirlwind of events! With speakers and Hopper duties and networking – there was barely anytime to think! Through the craziness that was Grace Hopper though, I still had an amazing time that I will never forget!Our …
The « Volunteering to Promote STEM Education » panel was one of the panels I was the most excited about. It’s a subject dear and near to me and I’m convinced that it’s a great way to pay it forward and inspire the next generations. Several wonderful women were on the panel: Jennifer Arguello, Fauzia Chaudhry, Lindsay Hall, Linda Kekelis, and Michelle Clark.
1. Kapor Centre for Social Impact (by Jennifer Arguello)
Jennifer started by explaining who needs effective STEM education. In a general context, you would think that only K-12 students need it but it is also needed by parents, communities and educators. As a volunteer, there are many ways to bring something to the table. This can be done through inspiration (be a role model, you don’t always realize you can be one, but there might actually be young students who look up to you), motivation(be a mentor), Share your skills and knowledge, bring in your cultural competency and exercise your leadership skills(managing a group of high school girls might be a very good way to develop your leadership abilities). If you want to volunteer, but cannot be physically present or you want to reach out to a broader audience, there are great virtual platforms. These include Curiosity Machine(a community of scientist, engineers and kids creating together), Nepris(connects teachers to professionals) and MentorNetv(Online Mentors and Protégés). One of the things that struck me from her talk was that there is something that you can do, and bring to the table.
2. Want to change a life? Be an effective role model (by Linda Kekelis)
It’s never too soon to talk to our girls about the future…TechBridge is a non-profit organization that mainly uses hands-on projects through after school and summer programs. One important thing that Linda particularly pointed out was that having only hands-on activities was not enough in order to get girls to consider computer science or STEM careers. They were more taken like hobbies. The key ingredient that has to be included is effective role models. In order to have effective conveyors, training is a must-have (role models have to be able to communicate appropriately their tech passion and also share effectively their experiences), and little things matter. In addition to great hands-on activities for students, role models are also offered with materials to help them make their story interactive and promote perseverance.
3. Google K-12 (by Lindsay Hall)
Google has many initiatives that promotes STEM education.Studies have shown that for women to choose Computer Science, they have to be involved very early. This means acting on their self-perception, career-perception, academic exposure since elementary, middle and high school levels. Made With Code is an example that demonstrates different things that can be made using Computer Science.
4. Union Pacific STEM motivations (by Michelle Clark)
Union Pacific organizes hands-on workshops and specifically introduce girls to electrical engineering and computer science.
Takeaway: No matter who you are, where you are in your career, you can always volunteer to promote STEM Education.
Note: You can also find the complete session notes here.
One of my favorite quotes from the GHC 2014 panel, Empathy! It’s Good for Business, came from Hilary Karls, software engineer with Uber, while she shared a story from a user of Task Rabbit (her previous company). She talked about a mother in San Francisco whose son was a college student in Boston. While he […]
The final day at GHC14 has already started, and here goes the last keynote by Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Dr. Prabhakar has spent her career investing in world-class engineers and scient…
The Survivable Social Network (3rd talk in the series)This is post 4/4 of the talks I’m covering for GHC. You can view more information here!I can’t believe it’s been three whole days already. I’ve definitely fallen in love with Phoenix and the convent…
Finding Doppelgangers: Taking Stylometry to the UndergroundSadia Afroz, UC Berkeley) is using stylometry to find who is interacting on underground forums (cybercrime forums). You want to figure out what this guys is doing there in the first place…