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The Geek Movement

It’s time to officially close this blog down.  It’s been years since we’ve written anything in it, and our lives have grown infinitely more complicated and exciting since we began it.  This blog chronicles many of our early experiments, designs, and thoughts as we undertook graduate school, and it remains as a record of those projects that we will preserve for the foreseeable future.  However, it’s time to move on to new endeavours and new venues.  If you are interested in keeping up with us, you can find our new work in a variety of places online:

Tanenbaum Fabrications

Although it’s also woefully under-maintained, the TF site is a more recent exploration of the things we’ve been making and the events we’ve been running within the Maker, Steampunk, and DIY communities.

The Transformative Play Lab

Our new home at UC Irvine, where we will be documenting our ongoing research projects, and the exciting new work that we are undertaking within the department of Informatics.

The focus of this session was on the skills that you learn in grad school which can be applied to non-academic positions.

Ana Chang from Oracle moderated, along with  Monica Martinez-Canales (Intel), Rebecca Parsons (ThoughtWorks), and Umit Yalcinalp (Adobe Systems) as panel members.

What does a PhD get you outside of academia?

The non-academic options fall into 2 categories:
Jobs that require PhDs, like work  in research labs
Jobs in product development and consulting-some of these don’t require PhDs, but may be looking for a Master’s

Having a PhD demonstrates perseverance.
There are a lot of ABDs out there, so completing the phd says something about you beyond the particulars of your field.
Having a doctorate carries respect and cachet in some circles.

We look for an ability to think critically, which the PhD demonstrates
Critical and analytical thinking about problems can be a hard quality to find in product development work
A PhD is about formulating and solving problems

In product development, a PhD allows you to sort out what is broken, what needs attention
It teaches you strategic thinking, a critical eye, and perseverance

My advisor made it clear to me that as a phd student, I had to demonstrate a broad understanding of an area, identify a problem, and then go deep into solving it. Then you have to step back from the depth and detail and show how your work affects the big picture.  Both the big picture and the detailed drill down are important. And you have to communicate with people in and out of your discipline.

Context and problem solving are the most important things you learn and they can apply to any field.
You can simplify complex things into something that business/product units can understand and work with
PhDs are good communicators and good problem solvers, you just need to be enthusiastic and persistent in order to get your ideas implemented

Communication skills are crucial, not just the concepts but the details
Effective presentations are also key

Graduate school teaches you how to accept and welcome critiques, which can be a rare ability in industry

What kinds of stereotypes do people have of PhDs?

I was asked why I would want to work in industry
I was asked if I know how to write real code instead of solving toy problems
I was told I was hired despite the PhD, rather that because of it
It’s thought that academics don’t live in the real world, that they have a strange notion of time-terms, semesters, etc
You will confront these stereotypes when applying for non research jobs
You just have to prove them wrong

People think you are book educated, with no applicability to the world
Overcome that by relating your work directly to what the company does
Ask questions to understand how the business works, and to demonstrate that you can fit in
A PhD conveys that you can learn-show it
Demonstrate learning agility: how quickly can you bring and idea into practice
Think about the business aspects of your research. Every degree field has a role to play in product development somewhere
By asking probing questions, you can form an idea in the interviewer’s head about how you can help them

People always want to know how much you can code and how quickly
You should ask why we are building something
Cranking out lots of code is not always the most effective thing if you don’t know why
Code smart
You are not a code jockey, but you can make a difference by thinking about why and how you are developing the code

How has a phd helped your career?

Most PhDs are research rather than product development
We do have a whole building of PhDs to work on the supply chain and manufacturing
You have to break down barriers to convince them that you are practical and willing to get into the lab and do some of the grunt work, the trench work
Then the engineers will begin to trust you and you can provide a conduit for them to be heard
Then you have an entire vertical view of the company and can see the big picture
But you have to get into the lab and get some industry cred
I tell people who have spent 7 years in the lab that they are a industry “Dr”. Give them respect and credit
You can become a translator between academics and engineers

This is true not just in a large company
The ability to get down in the weeds, to write code, to stay up until 3 in the morning, is critical to establishing cred
The PhD gives you a T of knowledge: broad at the top, deep in one area.
Use that translate from the day to day work of the company to larger policy decisions

PhDs are trained in seeking out interesting problems to solve

One thing a PhD allows you to do is sit on national review boards for DARPA, etc, and women’s groups,etc.
This introduces you to a very powerful cohort and network
Volunteer on committees, make friends at conferences

How early do you have to decide? What would have been different for you if you decided earlier?

