hannah dee

BCSWomen AI Accelerator

BCSWomen Chair Sarah Burnett has had a fab idea, which is to hold a series of webinars that talk about AI and how it is changing the world. In BCSWomen we do a lot of stuff about the women, and a lot of stuff to support women, but we also do a lot of stuff that is useful for tech people in general. The AI Accelerator falls into this category; the idea is that tech is changing and AI is driving that change, so we’re going to try and provide a background and overview of AI to help people get to grips with this. Once I heard the idea I had to put my hand up for a talk, and I grabbed the first slot general intro talk – “What is AI?“. The other speaker in the session was Andrew Anderson of Celaton, who talked about the business side of AI. If you want to join in follow @bcswomen on twitter and I’m sure they’ll tweet about the next one soon.

the talk

As ever I went a bit over the top on the talk prep, but managed to come up with a theme and 45 slides with a bunch of reveals/animations that I thought covered some key concepts quite well. (Yes 45 slides for 20 minutes is a bit much but hey, I rehearsed the timings down to a tee and it was OK.) The live webinar had a few issues with audio, so I re-recorded my talk as a stand-alone youtube presentation; it’s not as good as the original outing (as a bit of time had passed and I hadn’t rehearsed as much) but I think it still works OK. If you want to watch it, here it is:

You can find the slides online here: AI Accelerator talk slides. I am 99% certain that all the images I used were either free for reuse, or created by me, but if it turns out I’ve used a copyright image let me know and I’ll replace it.

the reasoning behind the talk

I’ve been “doing” AI since I first went to uni in 1993, and what people mean when they say AI has changed massively over this time. Things that I read about as science fiction are now everyday, and a lot of this is down to advances in machine learning (ML). So when I started working on the talk I actually asked myself “What do people really mean, when they say AI?”; it turns out that a lot of the time they’re actually talking ML. There are a lot of other questions that need to be raised (if not answered) – the difference between weak AI and strong AI, the concept of embodiment, the way in which some things which we think of as hard (e.g. chess) turned out to be quite easy, and some things we thought would be easy (e.g. vision) turned out to be quite hard. Hopefully in the talk I covered enough of this stuff to introduce the questions.

I decided that for a tech talk there needed to be a bit of tech in it too though, which is why I spent the second half breaking down a bit what we mean by machine learning, and introducing some different subtypes of machine learning. I expect that if you work in the area there’s nothing much new in the talk, but hopefully it gives an overview, and also gives enough depth for people to learn something from it.

so what about the cute robots?

I wanted a visual example for my slides on ML and particularly classification, so I created a robot image, then edited it about a bit to get 16 different variants (different buttons, different numbers of legs, aerials, arm positions). I then wrote a short program to switch the colours around so I got twice as many (just switching the blue and the red channels gives some cyan robots and some yellow robots).

If you want to use them in talks or whatever, feel free. You can get all 32 of the robots, here, along with the python program that switches colours and the gimp file (.xcf) if you want to edit them yourself.

The BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium 2017

The 10th BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium was held on April 12th, at Aberystwyth University. Around 200 attendees enjoyed a day of inspiring talks, fascinating student posters, careers advice, employers fair, lots of networking and too much cake. Our headline sponsor this year was Google, who covered loads of the student travel and also sent a speaker along.

As we pay for travel for all the poster contest finalists and as we were in Aberystwyth this year, we paid for 2 nights for everyone. This enabled us to have a social the night before, with Scott Logic providing a hackathon activity which got people talking and coding (and eating pizza).

Our keynote was Dr Sue Black OBE, founder of BCSWomen and general awesome person, who talked about her life and career to date, with PhD, Bletchley Park, Stephen Fry and the Queen. At the end of Sue’s talk she actually had a queue of people waiting for selfies. Then we had Carrie Anne Philbin of Raspberry Pi, who gave a fab talk about using your powers for good. If you haven’t seen her yet check out her youtube channel. Unfortunately she had to dash off which was a shame as people were so inspired by her talk that they kept asking me where she was for pretty much the rest of the day.

As usual the core of the day was an extended lunch and poster session. This year lunch was sponsored by GE, who also had a stand and helped out in lots of other ways.

