London Hopper and the Karen Spärk Jones lecture

Last week I went to London for the Hopper, and for the Karen Spärk Jones Lecture. The London Hopper Colloquium is an annual event for postgrad and post-doc women in computing. The Hopper is one of my favourite events in the women in computing calendar1: indeed I got involved in the whole women in computing/BCSWomen thing as a result of attending the Hopper back in 2006 (I was a postdoc then, and I won the poster prize – events are always more fun if you walk out with a prize, but I think I’d have enjoyed it anyway:-).

I go back most years and have served as speaker, poster judge, and for the last couple of years compère. This final role suits me fine – all I have to do is turn up, introduce speakers, and keep everything to time whilst cracking the occasional joke. Here’s hoping they invite me back next year!

This year four Aberystwyth people went – myself and Lynda Thomas were helping the organisers (Lynda was one of the poster contest judges), Marie (post-doc) and Liping (PhD student) joined in the poster contests. No prizes to Aber this year, but I think everyone had a good time. The talks were from…

  • Gail Ollis of Bournemouth (last year’s poster winner) who talked about programming practices and what kinds of things people do to really baffle the coders who come after them. Ever read someone’s code and asked yourself “Why did they do that?” Well, so has Gail and she’s trying to work out why they did it…
  • The second talk came from Prof Elaine Chew of Queen Mary, who’s a professor of operational research and also a concert pianist. She spoke about computational analysis of music – a very interesting talk indeed. Tipping points, dynamic programming and the simplex method all applied to music analysis.
  • After lunch and the poster session, Kate Ho of Interface3 spoke about working on things you’re passionate about. Which might not actually be your PhD … I’ve seen Kate talk loads of times and she’s always great. Clear, inspiring, with super-cool graphics and videos from her games company.
  • And finally, Saritha Arunkumar of IBM spoke about the ways in which technology might be able to provide secure but location aware software services

Here’s an arty picture of the BCS London atrium

In the evening, the partitions were pulled back and the room was made larger (BCS London is quite configurable – we had 2 partitions for the Hopper but for the evening event it was all open. I’m not sure of numbers but I think they can fit about 150 in, this could be wrong though).

Here’s a photo of the room once it’d been laid out for the evening talk – Barbara Liskov, speaking at the Karen Spärk Jones lecture

Barbara Liskov (if you’ve never heard of her, she is a Turing award holding professor from MIT) gave a lovely talk. Clear, easy to follow, but with just enough technical content to make the real nerds in the audience (like me) go “Wow! She invented that?!”. For example, her programming language CLU introduced iterators. Actually, it’s worth looking at what else CLU influenced… there’s a short section on the CLU widipedia page, and it’s amazing to think that some of those ideas originated with work she did in the 1970s.

All in all a positive event. With one minor niggle – I did end up chatting to a guy in the drinks reception afterwards, who worked in outsourcing, and who’d just decided to set up a group called “women in computing” to solve the women in computing problem… so I asked WHY?. I might have been a bit sharp with him to be honest. It did smell quite heavily of cashing in (lots of activity – and a bit of money – in this area right now), white-knighting (“why, little girl, let me solve all your problems for you!”) and general lack of forethought. There are about two million (slight exaggeration) groups for women in computing, mostly run by women – the motivation for setting up another one has to be clear I think; there’s a real fragmentation in this area and it’s confusing for all concerned. The sorts of questions I asked were… Is there anything that we’re not doing? Could you have more effect by joining an existing group? What does your group do that the existing groups don’t already do? And by “existing group” I mean BCSWomen, ACM-W, womenintechnology, girl geek dinners, STEMettes, etc. etc.

But the discussion fizzled out and he said he’d send me an email. Which has yet to arrive. So let’s wait and see eh?

1 Actually, like all these events, the Hopper is not just for women… indeed this year there were about 5 guys there, more than ever before. They seemed to have a good time too. The Karen Spärk Jones lecture is very much open to all, too; it showcases those women who have become stars of computing research but it’d be pointless to do that in a room full of just women:-)

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