Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NSBC 2016 - The Final Hoorah

Here's a recap of the highlights from Day 3 (or Day 2, depending on how you look at it) at NSBC 2016:

The final day of NSBC 2016 started with an eye opening keynote on the State of the Academy, given by the Dr. Gilbert. Statistics from his keynote came from the CRA Taulbee Survey, which annually collects salary and demographic information for faculty in Computer Science and Computer Engineering from departments that are members of the CRA. Although I expected the numbers to be low, the most interesting point made was that at this conference, those in a CS PhD program, represented ~10% of all the African American enrolled in CS  PhD programs. This doesn't seem like such a big deal until you consider the fact that in 2015, there was only 150 African Americans total enrolled in a CS PhD program in the US. The numbers for CS faculty was even lower...and got lower as the rank increased (i.e. Assistant --> Associate --> Full). And it's not just African Americans...there are even fewer Hispanics and Pacific Islanders.  This keynote made it clear just how important initiatives like NSBC, SHIP, etc. really are.

Following the keynote, we split up into our tracks again (me going back to the Future Faculty track). If I hadn't mentioned it, one nice things about these tracks is that you could bounce between them; graduate students could go to the future faculty track, undergrads could go to graduate track sessions, etc. The future faculty track broke down the various stages of getting an academic position, starting with applying.

Dr. Shaundra B. Daily led the discussion on applying for academic positions. Again, the same theme of more panel or round-table style session dominated (which, again, I just love). The application process is a common topic at workshops for students interested in faculty positions, so it was one I expected. What I didn't expect was how much detail she, and other faculty in the room, would go into about the minutia behind the process. Here are some of the stand-out questions/responses that (again) from my experiences stand out:

Q: If not looking for your specific research area, but they need faculty, do you apply? 

A (Dr. Seals): Be creative, see if you can find a way to fit your research in (i.e. other similar research)
A (Dr. Gilbert): Dr. Gilbert used an interesting analogy, which I heard for the first time when he brought it up. He compared applying to academic positions with the NFL draft. If you're the best "athlete" in the pool, regardless of what they're looking for, you may get an offer for being the truly better athlete. He also suggested making your cover letter as general enough for you to shine without having the specific qualifications they're looking for.
A (Me): Just to chime in based on advice I've gotten previously, focus on the skills you've gained and how they could be applicable to the position they're looking for.

Q: How do you stand out coming from HBCU when you want to work at an R1?

A (Dr. Gilbert): His recommendation is to rely on who you worked with and what you do; even if you can’t get into one today doesn’t mean you can’t tomorrow. Do great work wherever you go and you can move up. Dr. Gilbert ended up at Auburn because ran into a PhD student at a conference that said “we’re hiring”; had it not been for that encounter, he wouldn't have even applied. He also noted that, at the end of the day, you don’t know who’s reviewing your stuff.
A(Dr. Seals): She recommends you apply, but also apply places where you feel more likely to get offer. They’re looking to see your pedigree to see if you will increase the university's pedigree (i.e. getting awards). She noted you should also consider research intensive HBCUs, to ease the transition to an R.

Follow-up Q: Are we saying that an HBCU degree is not golden?

A (Dr. Gilbert): Most of who will look at your application don't know about your institution most likely. Certain universities they’re looking for, but your pedigree can trump any preconceived notions they have about you or your institution.

A(Dr. Seals): Get on larger institutions’ radars early; get post-doc fellowships to have money to go to the institution of your choice.

Q: Can a post-doc increase your pedigree?

A(Dr. Seals): She hired mostly post-docs who performed well during post-doc AND came in with money

A (Dr. Gilbert): It goes back to who did you work with; this is opportunity to boost that.

Next, Dr. Gilbert gave an (impressive) impromptu talk on the interview process. This is a topic less frequently covered, especially in detail, at future faculty workshops. Despite using no slides, Dr. Gilbert was able to give detailed, insightful advice on how to prepare before the interviews, what to expect during the interviews, and even what to do once you have offers. Rather than going into too much detail on the topics here, I may add some details to a future blog post on my experiences at future faculty workshops. OR I might hold out to encourage folks to attend ;).

The future faculty sessions concluded with a talk on Preparing in Advance for Tenure, given by Dr. Raheem Beyah. This was another stand-out session in that most future faculty workshops that I've been to haven't focused on the tenure process too much (outside of speaking on the balance between research, teaching, and service). My only complaint is that I wish we could have spent more time talking about the tenure process, particularly what happens once you have tenure (i.e. options for those interested in working at "mentoring-focused" universities). Maybe something I'll put that in the post-survey I still need to submit *embarrassed face*.

