An overdue thank you

In 2010, I met two people.  I imagine that they would support me in calling them ordinary people.. And yet, they ended up changing the way I thought about my life. In fact, they continue to make me check myself every time they pop up on my newsfeed! Because they’re my definition of ‘do-ers’. There’s nothing more… I don’t know the word.. invigorating? than when I see what INCREDIBLE things they’ve just gotten out and DONE, in the times that I’m sitting at home thinking about what I could do. I returned to my usual life after that pivotal conference week in 2010 and straight away the things that I’d been putting off because “no one has been there before and it’s all a bit unknown,” I did. And I did. And year after year I use them as my inspiration, as I watch the the things that they do become more and MORE incredible.

In the past month, the equivalent of over 968 years of scholarships for girls in Sierra Leone has been raised for One Girl through Do It In A Dress. Thank you, Chantelle and Dave.

Dave and Chantelle in Sierra Leone

And yes, this was absolutely a community effort. There’s nothing more incredible than seeing that fundraiser tally tick higher and higher with each minute because there are more than 500 do-ers wearing school dresses and asking families, friends and strangers to sponsor them. “It was definitely an amazing team affair, so I can’t take the credit!” True to form there, Chantelle. But you’ve earnt at least some of the credit: you and Dave made it happen. And even if it was through a tiny seed that looked nothing like this when it was planted back in April 2009 when you both got the crazy idea of changing the world, if that hadn’t have happened, who knows what would have. Would I be a do-er…? Chantelle’s right that they can’t take all of the credit, but it’s important to stop to think about the impact that you have through others’ actions as well as your own. When I tried this, I realised that compared to last year, I may not have raised as much money in my fundraising campaign as last year (thank you thank you, again to all of my supporters over the past three years!), but when you look at the money raised from me and the people that apparently I “inspired” (!) from last year, it surpasses it.

This is incredible, to me, on three counts.

1. I am amazed at how inspiring others to be do-ers can have a stronger effect than trying to do it all yourself.. I must keep that in mind. Invest time in people.

2. It’s not just a stronger effect, it’s a multiplying effect. Teagan, I have never been more proud of you than when you signed up for such an influential volunteer position with One Girl. You purposefully put your hand up to be influential, to invest time in people. Pariss, in one year alone you have inspired more than $1000 in fundraising through inspiring others to get involved. So, I appreciate you saying that you got your inspiration from me, but take a step back and look at what an effect YOU are making! Emily. You’re just incredible.

QUT Women in Engineering Club being nothing short of amazing.

Which brings me to point 3. This all seems really really ridiculous to me, because I started this post by telling you how inspired I was by Dave and Chantelle, right. Turns out, somehow, I am someone’s Dave and Chantelle. And, I mean.. there are just no words that I have for this. An accident, I guess.

How does it happen, though, that these people become do-ers? I can’t speak for the others, but so far it seems like it’s been because they looked at themselves and went “hey, I can be a doer”. And I guess that happened to me once too in 2010, after looking at those other do-ers, etc. But it’s definitely not always like that. Because once in September 2011, I was a watcher, or whatever the opposite to do-er is. Chantelle and Dave were setting up Do It In A Dress for One Girl. “Good on ya, guys, you’re such champions!” And that was about as far as it went, from my side of things. And then:

“One Girl is looking for some enthusiastic Brisbane based girls / guys who are interested in being featured in MX as part of our Do It In A Dress campaign! – you need to a) be willing to wear a school dress in a national newspaper to promote the importance of educating girls b) be willing to become a part of the Do It In A Dress campaign – if you’re interested please reply, we’d love to have you onboard :)”

Hmm.. I like being in newspapers. Sign me up! We’ll worry about the dress part later…

So, two things had to happen here. There had to be something in it for me (this surprised me when I realised it, looking back..), and the main thing was: I had to be asked. Such a tiny action, that turned into something I certainly didn’t see coming: thanks to your help, my dress campaign (not to mention the aforementioneds!) has raised $7500 over three years – 27 girls we’ve sent back to school…. just because she asked. If Chantelle never had’ve asked, I probably would never have done anything. “Keep up the great work, guys!” and that’d be it. But instead, a domino was flicked, and influence was spread.

