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Jan. 21st, 2016

January so far.

I was going to wait until the end of January to post it but whatever.

This semester is co-op semester! Which means forty hours of my week are spent in a office frowning over code and occasionally being happy because I unbroke my broken code. I don't always like change, and I've very grudgingly tried my very best to adjust to this whole I-have-a-bedtime-now nonsense and I have had varying levels of success.

Work starts at 10 am sharp everyday which you'd think is pretty sweet deal but I've managed to be late five times already, yay. My supervisor is a+, the work I'm doing is something I've wanted to do for a while (backend) and certainly didn't expect to be doing on my first co-op. I'm doing a lot of clojure which is cool and also learning a lot about how the stack works and what concurrency is. Our VR team have these Occulus Rifts to play with, which I sort of vaguely appreciate but I don't really get all excited about. I also made a major life change: I switched to Spacemacs, and I'm pleased to report that I'm very pleased.

That was me talking like Perd Hapley.

I also got to put on my WeMesh shirt at the info session and brag about working at WeMesh which was pretty surreal because...it just was, because, I'm WORKING. Every Friday afternoon, the teams gather around and demo what they did, and frontend and design have flashy demos "ooh now you can enlarge the text" and "ooh now you can vote on songs" and the backend people are like "you don't know it but WE FIXED THINGS OKAY" and everyone kind of glumly stares at us.

I also made my first pull request today. I misspelt the word "video". BUT I finished 1.5 days before deadline so I was happy about that.

I'm trying to do a lot of other techy things this semester but it's very hard because there's always errands to run, and I'm too exhausted to do anything when I get home from work. I cook sometimes (I found this halal store near work and I COOKED), but besides that, my nights are for hanging out with people, baking cookies, reading/reviewing books for the blog, and sliding on the floor of my apartment singing the theme song of the Gilmore Girls ("I will folloooooowww").

I've read (or am reading) some interesting books (The Count of Monte Cristo, History of Mathematics, Math 239 course notes, and I finally made it through TWO Tahereh Mafi books), and I've watched so much TV it's a shame (Jessica Jones, Miss Fisher's, Parks and Rec, The Mindy Project). I was on a co-op panel for a WiCS thing which was a lot of fun. I learnt a lot, and it was nice to sort of voice out a lot of Thoughts I had about going through co-op and dealing with CECAs unfailing crappiness.

So I have a list of Major Long Term Goals this semester on my whiteboard at home.

(I was too lazy to color the whole thing)

One of them is to travel at least three times this semester. I've made plans for the first time (some time in Feb), and I'm in the middle of figuring out details for the second. I'm very, very, very pleased with this.

Other random lifey things

- got my first paycheck!
- I'm skyping a lot more with my family
- I'm job hunting right now so that I hopefully wont have to in the summer
- I'm getting more adventurous with all my cooking
- I BOUGHT CURTAINS aka I'm slowly descending into a life of domestication???
- Barring frantic cab rides to work because I'm always freaking late, I've been good with my money this semester
- I've been ~trying~ to plan courses for the next few semesters and I want to take everythinggg.
- This semester is weird and sometimes I have to talk myself out of a funk and I've had some scares but it's been good so far.

Dec. 31st, 2015

new year's resolutions

look at me all cheesy and corny and I'm hungry now

- sleep more
- try more things
- call mom more
- buy at least one brightly coloured coat
- buy combat boots
- travel more
- watch all of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
- save enough co-op money to pay all my tuition and rent in 2017.
- watch Legally Blonde, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle.
- cook food at least once a week
- interview one author for my blog
- get a physical ARC
- get better at C++
- learn new Scala features
- learn to not hate bash
- get an awesome Math 239 grade and declare CO minor
- find out a way to take calc 3 and 4 and still graduate on time
- make more friends
- be nicer to people
- be meaner to people
- be more confrontational
- don't let the muggles get me down

Dec. 24th, 2015

Reflections on 2A

2A is over.

I don’t quite know what to make of 2A.