No decision is set in stone, you can change anytime
There are many different posts

But, there is a dirty secret in academia where if you spend too long in industry, it is hard to get back into academia.

When I originally signed up to blog this session, it was mostly as a lark, to explore something that I could see myself maybe be interested in sometime in the future.  Then, Friday morning, I was having a conversation about my plans for the next few years, describing what I wanted to do, and the woman I was talking to said “it sounds like you should be thinking about a startup.”  That still seems like a scary thought to me, but it made the session a lot more immediately relevant.  It was a panel discussion with 5 women involved with startups: Jessica Alter (Formative Labs), Connie Chan (Andreessen Horowitz), Liz Gannes (All Things Digital), Sandy Jen (Meebo), and Lucy Zhang (Facebook).  They answered some prepared questions, and then took questions from the audience.  The room was packed-standing room only-and the session was energizing and inspiring.

Were any of you startup people from birth? Starting lemonade stands as a child?
No, I think that’s mostly a myth.
What you need as a startup founder is determination. Not just passion, but that you’ve tried things and failed and tried again.
If everyone loves your idea, it’s probably been done already.
Some people start companies right out of college, others work at companies first and then develop their entrepreneurial tendencies

How did you get your idea and make it a company?
We failed on 2 ideas before we got one that we could sustain our passion on (Meebo).
Don’t be in love with the idea, be in love with the idea of building somehting and with the people you are working with.
Your idea will change.
When evaluating entrepreneurs, we look at the person and the team, not the idea. We want a strong team that will not give up, that will pivot when they need to.

How do you find cofounders?
My husband, although there are goods and bads to that.
Trust is important, it has to be someone you can be honest with.
Pick someone with complementary skills.
Make decisions together and argue together, but know you are working towards the same goal
It’s like marriage. You don’t marry some one after the first date.
It’s how you work through the difficult times that matters, not the good times.
Do a project together before you start a company together, figure out how you work out disagreements
The average lifetime of a startup is 7 years. Make sure you’re willing to spend that long with your cofounders
Make sure you have synergistic skillsets
You will have more arguments about button placement than selling the company. Day to day arguments are the most crucial, and your ability to handle those determines whether or not you succeed.
Mutual respect, trust and transparency are key
Co-CEOs are a red flag for investors. Everyone should have distinct skillset.
The transition from coding to managing can be a challenge. Be prepared to change your role, take on leadership roles. Be okay with adapting, growing your team.
In a startup you wear a lot of different hats. Which is good if you thrive on lots of different challenges.
When growing a company, hire slowly and fire quickly
One or two bad apples can kill the culture and dampen spirits

What is the impact of geography on startup success? Do you have to be in Silicon Valley?
Silicon valley is an easier environment for startups than other places. There’s a culture of risk taking and innovation; in other areas you will get less encouragement
Fear of failure is the biggest obstacle. If you’re in a place where failure isn’t common, it’s harder to deal with.
Startup companies are increasingly coming out of places like Chicago and New York. Look for the communities already in place in other locations
Silicon valley also has a cluster of incubators that support startups, and law firms that will consult for free in hopes of later business.
There’s actually almost a preference for people who have failed and keep going; it shows determination

What’s the impact of your gender on what you do?
You get more invitations to speak, you stand out
Mostly, though, the product speaks for itself. Gender is less relevant
You get to act as a role model for younger women
Sometimes women don’t support women enough, look for opportunities to be there for others in the workplace
Seek out mentorship
Women tend to underestimate their accomplishments. They make excuses for why they got an award or achieved something.
Learn to take a compliment without deflecting it.

Then the floor was opened to audience questions.

How do you protect your ideas?
You don’t…If it’s a good idea, someone else already has it.
Don’t try to hide it. Share it, get feedback
Silicon valley has a great culture for sharing. Do it.
Ideas are cheap. Fail quickly and move on.
A lot of people have the same idea, so it’s about execution. Can you get out there?

How do you decide when to launch?
Don’t polish your product
You think you know what people want, but you don’t. The polish is irrelevant.
Launch when you’re a little bit embarrassed by your project. You’ll get feedback and realize that thing that was 5th on the list to work on is crucial and what was 1st is irrelevant.