So, from all of this, I guess.. thank you to everyone who has supported DIIAD over these years. Thank you for changing lives.

Thank you, Chantelle and Dave, for giving so many people an opportunity to make a difference.

.. But, still, I guess it does sort of make me wonder.. after considering how comfortable I was with just watching until someone took the tiniest action to ask me to get involved.. what other things could I have done, if only someone had’ve asked? What am I waiting now for someone to ask me to do..?

What are you not doing just because someone hasn’t asked?!


(Why I almost missed) Open Source Day at GHC2013

Today was Open Source Day at GHC2013. I helped make the Android app (from scratch) for Crisis Check-in by Microsoft Disaster Relief. I almost didn’t go.

And at any other conference, I probably wouldn’t have gone. There was a waiting list, and my spot was keeping someone else from going.. someone who probably was understanding the emails that were being sent around, and had the relevant experience in order to contribute to the team. But, yesterday I went to a session that was about preparatory privilege and how teachers sometimes confuse experience with competence, thereby only allowing students with exposure to computer science, for example, into such classes – creating a cycle that is hard for the other students – those capable but under-exposed – to break.

“You know what, I’m a fast learner. Maybe I haven’t done this stuff before, but I have the right skill set and I can be an attribute to my team!” That was what I kept telling myself. And it’s not like I needed to chant it to myself over and over again, I only had to say it once, really, when my mind crossed to thoughts contemplating whether someone else could make better use of my spot. Imposter syndrome, piss off. Today I’m taking this spot because I deserve it, and because probably everyone else is going to be in the same boat. And even if they aren’t – I can learn from them, and this will be a safe and ideal environment to do so. So there! I’m going!


Woo! First app! With a list of list items!

And, we spent a few hours getting everything set up – updating our versions of the development suite, syncing our open source repository… but for the two hours-ish that we were able to actually code, you know it went well, of course. We all knew it would go well. The only person who would think that this wouldn’t go well is perhaps still the only person who thinks that it hasn’t gone well: anyone who expected us to do today, instead of learn. And I learnt many things today: design of apps based on the needs of the user (‘what will be the most-frequent use case? that should be the default page.’), setting up git repositories, xml, java and the android environment variables, how events like this are run.. Probably one of my favourite things that I learnt today was right at the end – I was still coding while everyone had just about left, and our impromptu Android team leader was hanging around out of courtesy to me, I think, but I would likely stay for at least another hour until I felt like I had achieved a bit more. Anyway, I told her how originally I wasn’t going to go to the event, because I didn’t feel I had enough skills or whatever. She herself had made a few apps before and replied – the one who was teaching us everything, pretty much – “neither was I.”

Opening open source events?

I sent a brief email around to the group I participated with at Open Source Day at GHC2013 to thank everyone and mention something along the lines of what’s mentioned in this post. I got a few emails back from people at Microsoft and Google asking more about what I had experienced and if I had any thoughts on how the day/similar events could be improved for the future. My reply went a little something like this:

Thanks for asking my opinion. I think that some of the things that might deter people in general from attending such events may happen to deter females more than males, which might lead to the low participation rates that you’ve noticed. In my case, some of the things that made the most impact were the following:

  • Having never been to an event like this or made an app before or whatever, I wasn’t sure that I would know enough to be productive. Even for someone else who did have experience in this area, she (at one point) wondered if she knew ‘enough’.. perhaps there are particular people who are more likely to feel less confident about their skills (first years, females) and are more likely to think that the event is not suitable for them
  • I wasn’t sure that anyone would help me to know enough to be productive, and that I wouldn’t get left behind (the emails which were being sent were a bit intimidating.. not for most people, I’m sure. but for someone for whom the contents of the email goes completely over their head, it can make you feel more of the feelings in the previous point)
  • There was a waitlist. I think that this is the biggest thing that contributed to my uncertainty of attending. The previous two points you can recognise are not necessarily true, and overcome to decide to sign up anyway. But once you start receiving emails about how the positions are full and there are people on the waitlist.. you end up wondering if you are more ‘appropriate’ for or ‘deserving’ of the position than the people on the waitlist. And this can make you second-guess the confidence you had to muster in order to overcome the first two points. I’m not sure how it is best to accomplish the functionality of a waiting list while keeping the pressure off the first-come registrants, but I would definitely argue that it’s necessary.