The final session, prior to the dinner and keynote, was unexpected but made perfect sense in hindsight. A major part of life in academia, or life in general, is being smart about money. Issac Roach of Issac Roach Consulting spoke with us about financial planning and investing. I love an interactive talk, and this one was another one of those. He handed out worksheets for budget planning that, although I did not fill out then, I plan to use to help improve my budgeting skills (because as a grad student I have so much money floating around :D). He discussed everything from investing to setting financial goals; super valuable as I'm about to be (hopefully) managing a lab, which means managing funds.

For the dinner keynote, Joe Johnson provided some "mentally decapitating" words to conclude the conference...this includes giving away $20 to one of the members of the audience! He, along with meeting the aaphdcs listserv founders, made for a perfect ending to an amazing three days. I can't wait to see what's in store next year...NSBC 2017 here I come! XD

Other resources:
- "Building a House for Diversity" by R. Roosevelt Thomas, JR; Majorie I. Woodruff

Monday, June 20, 2016

NSBC 2016 - Day 1

For anyone interested in what went down at NSBC 2016, this blog post summarizes the sessions I attended during the conference. There were many others, but as I stated in my previous post I focused on the future faculty track.

This conference started in the evening when everyone arrived with a reception at the hotel. This was a great chance for folks to get acquainted in a casual setting before the sessions began the next day. I got a chance to meet some people the very first day (and re-connect with some I'd met previously).  This set the tone for the rest of the conference; friendly faces, intelligent conversations, and GREAT food :).

The next morning, Dr. Juan Gilbert kicked everything off with a great welcome message. Not only is he one of the people who started NSBC and helped organize the conference, he brought a CONGREGATION of University of Florida current and future CS PhD students. A one group inspiration (seeing as I'm willing to bet for any given institution, you won't see that many African American CS PhDs) that contributed to the overall message of the convention. 

The keynote was given by Nancy Douyon, Googler and all around bad-ass. She gave an engaging keynote on building your personal brand and putting the best you forward. Now, this is a common topic among conferences targeted at minorities. However, Nancy not only stressed the importance of personal brand and online presence, she provided unique (and sound) advice for managing your brand. She made suggestions such as using Google Alerts to manage your search results, publicly tweeting what you want others to find, keeping your LinkedIn up to date, and using a website or portfolio to tell your story.

Next up, Coach Sandra Roach gave an interesting talk on prioritizing values and setting life goals. One theme for this conference, which I very much enjoy, is the focus on work/life balance. Coach Roach's talk, as well as others', focused on various facts of this topic. We tend to talk about these things in passing, but knowing our values and how we prioritize the things in our lives is important for growth (and sometimes necessary change). 

She made some great points, including but not limited to the following:

  • Emotions affect productivity, so good to be aware of your feelings and things that could affect your emotions
  • Organize things you have to do (lots of software available to do it); the Priority Satisfaction Model (depicted right) can help with organizing.
  • Take action on value prioritization by setting P.O.W.E.R. Goals (Purpose-driven, Outlined, Written-down, End-date, Results-oriented)
  • Always fight for your priorities - and they will change over time!
  • Celebrate your successes!

At this point, we all broke up into our sessions. The first future faculty session was focused on finding the right institution for you. I was particularly interested in this session; my biggest struggle as I'm getting closer to finishing has been decided where I want to go when I graduate. The panel consisted of three heavy hitters in the CS community: Dr. Elva Jones (Winston-Salem State), Dr. Gloria Washington (Howard University), and Dr. Cheryl Seals (Auburn University). We were also fortunate enough to have other faculty in the audience that could chime in with additional advice (Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Shaundra Daily to name a couple). As usual, everyone had a different path to how they got where they are today, so it was definitely great to hear different perspectives. I won't go into too much detail on this here, perhaps later in a blog post on what I've learned from the various future faculty workshops I've attended :).

The last session of the day was for everyone again, and focused on building professional networks. As I stated in my previous blog post, there was a HUGE emphasis on networking at this conference. And not just networking inside your peer groups, but also networking outside you peer groups (and sometimes comfort zones). This session was a panel; NSBC had a lot of panels, which I LOVE. The panel consisted of Dr. Gilbert, Nancy Douyon, and Dr. Shawn Gittens and was moderated by Joe Johnson himself (kinda cool!). I didn't get to catch the beginning of the panel, but I did catch the end of it. Here are a few points that stood out to me from this panel (some are direct quotes and some are my attempts at paraphrasing panel responses):

Q: What advice do you have for dealing with more difficult personalities in CS or situations where you may truly be the only one?

A (Dr. Gilbert): “Understand ignorance is alive and well and put it in its place. Take the opportunity to show them who you are and what you’re capable of.” 

A (Nancy): Find some way to connect with them; try to appreciate who they are and help them appreciate who you are.

Q: How do you blend in in an environment where you stand out?

A (Dr. Gilbert): For him, it turned out to be the best thing that he didn’t have other African Americans around. He hung out with who he was around and learned all he could about and from them. As a result, he is where he is now. He also learned how much harder it was for other students (i.e. international students) to get their degree. He recommended we embed ourselves with them and learn their ways; you’re going to deal with people like that no matter what. It might not seem like it at the time, but it’s an opportunity.