I all but threw caution to the winds this semester. I stopped myself from holding back and being apprehensive, and pretty much rolled with my day. A huge part of the reason as to why I did is because I wanted to be happy, personally, mentally. I wanted to be satisfied with my choices, content with my position in life, and most importantly, be in charge of what I was doing. So I did away with all the rules I imposed on myself during 1A/B, rules that I thought were crucial to doing well and being well, and decided to—for lack of a better metaphor— ride the proverbial waves of the semester.

Basically, I re-prioritized. Grades were important, but so was having a clean apartment, getting to know people, and sleeping.

It’s been interesting so far.

I want to start with the good. I was very social this semester— more social than i’ve been since I was fifteen. During the last two years of high school, and first year of university I was a real-life lurker. I used to watch people and think about that I’d say if they spoke to me, or wish I had casual friends and acquaintances that I could occasionally laugh with, ask for help, give advice to. I didn’t really make a conscious decision to move away from that this semester, but by a combination of a few things— going to Grace Hopper, working on WiCS, hanging around MC, getting Facebook— I ended up being very happy with my social life.

There is something in wanting to spend time with people, and wanting them to spend time with you that simply trumps an assignment or grade. Many times, this semester, I chose socializing over working or being alone, and rarely regretted it. Even if it cost me my grades a little it, it didn’t worry me as much I thought it would. It put me in a better place, mentally, and I didn’t want to be hard on myself for getting that in place of a better grade. So yeah, social life has been getting exponentially better since i joined university, and this is evidenced by—if anything—my LiveJournal entries (compare this to post to this one, for example), and I’m awed and happy with how far I’ve come.

Socializing has other sides to it too. For me, it’s accompanied by the fear of getting too attached to some people, by the franticness I feel when I try to hold on too hard, by the uncertainty I feel when I don’t know where we go next, by long periods of time spent reflecting and fretting and wondering and reliving.

I changed the way I approached my studies as well, and I’m very glad that I’ve come to this point. It took me a really, really long time. When I started to struggle with math when I was thirteen, it awoke a fear in me that I don’t think I ever managed to fully shake off. I still remember shaking while prepping for exams and tests, crying before getting my grades, after getting my grades, and driving myself to insane lengths just to get a perfect score. The way I saw it, my good grades were my only asset. I didn’t sing or dance, or write awfully well or code for fun, but I was better than most at school, and I wanted to preserve that.

But this semester had its downs too. I enrolled in a combination of courses (CS 246, 241e) that ended up being too much for me to handle in the second half of the semester. So even though I wasn’t exactly freaking out and having a meltdown over my grades every five minutes, I was stuck in this cycle that I could rarely afford to take a break from, and it was affecting my eating and sleeping patterns, my behaviour around people, my work for WiCS, and my happiness.

I wouldn’t go back and change my choices because CS 241e was a great course to take. For all my fretting over the summer that I’d fall behind, I was able to keep up fairly well, but more importantly, I had the opportunity to get exposure to enhanced materials about compilers (something I’m considering delving into a little bit more now), interacted with a great professor, and managed to program semi-functionally too. I wouldn’t give this course up because I consider it to be an important piece of my CS education.

But I can’t keep doing this again. I did this the one time, and I survived, I don’t know how. But I remember even now, how all through November, I felt crushed, not by peer pressure, or any desire to get the best grades, but by the fright that I wouldn’t learn the concepts I was meant to, because I took on an unrealistic workload.

The stress built up and up and up, and I ended up burning out during exam week and avoiding life, and having a meltdown(s). I’m just sort of tired at this point of selling so much of my soul away for my degree and grades. Even though I adopted a new perspective on my work, I took on more than I was capable of, and I daresay I’m slightly worse off now.

I’m glad this semester happened. This was the semester I was reckless and furiously happy and awfully sad, and incredibly curious to know what would happen if I made some major changes to my life. There were times I was successful, times I fucked up, times I did a half-assed job. But that’s okay. I’m glad I tried something new, because I have learnt more about myself.

