To celebrate International Women’s Day on Thursday March 8th, I had the privilege of joining over 1,500 women in tech at Tech(K)now Day in ExCel London the following Friday.
Tech(K)now Day is a space for women in tech from all backgrounds to learn new technical skills, ranging from beginner level to advanced. The delegates also have the opportunity to gain knowledge in career building and how to prepare returning to the industry after a career break. Furthermore, there are plenty of talks delivered from industrial professionals on new technologies. It was my first year at Tech(K)now Day so I was brimming to the top with excitement on what was to come. This year’s theme was in-keeping with International Women’s Day 2018: #PressForProgress.
Talk #1: “Open Source Quantum Computing” by Tracy Miranda, Kichwa Coders
The concept of Quantum Computing is rather new. Such a revelation was apparent across the attendees, including myself, with only a small handful having some form of experience around the area. Nevertheless, this simply made the introduction of Quantum Computing more exciting by familiarising with the fundamentals of the topic!
Tracey Miranda, CEO and founder of Kichwa Coders, started her presentation by defining what Quantum Computing is: the superposition of states at the same time. Traditional bits are composed of 0s and 1s. Whereas qubits are 0s and 1s at the same time.
Tracey illustrated the definition by using the Schrödinger’s cat-in-box analogy. You can put a cat in a box with deadly, poisonous, radioactive materials, but you won’t know whether it’s dead or alive until you examine the cat. The same thing applies for Quantum Computing: the state of qubits can be 0s and 1s at the same time but you won’t know until you examine it.
Quantum Computing is gaining popularity and is one of the emerging technologies of today. This is due to its higher level of efficiency in solving problems when compared to classic computing; an example of a quantum computing technique being machine learning.
Although bits being the foundation of quantum computing, it should be emphasised this piece of technology is multifaceted: it also aims to improve accuracy and can assist in corporations aspiring to gain competitive advantage through innovation.
Talk #2: “Developing a Growth Mindset in Tech” by Joanna Chwastowska, Google / DeepMind
Engineering Coach Joanna Chwastowska began her talk by asking the important question:
What is needed to succeed in tech?
Bearing in mind that the tech industry not like other industries. It is fast-paced, ever-growing, ever-changing. No one could have predicted eight years ago technologies like blockchain or machine learning would be so prevalent in today’s society.
The answer to the question was to continuously grow. To continuously chase knowledge and identify strategies which help you keep moving forward.
Joanna told us we needed to compare ourselves to ourselves as a method of survival. We needed to constantly learn. Many people believe the post-grad career ladder is a linear route: we go to study at University, we graduate from University, we begin work and that’s all there is. This shows us a potential cause as to why some individuals may feel like they are not progressing. Although we have left a place where learning is fundamental, it does not mean it needs to stop when we begin our careers. We need to constantly learn and constantly go out of our comfort zones.
Another misconception new beginners have in the tech industry is thinking it’s all about code. If individuals find themselves failing to deliver, they need to look at needs and how to communicate and collaborate with their peers. Through simple methodologies like these, they may be able to deliver better. Ultimately, they may feel instant gratification when coding but it is imperative to be interpersonal.
Secondly, we need to understand the importance of introspection and evaluation. Joanna emphasised the significance of being self-aware and evaluating our goals, then re-evaluating them. She shared a quote with us to demonstrate the importance of balance:
Women believe they can do everything, but they can’t. Women can achieve everything. It’s okay to ask for help. Find your balance.
Furthermore, we needed to learn how to accept failure as it happens all the time. It is an inevitable part of life and your career, though it can be hard to comprehend at times. Joanna shared a memory with us where she was preparing for an interview. She was planning on moving to another team and was speaking to a senior lead. She exclaimed how poor the management and delivery of the previous product was, not knowing the very senior lead she was telling this to had recently acquired the exact product for their upcoming project. After the revelation of his newest endeavour and a brief flustered moment, Joanna learnt honesty can be good. By not securing a place on the seemingly new project, she avoided the one she didn’t find much business value in and was instead given more energising responsibilities in a project that suited her skills. She was then able to progress through her career and build networks and businesses.
To counteract the failures we will face, we need to be persistent, as it is key. Sometimes, failure is not our fault but we cannot control such matters. Therefore, we need to react well to change and, as iterated earlier, to go out of our comfort zone.
As a parting note, Joanna shared a quote which we can all take with us in whatever walk of life on which we may be:
Life is a journey, not a destination.
Ultimately to succeed in tech, we need to:
- Embrace change. This industry is constantly growing and is intricately dynamic. We need to have the capability to move the same pace as the industry does.
- Put in effort. The harsh truth is we will only get whatever we give.
- Prepare for setbacks. This industry is not linear, nor is our career paths. Sometimes circumstances occur which we cannot control, but we mustn’t let it define us.
- Learn from criticism. We can only know what areas to improve if the figures we perceive as the authorities in our field can provide constructive criticism and suggestions on how to improve.
- Find inspiration from others. Our spaces are filled with influential individuals. Whether it is their ability to rise above adversities or their undying thirst for knowledge, these people have admirable qualities reflected in their work ethic and ambition. Learn from them.