Perhaps one of the first steps that could be done to understand other people’s opinions would be, if you have their contact details, to ask the people who were registered for events but de-registered.. I mean, we can’t capture information from people who didn’t register, but there might be useful information in the people who registered but at some point decided that they wouldn’t go. And maybe it is just that they couldn’t make it, but perhaps other people found the waitlist put a bit of pressure on.

I had never particularly contemplated attending an event like this before, and so I don’t know which of the feelings that I have experienced are unique to this event. I will tell you though, some of the things that made me eventually attend the Open Source Day at GHC2013 were:

  • The way that it was in the schedule and what-not made it seem like it was the norm to attend, so I registered. In that way it seemed like it was welcoming to all participants.
  • The limit of places available gave me pressure to register quickly to secure my spot, so I did that and stopped thinking about it. I felt liable in that way, and if it were more like ‘whoever wants can come’ but there weren’t registrations, I probably would have felt less committed and would have found an excuse not to go.
  • I had been to a session the day before at GHC about ‘preparatory privilege’ and how schools sometimes mistake students with experience in computer science as the only students with aptitude for it. “Just because I haven’t done it before doesn’t mean I’m not good at it!” I said to myself to get over the ‘not sure I’d be appropriate’ feeling.
  • A lot of the sessions at GHC spoke of imposter syndrome, so I was more aware of what was going on when I was doubting myself, and was able to ignore it. Similarly I recognised that, at GHC, probably I was not the only one (or even close to being the only one) feeling concerned and so that helped me to feel stronger about attending.
  • In the end, only one person in our Android group of 8 had experience making an app! And we had all managed to feel confident to attend. For me, it was easier to feel confident about being welcomed and not left behind (skill-wise) because it was at GHC and I knew it would be a group of girls. Now, I won’t make any generalisations or gender stereotypes here because I am not trying to make any claims about female environments vs males, I just wanted to mention that for me, in my opinion, the significant reason that I felt more comfortable with my less-appropriate skill set was because I knew that I would be in a room of females.

As for the event itself, everything went well in my opinion. The first person I spoke to was in the same position as me experience-wise, which immediately made me feel better (I’m not sure what difference in terms of feeling welcoming that having a mentor that is experienced would have, vs having a friend who is as inexperienced as you! They are both comforting in different ways perhaps). On the Android team for our project, we didn’t have much experience but one of us had made two apps before and became the leader. It was perhaps frustrating before to have to bring us all up to a functional knowledge level while the other teams (smaller and more experienced) were wanting to discuss details that the team leaders had to agree on, but were so far from the point that we were up to. Anyway, she did a great job, and we all learnt a lot.

Although, I felt like the day was geared a bit too much towards producing output (which is a good goal, of course). For our group, we had worked very hard but didn’t have much to show because most of the gains in our group were less tangible.. I mean, I had learnt enough that I was able to go home and finish the content that we were working on, and when we had to present about what we had done, I felt that ‘we learnt a lot’ was an acceptable answer. But, all of the other OS groups were presenting what they had accomplished (in a tangible way) etc, and it became a bit pressuring for us to make it seem like we had done a lot not just learnt a lot.. perhaps our speaker recognised this and it sounded like we were pretending like we had done a bit more than we really had, to impress the rest of the room etc. So, maybe in the future there is a way to make the show-and-tell side of things less show-offy, somehow.. so that people who have just learnt a lot can feel proud and not embarrassed. (Maybe, taking a leaf out of the Harvey Mudd CS5 class‘ book that we heard about at GHC, there could be two different streams for those who had experience before and those who didn’t, so that intimidation and pressure/embarrassment didn’t feel so present in the room).