Dec. 8th, 2015

Why I Haven't Been Writing.

I started off this post thinking I'd talk about why I won't be posting as much anymore because I have exams and then I stopped and laughed and laughed because I haven't been writing at all.

So instead I'm going to talk about why I haven't been writing.

And really, there's a deeper, more existential reason to this and I have the answer drafted somewhere, but I want to get the simple ones out there because there's a stat textbook open in front of me that I have miraculously mustered a shit to give about and it needs my attention so badly because what was that second stat midterm even.

1. I had a project due. Yes, that CS 246 final project of doom. The opening lines of the assignment basically said "You're probably not even going to finish the assignment so don't worry!" which was the most encouraging thing I heard from then until I submitted it. We chose chess. The partner and I spent 4 days fiddling with the design and wondering if it was okay and trying to avoid the insurmountable task of actually coding the whole thing up, and I really wish we hadn't. If we'd started coding earlier, we might've realized the pitfalls in our design sooner. I also wished we'd used the STL more. We instead used pointers everywhere we could, which in retrospect was a very bad choice. We did manage not to leak any memory in the process though.

Anyways, it was a week of fiascos and seg faults and memory leaks and all nighters and Leonard-why-is-the-white-bishop-eating-its-pawns-?!?!? and other things forever impregnated in my memory. I've had enough of the DC library to last me a semester.

I wrote a nine page design doc for the game. I sincerely hope the TAs are as miserable reading it as I was writing it.

2. I had things to do with Square. Holiday party, code camp interview, etc.

3. I went to London to see my family. They sent me back to Waterloo with gobs of Indian food to last me exam season, god bless them.

4. I had to do WiCS interviews and evals. We tried to make the interview process as rigorous and objective as we could. Even after I begged off three interviews, I still had to do seven others, for which I was the primary interviewer for five, write evals for all of them, discuss etc. I still feel like I could've been more involved in the whole thing though, but project :<

5. I had to demo my project. That was today. It was very decent actually. We hadn't implemented en passant and castling, but we had four levels of AI and no memory leaks and I was mostly pleased with it.

6. I had to watch Mockingjay part 2. And by "had" I really mean had to watch. I will never be okay with what happened to Finnick. I will never be okay with what happened to Prim.

7. I had to get Netflix a week before exams start. And by "had" I really mean I just had to throw away my life and career and degree because I NEED TO KNOW IF LUKE AND LORELAI GET TOGETHER OMG.

8. I had to make bookish plans. I will talk about this at length when I have ensured that I don't fail stat but long story short, I am realizing my four-year dream of becoming a book blogger, which means dear God, yes, I'm going to have yet another platform to rant on! It is going to be awesome, it is going to be magical, and I'll do it without failing school.

Nov. 22nd, 2015

How my work ethic has changed.

I came from an education system where studying too hard was almost always scoffed at, or even worse, glorified to the point of self-destruction. All that people compared, discussed, praised, or criticized were grades, ranks and transcripts. In retrospect, even in such a toxic, grades-obsessed environment, I somehow managed to develop a love for science and mathematics. All my time would be taken up by work that I was almost always forced into, but work that I did well, if only in the pursuit of getting out of this system into something better. 

And I did get into something better. My environment at present is by no means perfect. There is so much work to be done to improve it, to make it more inclusive, more wholesome. But I am surrounded by people who make little to no distinction between work and play. I no longer have to downplay how much effort I put in, or be around people that sneer at taking academics seriously. This was one the first ways I identified with Waterloo, one of the first ways I felt at home here.

Work is pointless and mechanical and half-hearted if it’s something you do just because it's a requirement. My goal for my second semester of university was to slowly disengage myself from the idea that I was “required” to do so-and-so assignment, or study for so-and-so quiz. It was hard, initially. I did it by trying to develop a curious mindset. Earlier, material that I didn’t understand frightened me. I’d do the work required of me, and turn away at the prospect of exploring it more fully, even if I had the time. I’d attend class, too intimidated to ask questions and work alone, too stressed out to socialize. If I did want to ask a question about something outside the class material, I’d tell myself to focus on what was covered instead. I was living assignment to assignment, midterm to midterm, and barely living a healthy life in between.