A (Dr. Gittens): "Don’t be afraid to make friends outside your department if needed."

Q: How do you be consistent when building relationships while being resilient in real life situations?

A (Nancy): Some networks are seasonal; not all networks are meant to grow with you. Be aware of the relationships and if they’re helping or hurting; the structure might have to change.

A (Dr. Gittens): You don’t have to talk to everyone in your network everyday; some might be frequent while others are only every once in a while.

Finally, to close the day, we took a group picture (see pic in previous post)! It's pretty hard to see everyone in the picture, but just the sight of so much techy melanin is beyond beautiful! And of course, thanks to my signature red hair, it's not too hard to find me :)

Stay tuned for the last installation of my 3-part post on NSBC 2016!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Diversity in CS shines at NSBC 2016

I spent my weekend in the beautiful A-T-L, Georgia where I had the pleasure of attending the first annual National Society of Blacks in Computing (NSBC) Conference. This is separate from NSBE or Richard Tapia, though related (and almost just as new to me as NSBC). When I started studying CS, though I was aware that there were few females, and even fewer females that look like me, I was fortunate enough to have a solid support system from my mentor (Jim Bowring) and participation in SC LS-AMP under the direction of Christine Moore. However, the community that I found at NSBC goes above and beyond any of my prior experiences for various reasons, which I will attempt to summarize below.

NSBC was started with the hopes of building a community and awareness of  the accomplishments of blacks in computing; though if you attend NSBE, for example, you'll see hundreds if not thousands of us, that's is not the case in CS. We have much fewer African Americans in CS than any other engineering discipline which, I don't find surprising as I am typically one of few African Americans at the conferences I regularly attend. It was also apparent in the significantly smaller number of attendees at NSBC in comparison to engineering targeted groups like NSBE. But when I say it was refreshing to be around others like me on a personal AND professional level; people with similar research interests and areas that I would have NEVER met had it not been for NSBC.

However, when I say we are here...we are here. The conference had an attendance of 90, higher than they (and I) expected. Especially being the first year of the convention; nevertheless, NSBC was truly an informational and inspirational experience that I recommend to any African American studying or with a career in computing.

Now I would like to note that it seems a large part of the goal of this convention is to recruit more African Americans studying CS into PhD studies and then academia. So the target audience is undergrads and grad students (both early and late in their studies) that haven't made a decision regarding what they are going to do or need some inspiration and information to make a decision. Though there were some industry folk, both there as mentors and to learn more about potentially transitioning from industry into an academic career.

I would also like to note this was not a blacks rule, everyone else's drools kind of conference. It was empowering, but there was lots of advice and anecdotes that attempt to put us in our places as well regarding how we perceive our place in the community, the non-uniqueness of our struggle to our race, and how we can use our resilience to build relationships and be successful through adversity. The example that stood out to me was the Ben Shneiderman, who is basically the father of the field of Human Computer Interaction. Before he was renowned and successful, however, he was a leper in the CS community, constantly ridiculed, belittled, and disrespected. He even had trouble getting tenure promotions, something we wouldn't expect a white male to have any issues with. However, ignorance is real and transcends race, ethnicity, and culture. Sometimes we're just scared of what we don't  know or just like Ben, help them understand. Be a part of your community, despite the adversity, and continue to stay true to who you are and what you believe. Once they understand, they'll come around. And if they don't, you didn't need them to begin with.

Though some sessions were for all, most sessions were divided into three tracks: undergraduate, graduate, and future faculty. Being I'll be on the market in the Fall, I attended the future faculty track where I was able to gather extremely useful information, mostly in the form of anecdotes delivered by computer scientists with various education backgrounds and career paths. However, I was told all tracks were valuable and provided both opportunities for learning, networking, and personal growth. For more information on the program from this year's conference, look here:

I want to narrow in on the networking point...we really don't hear enough about all the GREAT things we are doing in computing and computing education. One thing in particular that stood out to me at this conference was the incredible intelligence, resilience, and success our people have come to achieve and utilize. For example, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Dr. Elva Jones. Dr. Jones got her PhD from NC State (something I was almost embarrassed that I didn't know); afterwards, she got an offer to come back and teach at NCSU and turned it down to go back to her HBCU alma mater to give back (Winston-Salem State). And give back she did...Dr. Jones is the founder (and legacy behind) the CS department at Winston-Salem State! Probably the coolest thing I've ever heard...and it hits so close to home. Now I was really embarrassed that I didn't know who she was...though super glad I got to meet her. Not to go on too much of a tangent, but this is why we need more specialized efforts in recognizing and archiving the achievements of African Americans in CS...unfortunately they tend to fall by the waist side, leaving people like myself to find inspiration on their own. One initiative I've been involved with plans to change that - maybe I can give more details on that later when it's come closer to finalizing ;).