Best First Year Student, sponsored by Google

1st: Frida Lindblad (Edinburgh Napier) – Making complexity simple in the world of technology

2nd: Aliza Exelby (Bath) – An examination of the effects of growing up in a digital age

Best Second Year Student, sponsored by JP Morgan

1st: Elise Ratcliffe (Bath) – Cryptography for website design

2nd: Rachael Paines (Open) – Where’s all the kit gone? Developing a bespoke equipment management system

Best Final Year Student

1st: Iveta Dulova (St Andrews) – Mobile device based framework for the prediction of early signs of mental health deviations / Hannah Khoo (Greenwich) – Analysing attacks on the CAN bus to determine how they can affect a vehicle

2nd: Louise North (Bath) – Optimising the energy efficiency of code using static program analysis techniques / Anna Rae Hughes (Sussex) – Safeguarding homelessness in a cashless society

Best MSc Student, sponsored by Amazon

1st: Caroline Haigh (Southampton) – Nul points and null values: using machine learning techniques to model Eurovision song contest outcomes

2nd: Isabel Whistlecroft (Southampton) – Can algorithms emulate abstract art?

People’s choice

First year Annette Reid (Bath) – “Ada Loved Lace”: how computer science and the textile industry influence each other

Second year Emma James (Bath) – Can machine learning trump hate?

Final year Rosie Hyde (Middlesex) – Can stress and anxiety be tracked through wearable technology?

MSc Leah Clarke (Durham) – Who will win Wimbledon 2017? Using deep learning to predict tennis matches

After the poster contest we had two more talks. The first was from Milka Horozova, of Google, who’s been in Google for just a few months. She met Google recruiters at the Lovelace in Edinburgh a few years ago so is a real Lovelace Colloquium success story. Our last speaker was Christine Zarges of Aberystwyth Computer Science, who talked about nature-inspired computing – artificial immune systems, neural networks, evolutionary systems. Interesting stuff.

One cake break later (we have a lot of cake, thanks to our CAKE SPONSOR, Bloomberg – yes we have a cake sponsor) and we finished off with the panel session and prizegiving. On the panel was Dominika Bennani of JP Morgan, Carol Long from Warwick and a BCSWomen founder member, Milka Horozova from Google and Claire Knights from UTC Aerospace. And me. The idea of the panel is that all the students can ask any question they like, on anything to do with computing and computing careers, and it’s often my favourite part of the day.

After the close of the panel, we stopped for a group photo on the big steps. Once I get the official photos back I’ll post the big picture, but for now here’s a selfie:

And then the last part of the day was the social, sponsored by ThoughtWorks – with more cake, and some drinks to help the networking go smoothly.

This was my last event as chair: I started it in 2008, and have run it for 10 years, and now it’s time to pass it on. So at the end of the day I handed over to Helen Miles, who’s going to take the Lovelace forward (with me as deputy for a couple of years to ease the transition – I’m still going to be there, whatever!). Helen is also Aberystwyth, and has an office just downstairs from me, which makes the handover easy. Next year, we’re going to Sheffield.

BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium blog roundup

The BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium was last week, in Sheffield. This is a collection of links to reports and so on. As usual I was the conference chair, and my official blog report is now on the BCSWomen site. SO pop over there and read that, then come back for the link roundup.

How can tech companies attract more women graduates?

Employers who want to change the gender ratio within their workforce have some difficult problems to solve. First amongst these problems is the size of the pool you’re fishing from: there just aren’t that many computer science women to choose from, so finding women who come ready for the workforce can be hard. Obviously you can look outside of the computing grad population – either look for non-grads and apprentices, or look for a broader range of degree subjects – but being a computer science lecturer I’m pretty convinced of the value of a computing degree. And many of the employers we talk to like computing grads too.

So, looking specifically at companies who want to employ computer science graduates there seems to be a real push to employ more women at the moment. I’ve been called by two big name employers in the last couple of months, and I’ve been contacted by a recent grad working in recruitment at a third big name consultancy, and the stalls we have at the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium are getting more and more popular each year.

