Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Can Global Tech Women Do For You?

A conference like The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is a fantastic experience. Having attended many times I can vouch for the fact that there is nothing (nothing) like being surrounded by a couple thousand other professional technical women. You don't realize until you experience it just how different the technical world, our world, would be if there were more technical women around. I can't describe the experience other than to say it is mind blowing, empowering and life changing.

However, most technical women around the globe don't have access to the GHC or one of it's sister conferences. They don't have access to the resources and connections available to those relative few who can physically attend a conference for women in computing. What to do?

Global Tech Women, introduced in my last post, intends to bridge the gap between globally dispersed technical women and the equally dispersed resources and like minded others. That means bringing resources for personal and professional growth to technical women on a local level. In their communities and homes. That also means providing technical women access to content and a network on a global scale. Global Tech Women (GTW) is employing both a bottom up and top down approach to supporting and connecting often isolated technical women.

"Women Talk Tech" Webinars. Information and expertise coming to you.

On September 21st Global Tech Women founder Deanna Kosaraju spoke in some depth about the organization: its vision, mission, goals, and plans.  What is going on as well as opportunities for you to get involved. This 30 minute webinar contains far more information than can easily fit in a blog post. Or even several blog posts. Deanna also hints at some nifty technology in the wings. If you want the full scoop on Global Tech Women, you can access the webinar and slides here.

Then there was the second webinar on October 12th which featured Caroline Simard getting into specifics about how to identify a work culture that is (or is not) actively supportive of technical women. I thought I knew a lot already about this topic yet I walked away with things to ponder and act upon. A particularly nice feature of this webinar was the active discussion from women across the career spectrum. Curious? The webinar and slides are archived here (scroll down the page).

The next webinar is ... Friday. It looks like we are going to hear about disruptive innovation. You can still sign up here. If you miss it, don't worry - like all the other webinars it will be archived.

"Voices" - an International Women's Day Conference. We return to the challenge facing technical women who would like to attend a conference geared toward their personal and professional goals.

Voices will be held on International Women's Day of course.  March 8th, 2013. What is truly innovative about this conference is that you don't have to go anywhere to participate. The conference comes to you. As described in detail in the first webinar video, Voices will take place over a 24 hour period, following the sun as it circles the globe. Not only can you attend the conference but you can participate in the planning and execution. In other words, if you want to hear about something, share about something, if you know about something worth sharing at the conference, you are encouraged to contact the organization to discuss how to make it happen. The agenda is not going to be decided by "someone out there".

A Customizable Open Source Platform with resources and connections geared towards your profile.

If every social media savvy marketing organization can target you with ads based upon what they creep around snooping out about you (yuck), doesn't it make sense to turn things on their head and *ask* technical women what they want to help them achieve their personal and professional goals and then deliver it? Sometime soon, the GTW website will provide you the ability to create a goal driven profile which will be used to connect you with resources, ideas, activities and people that fit where you are in your life and career.

The platform will likely require an entire blog post of its own sometime down the road. Meanwhile, in order to eventually provide oodles of bloggable material about how this platform serves your needs, you can contribute to its architecture and development. This is yet another example of Global Tech Women walking the talk - they want to involve technical women in the creation and direction of this platform.

It dawns on me, on this, the waning week prior to our incredibly close national election here in the US, that just as I hope all of you in this country get out and voice your opinions by VOTING (this is no time to be apathetic or too busy to register your opinion), I hope that all technical women reading this, wherever you are in the globe, take the opportunity to take part in the participatory democracy presented to you by Global Tech Women. In whatever way works for you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Introducing Global Tech Women: Are You a Technical Woman?

Technical Women are Leaving
It is a well known fact that there are not as many women in technology careers as men, and equally well documented that numbers are declining rather than increasing - unlike in most other science and engineering disciplines. The problem doesn't stop there - reliable data show that many women who complete a technical degree choose not to pursue a technical career. To cap it off, women in technical careers around the globe leave those careers at an alarming rate. The whole situation is completely crazy when you consider that lucrative computing jobs are increasing by leaps and bounds and many companies (not just in the US) have difficulty finding people to hire.

As many of you know, there are excellent organizations around the globe that have set their sights on addressing one aspect or another, one facet or another, of this incredibly complex problem. But...