To better assist with networking and the forming of relationships (i.e. professional, mentoring), the organizers used personality assessments to provide personality profiles to each attendee. They used stickers on our badges to show what personality profile we are, and for many this was a great way of meeting like minded people that could potentially contribute to each other's career. I will say I didn't use the stars to decide who to meet, but for those who know me I just love meeting new these wonderful women pictured below. I already knew one of them, but the rest I met at the conference. I can honestly say about each and every one of them that we have formed some sort of foundation to a future relationship in our careers, both mentoring and professional. Plus, ain't we cute?? ;)

At the end of it all, there was a dinner with a keynote and surprise guests. The keynote was GREAT (I'll talk about in follow-up day by day details), but the surprise guests were the founders of the aaphdcs listserv! It was such a humbling (and tear jerking) experience seeing them take in all the beautiful, intelligent African American Computer Scientists around them. I had a similar moment with one of the other faculty attendees that where we both took a step back to take in the idea that we are building relationships that will help bring in a new generation of diversity in tech.

I would also like to mention that aside from the fact that they had us in the NICEST hotel I've ever stayed in for a conference, the food was PHENOMENAL! There were options for everyone, and plenty to go around. The only downside, cash bar :(. But, due to the hospitality of the organizers, we were able to have some fun after hours watching the NBA Finals and enjoying each other's company (with free alcohol, which never hurts XD).

Now that I've given you an overview of my experience and what I thought was great about NSBC, I hope it'll inspire you to join the community or spread the word so others know they're not alone! We're here baby!

For those of you interested in more details on the happenings at NSBC 2016, I'll have a couple highlight blogs posts (one for each day) posted shortly -- pictures and resources included! ;)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Qualitative Data Analysis: Card Sorting

So you have some qualitative data -- maybe from interviews, maybe from an observation session -- and you want to do some data analysis. You know what you are looking for (i.e. causes of miscommunication or misunderstanding, resolution strategies), but have little to no hypothetical support for any themes amongst your data. One qualitative data analysis technique you can use is card sorting. 

This blog post is written in collaboration with my colleague Justin Smith; it is based on our experiences doing research in our research group (Developer Liberation Front) and my time at Microsoft Research this past summer working with Tom Zimmermann in the Empirical Software Engineering group and what we have found to be most efficient. For those who are interested in how to do a card sort, or how others do card sorting, I'm going to talk about how to do a card sort based on our experiences.

First thing's first: before you can do a card sort, even before you look at your data, you should have an idea of what it is you're looking for in your data. For example, with the study I am working on, I'm interested in what makes tool output difficult to interpret; more specifically I want to identify the areas where there is either miscommunication, risk of miscommunication, or misunderstanding and see what causes each.

  • Recommendation #1: Come up with some criteria that can be used when extracting quotes. Your criteria should be based on whatever it is you're searching for in the transcript. For example, with Justin's study, we wanted to find implicit and explicit questions developers need answered when resolving security vulnerabilities; therefore, one trivial criteria was that the text should be an explicit question posed by the developer. The more defined and specific what you're looking for is, the easier it will be to extract data for your card sort.
  • Recommendation #2: Have at least two people extract quotes (including yourself obviously); you should all be using the criteria you put together. This will help validate your criteria as well as increase the validity of the quotes you extract. If you're using two people, both should extract quotes from all transcripts; once that's done, the two of you should sit down and determine where you agree and disagree. Two is usually enough, but if you decide to use three people, we recommend having 2 people work on different sets of data (i.e. person 1 and 2 on a set, person 1 and 3 on a set...); once finished, each couple will work out their disagreements. This is something you will want to report when you attempt to publish your findings :) (it's called inter-rater reliability).

Once you have your set of quotes from your transcript, you need to put them on notecards. Advice from someone who's been there: although having physical, paper notecards is a necessity for a card sort, we highly recommend having an electronic copy of your quotes (I put mine in Excel).

For our first card sorts, we manually made physical note cards -- they look nice and the card sort itself was okay, but keeping track of themes and sub-themes during the card sort, and after, was not trivial and sometimes led to confusion and the need for back tracking.

A pointer regarding using spreadsheets to store your data:
  • Anything you would include on your notecard should be a column in the spreadsheet; for example, the columns in my spreadsheet are Participant (P1, P2...), Tool Being Used, and Quote. I also have a column for a unique identifier for each quote (Card Number) and the Emergent Themes from each round of the card sort. It might also be beneficial to include a Timestamp column; this way, you can have an approximate location in your media to find the quote if needed.

