I recently went with several co-workers to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. My teammate, Kristine Delossantos, was giving a lightning talk about the technology behind Current Caller ID, and I wanted to go support the team and help with recruiting. I was a little intimidated thinking about being among the minority at the conference, gender-wise, and it made me better understand how a woman might feel in our male-dominated industry. Once I got there, all I really felt was excitement about having the opportunity to learn from leaders in both the academic and industry sectors, who happen to be women.
Women only make up 23% of computer science professionals, according to Telle Whitney, head of the Anita Borg institute. We have a growing gap between the number of computing jobs that are available in the US, and workers skilled enough to fill them. Code.org projects that there will be 1.4 million computing jobs by 2020, but only 400,000 computer science students, and increasing those numbers is essential for the technology industry in the US to continue to be leaders in global innovation. Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd college and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook discussed at the keynote how essential it was to encourage women to go into the field earlier in the education cycle to help bridge the gap, which I wholeheartedly agree with.
I met quite a few interesting people, and had a ton of great discussions with women in all areas of computing, from students to senior leaders. I got a chance to hear some really interesting research that people were doing. One woman, Emma from Harvard, sat next to me and we talked about her PhD research, which was in the field of computer vision. Apparently the brain can process data from the eyes with only a few watts of energy, and current computer vision techniques that rely on large computing-based neural networks are not nearly that efficient. She was exploring how to increase the energy efficiency using specialized hardware sensors that have the various convolution filters built in. She mentioned one reason for the research was to improve the vision capabilities of the Robobee project at Harvard, which itself sounds pretty cool.
The mixture of academics and industry leaders created a great blend of pure innovation and innovation applied towards business goals in a single location. In the same lightning talk panel in which Kristine was presenting, another woman, Denise Koessler from the University of Tennessee, was presenting an abridged version of her PhD thesis. It was describing how each phone customer has a unique call and text pattern based on times and durations of call/lengths of text, which Denise theorized could be used social fingerprint. Current, our product, actually presents some of the same types of information to our customers for information purposes and it was insightful to hear about how mobile carriers could leverage the data for customer identification and acquisition at scale.
All in all, the experience was really enlightening and wonderful. I learned some things about myself and how gender is still an issue in our industry. I learned that even though I think I’m not gender-biased, I need to work hard to be better and recognize that there are still unconscious biases that both women and men have that can be actively corrected. I got to hang out with many of my female co-workers and get to know them better. I got to learn about really interesting technical research, and hear about women’s experiences in our industry. I was further convinced how essential it is for us all to get our children, both daughters and sons, to learn about computer science earlier in school to ensure they are set up for success in the work force of tomorrow. I would strongly encourage both men and women to attend GHC next year.