I'm going to hazard a guess that many of you don't know about Global Tech Women. Global Tech Women (GTW for short here) is different. This organization, the brainchild of Deanna Kosaraju who you may know from her previous role as Vice President of Programs at the Anita Borg Institute, takes a holistic approach to the problem. In other words it is about the technology but it's not only about the technology. It's far more than that. As Deanna puts it, GTW wants to support technical women in becoming "connected, inspired and self-actualized".

This vision leads to a different approach than many other organizations, starting with an important definition:

What is a technical woman?

Answer: You get to decide. Yes, you.

If you self-identify as a technical woman, then you are a technical woman. Period. 

Why should someone else tell you if you "are" or "are not" technical?

Not everyone takes the same trajectory into a technical career. We know this, yet at the same time there are people who apply an exclusive "definition". i.e. you must have a technical degree, or you must work for an established big-name corporation or... If you don't, then you are excluded either explicitly or implicitly. When I write it out it sounds ludicrous to my ears, but some people/organizations will exclude from their definition, and hence exclude from support, someone, and often this means women, who take unconventional routes to achieving their technical and life goals. Global Tech Women starts from a position of inclusiveness and empowerment.

As Deanna pointed out in one of our recent conversations, technology can be truly interdisciplinary. Technology cuts across disciplines. For example, Deanna told me about a woman she met who has a graduate degree in Sociology and is now developing apps in a developing country. Here is the key take home point - this woman did not "leave" Sociology. She incorporates her training into her work as a technical woman helping people in Africa. There are a lot of women out there like her. Who is to tell them they aren't really technical?

If you choose to identify yourself as a technical woman, Global Tech Women wants to be there to support you in defining success for yourself, and in connecting you with resources to make that easier. GTW may be a fairly new organization but Deanna Kosaraju brings years of executive experience in the technology world and in non-profit organizational management to this endeavor. She has already established some impressive partnerships and more are in the wings; (see the GTW website); in addition she is in the process of forming a consortium of technical women's groups around the world to talk about best practices.

So - what can Global Tech Women do for you? I thought you might ask. In the next post, I'll dive more deeply into Global Tech Women's ongoing activities.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Entrepreneurship Means Business

I've been dying to come back to the issue of social entrepreneurship as addressed in my recent post about the documentary "Design & Thinking". Early on in the film one of the business leaders interviewed said a guiding principle should be to ask yourself the following questions [slightly paraphrased]:

"What is the higher calling?"
"How can an organization consecrate itself to that higher calling?"
" address the world's problems?"

At first I was puzzled because I am used to hearing this kind of language in religious conversations. However, a rapid mental reset was in order. What a growing number of organizations are doing today is looking at how to conduct their business with the goal of addressing societal and environmental problems. Across industries. This can be clearly demonstrated by the accelerating number, size, and profitability of Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs). 

Notice, by the way, I didn't say "solving" the world's problems, because, and this is my thought on the matter, if you set your mind firmly on a "goal" that you "must" achieve, it is harder to stay in it for the long haul. However, every organization (as well as person) has something to contribute. It can be as concrete as evaluating the plans for the product or software you are developing and considering the ramifications of its design. Perhaps you then change certain design attributes. The film documented several organizations that are doing just that.

Thus, another mental reset is to embrace the idea, advocated in the film, that it is not about tradeoffs. It is not about "Business vs. Society". It is about holding a certain perspective on the world and how we solve problems.  It is about acquiring a broad range of skills to be able to address the complexity of the world in a product - including for-profit enterprises. 

An existing organization, cruising along, can stop and ask itself at anytime the following questions:

"Are we having an impact?"  [on the higher calling identified previously]
"If not, why not?"
"What can be done to get there?"

Aside from profiling lots of examples to prove the point, it was these dirt simple gems of questions that were one of the most important takeaways of the documentary. Anyone sitting there watching was prodded to do more than just admire the people and organizations working for change.

Anyone, in any organization, from a sole proprietorship to a global behemoth, can ask these questions.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sketching in the Computing Classroom

Once convinced by Sketchcamp San Diego that what you draw is good enough and that you should sketch anything and everything, the next adventure is deciding where sketching fits in your professional world. Thus, it was only a matter of time before I would explore how sketching could apply directly to computer science.

I could (but won't) write a treatise on all the opportunities for the professional computer scientist to sketch. Instead, let's ponder computing education.

