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.

Soapbox Science, Cardiff

Soapbox Science is a public engagement event designed to get scientists out into the public and into public spaces, talking about their work. It’s supposed to demystify science (a bit) but also to change people’s perceptions of what scientists look like; one of the ways it does this is by making all of the scientists on the soapbox women. When I heard about it, I thought… Public engagement? Women in Science? Sounds a bit mad? Guess I’d better apply then!

The event I applied for was my nearest one, this year, and that was Cardiff, and it was yesterday. As you can probably guess from the blog post, I got in.

Having got in, my next problem was what to talk about… for 30 minutes, to a general passers-by kind of audience, without computers or posters or anything like that. As a vision scientist, who works with computers, that’s quite the challenge. The topic I settled on was Shadows.

One of the cool things about Soapbox Science is that it’s OK to bring along props. Some of the scientists had brains, or little bits of gold, or fungus, or felt-and-wax artistic renderings of tumours (no, srsly, they did). I went for an arduino powered cardboard box.

This involved having a neopixel ring inside a cardboard box, programmed with various lighting patterns, and a button on the outside which switched pattern every time the button was pressed. My hope was that by having a ring-shaped light source it would be possible to look out of the middle of the ring, and having the viewpoint of the lightsource (as Da Vinci said, “No luminous body sees the shadow it casts” or something like that). But the viewpoint was just out so you could actually see the shadows anyway. So I made the 16 light sources either chase around with different colours, or gradually illuminate making the shadows hazy, or gradually go off, making the shadows sharp again.

Inside the box I hung a small plastic model of a skateboarder, I soldered all the bits together, and then I had my main prop: a Shadowbox. The shadow effects created really were quite strange, and they served quite well to illustrate the idea that the size of the light source, the colour of the light source and the colour of the screen all affect the shadow’s appearance.

As you look into the box through one of two holes, the experience of seeing the shadows is quite disconcerting, and it can take a while to work out what exactly is going on. But that’s OK – I wanted something kind-of “installationy” and this worked quite well as a visual experience. What didn’t work so well was the skater on a string – as the figurine was suspended from the lid using fishing wire, she swung wildly from side to side if anyone knocked the box, making it all just that little bit more incomprehensible.

The other props I took were some flipbooks, made from a 50 frame sequence of shadow video. I took books representing the input (the actual video), the ground truth (what we want our software to output), some intermediate processing steps and the final output of our shadow detection routine. These were hacked together using python and LaTeX; if you’re interested in any of the code (flipbook code or arduino code) you can find it on my github account. I also took some zoom in crops of images showing pixellated shadow or non-shadow regions, mainly just to show how hard it is to detect shadows when your input is pixels. And I took some sharpies and a sketchbook because … I NEEDED PROPS.

So yesterday, Saturday morning 4th June, I got up early and drove down to Cardiff with a boot full of electronics and poorly put together flipbooks. I arrived just after 12, to a control centre in Yr Hen Llyfrgell which was a hive of activity, helpers, organisers, mascots, labcoats, tshirts, props and of course scientists. And balloons. And coffee. Each scientist was allocated a helper to assist with props and so on: my helper was a very nice and efficient Cardiff Uni medical student called Gunjan who was awesome at ensuring I had the things I needed when I needed them.

One of the mascots was the Cardiff University Dragon, who’s called Dylan. Apparently it was really very hot indeed inside the dragon. The other mascot (who I didn’t get a photo of) was a teddy bear. I’m not sure why.

We’d been advised to have a few 5-minute ideas for talks, and we’d been told we might get questions/heckles and so on, so repeating bits was probably going to be necessary. The time came and I went out, with this written on the back of my hand:

  • Me and science
  • Shadow formation
  • Computer vision
  • Pixels, videos
  • Ground truth
  • Colour, texture

Our soapboxes were in a busy intersection on Cardiff’s shopping district, quite near a woman with an amplifier singing eighties lounge songs (niiice). As talk venues go, I can’t think of many more challenging. The actual “talking about science to the general public on a soapbox” bit was almost exactly as terrifying as I thought it would be.

For the first half hour session, I stood up, talked, drew an audience of about 15, caught people’s eyes, talked some more, waved my props around, tried to get people to look into the shadow box, and then ran out of things to say. Looking at my watch I realised I was just 2 minutes from the end of the session, so that was OK and the audience did have questions. Most of them had stayed till the end, too. They might have had even more questions I suppose, if I had at any point slowed down enough for them to get a word in…

During my second stint on the box, I had a completely different experience. For the first 5 minutes I had no audience, and then a guy I vaguely recognised (maybe from the Crucible?) came and watched at the request of one of the organisers. Which was nice. I didn’t really want to talk to an audience of 0. Slowly more people came and went, including some kids (who really liked the flipbooks) and a remarkable heckler who thought I was a bloke.

At the end of the day everyone was quite hyper, and we all agreed it had been super fun if terrifying. Here’s a picture of me with my excellent helper Gunjan:

At this point I needed to stretch my legs and be quiet for half an hour so I went and checked into my hotel before returning to the afterparty (complete with wine, for those who do that sort of thing). All in all a good day. I’m not sure that it’s my favourite form of public engagement, but it certainly got me out there and out of my comfort zone, talking to people who I’d never had spoken with otherwise.

