My TryCATCH 2016 Keynote Speech

Thanks to TryCATCH Team for having me. Good Morning everyone & welcome to TryCATCH 2016! It is wonderful to be here with you today.
Today I am going to briefly talk about three things

• First, I am going to talk about of SFU CS, the way I experience it
• Second, I am going to briefly discuss why computer science is important & why we have these initiatives to engage girls in tech and computer science
• And last, I would like to talk about the skills we need to succeed, and one particular skill I believe is important to develop in the wonderful women of tomorrow to excel in tech and leadership

SFU Computer Science is one of the top 50 schools in computer science in the world. Small, excellent group of researchers working on areas covering computer science theory, big data, machine learning, image analysis, and systems & networks. It has 1500 undergraduate students, 200 graduate students and 42 research faculty members with multiple excellence recognitions, across three SFU campuses of Burnaby, Downtown and Surrey.
It has very supportive environment, helping students find the resources they need throughout their education and providing support clubs and small communities for the activities you liked to be involved with [1].

WICS [2] and WEG [3] are examples of such clubs you can always count on for getting advice, help and support, and more importantly they connect you to the external groups and wealth of programs and events that support and encourage women in the field and help you in building the career in the future. They connect you to the organizations like Anita Borg Institute (ABI) [4], the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) [5], the women’s groups of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM-W) [6],  and the Computing Research Association – Women’s chapter (CRA-W)[7], and all the mentoring programs and conferences they run for female students and faculty.

As a newcomer to Canada at that time, I saw SFU as my second home. I enjoyed every single moment I spent at SFU, learnt from my amazing professors and lecturers, advisors, and different types of mentors I had, and I made tons of amazing friends I am still in contact with for work, or for many other activities.

I joined WICS and a member in the second year of my education and it helped me be part of organization of amazing events, connect to other amazing clubs like SFU Women’s center, and Women in Engineering (WEG), and go to GHC yearly conference and build many other friendships there. I also presented WICS in SCWIST [8] which is the Canadian women in science and technology organization and build many relationships there with help of SFU WICS.
I also have been to many company visits with friends I have found here at SFU. Many of my SFU friends who are now in Google, Facebook, Cisco, Youtube, or managing their own companies, or teaching in universities.

SFU has been a home for me and will continue to be a home that I will always be back when I need support, or when I can give back in any way. And it is a pleasure to share this information, as I am really happy to see happy new faces join and build and enhance this amazing community.

Now, Why Computer Science Is Important? And Why We Have Support Groups To Engage Women In Computer Science Specifically?

As you notice in your daily life, technology is everywhere these days. It is intertwined in almost every part of our lives. It affects how we socialize, connect, play, build, experience, get informed about the news, and the way we learn. Availability of information is the most obvious change we observe. You can google anything you need and you will have instant access to myriad source of information to the topic, something that is very usual for us now that has not been available 20 years ago.

Accessibility of information has led to affordability of building new businesses, especially in the technology sector, enabling students and technology enthusiasts build what they dream and be able to build a living out of their interests.

Another obvious day to day usage in increase is usage of telecommunication networks. We all have mobile devices that are connecting us to the world 24/7 using WiFi, LTE and Satellite communication systems. As our needs increase, the need to expand such networks and add to their capacity increase, and new technologies are introduced to fill in the gaps.

Agriculture and the way we produce our everyday food is changing by new technologies. How we collect information with sensors and automate the usage of devices for producing food are just two obvious examples of numerous applications.

Our travel experience is changing by connectivity and roaming all over the world. Also, while traveling,  information is available translated to your native language on the go.

Building civil structures, buildings, dams, bridges, and/or any other earthquake-resistant structure that starts from detecting the vibration with sensory devices programmed to collect information about their surrounding structure, as well as automation of building robots used for welding, or reinforced concrete structures are examples of high-tech applications in this field.

Internet of things and connected devices in houses that can help us save energy, and change ambience experience of in our homes or make sure of our home safety when we are away.

Clean electricity for homes, plant environments, and electric cars that are solving the needs for gas that has been the primary energy resource and has been changing the way of handling economy around oil industry.

How we monitor and take care of our patients, children or elderly people is also changed by connectivity of personal and connected devices that helps us informed and is more affordably available for those who are in need.

Preventive health care or easy test access for early curable diseases are also among the great recent achievements of technology.

All of these applications, from the smallest devices we have in our hand to maintain our daily chores and connectivity, to building and maintaining our environment, to reaching to the new plants and discovering this world we live in are touched and enhanced by technology and will continue to change for many years to come.

Our standards of life is increasing, technology is changing how we are living, and it is actually still the very beginning.

Now, as 50% of the population, and as apparently shown by the statistics on the deciding side of the market, we as women do not want to be only the consumers of these technologies, because if we stay only consumers, we cannot provide enough feedback and viewpoint in building the future.

