Adventures at the Northwest Regional Women in Computing Conference

AlexandreaYoong Co-Writer: Alexandrea Yoong
“Alexandrea’s goals are to pursue an MS degree in Computer Science and work to program games and more widely accessible educational software or applications that encourage younger students, particularly girls and underrepresented minorities, to explore and pursue STEM careers.”
NicoleLewey Co-Writer: Nicole Lewey
I am a Computer Science major with Mathematics and Music minors. I am Vice President and co-founder of the Women in Computer Science Club. I participate in multiple choral ensembles, one of which I will be directing starting Fall 2014.LinkedIn

Hi, we are Alexandrea Yoong and Nicole Lewey, President and Vice President of the Women in Computer Science Club (WICS) at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Our club’s mission is to foster a community which promotes equal opportunities for women in computer science by helping to create professional development opportunities and by advocating for more women to enter and contribute to this dynamic field. We were really excited when our advisor, Shereen Khoja, told us about the Northwest Regional Women in Computing Conference in Portland, Oregon. Given that we formed our club very recently in February 2014, this conference was our first chance to interact with other aspiring computer scientists and professionals.

We knew that the conference would take place on April 12, 2014 and that we had the option to sign up for mock interviews and resume reviews. We also learned that our university’s Career Development Center prints free business cards for students and thought this would be useful. To prepare for the conference, we made sure our resumes were updated and thought about questions to ask the people we would meet.

GLaDOS of Portal was born as a senior project!

When we arrived at the conference, we knew that the morning keynote speaker, Kim Swift, had worked on the game Portal. What we didn’t know was that she and her team of fellow students at DigiPen Institute of Technology had developed the concept and first version of Portal (under a different title) as their senior project. Even more astonishing is that while showcasing this game at a convention, Kim Swift and her classmates were invited to present their game to developers at Valve, and then offered their first jobs on the spot! Kim Swift was down-to-earth but spoke about how it was important to look for opportunities and also create them. It was motivating to see someone achieving her goals at such a young age.

Next, we participated in a speed networking session. There were 21 colleges and universities represented, as well as a number of professionals. Our business cards came in handy, and we also learned that many people utilize LinkedIn profiles to build their professional image and further their networking. At this session, I [Alexandrea] met Ron Tenison, a retired professor and strong advocate for women in computer science. Later in the day, the club reconnected with him and learned about how to form a student chapter with ACM-W (Association for Computing Machinery – Women). I [Nicole] found it interesting to talk to other female computer science students who have had similar experiences.

Breaking the Ice with Angry Birds

For a fun icebreaker and group activity, we divided into small groups with people we didn’t know and spent 45 minutes engineering our own real-life version of an Angry Birds game. It was a fun way to meet new people and appreciate the amount of creativity every person brought to the table

At lunch, a diverse panel of four women talked about building your personal brand. One of the key takeaways from the panel was that recruiters rely heavily on LinkedIn to find potential employees. One of the women talked a lot about advocating for yourself, having the self-confidence to know how to pick your battles, and knowing when to confront an unfair work situation. It was also neat to see how Claire Francis, a high school freshman, was able to take her passion of health/fitness and develop her personal brand by using a blog and other social media – all without a formal degree.

There were three afternoon talks after lunch. The first was by Jennifer Davidson, a PhD candidate from Oregon State University, who researched how to involve a greater number of older adults in free/open source software communities. As women in computer science, something that stood out to us in her presentation was that only 1% of open source developers are female. This was also relevant because Open Source Development is a special topics class being offered at our university next Fall semester.

The afternoon keynote speaker, Reena Agarwal, spoke on the topic of innovation. We liked that she thought of innovation in little steps; she approached each day practically, explaining that she didn’t get up in the morning saying “I’m going to be innovative today!”

The third talk was given by Franziska Roesner, a PhD candidate from the University of Washington, who talked about privacy and the companies that track users online. A main point that she made was that many people don’t realize how extensively they’re tracked and that many of the tools currently used for privacy are much less effective than users think.

More than Digital Connections

During the career fair portion of the conference, I [Nicole] met with a woman from HP for a mock interview and resume advice. One piece of advice was to format the resume so that the most important components stood out just by scanning the page. We then went over some common interview questions and she gave me feedback about my answers. This was especially timely since I had interviews the following Monday and Tuesday for potential summer internships. One of the questions I learned to think about is how to describe the way I work within a team – I was asked this question at five different interviews.

Another benefit of the career fair was that we got to connect with Ron Tenison and learn how to form a student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery – Women (ACM-W). I [Alexandrea] also networked with Coral Cotterell at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and learned about various activities and other resources that we could use for outreach to elementary, middle and high school students. It was encouraging meeting so many people who were equally passionate about computer science education and supporting women in the field.

All of our Women in Computer Science club members walked away from this conference very excited about how we could pass on our positive experiences to other students. We were energized and inspired by the stories we heard, the people we met, and the ideas we shared. We encourage all of you to check out similar conferences and resources in your area!

Alexandrea and Nicole