Instructors, consider this - why not incorporate sketching into your classroom presentations? We know that humans are very visual creatures, but that doesn't mean that all visual presentations are good presentations (Death By Powerpoint comes to mind).  Why not sketch part of your lecture as you give it, especially if you present in a large impersonal lecture hall? Take a look at my previous post for an example of this in action.

Unless you are working out a formal proof, I put it to you that there are plenty of opportunities to draw instead of write on the whiteboard, blackboard, tablet. You have to work out the details, but if you are creative enough to come up with other classroom innovations, as are many of my colleagues in the computer science education world, then you are up to the challenge of adding sketching to your pedagogical portfolio.

No, wait. Let me take back part of that last point. I'd love to see someone work out how to sketch a formal proof. Not only would it be terribly exciting but it would rock many people's world. Just think of the positive effect you could possibly have on those students who currently struggle with the abstraction of proofs.

Then there are the possibilities for collaborative sketching for software engineering students. The yawns and complaints (and subsequent below standard results) with which countless students approach the requirements gathering and specification development process are legendary. Not only do they miss the point, they can be disengaged, and just plain old lousy at client interaction. It takes practice, after all, to be a good listener and communicator.

What about reinventing the "Reqs and Specs" process to include team problem solving with the users present? Applying sketching techniques already used in the professional world, students can iterate on data interpretation and problem identification. Together they will produce a graphic illustration that captures the evolving conversation. What a great opportunity to break down barriers, achieve consensus and clarify intention.  I suspect the sketching approach to specification development would suck in students and their client users alike.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sketch ... Everything.

Why would you want to sketch? Why professionally would you want to sketch? Continuing the conversation started in my last post about the goings on at the San Diego Sketchcamp, the next thing on the docket after "yes I am perfectly capable of sketching" is of course: WHY?

There are so many reasons to sketch. One of the most fascinating experiences of the day-long workshop was listening to one speaker after another illustrate how they use sketching in their work - and why you should too. Especially if you are a User Experience (UX) professional, which most of the audience was.

Sketching is a great way to capture ideas on the fly and problem-solve together in a meeting with peers or a client. You can capture much more information via pictures than with text. Sure it takes practice, but so does note taking or any other skill. But the end result is a memorable visual description of the conversation as it evolved. Not to mention the fact that the faster you write the worse your handwriting gets, and if you are like many people in this digital age (self included) your handwriting is fairly illegible to start with. Even being familiar with your own handwriting, you may find yourself scratching your head later trying to figure out what on earth those words are. I know I do. Whereas with a zippy picture the meaning doesn't disappear just because some of your lines get sloppy. Remember - we aren't talking about creating "art", we are talking about capturing ideas, impressions, observations.

One speaker in particular blew many workshop attendees out of the water by literally walking and drawing the talk. Amber Lundy spent 45  minutes discussing why she sketches, how she came to sketching from a start in computing (she is a self-described nerd) and and how one can benefit from sketching on the job. She calls it resocializing the interface.

But here's the kicker. As she spoke, the colorful highlighters never left Amber's rapidly moving hand. As she spoke, Amber moved back and forth, along a room-length sheet of paper pinned to the wall, drawing what she was saying. So not only did you hear her talk via your ears, you watched her her talk with your eyes. Talk about an impressive display of multi-tasking.

"Anything you can say you can sketch" according to Amber. Hard to argue with that when you are watching it unfold before you. At the end of her talk she went back and added boxes and additional arrows to show the flow of her talk even more clearly. Imagine sitting in a room with peers or clients and at the end of an intense and productive meeting you find yourself in front of a detailed visual representation of everywhere the conversation went, the points covered and the conclusions you mutually reached. In living color. Wow.

Perhaps anticipating the response ("I can't do THAT!"), Amber made a point of saying that she didn't take a bunch of classes to learn how to sketch so fluidly in front of a group. She said she practiced. And practiced. And practiced. She forced herself to sketch all sorts of things. For example, Amber advocates sketching meetings, not only as good practice, but because you will pay better attention. Remember some deadly dull meeting you have been in when all you could think of was how much you desperately wanted a roving espresso cart to appear in front of you. Then think about how entertaining and productive it could have been to instead have sketched the players in the room and what they were saying. Fun, no? Lasts longer than a latte too.