How do you wrap up your failures?
You don’t wrap it up, just wipe it aside and try to learn from it

How do you know when to quit your job and try a startup?
You don’t know. Just do it
You’re never completely ready
If you’re thinking about it, you’re ready enough
Decide which you will regret more: leaving your job or not trying the startup
The earlier the better, when you have less to lose (i.e. no mortgage, no kids, etc)

How do you innovate outside of silicon valley?
The network is most important. Find like minded people and groups
Start a group. Have a hackathon. Look online: quora, a16z, startup blogs

How do you raise money in a non traditional way?
Look into different foundations supporting work for social good.

When do you need an MBA?
You don’t always need one
It depends on your company.
In a startup you do thing you haven’t before-selling, hiring, firing, etc. Sometimes you can just learn to be the business person

What is the most efficient founding team in general?
3 people with a different mix of skills and abilities; you don’t want just one vs one because then disagreements are hard to resolve
Typcailly, 2 coders/engineers and a business person

What do you look for in an investor?
The best investors are ones you’ve had a relationship with previously.
Some are good for money, some connections, some a specific product
You typically have more than one investor
Talk to the companies that are already in the investor’s portfolio
Check 3 things: Do you like them? Do they agree with your vision? Do you agree on how to get there?
Thefunded is a site providing feedback on VCs
There’s a bit of a shakeup with VCs right now, where they are realizing they have to provide services in addition to just money
If looking for seed investments, look for seed specific companies. The seed round is just the first round, you don’t want to get it from people who are going to make later funding rounds more difficult

What’s one resource you would recommend?
Look for people on startup panels and talks at conferences and contact them
Founder Dating

After the session, I stopped and had a chat with Sasha Laundy, from, Twilio, who had been advertising on twitter about her availability to answer startup related questions after the session. I asked her what she recommended in terms of finding some financial stability while working on gathering your initial funding (especially given that it seems like you need to plan to fail for awhile before having a chance of success). She recommended finding a startup with Series A or B funding already secured-they will likely be expanding and will be able to pay an actual salary and will give you some insight into the startup process as well. Most startups won’t be advertising job openings, so just email them and offer your services.

BOF Industry Research

I went back and forth with myself about whether I should attend this session. I thought perhaps it would (should?) be just for women who were already in industry research careers, for them to connect with each other and share their joys and tribulations, without eager students distracting them with questions of “How do I become like you?” But in the end, I decided to go, and I’m really glad I did. The session was about 50/50 students and people working in industry research, all of whom were very generous in sharing their experiences. Maybe it was the late afternoon time slot, but the feeling in the room was very relaxed, honest, and open.

Moderator A.J. Brush, from Microsoft Research, organized a speed dating opener, where we gave 30 second intros of ourselves, our research, career stage, and favorite ice cream flavor and/or vacation spot. We rotated through a dozen or so people in quick succession (not everyone in the group, but a fair sampling), and then divided into students and job-holders. People asked questions, and were answered by multiple women from a range of different labs and companies.

One of the women working in industry was a new hire, just about to start work. She asked for some advice on fitting in with the largely male workplace, and with people who she found intimidatingly smart.  Responses:
-Ask lots of questions in the first 6 months. They show you are engaged and committed to fitting in. Also, people who have been there longer and can no longer ask such questions will actually appreciate learning about things they might have forgotten to ask or not have sussed out yet.
-Remember that they hired you for a reason. You are smart, you are bringing something to the table that they want.
-Introduce yourself to everyone you can

A student asked how industry researchers are typically evaluated in terms of job performance.
-A woman from Sun said that it was a combination of internal and external factors. Internally, they want you to be making contributions to the product line and the company goals. Externally, they want your work to demonstrate innovation and make the company look like an industry leader.
-A woman from HP said that they used a mixture of patents/publications plus the ability to translate research knowledge into a product. There is a push to protect technolgy via patents, and to show how you are influencing and improving the product lines: technology transfer.
-Publishing can be hard sometimes with the confidentiality agreements and proprietary nature of the technology. Sometimes you might publish just to stake a claim on an area, though.
-The economy means that there is pressure on short term returns within the industry. Long-term research has been shifted to collaborations with universities or government labs

A current job holder asked how you should reply to time estimate demands from the product teams, who want to know when a problem will be solved, even if you don’t even know if it can be solved?
-Try to at least estimate when you will know whether or not you can solve it. Give them that date, and then address the question of when it will be solved if there’s a viable solution.
-Double the amount of time it will take (ala Scotty on Star Trek)
-Push back with the product person to narrow the domain. Are there some simplfying assumptions you can make that would allow you to generate a better estimate?
-Always keep your managers informed so they know your schedule and what areas might be giving you trouble
-Ask questions of the people around you, see what other work you can leverage
-Calculate a best and worst case scenario and then provide a range
-Sometimes there’s too much value given to estimates of time and mapping out stages. It’s more important to get things done than to make plans for doing things.