Now, I go to office hours, sit front row at most of my classes, and ask lots of questions. I’ve ended up getting to know both my professors and classmates better, and the conversations we have are very interesting. I used to have these daily schedules where I’d dedicate exactly x amount of time to y course. Because of this, I didn’t delve into my homework or bother to figure out how it related to last week’s homework. Now, I have a looser plan, where I allow myself to spend longer on the material, and ask for help if I need it.

Now, as my third semester draws to an end, I’ve become aware of how the line between work and fun is getting blurrier everyday. I’ve increasingly begun to look forward to the prospect of sitting down and trying to solve a problem. And the effect this has had on my habits is very profound. My goals are different — not to get the best grades, but to understand the material as best as I can. My habits are different — not to get a perfect score on every assignment, but to explore a topic, ask questions, have fun with the ideas I’m picking up. Missing one assignment deadline doesn’t bother me as long as I know that my long term understanding of the concepts is solid. My experiences are different — instead of feeling panicked or queasy during a hard midterm, I genuinely find myself curious to know what the answer is, for the simple reason that I don’t know it yet, instead of wondering if I can afford to skip part 2(b) and still pass the exam.

It isn’t always perfect. I still think I could be more focussed on my mental and physical health. My life isn’t even close to balanced. If my workload is too high, or if I have an assignment, or if a course is particularly hard, I feel myself slipping back into my old paranoia about grades. But overall, marks are a lesser concern for me, and all I really want is to finish a proof or code an assignment fully and revel in the satisfaction I get from understanding something. And it is this satisfaction that I use to gauge my progress academically.

And this, really, is what I think education is all about. What it should be about. You can get the right numbers on a transcript or a diploma in your hand or a great job if you suffer through these five years, attending every lecture, forcing yourself to study, working really hard, but stressing out about it the whole while. But you can do the same by easing up, exploring your field, developing a natural curiosity, asking questions, and refusing to move forward without understanding the material as fully as possible.

This is the mindset that I’m teaching myself to develop and it is something that I want to stick with in all that I do — my personal life, my studies, and my career.

Nov. 15th, 2015


In November, the trees are standing all sticks and bones. Without their leaves, how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers. They know it is time to be still.

Oct. 17th, 2015

Grace Hopper - Day Three (and final thoughts on GHC '15)

Woke up semi-early, and created a spreadsheet to manage my job search (got the idea from Evy) which made me feel super organized, but then I tried to pack my bulging bag of swag and lol THAT wasn’t happening, and that made me feel helpless, so I gave it one last annoyed kick, and headed out to breakfast.

So my plan to grab those pyjamas colossally failed, but a friend managed to snag a pair for me, and I was SO relieved. Priorities k.

I picked them up and headed to my most anticipated event ever: the Artificial Intelligence talks!

  • Query understanding in product search.

An Amazon engineer talked about how they parse the query, and structure it to make the search more precise through phrase detection and data training which they do by creating lexical (external, internal and behavioral) data sets and data scoring (an aggregation function assigns each phrase a score (frequency of the phrase in search queries. Also to take care of the bias in favour of uni/bigrams, they have this length boosting and lexical boosting algorithm). To validate this and make sure their product works, they do AB testing (don’t know what that is, must look up) and track differences on search results before the model is released and after (they use metrics like click through rate, purchase rate).

  • Neuroscience inspired dynamic architectures.

This was probably the most interesting presentation, but also the one presentation where I understood almost nothing. Ha. So the speaker talked about her thesis on neuromorphic computing (soft/hardware systems that aim to capture abilities of the human brain such as real time processing and generalizing information into hardware.

She developed this thing called a neuroscience inspired dynamic architecture (NIDA) which is a spiking neural network embedded in 3D space (basically a simple neuron/synapse implementation). She implemented this in hardware too, in what she called a “DANNA” model (forgot what that stands for) (wow this is a really shitty recap).

