Thursday, October 4, 2012

GHC12: Welcome and Keynote

An exciting official welcome to the conference from Telle Witney - attendance at this year's conference is up from 23% from last year, has over 1500 students, and attendees from over 42 countries!

Nora Denzel, Technical Executive and Corporate Board Member, has a long list of great tech companies that she's been involved with, either as a board member or as a technical executive. She has also recently started "Mentoring Walks" - a way to mentor and get exercise at the same time Probably healthier than "Mentoring at Classic Gelato" :-)

Ms. Denzel took us down a fun walk down memory lane with great stories about programming on the TRS80: programs were stored on cassette (quality controlled by volume setting), you were allowed one array, two strings and 27 numerics, and worst of all - everything was in upper case only. :-)

Now, why upper case only?  Because it saved $5 off of the manufacturing cost of each machine.  Sounds silly nowadays, but those are the types of design compromises many of us will be asked to make in our career. Sure, you may not be making the best machine or software component you could - but it will be affordable by your users and available in a timely fashion.

Ms. Denzel could not believe her luck when she found out that it was possible to get paid to write code :-)

After a few years, she worked her way into meeting with customers, doing technical marketing and eventually a technical manager at IBM.  She left IBM when they wanted to transfer her to upstate New York. After having lived in California, she couldn't bear the thought of doing a winter in New York.

Women make up about 50% of the professional workforce, but only 25% of all computing jobs - down from 30% about a decade ago.  Fewer women are graduating with computing degrees, and even when they do get them, they don't stay in the field.

Ms. Denzel is asking all of us to work on recruiting more women into tech and help keeping them here. This matters, because gender diverse teams make better decisions - which means we can have better products.  Men and women approach problems differently - by working together, we can come up with more creative solutions.

For example, older dictation machines were designed by men and tested by men, but they did not work with the female voice - so they were not successful. Similarly, with airbags - the initial deployments were actually dangerous for women and children.

Rules for longevity in technology:
  • Your attitude.
    • Her dad told her, "Your attitude is like a flat tire, if you don't change it, you're not going anywhere".
    • Ms. Denzel realized  she didn't have a career path - but a career obstacle course. She had to change her attitude: these problems weren't happening to her, but for her.
  •  For longevity, you need to be very comfortable with being uncomfortable.
    • Don't be afraid of vertical learning curves.
  • Act as if...
    • Act as if you're confident. Act as if you're a good speaker. Act like that.
    • It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, rather than think way into a new way of thinking. Stay out of your head.
  • Control your career PR agent
    • That's you!
    • Sometimes our own personal "press releases are ... too long! Or... too much!
      • For example, Ms Denzel once, as an executive, congratulated a woman on a great technical talk. The woman then went through a laundry list of mistakes she had actually made, complained about how she was tired and not at her best, etc. Pointing out her own shortcomings and mistakes - where she should've just said, "Thank you".
  • It takes a village
    • Make sure you have a network that you can nurture.
    • It's not what you know, or who you know - but who knows what you know.
Tips for recruiting:
  • You can wear what you want
  • You get free food
  • You get SWAG
  • You have the chance to change the world
Lots of great things to think about! The "Act as if" reminds me of a great book I read, Leadership Presence. I've been using that for a few years, and it really does help.

You can find the more accurately captured quotes and citations at Nora's site.

This post syndicated from Thoughts on security, beer, theater and biking!