Talk #3: “Windows Mixed Reality – Blending the Physical and Digital” by Pete Daukintis & Mike Taulty, Microsoft
Developers Pete Daukintis and Mike Taulty introduced Microsoft’s mission statement by discussing the correlation between its purpose and today’s technology: both being broad.
Microsoft is a technology pioneer which has provided society with applications we use day-to-day: Skype, Visual Basic and, of course, the ever famous Word Processor Paperclip.
Mixed Reality stems from HCI (Human Computer Interaction). Users were first able to communicate with their systems through command lines. This then transitioned to GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces), such as “Blender”, which gave them the opportunity to view the effect of their design decisions. Later, users were able to use touch-interfaces, like tablets and smartphones. It can be argued society is now moving to spacial-technologies.
The audience had found 3D is everywhere, though it can be unbeknown to us in day-to-day life. The reason being, producing 2D artefacts are more frequent which could then inundate its 3D counterparts. Due to this, 3D may be perceived as more difficult. Complex applications like Blender could diverge new users due to its intricate GUI. Whereas, Paint 3D provides a more comprehensive environment with inbuilt graphics for the user to play around with.
Mike conducted a demo on Paint 3D to define what Mixed Reality is: the merging of 2D photos within 3D spaces.
Pete discussed Microsoft’s point of view of Mixed Reality is to imagine there is a dial which can go from reality to virtual. As the dial increases, physical reality is distinguished. The photos above show the woman transitioning from a hologram, to avatar, to a pixel. The endgame is rather open to imagination! In essence, Mixed Reality is a spectrum of devices from one to another.
Pete conducted a demo of the Microsoft HaloLens; a headset which captures the essence of Mixed Reality by using HCI techniques to merge 3D graphics within the real-world.
The Windows Mixed Reality includes perception / environmental awareness. It can work out where it is in the world and calculates its surroundings by producing a mesh blueprint of the room in order to avoid 3D graphical figures trailing to an infeasible area.
Looking around the room, it was clear all conference delegates enjoyed viewing the demonstration of the Windows Mixed Reality, particularly the 7ft ballerina!
Workshop #1: Introduction to Pair Programming & Test Driven Development, hosted by Pivotal
Given the high volume of interest in the workshops offered throughout the day and many spaces filling at a rapid pace, I was one of the lucky individuals who managed to enrol in both of their options!
The first workshop was a two-in-one session hosted by Pivotal: an introduction to pair programming for the first half, then beginner test-driven development for the second half.
Both subjects piqued my interest as I had studied the former as part of my Final Year Engineering project when at University. I had learnt a lot of theory behind it through my research and had brief experience in pair-programming, myself. For the latter, I had some experience of it in my First Year at University writing unit-tests whilst programming in Java to verify my code. These two approaches in software development are so beneficial in the industry. Many teams are increasingly embracing it due to recognising the importance of sharing skills with one another, as well as bridging the gap of perception between Developers and Testers, by aiming to see from each other’s perspective to identify subtle defects and potential areas of growth.
To get more hands-on experience in both pair-programming and test driven development, everyone in the room was paired up with another person depending on their background knowledge and experience. Advanced were paired with beginners, industrial professionals paired with undergrads, and so on. A great mixture of knowledge.
We were instructed to create a game, FizzBuzz, in Ruby and use simple algorithms to declare “Fizz!”, “Buzz!” or “FizzBuzz!”, as well as using GitHub as a form of source control due to multiple people working on the same project. We then wrote tests to verify our code: deliberately coding incorrectly at first to see if the test can identify the error, followed by making the amendments, testing again, and slowly building the game whilst verifying the code. We eventually moved away from hard-coding our variables and producing more versatile and global declarations to increase the maintainability of the code. This was then tested and amended, until the program was consolidated and Fizzed, Buzzed and FizzBuzzed happily.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable exercise, particularly as I was able to view pair-programming from the other side of the equation. As such, getting involved in test-driven development showed so much potential in how we, as Developers, can produce more comprehensive applications from the quality of our code!
In addition, having the opportunity to code in Ruby was rather energising. It was something out of my depth and comfort-zone as I specialise in more front-end programming. I was able to test my capabilities in something on the opposite side and found it actually isn’t quite daunting!
Workshop #2: Learning ReactJS, hosted by HomeAway
I am a huge fan of front-end development. In fact, it is how I began my journey in software development back in the 2010s! (or 2005 if my after-school Computer Club website counts?)
The workshop was hosted by HomeAway and the entire class had the opportunity to code with the instructor as a large group. We all completed each step together to build a fortune cookie game, whilst learning how ReactJS interacts with extensions, user behaviour, etc.
The workshop delved beyond just coding a fortune cookie game. It educated us on how the fundamentals of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) is incorporated through ReactJS applications, in order to produce high quality and comprehensive user interfaces. It was such an insightful and fun tutorial session as it gave us the opportunity to experiment with the library, as well as toy with our own ideas for areas of expanding the game.
You can check out my attempt at the fortune-cookie game through my Code Sandbox here: https://p8v66zj70.codesandbox.io/