Women in Tech Cymru summer conference

On July 7th Aberystwyth University hosted the first summer conference for Women in Tech Cymru, a new group which looks to support and network women working in tech in Wales. We were lucky to get the Vice Chancellor of Aberystwyth University to come down and open the event and welcome everyone to the uni, and then we had a keynote from Phillipa Davies. I’m afraid I can’t say much about the keynote as I was out on the registration desk for that slot though.

The event was an “Unconference“, which means that largely speaking the attendees made up the conference on the fly by pitching sessions and then breaking out into small groups to discuss things. Here’s a photo of some people unconferencing.

I’ve set up a Google drive folder for any slides or materials and will add them as I get them

Some notes on refreshment and childcare

I am a strong believer that if you’re running an event on a Saturday that’s not for kids, you should put on something for the kids or at least offer childcare. It’s not a problem I’ve ever had to solve myself but I have enough friends and family who’ve managed to reproduce to understand that this is the big sticking point when it comes to attending weekend stuff, particularly although obviously not exclusively for women. Thanks to BCS Mid Wales we were able to employ 2 people from the award-winning Aber Robotics Club to run a lego robots workshop with 6-16 year olds. They built LEGO robots from scratch, raced them remote controlled by Android tablets, modified them for various purposes (speed, agility, strength) and then had a robo-sumo contest against our house robots. This was a major hit – one mum had difficulty getting her offspring to leave.

We wanted to have an event that was free for attendees, but also wanted to raise some money for running costs. So we sold tickets as “supporter tickets” (£15) or “big supporter tickets” (£30), with free entry available for anyone; a sort of pay-as-you-feel conference. I really liked this idea and it’s one I’ll use again as it means people don’t have to commit money up front if they’re not sure, but it’s also easy for people to tangibly help the event. There was no difference at all between supporter and free attendees at the event, so no kudos (or stigma) associates with either decision. In the end, about half the lunch cost came from sponsorship and half from ticket sales which is great.

Jamie McCallion of 13Fields Ltd kindly contributed sponsorship towards lunch, and BCSWomen sponsored coffee breaks, so we were sufficiently caffeinated and fed. We even managed to rustle up funds for 70 Welshcakes in the afternoon break:-)

The tech stream

I had never been to an unconference before and thought it might be useful to have a bit of a more traditional conference element too – it let us have more detail in the programme for starters, which I think helps people decide whether or not to attend. As Aber were hosting it I twisted the arms of 3 superb colleagues to run 30 minute introductory tech talks to hot topics. First up was Azam Hamidinekoo, with “Why you should be interested in deep learning and how you can get started” which provided an overview of some recent exciting developments in neural networks. This was a very clear talk and I’ve had some great feedback from attendees on this.

Next up, just after lunch, was Amanda Clare talking about word2vec, and ways in which the vectorisation of word semantics can be useful in working out the semantic relationships between concepts, but can also be problematic in terms of bias (the associations with feminine terms are often worse than those with masculine terms for example).

And our final tech talker was Edel Sherratt, talking about the Internet of Things, and how we probably want to start looking at formal models and specifications for this particularly when we consider security. Edel has done a lot of work on standards in other contexts and it was really interesting to see this stuff being put forward in a different context. This work could really have impact if it takes off!

At the end of the day there was a panel session, followed by a group photo and a bunch of people drinking lemonade on the pier and admiring Aberystwyth. The photo is below – it captures less than half the attendees as a lot of people left at 3 (some football match or other)…

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