There are a number of advantages to having your quotes in a spreadsheet, specifically Excel:
  1. You don't have to worry (as much) about water or a random fire ruining your data. It's also harder to lose your data if it's electronically stored.
  2. Spreadsheets are searchable; paper notecards are not.
  3. Typically card sorts are often done in iterations, and you want to be able to report anything that happens (i.e. cards moving from one theme to another); this is MUCH easier if you can put the themes for each round of the card sort into a spreadsheet. 
  4. Organizing paper notecards can be tedious and error-prone (i.e. trying to find a card and messing up an entire pile); having an electronic copy you can easily organize your data. If you decide to organize your notecards, you at least know you have a proxy of how the data was in your electronic copy.
  5. Actually making notecards is a time consuming process, especially when making them by hand. Instead, if you have your quotes in an Excel spreadsheet, and label the columns as mentioned earlier, you can use Mail Merge to create your notecards electronically :). Details regarding how to do this can be found in the following supplementary blog post.

Now, it's time to complete the card sort. This can be done in one phase, however, we recommend doing it in multiple phases. Minimally, there's a phase 1 for preliminary sorting into themes and phase 2 for sorting each theme into high-level themes. This is particularly useful for large datasets where you can wind up with a large number of themes after the first phase; typically there are common themes amongst those separate themes, thereby warranting another phase of sorting. You may also want to include a validation phase once you have determined all the low level emergent themes (after phase 1). This phase is to ensure that all quotes have been sorted into the best possible theme.

  • Recommendation #1: Include others in the card sort process; this lessens the bias behind the themes you find (and from our experience helps come up with distinct themes with clear definitions, which is super important when working with qualitative data). One thing to be aware of is the more cooks in the kitchen, the more time it might take to complete (more potential for disagreement and need for discussion), so plan accordingly. For our most recent card sort, 2 hours was our max at one time so, with a little over 300 notecards, we did four 2-hour sessions. Previously I've had shorter sessions; the longer time for this study, we believe, is a product of the type of data we're working with (non-interview).
  • Recommendation #2: As you're doing you're card sort, keep track of important information as it changes (i.e. how you define your themes/sub-themes). Also, keep track of quotes that you and your sorters believe best represent each theme. Doing these things will make reporting your findings much easier. 

Once you've done all this, you're ready to start thinking about what your paper is going to look like and where the interesting stories are in your themes (the fun part). With that being said, good luck fellow qualitative researchers! :)

Thanks again to Justin for helping me put this together and the Developer Liberation Front and Tom for the experiences!

Creating Notecards using Microsoft Word Mail Merge

This blog post provides step-by-step instructions for creating notecards (possibly for a card sort) using Microsoft Excel and Word. Thanks to Tom Zimmermann of Microsoft Research who taught me this nifty trick :D.

This tutorial assumes you already have your data in a spreadsheet, as discussed in another blog post.

  1. Save your excel spreadsheet -- make sure your data columns are labeled.
  2. Open or create a Word template with the number of notecards you would like on one page. I created my own using the Create Table command in Word; either way, make sure you know what size each notecard is (you'll need it later).
  3. Once you have the template/document open, you will need to put in the various components of your notecard where you'd like them to be. As an example, my template I created based on my spreadsheet columns can be found here.
  4. Next, select the Mailings tab > Start Mail Merge Email Messages. It technically doesn't matter what you select here; I choose Email Messages because it makes life easier :).
  5. Next, select Select Recipients >  Use An Existing List...
    Browse to and select the spreadsheet with your data. If your quotes are in a workbook, make sure you select the correct sheet.
  6. Now you want to map the different "fields" in your document to the columns in your spreadsheet. This is done using the Insert Merge Field menu.
    The list that comes is populated with the columns in your spreadsheet -- insert each field into one notecard (i.e. replace <<participant>> with Participant merge field) then copy and paste all fields into each notecard. Once finished, it will look something like this:

  7. If you click Preview Results you can see what your notecards will look like. If you click it now, each notecard will have the same information on it. This is because you have to tell Mail Merge to go to the next record in the spreadsheet.

    To tell Word you want to go to the next record for each notecard, you need to add a rule; this is done by going to the Rules menu and selecting Next Record. You need the <<Next Record>> field on each notecard; it should look something like this:

    Now when you click Preview Results you should see different data for each notecard.

  8. Now you're ready to Finish & Merge!
    I typically select Edit Individual Documents... so I can make sure everything is copesthetic.
  9. The final step is optional, but recommended: because quotes vary in length, depending on the template you used for your notecards you may want to remove any extra space added for the short quotes due to the long quotes. It's a tedious process but helps save paper :).

Once you have your notecards ready, you can print, cut, then you're ready to get to sortin'! :D

Monday, November 16, 2015

IBM University Day 2015 - Women in Education and Research

I attended IBM University Day for the first time this past Friday. I didn't know what to expect. I had never been to this event, which apparently had been going on for some time now. Also, I've always heard (and sometimes felt) a stigma behind IBM that made me weary of an event they would have titled "Women in Education and Research". Aside from the fact that I've always associated IBM with conservative, older white men, as an African American woman I'm always looking for someone like me doing extraordinary thing at events like this and am most often disappointed. I just knew this event would be no different...except I was surprisingly and so thankfully wrong. Of course there were all women speakers, all with different backgrounds and areas of work. On top of this diversity, 4 of the 12 speakers were African American -- that's 33%! Compared to the ~3% of us that make up the entire tech industry, that's incredibly refreshing! Although not everyone built their career in a technical field, most of them came up in STEM which makes it even more refreshing. I always love to see women succeed but it is especially helpful for me to see the variety that was exhibited at this event.