So, perhaps somewhere in this email of thoughts/experiences there are things that can be taken and developed into suggestions for events in the future. Happy to clarify anything that anything hasn’t quite come across clearly in email! Perhaps you have some more thoughts?

The best part of GHC (is not what I expected)

What was my favourite part about the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing event? I’d be interested in what other people would reply to this, and if my answer would be similar to theirs. What it seems like we (/Google in my case) paid for is to hear from dozens of talented, successful, inspirational women; to hear of successful programs in supporting, engaging, and promoting women in STEM; to develop skills such as publishing papers and leading teams. It’s almost as if there in the fine print is ‘you will have tea breaks with cool people’.. and not even in the fine print is ‘you will have an opportunity to meet with kick-ass school girls’. Indeed, just the day before the conference was to start, I came across an out-dated post on the linkedin group mentioning the final call for local volunteers for the GenConnext mentoring program. I contacted them anyway.

And so, as you might be beginning to expect, my favourite moment at GHC2013 wasn’t when I heard from Sheryl Sandberg, or when Google told me I was a good fit for their [x] division. It was when I had chats with high school students. Well, maybe more precisely it was when they came up to me at the end to say goodbye, when they could have easily just left. To make that effort, they either had parents who were particularly pushy about etiquette, or maybe I had made some sort of impact and we had become friends-ish. I wasn’t officially assigned to them or anything – in fact I had two groups of girls that I had met at different meal times. I just ate with them and whatever: learned about their interests, told them my story, and I highlighted how my story is replicable to any field, and shouldn’t be taken on purely face value. I’m not wishing for anyone to become an electrical engineer, unless that is what they want. I just hope that they can recognise that a degree/career is merely a tool for implementing change, and a mechanical engineering degree is as good as a computer science degree is as good as a nursing degree in order to do that.

Anyway, it turns out this isn’t any news to some of them. “My school had an inventors fair when I was in year 4 and since then I’ve known I wanted to be an engineer,” said Elle, grade 12. Well, that’s certainly different to my story, isn’t it..! Probably one of the greatest things I heard that day (and at Grace Hopper, that’s tough!). So, these girls were doing some pretty kick-ass things. They’re in different teams of the Lego League, they’re developing technology-based tools for their siblings with autism, too (and extending it to other children!). We really had great conversations, I think. And maybe that’s the key thing, they were conversations. It wasn’t a talk – they weren’t one of 50 it was directed at. It was lunch, and we were five, and we were joking around, and it was totally ideal, in my mind. They didn’t raise their hands, they didn’t even really “ask questions” they just participated in a dialogue about what I’m doing, what they’re doing, like friends, like normal people having a conversation..

And so now I wonder, how can the typical classroom careers talk be turned into something else. How can it be turned into a lunchtime chat session? Would that ever even be legal..? Could an opt-in lunchtime in-school group-based mentoring program ever work???

I need your help.

When the videos of the TED@Sydney event were released, I didn’t show mine to anyone – I still find it strange that people would want to listen to something that I have to say. Especially TED. To this day I am baffled at how I ended up on stage with such incredible minds. But, whether I liked it or not, there’s no hiding on the internet..!

Strangers started emailing me to tell me that the talk resonated with them. They left incredibly supportive comments on the video.. I am still trying to believe it.

I guess this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise after what happened at TED@Sydney… People stood up. After my talk, people stood up.. The TEDActive blog reasons that this occurs after a “presentation touched a nerve within us all- it spoke to a deep common need for understanding or a solution we were all looking for.” I won’t pretend it was a full standing ovation like for Chantelle‘s incredible charity work, but as far as I know it was the first response like that for the day. It was definitely the only response like that for an engineer. And I definitely cried when I found out.

I know that the concepts in the video changed my life, my career path, my purpose.. but I had only ever hoped that I could succeed in eliciting the same epiphany in others.

