Women in Tech Conference hosted in Edinburgh

On 28 February, in the midst of a growing storm, The Edinburgh Women in Tech Conference 2018, organised by Edinburgh University Women in STEM, began with an opening speech from conference chairwoman Nathalia Rus.

She began by addressing her hopes for the conference, and women in STEM, but quickly dove into a talk on different programming languages such as Javascript, Python and C++. She discussed how to decide which language to use for different projects, as well as what she would recommend to start out with as someone new to the tech world. All speakers were clearly eager to make their work more transparent and foster more interest in tech careers. There was a mixture of information from novices, those with some tech knowledge, and professionals.

In her talk, Rus discussed how different languages served different functions on various platforms, as well as their own roles in Frontend Design, and the logistics of these programs. Rus then discussed her personal experience in tech, addressing the topic of burnout and imposter syndrome. She pointed out that imposter syndrome in particular can lead some girls to be shy to talk about tech on social media. Still, she encouraged these women to be brave, go out into the world of tech, and demand to be taken seriously.

Rus was followed by Neelofer Banglawala, who works in supercomputing as an applications consultant at EPCC, the University of Edinburgh centre for parallel computing and data science. Bangwala began by discussing the importance of high-performance computing, and how these computers allow “in silico” experiments that can’t be done practically. Some require simulations and/or millions of calculations, such as a simulation of melting Antarctic ice shelves, or how dinosaurs walked based on the movements of Guinea fowl.

Banglawala is further involved in projects that test out new materials, saving the costs of actually creating them at the risk of them being unfunctional, as well as projects in computational fluid dynamics.

The next speaker was Sibylle Katharina Sehl, who works as an associate project manager with Skyscanner. Her presentation emphasised the importance of joining a community instead of struggling on your own as a beginner, suggesting projects such as ‘code bar’ and ‘100 days of code’. She is involved with such a project as an instructor of Code First: Girls at the University of Edinburgh. Additionally, she works as a group leader for Freecodecamp Edinburgh. Sehl was clearly focused in making tech less intimidating and more open to young women interested in such careers.

Sehl also explored her personal relationship with tech, saying that, for her, tech is “building something, creating something.” She was fascinated with the process of solving problems. On entering the tech field, she did acknowledge that tech can be both intimidating and unconventional for women, with informatics in particular being labeled “a  boys’ subject.”

Advising those present, she said, “you have to be a bit brave, and say ‘I can do this.’” She added that no one is holding any doors closed, but women in tech might just have to push a bit harder.

She then provided an abundance of resources for those interested in exploring tech, recommending online resources and self-study as well as Bootcamp: Codeclan and Makers Academy.

She concluded her talk with more words of support. “You need to have drive. You need to have a portfolio, but you certainly do not need a degree in [computer science].” She noted that she encountered people from every background in her workplace.

During a short break for tea, Nathalia Rus was interviewed. She provided insight on her hope for there to eventually be as many women as men in STEM. Rus also pointed out that in countries where women are introduced to tech at a younger age, they take the same interest in it as boys. Normalisation, she argued, was key in increasing the number of women in tech.

Speaking more personally on how she took on a leading role in creating a tech conference for women in Edinburgh, she mentioned that she was unable to find any tech events in Edinburgh, and decided to build her own with her team.

She additionally started an Instagram documenting her coding journey. Her journey, though, did not go unchallenged. She was not always taken seriously, recounting in particular one instance where her and her friend who published videos on youtube were targeted by dislike bots, as well as several times where individuals admitted they thought she was more concerned with her popularity than tech.

Rus, as well as the other speakers and organisers present, all shared a resilience and the same bravery that allowed them to break through the boundaries built up around tech.

 

 

Image: Dun-deaghCupplius ala maio, qui publicest virioca

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