We have an alumni group on Facebook full of women who’ve been to the Lovelace in the past, many of whom are now in grad jobs. In order to find out what kinds of events and recruitment strategies they’d find interesting, I decided to ask outright. There were a couple of suggestions (CV workshops and women-only assessment centres) from companies, and other suggestions came from the students themselves. Generally, the thread was quite interesting.

  • You have to get your adverts checked over by someone who’s not a guy. A lot of tech firms (particularly smaller ones) have a bit of a macho, brogrammer culture, and job ads which ask for rock-star programmers who are happy to work long hours, drink beer, and play computer games are appealing to a small subset of the universe of possible employees. If you really want that kind of employee that’s fine, I guess, but you might as well stop pretending that you’re bothered about diversity.
  • There was broad agreement that the students would like honest feedback and application support: CV workshops can be useful, but so can interview practice and mock assessment centre practice. Companies who are willing to provide training events, with decent feedback, and who can give tips on applications (particularly applications to that company, if it’s a good fit) would definitely be of interest.
  • The idea of women-only assessment centres got a mixed response. Lots of women don’t like events or strategies which are exclusively targeted at one gender.
  • The impression I got was that more balanced (less macho) assessment centres would be a good thing. This could mean women-led assessment centres, and assessment centres where there were balanced teams during teamwork exercises, would be better than outright women-only sessions. It’s true that there’s something odd about being the only woman in a group when you’re being assessed on groupwork (guys are statistically more likely to interrupt and take over) and anecdotally, this seems like it does happen fairly often in company assessment centres. Employers can get around this by having women facilitators1, ensuring that for group exercises there are balanced sets of people where possible (it’s better to have a bunch of all guy groups and a couple of 50-50 groups, for example, than have each group with just one woman in it), and making it clear that they’re taking this kind of thing into account in the job ad.
  • Offer industrial year placements and summer jobs to students in lower years; this gives both company and student a chance to see what it’s like actually working for a particular employer. There’s less of a scary commitment on both sides, and you really will get a feel for what a student can achieve.
  • There was a real interest in events that give a feel for the culture of a work place. Tours of the workplace. Meeting people who work there. Chatting to real engineers, preferably women, in an informal setting, is also a really useful thing to offer. Seeing how people work together in teams and how communication happens in the workplace is interesting to some of the women students & grads. One person suggested that actually doing some kind of activity (maybe a quiz?) in teams to see how people really worked together would be a useful way of finding out what working in the place was going to be like. I think that coming after “the year of the Tableflip”, in which technology workplace culture in general has seen a lot of bad press, students are thinking more and more about cultural fit with a company. If the employer doesn’t have any women engineers who can chat to applicants … why is that?
  • And finally get a stall at the Lovelace. At the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium we have a bunch (by which I mean “over 100”) of great women students, all of whom have chosen to give up a day from their vacation time in order to come to a computing conference. Employers who come along get to have a conversation with the students directly. To find out more about this option, talk to me:-)

Obviously there’s more to a diverse workforce than just getting people in the door in the first place (support and retention is really important, and you need to consider what happens when people take a career break) but if you don’t get the women through the door you can’t even start to address the problem. Hopefully this post will help a couple of employers to make their recruitment practices more appealing.

If you want to know more about this kind of stuff, check out Reena Jewell at geekEquality.com – she’s based in Southampton and has done some surveys on what women undergrads want in terms of tech careers.

Many thanks are due to the women students who chatted to me about this topic, both virtually and IRL.

1 obviously, women can be biased too, and if your workplace is entirely male there’s something dishonest about having mixed assessment centres.

Attempting a record: a successful event!

On Saturday 13 June, at 30 sites across the UK, people gathered to learn how to make simple Android apps. The workshop we used was my Android programming family fun day, and we decided to make the first hour of the workshop the actual record attempt.

It turns out that the Guinness World Records (GWR) people take it all reassuringly seriously. So each site needed the following:

  • Two witnesses, independent of BCSWomen and the host organisation (in this case, Aberystwyth University – we had Rachel Seabrook, who I met at Science Cafe, and Moya Neale, who I met at my dance class)
  • Two independent stewards who verified the numbers on the day (we had Tomi Rowlands of Ysgol Bro Hyddgen, and Rob Buchan-Terrey, who’s a STEMnet Ambassador).
  • Two timekeepers with experience of timing events (we had Mike Clarke and Andy Starr, both of whom are experienced cyclists and have done timekeeping for sporting events).