No doubt it’s an incredible feeling to think that people want to listen to something that I have to say. But that’s not what this is about.

Like all TED speakers, I want one thing: for my idea to spread.

And I’ve been convinced to believe that others want this too! I got mentioned on the TED blog. Universities across Australia are playing my video to inspire their students. Over 100 of my friends have shown their support on Facebook!

But, TED doesn’t see any of this support. 20-30 Talent Search finalists will get to present at TED2013 – literally reaching millions of people. But, it’s a competition. And liking my facebook post won’t help the talk get to millions.

I can see the voting activity feed (take a look for yourself), and it stings a bit to know that so many of my friends will like or comment on my facebook posts, but only six have taken the time to help in a productive way. There’s facebook integration for sign-up, it’s two clicks.

It’s not really my thing to ask for help. But this is something that I can’t do by myself!

There’s one week left to vote.

We can share this talk with the world – you just have to take the 20 seconds to log in and vote.

My talk is not for me

My TED talk is not for me. As much as I am proud of it, the messages in it aren’t new ideas to me – I wrote it. The ideas are to be shared with the world, but it goes beyond the concept of mobile health for developing countries. These are some of the underlying intentions of my talk:

The talk is to encourage the world to realise that innovation doesn’t have to mean high-tech.
We are fortunate to be living in an age where our constant hunger for bigger and better technology is satisfied. Thanks to this, there is perhaps an infinite number of solutions that we are now able to find to benefit society – using existing technology. Let us not become so accustomed to having the best of everything that we assume that old technology is worthless, but rather let’s leverage on this popular way of thinking to re-purpose the abundance existing technology: this is the new way of innovation.

The talk is to encourage more geeks to realise that they can change the world.
Moreover, that they don’t have to compromise on their love of technology to do it. It was only recently that I discovered that I don’t have to be a medical engineer (and sacrifice my love of electrical engineering) in order to help people in my career – I myself have worked on projects that are wholly electrical but have life-changing/saving applications. The University of Melbourne mobile health project, for example, saw me working with electronics and signal processing.. electrical engineering, my passion.. to save lives.  It took me a long time to realise that these applications were possible: almost too long.. I was just about willing to give up electrical engineering for something more humanitarian, because I could just feel that I needed to help people to be happy. How did it take me so long to realise that I can do both? The concept extends to civil engineering, mechanical.. I believe to any field.

The talk is to encourage aspiring female technologists.
Because in my opinion, we could use a few more role models. Engineers can change lives.. and they can do it wearing pretty dresses if that’s what they want.

What you can learn about life from a motorsport tour

Today Dad and I went on a site tour of Jones Brothers Racing. There were a lot of interesting things that I learnt (even knowing pretty little about motorsport) – for example they have a reverse-dyno (a dyno measures the output of an engine when it’s running) which runs the engine eg in a way that simulates the Bathurst track’s inclines and whatnot, so that they can see how the bearings etc in the engine will respond to that usage. They go to a lot of effort to hold the room at a controlled temperature during these tests.

As well as stuff specific to the tour, I picked up on a few things that can be considered more general knowledge:

  • Using actual things from real-life examples instead of something like it makes a big difference. The engines that were being pulled apart were kind of interesting, but once he said “this was on the Bathurst track last week” it was instantly way cooler! Obviously the engine itself didn’t look any different, but I think your appreciation level changes significantly once you can trust that something is truly ‘real world’
  • I felt awkward not knowing anything about cars, but once someone else who I figured did know something about cars asked a question, I felt much more comfortable asking things. I think there’s something powerful in seeing a role model/expert admit that they don’t know everything, and you don’t have to either.
  • Most of the technical talk went over my head, but once they mentioned something that I recognised, it became interesting. That’s why I try to break my projects down to a simple high-level explanation so that they can engage with it because it won’t completely go over someone’s head (eg a susceptible-infected-recovered mathematical model of a disease spreading process which can be explained with just rates of change, which most people know about!). I think that people want to feel that it’s something that they could do – overviews (eg. “I did this”) can’t always provide it; and while it’s nice for making you feel smart, there’s no point in throwing up a circuit diagram or complex maths in a presentation to students which will just turn people off because it is intimidating.
  • The tour guide was an electrical engineer in charge of the control systems on the steering wheel (all of the driver’s controls except the gear change are on the wheel).. even if I weren’t remotely interested in motorsport I would still be happy with that job it sounds like. Just goes to reinforce what I learnt when I worked in the power industry: a discipline doesn’t define the engineers within it.