A student asked what we should look for when we evaluate a job offer?
-Who you are working with
-If your value system is aligned with the company’s values
-Growth potential for you within the company
-Personality match with the people you will interact with on a daily basis
-When you go for an interview, make sure you have questions at the end. Ask anything. Asking nothing can kill the interview right there. Ask about a day in the life, what the interviewer likes about their work, even cliches are better than nothing.
-Pay attention to the woman on the interview team. How stressed is she? Does she seem to fit in? Is it clear that she was pulled in from some other area just to try and make it look like there are women in the company?
-Negotiate on the money. Secondary question: How much can we expect the salaray to move? Answers indicated a range of 5-15%
-You have the most leverage between the offer and the acceptance; use it to ask for what you want
-However, it is hard to get raises if you are hired near the top of the salary range for your position. So a little room to rise is good.
-Check glassdoor.com for salary expectations.
-Never give them a figure. Whatever they ask about what you want for a salary, just reply “I’m happy to consider your best/most competitive offer”.
-You should know the number you expect, so you know if you’re being lowballed, but never give it.
-Also try “As long as it’s not insulting, I will accept it”. Then they worry what might insult you.
-Check out books on negotiation: Women Don’t Ask, Negotiate This, Ask For It.
-Don’t be afraid to negotiate your start time. If they want you, they will wait. Always finish your degree first. Take some time off in between school and work if you can.
-Research jobs can typically wait, there’s no product deadlines hanging on your acceptance.
-However, there sometimes are budgetary restrictions on how long positions can be held open before they go away

This was a fantastic session, one of my favorites. All of the panelists were very open and articulate about their companies, sharing their experiences with warmth and humor. I felt like I got insight into the range of approaches to industry research and the joys and tribulations of interfacing with product divisions. I tried to document the conversation as best I could.

Kate Kelly – Program Manager, Office, Microsoft

Nina Bhatti – R&D Program Manager, Hewlett-Packard Company
Wendy Castleman – Principal XD Research Scientist and Chief Innovation Catalyst, Intuit
Celeste Fralick – Director of Biomedical Engineering, Digital Health Group, Intel Corporation
Andrea Jessee – Senior Program Manager, Engineering Excellence, Microsoft Corporation
Radha Ratnaparkhi – Vice President for IT and Wireless Convergence, IBM Research
Mamie Rheingold – Program Manager, Google Inc.

How do you balance the research life cycle vs the product life cycle?

Mamie (Google): Innovation thrives when diverse people work together. If you give small ideas a place to thrive, they can combine and form bigger ideas. At Google, we give employees 20% time to pursue their own ideas and host hackathons for collaborative work. The 20% time doesn’t mean just one day a week; we’ve put together structures for whole teams meeting for a week of intense work, and designated lab space for the 20% time work.
Wendy (Intuit): Intuit has 10% time for personal initiatives. Research is embedded throughout the work you do. Lots of researchers will do “follow me home”, ethnographic site visits with customers. We also use research for hypothesis testing.
Radha (IBM): IBM has a dedicated research division. Having this allows you to push the science further, to get really innovative breakthroughs. The product development life cycle is very structured; research is a lot more flexible and agile. There is a faster changing life cycle in research.
(Blogger note: This was an interesting insight for me. I had thought of research being a slower timeline compared to product development-more like academic research, which can be very long term)
Celeste (Intel): It’s a translation issue from search to product. What kind of value is it bringing? How do you make it relevant to the product?

Does research drive a company to new areas, or does it follow established product paths?