Aside from attending out of curiosity, the event included a "poster session" (see me above at poster session :D). I use "" because I think I spent a total of 15 minutes at my poster where there was traffic in that area. That's the one complaint I have about the event -- if I hear poster session I'm thinking I'm gonna have some time to flex. I had almost none. Aside from that, however, the research I am currently working on require developers. And being IBM codes in Java, it seems fitting that I take the opportunity to meet folks and make connections I could use to recruit developers. Fortunately, despite the little to no time I had at my poster to explain my research, I was able to chat with some folks and get them interested in helping me out. I can't say I'd attend to "present" a poster again, however, it was not a total loss :).

As for the bulk of the event, there was a series of talks given by females with various backgrounds in education and research. The major take-aways I got from the series are:

  • Always be you; it’s okay to be different! From different comes change, and change is almost always good.
  • Nothing is set in stone; don’t be afraid to try different careers. Sometimes that’s what it takes find your passion/niche.
  • Adversity is almost inevitable, especially as the minority (women, AA, Latino/a); deal with it in stride and know you’re not alone.
  • Women make incredible contributions everyday - let’s keep the trend going and bring our contributions to the forefront where they deserve to be!

For those who are curious, or wanted to attend but missed it, here's the line up for your exploring pleasure :)

Fran O'Sullivan
IBM Senior State Executive for NC and General Manager of Systems Strategy and Operations

Fran O'Sullivan's talk focused on her history at IBM as a woman and lessons she learned along the way. This was a dominant theme among the talks. One interesting part of her timeline, which began in the 80s, is that the first women appeared in her managerial chain in 2014 -- two years ago. Unfortunately, this wasn't super surprising; especially for IBM. Another interesting story was the "Frank" story. One of her bosses called her Frank on a note; she went to his office and asked "Who's Frank?". Of course he was flustered by his mistake, but she made light of the situation. One piece of advice she had for the audience was not to take everything so serious. She ended her talk with call to action to get and keep women in STEM (see photo).

Dr. Tashni Ann Dubroy
President, Shaw University

Dr. Dubroy spoke on her background, experiences, and why she feels we need more women in education and research; more specifically, the need for more some in STEM. She was born in Jamaica, adding to the diversity I spoke of, and decided at a young age she wanted to study chemistry. She spoke on quite a few things I, as well as others, could relate to. For example, she spoke of her difficulties with chemistry when she took her first course and how someone told her she had a "mental block" that was preventing her learning. She eventually overcame this mental block, but I think this is something that happens in CS as well; there are mental blocks regarding concepts that seem difficult when really it's just a matter of relating what you're learning to something you know or understand. She also spoke on how a positive outlook leads to positive direction in life (even when you don't immediately realize it) and how being an "all arounder", or someone with various aspects to their background outside their main area, is a pro not a con.
Dr. Dubroy is also an entrepreneur (part of being an "all arounder" :D), having co-founded the Brilliant and Beautiful Foundation and a hair care line called Tea and Honey Blends. How cool is that?!

Dr. Terri Lomax
Executive Vice President, Discovery-Science-Technology at RTI (Research Triangle Institute)

The theme of Dr. Lomax's presentation was "change is good". I was sold before she began, but if I wasn't she was a great example of why change is good (i.e. not scary, typically for the better). She went through lots of changes in her journey to where she is today, but the most relevant that I think anyone considering getting their PhD should know, is her advisor horror story. She had an advisor that refused to be helpful; whether a personal problem her or just his way, it didn't benefit her. She changed advisors and completed her PhD with a supporting advisor. I know too many people who have had similar issues (and stuck with that advisor for much longer than I could have) -- so know, change is good. Often change, especially in the context of this example, can be the difference between you finishing your PhD in 5 years and 10! One of her changes even brought her to the wonderful NC State :). She also talked about her initiatives to make CS relatable and more appealing to younger audiences by having forensic weekends where they can "do science and meet people". 

Susan Kellogg
Associate Vice Chancellor and Deputy Chief Information Officer in ITS at UNC

Susan Kellogg's, as did the rest, spoke on her journey - more specifically she focused on why she chose academia and advice for career decision making. And she did so without any slides (which is ideal if done well -- and she did a good job). Two major points came from her talk: 1) Pay attention to the fine print and 2) Be true to you. There was an interesting story behind each of these pieces of advice, however, the be true to you was the one that stuck for me. Especially considering I myself am somewhat of a pariah in what I do for various reasons (being an African American woman, my love for tattoos, piercings, and fashion, etc.). Her story centered around her pants suits; yes, pants suits. She didn't realize it as she was doing it, but just by being herself she changed the culture of one of the companies in her career path. Coming into the company, she was the only female to wear pants suits -- rather than changing who she was or shying away from it, she owned it. Before she knew it, more women were wearing pants suits rather than skirts and dresses. Small wins.

