People often ask me why is there a conference only for women; isn’t the day we have no such conference – the time we have truly achieved equality? I do agree with this thought. But, to me this conference is not a celebration “for minority” but a celebration of the fact, as to how far we have come from being termed the minority.
Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest conference for women in computing that has grown from a mere 500 women who came together in 1994 to 15,000 plus participants this year. This truly highlights the progress we are making on closing the gap between men and women in the field of Computing. It is needless to say how motivating and inspiring it was to learn about some wonderful women in the field and the contributions they have been making.
I had the opportunity to represent Qualcomm and be part of this amazing conference for the second time. I was introduced to this conference by fellow engineer Molly Nicholas, with whom I had collaborated on the idea of designing a hardware called Qbadge in the year 2015 – added wireless connectivity to the Hardware – (what I do best, of course ! ;)) and also some new neo-pixel patterns to light up the badge (check video below). This was one of the few times, I had designed something on a basic breadboard and tested (pic below). It’s awesome what you explore and do when you collaborate.
Qualcomm hosted a Hackathon event that utilized the Qbadge hardware again in 2016. I was excited to be part of this event, to meet and answer the questions from the participants – young women engineers chosen from across the United States. The idea was to have a useful social interaction, make it a learning experience for the girls by exposing them to low level programming. We had them edit the programs loaded on the badges, while they solved some hackathon clues.
Pic 1 : Arduino Trinket interfaced with Bluetooth HC -05 chip
Pic 2: Internals of QBadge
Video below : Shows how the badge flashes with the programmed neopixel patterns that can be activated by a command from an Android app sent over Bluetooth connection:
One of the feedback I had from the first time at the conference in 2015 was that more men should also participate in this conference. Q showed an increased participation from the previous year , from 50 participants to 130 that included a few men as well. At the booth, Qualcomm had an invisible museum- named invisible but truly impactful Augmented Reality display. This seemed in-line with Megan Smith’s opinion she shared with a quote during her key note : “Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history” – Gloria Steinem. This is very much the premise for Grace Hopper Conference – to recognize and highlight the contributions that women are making as well.
In my opinion, it would be a good idea for more men to be a part of this conference to not only learn about and appreciate the contributions made by women but also to gain awareness about how they could aid with the efforts to close the gender gap, by getting involved in discussions about the problems or challenges faced by women. There were a number of men who were not only present at the conference but also made presentations such as this talk by Astro Teller, Google X.
Moving on, the technical theme for the year 2016 included Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Human Computer Interaction and Data Security. While various technical talks in all the above tracks, such as self driving cars, programming humanoids, connecting millions of devices – engaged me and were giving a glimpse of tomorrow, there were also talks about solving the connectivity problem that had my attention. With the world progressing towards Drones, Smart Vehicles and Devices, Internet of Things – an all connected paradigm, it’s hard to imagine that two thirds of the world still remains unconnected – has no access to basic internet. As an Engineer at Qualcomm Research, I am excited to be part of the team that is working on connecting the unconnected.
Working on a myriad of problems and finding solutions for the questions of today and tomorrow, is what makes engineering a challenging as well as an enjoyable task. The term engineer has no gender. I believe that building a future we envision, takes each one of us and the path to that is – coming together and looking beyond the gender!
Lastly, to give you a sneak peak of how women are getting ahead on closing the gender gap in the tech industry, the winner of ABIE award for Technical Leadership,2016: Anna Patterson tried a simple way using the “show of lights” from the mobile phone to represent the show of strength. (video below)
But, it was her words : “No matter what you are going through, there is always a lesson to be learned and light at the end of the tunnel. Make sure you are looking for the light” – that resonated with me as I witnessed the entire hall light up around me!
More importantly, this made me realize how each one of us can make a difference to the over all picture. This post is dedicated to all the women engineers out there. Thank you to each of you for doing your bit and inspiring me each day to keep going. Together – we got this !
Note : This post in response to the Day-04 prompt word : “inspiration” – created by thestemsquad on Instagram in the on-going month of ‘get to know women in STEM’ initiative.