To they train them to do something useful, the use a technique called evolutionary optimization (must look this up, but from what I understood, it’s a fancy algorithm that creates input and output networks, tests them, and assign them a score, and the “surviving” networks are made to undergo reproduction and mutation. And then she talked also about how these networks helped in efficiently predicting whether a tumor was benign or not, given a set of metrics and data set.

  • Automatic Assessment of News Authors’ Authoritativeness.

A senior researcher at Microsoft (who also happened to be muslim yess) talked about a machine learning model they developed over a year that indexed news articles and assessed their reliablility (which is a pretty subjective metric), and after the model performed this for many articles by the same author, it assessed the author’s reliability as well. She talked a lot about natural language processing, and the challenges they faces when parsing the free text in articles, and how this was complicated by the fact that articles use photographs as well.

I headed to career fair after this because I hadn’t been to the Apple booth yet, and I met a nice lady from Morgan Stanley over breakfast who invited me to the booth. The fair was very low key. The swag was almost gone (sidenote: I cannot wait to go back to a life where I don’t have to type the word “swag” ever again), and everyone was pretty much like give-us-your-résumé-take-our-swag-okay-bye. Meh.

I grabbed lunch with Saadiya after that. We crashed the Uber lunch because why not, and left pretty quickly because all they were serving was some underwhelming shrimp. We didn’t really know downtown all that well, so we decided to get on a bus and get off whenever. We ended up finding a great shawerma place at a mall, and eating on the bacony :) (Halal chicken!)

We parted after lunch. I headed back to the centre for the AI lightning talks. There was a massive turnout and four out of five women that were presenting were women of color! The talks:

  • Efficient Model Learning. Engineer at Sift Science presented this (she was wvery well prepared). It was very interesting; she talked about about Inverse Reinforced Learning, and how the robot model she implemented easily learns human preferences and adapts to them with an accuracy comparable with handcrafted instructions.

  • Identifying the Languages of Tweets.  Didn’t pay attention to this, lots of NNP stuff.

  • Identifying Emotion from text. Ditto.

  • Searching Large Textual Datasets with Limited Computational Resources. I really liked this one. The speaker first talked about the classic search architecture for large collections which is exhaustive: large collections are sharded, computing resources are dedicated to each shard, and for a given query, shards are searched in parallel and the merged result is returned. To make this more efficient without compromising on quality, she introduced a selective approach: divide collection based on document similarity, identify relevant shards for a given query, and search only selected shards. She did go into the details of which metrics she uses to shard the data (but I don’t remember them), but I hoped she’d explain how she maps queries to their relevant shards (apparently it was fancy algorithm that she didn’t have time to get to).

  • Music Recommendations. Engineer at Spotify talked about a collaborative filtering model that predicts what music users would want to listen to, and if they want to listen to new music at all. There was lots of linear algebra on her slides. I didn’t really understand all of it, which made me sad. Oh well.

After that I headed to Student Node, hung out with friends, met friends of friends, and then headed to the last afternoon plenary. Janet George and Isis Anchalee spoke, and basically everything they said and every point they made was fucking phenomenal. Janet highlighted in glorious form, the pathetic WoC representation at just about every major Silicon Valley company. Isis was the lady who started the #ilooklikeanengineer hashtag, I learnt, and she was extremely down to earth, funny, outspoken and eloquent. Also she has the most adorable laugh.

Miral Kotb, founder of iLuminate also spoke (WoC yess). She was smart and outspoken and her passion for both software and danced showed not only through her work, but also through the way she presented herself, every point she made in her speech. She was earnest, and she was so beautiful I was positively envious, and her love for what she did struck me very profoundly. Literally what I want to be. There’s angry, pointless (albeit well justified) feminism where people are yelling into the void, and then there’s people like Isis, and Janet And Miral who are coherent, outspoken, grounded, and incredibly informed on issues like these, and make important points no can deny.