Dr. Wanda Lester
Interim Dean of the School of Business,  NCCU

This one hit close to home, as Dr. Lester is from Tallahassee, Florida -- same city as the love of my life :). One of the more experienced speakers of the day, Dr. Lester spoke on her experiences as an African American woman building her career in a time when racial tensions were worse than they are right now (also without slides). Despite any changes, trials, and tribulations she encountered, she kept her head held high and spent many years in educations building her career. She spoke on the importance of mentoring, something I harp on regularly both on here and in person with others I meet. She talked about long-term mentors but she also brought up something I had never thought about, which she called "momentary mentors". These are people who may not always around as a mentor but have or will serve a specific purpose on your career path. Although I have always considered Dr. Bowring to be my mentor, as I think about what a momentary mentor is I know I've had those along the way and continue to meet more as I work towards my degree. 

Ana Biazetti
Chair of IBM NC TEC (North Carolina Technical Experts Council)

I was trying to make the most of the little bit of time I had at my poster, so I missed the first part of this talk.  Based on the portion I saw, there was the similar theme of here's my journey and advice I have based on my experiences. The first slide I saw was "how to be an effective technical leader" (which I took a photo of but the background makes it hard to read). Though I didn't get to hear her talk about it, I can see how her advice can apply to any career, such as collaboration outside your team and focusing on execution for impact.

Dr. Veena Misra
Director of NC State ASSIST

Dr. Misra is a 3 time NC State graduate (BS, MS, PhD) and is now a professor at NC State; one of those rare stores, like that of my co-advisor Sarah Heckman. She discussed with us her work in ASSIST, an NSF center for research on wearables and sensors. I actually got a chance to chat with one of the students working in the ASSIST center and I must say, pretty cool research going on :). She also focused specifically on gifts in her personal journey and challenges. A gift that stood out as something I can only agree with because I've myself experienced it, and that's unexpected opportunities. I take it as a general rule of thumb that unexpected opportunities (hell, any opportunity) should be taken advantage of, especially if they benefit your path or career. On the challenges side, one of the typical challenges discussed is work/life balance, which of course she mentioned. However, she also mentioned some challenges that I never would have thought of myself (but have experienced); those are "dealing with negative news" and "leading while being you". Both are important to your sanity in grad school -- negative news is inevitable so you want to be conscious of how you deal with it and as Susan also said, you never want to lose yourself in anything you do. Always be you, because you are awesome!

Dr. Donna Grant
Associate Professor/ CIS Department Chair, NCCU

Dr. Grant's talks may have been one of my favorites...she was energetic and focused her talk on her journey in STEM and how she learned to soar (something we all want to do). One of the most interesting facts she brought up in her talk is the fact that she got her PhD from DePaul University in 2007...and was the first AA person to ever do so. Not female. Person. This is similar to the PhD program in CS at NC State - the first African American woman to get her PhD was in 2006. For universities like NC State where the PhD program has been around for over 40 years this is craziness. Dr. Grant also discussed her journey from corporate to academia, where she used her corporate background to inform her lessons -- also one of my teaching philosophies I'm developing. Just one advantage to going into industry then back to academia :). She also mentioned quotes that inspire and motivate her, including the serenity prayer and a quote about fear of being powerful.

Dr. Alisha Malloy
Associate Professor, Former CIS Department Chair, NCCU

Sharing a time slot with Dr. Grant, Dr. Malloy (formerly holding the role Dr. Grant has) spoke on her experiences and how her military background informed and led to her decision to pursue a PhD and build a career in academia. Her desire to get a PhD and educate others came from her experience in the military, where she was 1 of 2 women and of course in the minority as an African American. She said something about this discrepancy in numbers and figured she could either complain about the change or be the change. She decided to be the change -- so she got her PhD and moved to academia where she could pay it forward. One of my favorite life philosophies: I got, so now I should give back.

Dr. Susan Rodger
Head of the NC Alice program,  Professor of the Practice, Duke

I've had the privilege of meeting Dr. Rodger and hearing her speak at previous events, so I already knew going in a good bit about her current work. She gave some insights into her background and how she got where she is today, giving advice along the way. One interesting piece of advice came from her discussion on how she chose to attend graduate school. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to go to graduate school or into industry after graduating undergrad, so she put in applications for both. When she decided that grad school was the route for her, she already had job offers. Rather than turning them down outright, she asked each about the opportunity for summer internships -- brilliant! I wish I would have thought of this but hopefully this piece of information will benefit someone :). She also spoke on some of her initiatives, including Alice In Schools and Notable Women in CS.