All of these monitors and stewards needed to fill in reports on what they did and saw, to convince the Guinness people that we are really doing what we say we do.

So at 10.30 precisely, across the country, using synchronised clocks, our timekeepers blew their whistles, and we all did an hour of coding. At the end of the hour, the whistles blew again, and we cheered knowing that we’d done our best. The app we all built together was one where you tap a button, and the phone goes Meow. Not the most exciting of apps, but it’s not bad for an hour coding when a lot of people haven’t done anything like this before. Here’s the Aber site’s cat’s chorus:

The rest of the day was spent building whatever apps people wanted to build, which was great. Questions I got asked included:

  • What noise does a penguin make?
  • How can I detect when my phone is pointing north?
  • How can I get a line instead of a dot in my drawing app
  • How can I link to a YouTube video?
  • How can I make a button do something different each time?
  • How does recursion work in AppInventor? (thanks Fred – there’s always one person who pushes the limits)

We had some cool games, including reaction time based games, and target-practice type games; drawing apps; apps which linked writers to videos about that writer’s work, and a barking compass which went WOOF when the device pointed north. There were a lot of partially completed apps, but everyone got something working.

In all, a fun day. And today we got the count of participants: 1093 people UK-wide spent Saturday writing an app, working on a workshop written by me. That makes me kinda proud, that does. We won’t know if we officially got the record for a while yet, but… that’s 1093 people who’ve had a fun day of coding, led by a technical woman. Maybe we even changed some perspectives on how fun programming can be, and what programming is like, and what programmers look like…

It takes loads of people just to put on one event. In Aber I’d like to thank, in no particular order, Moya, Rachel, Tomi, Rob, Andy and Mike our officiators; Sarah Bizby in Communications at AU who helped with all the event stuff and bookings and so on; Amanda Clare, Wayne Aubrey, Roger Boyle, Fred Long, Chris Price, Neil Taylor from AU for helping with the teaching, and also shifting equipment and putting up posters and generally being awesome. Anne Marggraf-Turley from Coleg Ceredigion deserves big thanks too, for helping with publicity, translation, and teaching support on the day. Nationally, there have been amazing people helping out – Gillian Arnold led the whole thing, Shamim Begum did locations, Deb Hopkins-Hurt did (and is still doing) GWR liaision, and there really have been an army of awesome women behind and in front of the screens. Yay BCSWomen!.

We’re going to break a record (probably)

On Saturday, across the UK, people are going to learn how to code simple Android apps using MIT AppInventor.

The day is being coordinated by BCSWomen and you can sign up here. Signups close tomorrow (Tuesday). There are many reasons behind BCSWomen doing this kind of thing. Firstly, each site will be led by a woman, so we’re putting technical women on the stage. The day is open to kids and families, so we’re helping to show kids that coding is creative and can be something they can do. We’re hoping for a bit of publicity for us (women in tech, the BCS, etc.) too. And… it’s going to be fun.

The way the day works is that we’ll get everyone in and set up, then a whistle will blow (actually, 30+ whistles will blow at the same time all over the UK), and we’ll learn to code. To start we’ll all be making the same app, and in the first hour every site will do pretty much the same thing. We’ll make the “hello, world” of Android apps, which is a cat that goes Meow when you touch it (this involves putting a button on the screen, changing the appearance, linking input to output, adding assets to the project…). Then the whistle will blow and the official record attempt will be over, and we can relax into the day letting people build the apps they want to build. Nobody’s going to make Angry Birds, but you might just manage to make Pong or something like that. I wanted to make a test app to show someone the kind of thing we might get round to making, and I made a drawing app, (and then drew a flower) so this might give you an idea of what’s possible.

Sign up if you haven’t already – I’ve never broken a record before!

The BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium 2015

This year the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium was in Edinburgh, on April 9th. This little conference, which I started in Leeds in 2008, has grown quite big now; we had about 150 attendees, and about 75 poster contest entrants. This year the local organiser was the amazing Amy Guy, who came to the conference as an undergraduate back in 2009, and has come back every year to help out. Which is nice:)

Edinburgh is a handsome city and it certainly put on a good show for us; the sky was blue, the University was a superb venue, and all the people we met were friendly. I put up about 55 people in the Edinburgh Central Travelodge, which was perfect for the job: clean, friendly, comfortable, and brilliantly located, about 15 minutes walk from Edinburgh Informatics, our host venue. Also, just around the corner from the castle…

As usual the day had a mixture of talks, student posters, and panel sessions. Our keynote, Kate Ho, kicked us off with an inspirational talk on working on things you love. Here she is with one of the big questions.

Other speakers talked about sentiment analysis, insect robots, and how to stick around for 30 years. The panel session involves people answering any question that the audience wants to ask; for me the highlight was Karen Petrie from Dundee uni who described her confidence boosting playlist. It might be the first time that Meghan Trainor and Lady Gaga have featured in careers advice ever.

The colloquium is an expensive thing to put on because we pay for all student travel: if students get in, we’ll get them to the event. We also pay for some of the speakers and organisers – so travel is by far our largest cost. We wouldn’t be able to do it at all without the support of our sponsors. Our headline sponsor was Google, for the 8th year running. They also sent a speaker, which is great – Google have some awesome women engineers and they send us a different one every year. Marvellous.

Our lunch sponsor was Twitter, Bloomberg sponsored Coffee & Cake, and the Social at the end of the day was covered by Scott Logic. We had additional travel support came from the BCS, Edinburgh University, and SICSA (speaker travel).

The winners

In the best first year contest (sponsored by Google) we had:

  • 1st place: Summer Jones of Imperial College with “Computational neuroscience – could it eradicate memory loss?”
  • 2nd place: Yiota Laperta of Aberystwyth University with “Programming with an Arduino”

In the best second year contest (sponsored by Slack https://slack.com/) we had:

  • 1st place: Emily Fay Horner, of Sheffield Hallam University, with “Nanobots: from fiction to reality”
  • 2nd place: Lucy Parker of Edinburgh University with “Assistive technology for children with autism spectrum disorders in the classroom”
  • An honorable mention also went to Natasha Lee of Bedfordshire University, with a poster on Mainframes and enterprise computing

In the final year student contest (sponsored by EMC http://www.emc.com/careers/index.htm) we had:

  • 1st place: Amanda Curry of Heriot-Watt University with “Generating natural route instructions for virtual personal assistants”
  • 2nd place was a 3-way tie:
    Jade Evans of Aberystwyth University with “Teaching and evaluation of breast radiologists, using computer games theory”
    Yazhou Liu of the University of Bath with “Neologisms and idioms: Translators ‘nightmare'”
    Jade Woodward of Dundee University with “Let’s help around the kitchen – iPad game for children with autism”

In the MSc student contest (sponsored by JP Morgan http://techcareers.jpmorgan.com/techcareers/emea/home)

  • Dhiya Al Saqri of Buckingham University, with a poster entitled “Digitalised Human Body”

The people’s choice prize (sponsored by Interface3 http://www.interface3.com/ ) is voted for by the attendees, and this was won by Emily Wang of Edinburgh for “Koi Pond”, and Milka Horozova of Queen Mary University of London with “Can a robot make this poster”.

We also had some employer stalls – this year they were FDM, Kotikan, UTC Aerospace, VMWare and GCHQ.

Next year: Sheffield. Hosted by Sheffield Hallam uni, with some input from the University of Sheffield. Bring it on!