And then there were dancers from iLuminate on stage! Evy and I went up front and oohed and aahed and clapped and cheered and it was amaaaazing 10/10.

I skipped the Minute Maid Dance Party thing in the evening and spend hours in my hotel bed Facebooking, emailing, interneting, writing Day Two of GHC, and working on 241E homework. Saadiya and I went to out for a quick bagel dinner at the Hilton and chatted, which was nice.

When I got home, I embarked on the task of packing. I don’t want to get into the gory, ugly, cuss word inducing details, but I fit everything in my tiny carry on (plus extra Slack tote bags for friendsss), which weighed a fuckton when I was done. Yay.

Final Thoughts.

I know GHC got a lot of flak for the lack of WoC this year. (Also post-conference, they posted this article which basically said WoC don’t want to attend GHC so it’s not their fault. Yeah DUH they don’t want to attend. First keynote was white women and a guy. Second keynote was white women. Maybe they should think about why and make them want to?)

That being said, this was my first time ever seeing women of color working full time in the industry. This was the first time that I actually saw people from my country, of my religion, of my race in a position I eventually want to be, and I cannot stress enough the impact it had on me, or even coherently quantify the relief I felt by just watching them. When I started out in CS, I didn’t just notice how I was one of maybe nine girls in a class of 55, but I also noticed how I was the only Indian among those nine girls. And I looked at those eight girls, and I looked at the girls in computer science that I did run into, and then I looked at myself.

I wasn’t like them.

I had an accent, I was brown, I was international, and I was Muslim. I didn’t fit. I was an outlier. But seeing these people, latinas describing machine learning models at Facebook, Indians talking about music recommendation algorithms, hijabis enthusiastically talking about their ongoing research, women of Egyptian, African, Turkish descent talk about their work and their achievements made me cautiously open up to the idea that I will eventually have a place in the industry (or academia idk, the conference has only made me more inclined to stay in academia after undergrad).

Data science and artificial intelligence is awesome. I didn’t understand a lot of what was said at the data science and AI talks, but that was okay. The talks were a way to get an introduction to the field, and now that I see what people can create, I want to learn more.

People are awesome. I got to know many people (both from Waterloo and not) better over these four days, and I can't wait to participate in something like this again so I get to know more girls in CS.

Women are awesome. And now I’m going to campus where there’s going to be twenty dudes for every me. Oh joy.

Career fair was awesome. What even is Jobmine ew.

So I hear GHC 2016 is in Houston again next year, which I’m not too happy about, but I 100% want to (and will) attend next year.

Oct. 16th, 2015

Grace Hopper - Day Two

I kicked off day two by skipping the morning keynote, skipping breakfast with Apple, and sleeping in till 10 am, because health is important, and getting my voice to vaguely resemble a female was my number one priority priority at the time. So I slept in and missed Susan Wojcicki’s keynote, which I was okay with (because I had no idea she was even speaking, oops). But it was great decision making, because I felt much better after all that rest.

Roommate and I grabbed breakfast, and went to this really cool panel on big data. There were scientists from Airbnb, Square, Pubnub (who was my favorite) and Google who talked about

  • challenges they face when running experiments and collecting data: user access, working with sensitive data, thinking of the right question to ask, and moving forward after they get an answer (the decision making process is apparently hard because of a disconnect between the people implementing the change and data scientists).

  • data mining processes they use at work

  • how to make sure their data is high quality-- volume in data is important to make trends and patterns statistically significant (which is time consuming), margin of error has to be given all the time. I felt like both these points were fairly obvious. I mean, you have to input quality data to get - quality data out. Idk, it might be my oh-i-knew-that bias at work.

  • Why they loved it! they can make a measurable impact, allows them to solve problems, find patterns in user activity and build on that, and they can back up their actions with hard facts.

(Fun fact I picked up: a distributed mean algorithm is faster and easier to optimize than median because median works on sorted data. It’s kind of obvious, but I never really thought about this until today. Statistics is cool.)

