Monday, November 25, 2013

Women in Computing & Software: 4th annual ONCWIC conference!

Left to right: Ashton, Natalie, Yassi,
and I before our welcome dinner 
Earlier this month, my friends and I packed our bags and headed up to Waterloo, Ontario for the 4th annual Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing conference. This wasn't my first time- we went as a group last year, and loved it so much we came back! It's an inexpensive conference, and has multiple meals, lectures, and a job fair, so we donned our heels and headed out.

I could easily type glowing reviews of so many of the keynote speakers, and the wit and charisma they brought to their presentations. However, one of my favourites was Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College. A lot of her discussion simply focused on the mindset many females have in academia, and then continue to have while they work in industry.

While they may not reign true for everyone out there, the concepts presented seem to loudly resonate with the 220 women in the room.

Attendees in one of the conference discussions
It starts at an early age.
With technology, young gentlemen love their games. Their love grows to become "I want to be able to build this!" and their passion for Computer Science/ Software Engineering is born. For young ladies, it is more common to find them on social media sites, and their use of the sites rarely translates to a desire to look at, learn, or build their own code.

Then we get into academia.
Our young men like challenges and, without apprehension, they'll dive in. If they don't understand, they'll stay persevering until they do. If they still don't understand, they'll fake it like they do.
Our young women? They tend to be apprehensive with unknown concepts. They may try it, but if they don't succeed, they'll leave it alone. They'll go back to what they know they're good at, and feel comfortable with.

After graduation.
Nearly every established, highly intellectual woman in in industry or academia at the conference admitted to having the "impostor" syndrome. What did this mean? In rough translation, it meant that women will be given a task and immediately think "I can't do this, how will I do this, I'm not ready, I don't know enough". Then they'll finish it. It will be great, and yet still they'll have this "Yesss, I totally fooled them- I still don't know what I'm doing!" mentality, and feel like a fraud... sound familiar?

The fact is, many women are absolutely brilliant- but they doubt themselves. They could grow to leave legendary impressions on the field, but only if they embrace an opportunity to enter it. Maria enforced that there are a few ways we can break through this "impostor" feeling:

Practice what makes you uncomfortable.
Accept self-doubt as who you are.
Surround yourself with support and look back as well as ahead.
Make yourself do the things that terrify you.

For any lady out there interested in coding- don't give up, and don't undermine your own capabilities. For the ladies who have never given coding a chance- give it a try! And you may never know where it will take you: perhaps into a career with one of the best-ranked jobs in the world!

Thanks for reading & check out the conference if you're even remotely interested! It's more than worth it, I promise :)

~ Helen