Why it’s ok you don’t like maths

Recently I have realised that I don’t know why I like maths and electrical engineering!!

And probably you don’t know why you like whatever it is that you do.

I tested it out this morning on Mum: “what was your favourite subject at school? can you think of why you liked it?” “yes” “dammit! you were supposed to say no! what was it then?” “I liked the grammar” “ok, I’ll have to phrase the question differently next time.. but now that you’ve said that, why did you like grammar?” “I.. don’t know.”

If you go down enough layers, eventually you’ll hit a response of “I don’t know, I just like it” – I think that this is a feeling that everyone will have in some area of their life. Maybe that’s what everyone’s been referring to as passion. But it doesn’t have to be limited to one area – I, personally, like both maths and baking in the same “I just enjoy it!” way.. I am happy to spend an afternoon doing them, it makes time go quickly, and I just like it!!

I don’t think that we need to know why we like particular things.. maybe there is no reason, except that it’s what makes us unique. Which is good, it keeps us from all ending up doing the same thing as each other in life.

It took me a while to come to this realisation: I remember being confused about why if I love electrical engineering so much, why didn’t everyone? Why would anyone even do the others? In my mind it’s the best discipline, and so when I went to schools I would try to promote it as such. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit; of course I would explain the other disciplines to them so that they had a balanced perception (but my experiences I spoke of were obviously electrical-based), but secretly I would feel disappointed if they got interested in the other disciplines.

Because to me, the other engineering disciplines were second-rate. I wasn’t interested in them as much as electrical, and so I thought that it would be the same for everyone else: if they chose a different discipline, they’d just be ‘kinda happy’ as opposed to ‘in love’ – I must save them! But then I realised that there are civil engineers that are in love. And if I view their discipline which they love as second-rate, then there are probably going to be people out there that view mine in the same way! Moral of the story: I was very wrong – just because I see something as boring does not mean that there aren’t some who love it. Seems funny for it to take so long for me to realise when a good chunk of my time is spent answering to people ‘why on earth would you pick to study maths?’  But, when you’re in love…

We need to give students a tasting platter so that they can identify the thing that makes them happy ‘just because it does’ – it won’t be the same for everyone. Even if I think it should be otherwise!

Decision Made!

Ok, I have kept a personal blog for a while but I’ve decided today that I want to allow people to keep updated if they want to with what I’m doing since we met. It will be up and running in the next few days!!

Five year warm up

If I had to comment on my university experience as a whole? Fast. Really truly ridiculously fast. But experience tells me that that’s what happens when you fill your plate up.. I imagine that if I had’ve just done the bare minimum that it would have been a different story, but it all paid off. I do sometimes wonder if I missed my chance to have the undergraduate experience that everyone always talks about.. wild parties and whatnot. But I went to mostly every party there was (I was organising a good chunk of them!), so there are a few possibilities here: I really suck at experiencing things (reject: I can remember some pretty sweet dancing nights!); society’s portrayal is a bit much; when I think of my time I focus more on the achievements than the parties. Well, whatever the reason, the best best very best part of it all is that I’m still just TWENTY! Ridiculous – I can’t believe it myself! I had my few years of ‘must suck to be you, Deanna,’ but now, for the rest of my life, I have the advantage. Some people just start this experience at this age: and really, that’s what I’m about to-do, over in Europe and whatnot.. In fact, we can consider the past five years as just a warm up..

Drink Unsuspecting Small Town Establishment Dry (DUSTED) 2011

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