Sketch things you might not think of scheduling just to stretch yourself - rise to the challenge and think about things when you have time to build the habit. Why? These are the people and objects you interact with on a daily basis, which can come in handy later when you are in a fast paced situation and don't have time to ponder what something should look like. Like what? Sketch your schedule. Instead of a linear To-Do list, how would you lay out your day visually? As a die-hard list maker and organizer, I'm having serious fun pondering that one.

Here is the best (bizarre?) suggestion Amber had -sketch your grocery list.

Be careful however. Perhaps the first few times you should go to the store with both a sketched list and a traditional list. Until you learn what your own sketches mean.

Otherwise you might come home with ... things. Really odd things.

Monday, October 8, 2012

What Do You Mean "I Can't Draw"?

You don't have to "be able to draw", that's the joy of it. It's about sketching. Whether or not you think sketching == drawing doesn't matter. Don't get hung up on the words. Hey, what happened to the joy that almost all of us had as kids when someone tossed a pen, pencil, marker, crayon, chalk, white board marker our way? When did it go from "YES!!!" to "I can't do that".

Close to 100 people attended the first San Diego Sketchcamp this past Saturday to learn more and put pen or pencil to paper. Some attendees were devoted doodlers, scribblers, designers, artists. Other attendees were initially rather timid. By the end of the day I'd dare say everyone was trying it out. That is the joy of a workshop: interactivity.

Eight different speakers, some running in parallel session, walked the talk by not only showing the audience how they approach sketching but challenging the audience to try it - right now! As one speaker pointed out:

 "no one is going to die if you make a bad sketch". 

The day's keynote speaker, Jeannel King, was the first of several speakers to point out the mysterious change that typically takes place as we grow up. We lose the exuberance and lack of fear, and won't even try because "I can't draw the way I think I should" or "I can't draw the way I would want to". As King pointed out however, nothing has changed from when we were kids in terms of ability. We just get all self-conscious.

Another theme of the day, initiated by King, was to shift your mindset to:  

"What I draw is Good Enough"

Send your inner critic out for coffee.

I appreciated King's reference to Buddhism to illustrate this point.

There isn't just one Buddha, there are many Buddhas. Everyone has a Buddha inside. Just as everyone is a Buddha so is everyone a stick figure strategist. We are just at different places along the path.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thinking Crazy - Do It!

"So much of coming up with great ideas is allowing yourself to think crazy" spoken by someone in the film "Design & Thinking" which screened last night at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. But can the corporate world accept this idea on a widespread basis? Can it be done without busting budgets? Important questions, addressed both directly and indirectly throughout this interesting film.

The film opened with scenes from the Occupy Movement and spent the next hour and fifteen minutes roving back and forth between New York City, San Francisco and Toronto, speaking with and observing a diverse and eclectic group of people in the design movement. I'm not sure why I'm calling it a movement, but after watching these people passionately describe what they do and what they think about the term Design Thinking, "movement" seems fitting.

There was the PhD candidate in Biology who had never heard of the term but described how he designs experiments with frogs (it seemed that no harm comes to the frogs - at least I hope so) and evolves his work through an iterative process that might sound familiar to someone from a classical design background. When he described the process of needing to be flexible and creative, it sounded rather like the many conversations during the film with people affiliated with classical design schools. These designers also spoke about following their intuition and being willing to shift course when development of a product produced unexpected feedback and results.

Moving from scientists to artists, along with CEOs, CTOs, and university faculty, one of the emerging themes in the film was: learning to be comfortable with taking risks. Realizing that you can do so at low cost. Taking risks and being willing to fail doesn't necessitate a huge budget. One of the challenges addressed throughout this film, both directly and indirectly, was how to "get a place at the table", i.e. in a number crunching bottom line world that wants algorithms for achieving success, how do you get the message across to all the relevant decision makers?

It can be done and the film showcased some wonderful examples. I loved the segment when the founder of Code For America was interviewed (was she was in her pajamas?) and spoke about the fear public officials have of putting anything up online that isn't "perfect". She made the very good point that the reason public officials are so risk averse is because we, the voting public, have made them afraid to make even the smallest mistake. No wonder they are afraid to innovate and experiment in the same way as firms in Silicon Valley. The good news however, is that organizations like Code For America are fostering cultural change in small incremental steps.

There is a lot more to say about the film's point of view on multi-disciplinarity, social entrepreneurship and having an impact. For now, consider how this might apply in your world:

"So much of coming up with great ideas is allowing yourself to think crazy"