Nina (HP): HP research does crazy things that are not aligned with the product path. Sometimes you have to ignore the complaints of irrelevance and carry on. The business unit will see the value later. There is often a timing issue with matching research and product outcomes; research is looking farther ahead, and sudden the product division realizes they needs something that they had dismissed earlier.
Andrea (MS): Focusing on problems in research allows you to get ahead of it before the customers notice. Kinect was an example of product driving research. One person had a vision, and drove the research to develop the necessary technology
Wendy (Intuit): I agree that it goes both directions. Intuit had a feature where you could take picture of your W2 to enter the info into turbo tax. But complaints about the reliability of the OCR technology drove research to improve on it. When it was better, people wanted to be able to use it to file entirely on their phone. Thus there was a product->research->product cycle.
Andrea (MS): Microsoft has separate product and research divisions. Communication and translation are key to moving between them. The research team has to not insult the product team by talking about how bad the product is and how they can fix it. The product groups focus on customer problems on a tight schedule. Research is advancing technology and showing innovative. Product groups minimize risk and focus on structured processes. Research is more fluid, risk friendly, “crazy”. But decision making is bottom up on both sides, which is a problem because there is a lack of top down principles that allow people to collaborate on the same goal.
Wendy (Intuit): Sometimes you do great research, but the product team isn’t interested. You need to get the product team invested. Involve them in the research aspects.
Nina (HP): Yes, you need to get sponsors on the product teams. People you can contact when you have something, who will give you practical feedback, and then will advocate for picking it up.
Mamie (Google): We build better products when research and product are integrated. Our engineers are expected to research, our researchers are expected to code.
Celeste (Intel): At one point, I was told I was on Pluto and everyone else is on earth. Being on Pluto is good, but you have to help people get to Pluto from Earth. Help them build the rocket. Follow the CEO into the bathroom. Constantly look at yourself. Relearn, reboot, adapt to the environment. Keep you inner center and values, but be open to risk and change.
(Blogger note: I thought the Pluto -> Earth thing was a great metaphor)
Wendy (Intuit): Sometimes you just have to build something and try it out to convince others of your vision. Take time to explain things to people. Treat them as a research project, the task of getting them to understand.
Mamie (Google): We have demo days periodially. Deadlines are put on hold and new demos of future looking tech are put together. Not everything moves forward, but great ideas bubble up. Every week there’s a beer and demo session for getting feedback on ongoing projects.
Radha (IBM): The relationship between R and D is like matchmaking in India. The match needs to happen at multiple levels. IBM has a research relationship manager role. You are paired with a manager in development and you have to cultivate a relationship with them, show them the research results. Also integrate the teams throughout the research period, not just at the executive level.
Andrea (MS): Its all about relationship building and fostering. It comes down to credibility when you are trying to convince a product team to take a risk. Be sensitive to where they are in their current life cycle. Serendipity is an important factor. You can’t plan everything, some times you’re just in the right place. There can be a bit of a cultural gap between research and product. Product people think research people are crazy, they have no deliverables, no set schedule. Engineers are sometimes jealous of the people working on the “cool stuff”. Bring them in and share what you’re doing so they fell like they are part of it rather than jealous of it.

What would you do differently now?

Nina (HP): Sometimes women get too attached to the company, the work. Make time for yourself, make sure you are happy
Radha (IBM): Being persistent made me come across as a bit of a bulldog, not a listener. Make sure you leave channels of communication open even when you don’t agree.
Andrea (MS): Don’t take no as the only answer. Sometimes it’s just the wrong time or person. Ask again.
Mamie (Google): I want to be less afraid of failing. Learn to fail forward.
Wendy (Intuit): I frequently relearn the lesson that I don’t really know the answer.
Celeste (Intel): After a 30 year career, the list of things I’ve done wrong is longer than what I’ve done right. I’m a cavewoman. I just want to be given a problem and be able to work on it without being bothered, but that’s not really best for the project. Check out the book Strength Finders. Any project will be better if you work it with other people.

Blogger Note: Apologies in advance for any misattributions here. I mostly noted what company the people represented, since they always identified that when they spoke. In particular, I don’t think I noted if Kate was talking for Microsoft instead of Andrea. Sorry!

As both a first time attendee and a scholarship recipient, the For the Newcomer session was definitely the place for me. Held in the same big ballroom as the opening session and keynotes, it was a fun but almost overwhelming session, coming at the end of an (exhilarating/exhausting) first day.