Dr. Rada Chirkova
Director of NC State STEED

Dr. Chirkova, a professor at NC State (CSC), didn't spend much time talking; however, she made some great points in the short presentation given. She spent some time talking about the STEED ( Science of Technologies for End-to-End Enablement of Data) group's research but spent most of her time talking about the people who have supported her since her start as a professor at NC State, both from the university and individuals. Although I'm a student, not a member of faculty, I can relate to the feeling of support she has felt. Not everyone is as helpful as others, but there are many people that are truly here to help. The major piece of advice she wanted to pass along was to not try to do everything yourself, something else I can relate to from experience. "Listen and delegate" were her exact words. Working for your PhD as well as what comes after can be stressful - the more help and support you can get the less stressed you'll be. 

Dr. Rachana Gupta
Associate Director of NC State ECE Senior Design

Dr. Gupta, another member of the NC State faculty (ECE), also gave a fairly short talk -- possibly because she was last and the event was already past time by the time she came up to bat. She spent most of her time talking about her research and work she does with the ECE Senior Design. She also discussed how to make yourself marketable to companies. One piece of advice she wanted to pass along at the end of her talk -- something I've said many times and heard from others -- is that the PhD really isn't for everyone. It's important to know you want to do the PhD and have some motivation to finish; it gets rough, so you need that intrinsic motivation to keep you going when times get rough (this I know from experience).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

VL/HCC Day 3

I will state again, I love VL/HCC :)
If ever given the opportunity to go (if you do any human centric or visual language research), GO! It's valuable in so many ways...even the talks you think you're not interested in you end up loving. Like today's keynote...I thought, not another blocks talk...and then it happened. And I was glad I was there.

The keynote today was titled "Taking Stock of Blocks: Promises and Challenges of Blocks Programming Languages" given by Franklyn Turbak of Wellesley College Computer Science Department. I was going to write a post about it, but Felienne already did a great job, so check it out!

One thing I found interesting is that there is a long history of blocks-based programming. Here is the lineage discussed in the talk:

Blox (Glinert, 1986) - first time puzzle pieces used to represent code
LogoBlocks (Begel, 1996)
Alice (Pausch et al., 2001) - 3D animations; evolved from Python to drag and drop
PicoBlocks (Bonta, Silverman, et al., 2006) - microprocessor for robotics; passes the "Lucite Test" - imagine constructing out of physical blocks; also has extension language
Scratch (Resnick et al., 2007) - best of Alice and PicoBlocks
StarLogo TNG (Roque, Wendel, et al., 2007) - created OpenBlocks frameworks for other to build language
BYOB/Snap! (Harvey et al., 2008) - have first class functions
App Inventor Classic - clunky
Blockly (Fraser, 2012) - javascript based (embedded in web browser); mutators = edit blocks with other mini block language
App Inventor 2 (2013) - local variables, improved parameters
PencilCode (Bau 2013) - toggle between blocks and text in interesting way
Droplets (Bau 2014) - '' ''

Languages with physical blocks (cool!)
Robot Park
Tangible Kindergarten

As the conference comes to an end, I think about how grateful I am for the experiences I've had and continue to have as PhD student. I met and connected with one of my research/blogging idols (Felienne - we even had drinks together! :D), made some new unexpected connections with other researchers that I should definitely know (Mark Guzdial, Caitlin Kelleher,  Ronald Metoyer to name a few), and even made the realization that I've advanced in my field/area as I know more and more people that I encounter at these conferences (and they actually like my research!!). It's venues like VL/HCC where I feel like I get the most value as a researcher -- I'm walking away more ready and confident than I came. And that's alright :).

Favorites talks (from first session -- took second half to visit family :D):

A Syntax-Directed Keyboard Extension for Writing Source Code on Touchscreen Devices
Islam Almusaly and Ronald Metoyer

Adapting Higher-order List Operators for Blocks Programming
Soojin Kim and Franklyn Turbak
PHOLOs - "Pseduo-Higher-Order Operators"

Hub Map: A new approach for visualizing traffic data sets with multi-attribute link data
Andrew Simmons, Iman Avazpour, Hai L. Vu, Rajesh Vasa
perfect for venue location (ATL known for traffic)

Interesting papers (missed the talk):
Natural Language Programming: Designing Effective Environments for Novices
Judith Good and Katherine Howland

A Principle Evaluation for a Principled Idea Garden
Will Jerigan, Amber Horvath, Michael Lee, Margaret Burnett, Taylor Cuilty, Sandeep Kuttal, Anicia Peters, Irwin Kwan, Faezeh Bahmani, Andrew Ko

Enabling Independent Learning of Programming Concepts through Programming Completion Puzzles
Kyle J. Harms, Noah Rowlett, Caitlin Kelleher