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.

Academic conferences. Who pays?

My friend Cate Huston has written a post about tech conferences, and the thorny question of who pays for speakers to attend. You can find it here: Uncomfortable Conversations About Money. I was going to write a comment on it, but then realised I had a bit more to say, so here’s a post instead.

I’ve only spoken at a couple of “mainstream” tech conferences, and they’ve either been local (so travel wasn’t an issue) or they’ve paid my travel. Which is nice. It is also a very unusual experience for me — very very rarely do academic computing conferences pay your travel, fee, or accommodation. Even if you’re presenting on the main stage you’ll have to pay the registration fee, and that’s usually hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros/whatevers. That’s not the only contrast though – here are the key differences as I see them:

Industry computing conferencesAcademic computing conferences
Speakers are invited, or submit abstractsSpeakers submit full papers (usually 4-15 pages). Conferences which are worth getting into (more on this later) will go to peer review
Often speakers are invited on their ability to give a good talkThe ability to give a good talk is irrelevant: whether you get in or not depends on the quality of your paper (and the robustness of the peer review process, of course)
There are lots of freebies: coffee, toys, t-shirts, etc.Most of the time, you’ll be lucky to get a usb stick and an unfashionable t-shirt (mens cut only)

What options are there for paying?

  1. Uni pays: Some unis have a central travel fund which can provide a contribution.
  2. Department pays: Some departments have a travel fund
  3. A grant pays: If you have been awarded a grant to do the work, you’ll have put some conference money in the grant proposal.
  4. You get an external travel grant: my professional body The British Machine Vision Association has travel bursaries for PhD students. Other societies might have the same.
  5. You pay with “slush money”: in a lot of unis, researchers will have their own personal research accounts, where little bits of money go. Grant overheads, consultancy money, prizes. In mine, I’ve had a teaching award (£1.2k), and some consultancy money (£1k) for schools outreach work that the project was going to pay to me personally, but which I put in the uni account just so I’d have some money for work-related travel and equipment. These funds can be used for any research-related expenditure; mine mostly goes on conference travel, camera kit (for computer vision work), and robots for schools outreach projects.
  6. Your PhD supervisor pays with their slush money: if you’re a student (and the department won’t pay), you can ask your supervisor. If you’re a supervisor, better build up some slush.
  7. You pay yourself: or partly pay, if you can only raise a bit from the department
  8. You put someone else on the paper: someone who’s likely to travel and can present the work, and who hopefully is related to the work. A few conferences will let non-named authors present which is another way of getting your work out there, if you can’t get out there yourself.
  9. You don’t go: this is a real pain in the arse, particularly if you’ve done the work, written a 12 page paper, got accepted, then find you have to withdraw due to lack of funds. It’s such a pain in the arse that I suspect most people don’t submit to conferences unless they’ve got a reasonable expectation of being able to afford to go.

The sources of funding have criteria attached, and I have seen all of the following (although not applied to the same funding stream, that would be silly).

  • Available to people at a particular career stage, e.g. early career researchers or PhD students
  • A limit on the number of applications per year: one conference a year; one national conference a year; one international conference a year
  • Geographical limits e.g. “National or European conferences only”
  • Conference quality related limits: either a named list of “ranking” conferences, or only conferences with acceptance rates below X% (x=33, in one place I worked)

I’ve only paid for my own conferences out of my salary once or twice, and those have been times when I have partial funding, or we’ve gotten extended versions of student project work published and I really want to support the student in going. There was a particularly memorable “getting to ITHET2003 in Morocco the cheap way” journey involving a cheap flight to Malaga, then coaches, ferries, trains and taxis, which meant that the travel costs were minimal and splitting the funding enabled both me and my project student to go. I think this cost me personally about 400 quid, but it was 400 quid well spent in my view.

Is there an equalities spin on this?

As ever there’s the question of equalities. The usual tech conference questions apply just as well to academic computing conferences. Speaker gender balance is harder to address, as you can’t just “invite more women”. Childcare is not often provided. In computer vision, at least, there’s a very real chance of being the only woman in the room (which is odd). But on the plus side, in computer vision, a lot of our peer review processes are double blind anonymous (where the reviewers don’t know who you are, and you don’t know who the reviewer is) which takes gender out of the equation during the decision process.

When we come to funding in particular there are two equalities issues I can think of.

Anything that is restricted to early career needs to have a well thought through definition of what “early career” means, so that the criteria do not disadvantage those who have taken career breaks.

A lot of the arrangements are informal and “can I have funding” boils down to asking a guy if you can go. One of the things Cate’s article touches upon is that transparency can be good for equality. If you have a policy, don’t make people ask to see it – make it clear. If you don’t have a policy, or you have one but it’s not well-known, you’re relying on people finding it out through informal chat, or asking for help. And in that case, you’re biasing the system against the reticent and the out-groups.

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.