The first speaker up was Telle Whitney, who encouraged us to recognize that “everyone wants to meet you”, so we should just walk up and introduce ourselves as much as possible. She showed a charming video of Grace Hopper. Grace, with a twinkle in her eye, asserted that “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission”, and then, on a more serious note, that “A ship at port is safe, but that’s not what a ship was built for.” Both excellent sayings to guide your approach to being a technical woman, I think. The clip was from a segment on Grace Hopper on 60 Minutes, available here: http://admiralgracehopper.com/grace_hopper.html (along with a book on Grace). Next she shared a clip from Anita Borg and a bit about her life and the goals of the Anita Borg Institute.

Next came Janet Abbate, who declared herself a historian, and discussed how she was drawn to the question of why there weren’t more women represented in the history of computing. Her exploration of this question led to a book and a few observations about the differences between men and women in computing: Most histories focus on hardware advances, which were dominated by men. Women were more likely to be working on software, which was not seen as as crucial to the story of technological development. Computing is a vast frontier and one of the things women are particularly good at is pushing it into new innovative areas. Men tend to follow a straight forward career path: cs degree->cs job->successful career. Women are more likely to come to computing from different backgrounds and take time off for things like kids. Women invent new ways to play the game.

Linda Apsley took the stage and talked a bit about how the GHC program was built this year. At an early planning meeting, they developed the “what if” theme to explore all the possibilities technology has to improve lives, impact the marketplace, and so forth. They also thought a lot about the different communities that would be attending (students, early career, senior women, etc) and how to best serve each of them.

Next up was the student representative, Sarah Loos, who asked a simple question: Why are you here? Her answer on our behalf was “You’re here to meet people”. She pointed out that there were people here in all different fields and different levels, and we should take advantage of that diversity. She advised us to thing about our “pipe dream” and then find people who have succeeded at that dream and ask them how they got there. She concluded with a welcome reminder that your career isn’t built in one day, month or year. It requires long term planning, so you just have to plant the seeds here.

Deanna Kosaraju spoke next to the scholarship recipients, with a quick set of 5 things to remember:
-See Rochelle at the info table to get your reimbursement packet
-Attend the scholarship lunch tomorrow
-Thank your supporter by stopping by their booth (figure out your supporter by checking your nametag)
-Find a buddy/pack to roam around with
-Enjoy yourself

And last but not least, BJ Wishinsky took the podium to encourage everyone to 1) stay connected with the people you meet here, 2) Share your experience with the people who aren’t here, and 3) Share photos, notes, blogs, etc on the various community sites. (Like the notes/blog wiki and the flickr group)

The session closed with a Q&A session that I didn’t take detailed notes on, but was full of excited young women wanting to know how to network, share and grow their careers and relationships. I remember in particular women from Lebanon and Singapore sharing the challenges and opprotunties they faced setting up women in technology groups in their country. It was excellent to see the wide reach of the conference and the ambition of women all across the globe.

The second session I attended was a continuation of the CRA-W workshop for Early Career Track professionals, on preparing for a promotion. Given that I’m just starting my job search, this topic was somewhat less than relevant for me, and I had a little bit of trouble connecting to the subject matter. That wasn’t the fault of the presenters, of course, merely of my own focus at the moment. I tried to take notes to file away for the future, though. The first speaker was Mary Czerwinski from Microsoft Research, who told a lot of great ancedotes about her career to illustrate her points. I couldn’t capture all the stories in my notes, but I got the bullet point summary at the end.

Mary’s recipe for a successful, promotion-oriented career:
-Set ambitious goals
-Don’t sell yourself short
-Work hard
-Serve a higher purpose (Do good in the world)
-Be open and honest
-Take the reins on your career
-Exhibit empathy and humility
-Always have an elevator pitch
-“Play offense with your life”

Next up was Nancy Amato, a professor from Texas A&M. Nancy discussed some of the practical aspects of seeking tenure at a university. She identified 3 basic factors evaluated when considering promotion: Teaching, Research, and Service. However, the relative importance will vary depending on the institution and you will need to figure out what the situation is at your school. She advised you to find mentors whenever you can, possibly even different ones for different aspects of your professional life.

Teaching: Your goal should be to do a good job while minimizing the amount of effort and time that the teaching takes you. Volunteer to teach freshmen classes with well established curriculums and TA support. Develop one class and teach it repeatedly. Think about how the teaching supports your research and other goals. When possible, negotiate for a release from teaching in exchange for course development, service, etc.