Some women in tech talks: Warwick, Wolverhampton, Edinburgh

I have a bunch of things I meant to blog about but didn’t get round to – so I’m catching up by blogging once a day till I’m back at “now”. This would probably have been 2 or 3 blog posts had I done them at the time!…

Way back in 2012 I did an invited talk in Wolverhampton, on women in tech. This year they invited me back, so obviously, I needed a slightly different talk. At around the same time I was invited to talk to the University of Warwick Computer Science department, and as I was going to be in Edinburgh for the Lovelace Colloquium I got invited to do a BCS talk there too. Obviously, I re-used the talk (although with different titles each time – that’ll fool ’em:-)

Here’s the lovely Sharon Moore from BCSWomen in Scotland introducing me on the last outing, in Edinburgh:

The theme I took this time was “Young women in computing”; instead of trying to address the entire career pipeline, I only really considered school and uni experiences. There’s plenty to talk about there. Here’s my abstract:

There are many initiatives supporting women in computing, from programming systems aimed at pre-teen girls, through to initiatives helping women get back into the tech industry following career breaks. However, in terms of “intervention density” (if that’s even a thing), it seems we aim a lot of our efforts and funds at younger women – students, apprentices, schoolkids.

It’s over a decade since the book “Unlocking The Clubhouse” gave us a detailed look at the student experience in the USA: did we learn anything from that, or are we just repeating the same old stuff? Do today’s young women have the same experiences? In this talk I will look into the attitudes and experiences of younger women in tech – the things we’re trying to do, the things which work, the things which are too little, and the things which are probably too late. I will also try to address the big question: are we wasting our time?

My conclusions – spoiler alert – were that we’re probably doing some good stuff, but that we really need the guys to get on board. This was a useful thing to say in Wolverhampton (there were some guys there, it was about 50-50 split), but probably not a useful thing to say in Warwick (1 guy turned up in an audience of about 10) or Edinburgh (maybe 3 or 4 guys out of 70-ish audience). I do think that we need to take a more joined-up approach, and that we really need to stop having women doing all the women’s stuff (leaving the rest of computing to be done by the guys).

Anyway, if anyone wants a slightly ranty talk about young women, how and why they’re turned off computing, and some of what we can do about it, I’ve got one ready to go… it’s been delivered 3 times now so it even makes a coherent argument.

AppInventor Family Fun Day

For the last two weeks I’ve had a work experience student in working on AppInventor stuff. When she started, she’d never done any coding before, so I set her off on updating the materials for the AppInventor Family Fun Day.

… and the materials are now ready

Check the Family Fun Day page for fully updated materials, ready for AppInventor 2. Free, creative commons licensed one-day android programming workshop, now fully up to date again.

AND she got an app on Google Play

Check out PieSplat! A custard pie app where you can change the target image, and play either Whack-a-mole style or by flinging a flan (“FlanFling”).

That’s what I call a successful work experience placement….

Computer weekly women in IT awards

Last Thursday I went to London for the Computer Weekly women in IT awards. I was invited to speak at the event, as well as being shortlisted. I chose to talk about the undergraduate experience: the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium for women undergrads, why I set it up, and what it’s actually like for undergraduate women in UK universities right now. The culture of uni in general has got a lot more laddish in recent years, and social media doesn’t help that at all. I also drew heavily on the excellent book “Unlocking the clubhouse“, which came out over a decade ago, and which covers a lot of the problems we’re still suffering from. The talk went well, I think – lots of people came up to me afterwards to discuss it anyway. I think there’ll be some video of the talk up on CW later, and I’ll link that in when I see it.

I’m in the program!

The other talks were a mixed bag; some of them were really interesting and evidence based talks about women in business, and others were a bit “men are from mars, women are from venus”, which is (in my not so humble opinion) a massive oversimplification that doesn’t do the women or the men any favours. It’s like horoscopes for people who can only count to two.

I think it’s really important to understand that there are benefits to a diverse workforce, and that women bring benefits to the workplace, but that this doesn’t imply that all women bring empathy or some other soft skills stuff, or that all guys are systematisers or some other Simon Baron-Cohen stuff… There are as many ways to be a woman in tech as there are women in tech, the same is true for the guys, and we really need to hang on to that idea. Yes we are all special snowflakes. (And the people in Marketing might not be able to grab that concept, but hey, they’re in Marketing, you can’t expect them to be that sharp.)

Some of the talks were a bit stereotypical:-(

Then they announced the winners, counting down… and I got the number 15 slot. Check out the full list here, there are some truly impressive women on there.

Number 15, baby

After a celebratory beer and a rather nice curry, we drove back to Aber via the mountain road. It’s nice to go to London, but it’s also nice to get back…

Always nice to get back to bustling mid-Wales