Therefore, there is a need for women engineers, there is a need for women technologists, designers, builders, coder, and technical marketers to understand the needs of the women in the future and consider it in this process as we build new technologies. That is why we need programs like TyCATCH, Girls Who Code 1, Geek Girls, and why we need technology enthusiasts like yourself to get prepared to make our future.

This need is been very well known. and myriad of similar programs trying to teach programming in early ages show how much we need those skills for building our future with tech and how important it is that we understand it is these small tech skills that we learn step by step enable us for this huge market and prepare us for tackling bigger tech problems in the future.

Last, I am going to talk about skills to excel, in particular the one that has been the most important one for myself.

For being successful, and reaching the goal of having a say in this fast approaching future, there are numerous skills that will help us in different stages. Aside from coding skills, mathematical skills, design skills, and career specific skills that we need to excel in different sectors of tech, among the most common skills we need are courage, focus, communications skills, empathy, and team play.

However, if I want to emphasis a single skills that would summarize my belief in a reason for success in any meaningful work is perseverance.
There is this amazing TED [9] talk from Reshma Saujani [10], one of the early spotters of this need and founder of “Girls Who Code” [11]. She has a talk with a title “Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection”[12], it is an amazing talk and I recommend watching it to everyone. She is a very courageous women and a very successful one, who is a risk taker and is not afraid to talk about her failures.

She talks about perseverance. She discusses that we expect ourselves to be perfect, and that’s why many times we do not take action as we are afraid that will shatter the perfect image we want to project of ourselves, and since every single achievement comes from going into an uncomfortable zone, we as women are missing out as we are killing our bravery for perfection. She tells a story about a girl who is supposed to write a few lines code, and after 20 minutes she shows the teacher the blank screen and asks for help. The teacher, however, as she knows this pattern does not assume she has not written any line of code and tries to undo a few times, and comes back the code she wrote but did not want to show in fear of the teacher seeing her mistakes. She preferred to show no progress than showing her mistakes, and that is a big problem because of how we have thought our children to be perfect.

It is OK, we all make mistakes. And actually no one writes a perfect code. Because in coding the difference between a perfect code and a non-working code might be a single semi-colon you might have missed! and it is totally ok. We should try and fail and try and fail and try and fail until we reach where we want to be. This is very true for coding, but also true for many other things we do in life. The more profound and complicated the task we are doing, the most probable that we won’t get it right at the first attempt, and the higher our need for perseverance and not giving up.

I was attending a ACT-W [13], a conference for women in Tech last year in Seattle, and I was invited by one of my WICS friends from SFU. Sara Bird [14], CEO of MOZ[15] had a great talk. She described her first ever challenge when she joined as the eighth employee of a tech company. She described the intimidating encounter as a cliff she was afraid to jump and wanted to back off and leave the task. But despite her fears, she did it, and ever since as she paved her way to be the CEO of the same company, she discovered life is actually a series of such intimidating cliffs, some you fall in and some you pass, but you never know if you don’t try, and chances are you eventually will jump more cliffs than those you fall from if you try enough times.

However, in the hard times, it is hard to stay in track and see the future. There are ways to help us build and sustain this perseverance, even in the hard times: being a part of a group of like-minded people and getting help from mentors. In other words, being part of a support community,  and these support communities “exist and are vibrant because they have a small, yet critical, mass of dedicated people driving them” [16]. *

Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” [16]

And this is not just at the national or international level, but also at the local level too, in groups like WICS and WEG that have volunteers who put in the energy to create and sustain a community, “to bolster and support one another, to organize events like this one, and hopefully to have a little fun together in the process” [16]. These communities will be there to help you when you are in need during your education, like when you need a coding buddy, like when you have doubts about your progress, like when you need a pat on your shoulder for your effort, and when you need someone to push you forward. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t forget to be a helping hand when needed in return.

I am going to finish my words for today and let you proceed to enjoy your great day in TryCATCH with another quote from Marriane Willamson. She says:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.“ [17, used in a different context*]

Let’s overcome that fear together. Imagine your dreams and work till you get there as in every single one of your able hands lies our better tech future.
Thank you very much, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the program my friends have planned for your day in TryCATCH 2016 [18]. I wish you well as you embark on the exciting next phase of your life with deciding your future education and career path. Welcome!

[14]Sarah Bird,
[16]Jennifer Rexford,

Notes (not delivered as a part of the speech):

* I think about this very often, and I thank my mentor, Jennifer Rexford, for such a great impact.

** The quoted text was used in the context of spirituality, which was not the purpose when quoted in this speech. I used the quote within this speech as I found it could bear the message as effectively in the context of enablement. It is not an endorsement of the author’s ideas beyond this quote.

*** A reference (on the second item) was a website that is no longer available.