Advising: Recruit good students, not every student who asks for you. Learn when to say no. Mentor a mix of PhD and Masters students, and make you graduate a PhD student in a timely fashion.

Publications: Quality is more important than quantity. Don’t be swayed by students who want to submit to lower tier venues. Figure out what your particular institution is looking for in terms of publications. Understand the journal and conference rankings in your field and make sure you focus on the top tier locations. Salvage rejected publications by responding to reviews and revising.

Collaborating: Collaborators can multiply your return on time invested, but it has to be the right person. Check whether people appear to be successful collaborators. You will need to suggest external evaluators for your tenure promotion. Start cultivating these people early. Make contacts at conferences and volunteer for conference and reviewing duties. When you travel, contact local labs and departments; offer to give a talk and arrange to take a tour. Invite others to talk at your institution when they are in town.

Service: Do the things that will have the most impact. Do a few things well.

Misc: Don’t do too much too early. Conserve your bandwidth so that when opportunities come along in the 2nd and 3rd year, you aren’t swamped with everything you agreed to in the first year. Strike a balance between your life and your career

In the Q&A session, someone asked: How do you say no?
Never say yes or no right away. Say you need to check whether you can, what you have on your plate, etc
Return with a recommendation for an alternative person for them to get in touch with.
Ask for a rain check if it’s something that will come up again-tell them to ask you again in a few years

Useful stuff to think about for advancing your career. Here’s hoping I have a career soon that I can apply it too! 🙂

The first session I attended at Grace Hopper, aside from the Opening and the PhD Forum where I presented, was the CRA-W Workshop on Early Career Track: Finding your Dream Job. The presenters were Erika Poole from Penn State and Kathryn McKinley from Microsoft Research and University of Texas at Austin. Both of them were very warm, engaging speakers who displayed great humor as well as insight. It was a very reassuring session for me, to have someone break down the trials and tribulations of the job search process.

A few key points stuck out for me. They opened the session by asserting that biggest question to ask when you are job searching is: What do you value? Is it important to you to live in a certain location, maintain a particular work/life balance, spend your days addressing particular kinds of problems? What is it that you really want out of a job. This was an important thing for me to keep in mind. After a little bit of looking around on the job market, there’s a sense of desperation that starts to grow, and suddenly any job, any where looks good. But if you sacrifice the things that are important to you to take it, you’re not going to be happy in it for long. Of course, they also cautioned that sometimes you won’t find the “dream job” as your first job-it might take some iterations. But as long as you know what it is you value in your career, you know how to steer it.

The next item that really struck a chord was them saying that as a general rule of thumb, you should expect to send out 10 applications to get one nibble in the form of an interview or some followup contact. Having spent significant time in past job searches sending resumes “into the void”, this was very reassuring to hear. Also a little depressing. 🙂 One of the presenters (Kathryn, I believe) showed us her very impressive job search spreadsheet, listing dates of applications, materials submitted, and when rejection notice was received. In addition to being a nice proof of the the 10 applications per offer premise, it also showed a nice technique for managing overworked faculty members who need to provide you with reference letters-a shared spreadsheet where the still-outstanding documents are highlighted in red.

And the final excellent piece of advice was to keep in mind: many aspects of the process are out of your control. They had some advice for things to do while you are waiting for reference letters to come in, or an offer to be made. 1) Eat healthy 2) Get enough sleep and 3) Exercise. The waiting period will make you anxious and antsy, but try not to take it out on other people. Focus on what you can control, and let the rest of it go. And most importantly, avoid comparisons to other people-who got an offer, an interview, etc. It doesn’t help, and it isn’t really relevant. Everyone is different, and every position is looking for something specific.

Since I’m currently in the early stages of my job hunt, these were the things most relevant to me that made the biggest impact. They also had a wealth of advice about dealing with interviews and negotating offers, which I will run through quickly.

Interviews: typically you will start with a phone interview, and if that goes well you will be called into a site interview, which usually lasts 2 days and is exhausting. Be nice to everyone you encounter, especially the staff. Send thank you notes after the visit to everyone you talked to. During interviews, you want to demonstrate that you are smart and capable, that you will be improve their company or department, but you don’t want to insinuate that you can solve/fix everything or that the place is currently in bad shape. Aim to be “interesting, engaging and innocuous”. Go to the ladies as often as possible, jump up and down, and splash water on your face to keep yourself fresh and upbeat. Remember that the interviews are a 2 way evaluation: they want to know if you are a good fit, and you want to know if they are good for you. Ask indirect questions about the culture. I.e. instead of “How good are your grad students?”, ask “Where did your last few grad students get placed after graduating?”.

When you get an offer, the most important thing to do is get everything in writing. Negotiate: if you never hear no, you aren’t asking enough. But don’t go overboard. Bring your offer letter to your advisor to get feedback. Always frame your requests in terms of what will make you a better faculty member/employee. Each place will have different things that are precious vs freely available: travel money, ta support, sabbatical, funding, etc. Figure out what is available and ask for it.

It was a great session-very informative, and very reassuring that the process 1) is similar for others and 2) eventually works out.


 I arrived today in Portland for my inaugural Grace Hopper. I’ve been a little antsy and anxious all week, partially because of the presentation I’m giving and the job hunting/networking I’m planning to do, but largely because I just wanted to get this thing going. I’ve been looking forward to and planning this trip for what seems like a long time, and as soon as I got on the train, I relaxed. I was en-route. Before we even got over the border, I felt like the “celebration” was starting to coalesce. Of the 2 dozen people in my train car, at least 6 identified themselves as attending a “computer conference” in Portland to the border patrol. (It’s often best to keep the description of what you do short and simple with the border agents). By the time he got to the back of the car, the agent commented aloud, with what seemed like a mixture of suspicion and awe, “Must be a big conference”.

Arriving in Portland, I was blessed with a brief span of sunny weather, allowing me to admire the views of fall foliage and mountains from my hotel room (the Doubletree…Thank you, GHC scholarship!).

I chatted with my roommate for a bit, then headed out to enjoy the fleeting sun and get acquainted with the MAX system. Just across the street from my hotel, by the MAX stop, is a gorgeous park full of enormous, beautifully colored trees.

I hopped the MAX into the downtown area and wandered about for a bit, just taking in the city. I’ve been to Portland several times before, but never taken the MAX. It’s always odd to me how much of a difference transportation types matter. Separate areas of the city that I’ve driven to and walked around suddenly connect up as I’m studying the transit map and watching the city go by from a slightly different vantage point.

It made me think of Ethan Zuckerman’s excellent CHI keynote on cities & serendipity, which you should check out if you haven’t encountered before. In quick, not-doing-it-justice summary, the talk discusses the way online connections can have the effect of isolating you within a particular community of folks who all agree with you, limiting your exposure to new or contradictory viewpoints. The beauty of cities is that they cram all kinds of people together, forcing them to interact, giving rise to serendipitous new experiences.

And that in turn made me think of China Mieville’s Hugo-winning novel The City & The City, about two cities that are metaphysically/magically/mysteriously overlaid with each other, but it’s illegal to cross between them freely (doing so brings down the wratch of an ominous organization called Breach). Denizens of one city must “unsee” the inhabitants, buildings, traffic, plant life, etc, of the other city when in “cross hatched” areas. It’s a captivating book, and of course Mieville’s point is that however outre this idea may seem, we in fact do this all the time (though perhaps without the threat of Breach looming over us). We ignore and avoid the parts of the city that are not the ones we inhabit, walking over and through many intersecting social and cultural layers.

And all of this is a roundabout way to say I’m happy to be in Portland and had a nice evening wandering through the city as the darkness and the rain crept in.  Every time I saw a group of women together, I attempted to calculate the likelihood that they were also here for Grace Hopper.  Girls in the elevator talking about coding interviews: most assuredly.   I returned to the hotel, polished my presentation, and now I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep before the start of the craziness tomorrow.

I’ll be presenting tomorrow in B 113-115 at 11am, in the PhD Forum 3 session on HCI & Systems, if you want to come see me try and summarize my 5+ year long dissertation work in 12 minutes. Expect some fast talking. 🙂

Oh, and because no discussion of Portland is complete without linking to the hilarious (accurate) music video “Dream of the 90’s”, I leave you with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVmq9dq6Nsg  Enjoy!

I will be attending my first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Portland in November, as a speaker and scholarship recipient. I will be presenting my dissertation research in the PhD Forum, and starting my job search! I’ve heard great things about the conference from other attendees, and I’m really looking forward to the experience!

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