(brb looking at a stats minor)

After that, I went to this talk that had been on my radar for a while, “It’s not just the pipeline: Why fixing the culture is essential” which okay yeah, is the gist of lots of blog posts etc., but the this talk was based purely on research done at the University of Wisconsin. The results confirmed what I already knew, but I wanted to see the details of the study and results for myself.

The gist of it is that Nadya Fouad’s research team partnered with over 30 universities which had some of the highest number of female engineering undergraduates, and reached out to alumni that graduated any time over the past 6 decades, and found out that (and yes, I actually took notes) 11% never entered the tech industry, 21% left over 5 years ago, and 6% left less than 5 years ago (of which two thirds left to change fields and rest changed because workplace either wasn't accommodative enough or had policies in place that they were discouraged to use). She had lots of other data that explored both positive and negative experiences that these alumni faced at work.

I was about to walk around downtown and find lunch, but the GHC app informed me there was a Women of Color lunch by Facebook, so I dropped into that. The food was okay, the women I sat with were awesome, and a latina engineer at Facebook talked about her experiences starting out in tech which was nice.

I left early so I could stop by the career fair. I should’ve spent more time in it since I’m supposed to be working next semester, but career fairs are messy and busy and noisy and the tech talks sounded more interesting. I didn’t stay long, but I had a wonderful conversation with a lady at Knewton and then another at Yelp.

A friend saved me a seat at a talk about giving technical interviews, so I headed to that next. I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t have my first tech interviews on Monday over which I was already stressing out. The talk was by a couple of women from Palantir, and it was...okay. I mean, they didn’t really say anything I didn’t already know. One of the two women directly ran the Palantir Women in Engineering scholarship, and I wanted to talk to her about that, but she was taking questions from other people, so I left.

We ran into more friends at the Student Node, which I didn’t know was a thing. Apparently they were giving out pyjamas, and I missed them. But I’m shallow as fuck so I will make my way up to the convention centre at 10 in the morning just for them, because if that isn’t useful swag, I don’t know what is. We didn’t stay long, because the Male Allies Session was starting soon, and I wanted to be there when it did.

The Male Allies Session had a pretty big turnout. I myself wanted to see in which direction they’d take the panel, given the fiasco that it was last year.

This year’s panel was...tame. At best.

Two people spoke about what a male ally was, how guys can support girls in tech. I liked how they stressed a gender “partnership” at the workplace, but really, most of the stuff they said was very standard and I’d heard it all before.

First off, it wasn’t even a panel. They called it Male Allies "Session” this year, which lol k. Second, last year’s event was a plenary session that they held in hall used for keynotes. This year was in a room that seated barely 200 people. Third, they obviously steered pretty clear of contentious topics. I mean, you’re talking workplace ethics and you don’t bring up the topic of sexual harassment or even the idea of women leaving tech (Sarah Sharp anyone?).

After that, I rushed back to the hotel, changed into fancyish clothes and headed to the Pinterest party, which I was very excited for. It was a lot of fun! There was mac and cheese and good food and a photo booth. And good music. I met friends of friends, ladies from Pinterest (one of them was a Waterloo grad and had the prettiest hair ever), and hung out with a group of Waterloo people at the patio. A few people left in between to go a GoDaddy event, but I stayed back because I was having way too much fun and I don’t like GoDaddy. Sorry not sorry. I caught a cab back with my professor, chatted with this really nice girl from our group who gave me advice for my interviews, and headed up to my room.

Also I recently discovered that oatmeal with chocolate chips on top is absolutely delicious and the only reason I’m up at 3 am typing this is because I couldn’t sleep and that’s all I could think about.

Grace Hopper - Day One

Women. There's women everywhere. I know that there's women in tech. In theory. I know that there's women in open source and engineering, women that study and teach at the best CS schools in North America. In theory.

But I'm seeing it now. I've been seeing it all day. White women, brown women, black women. Women from Canada, the US, India, Turkey, Peru, Mexico. Arab women, south east Asian women, European women, Muslim women, bilingual women, Hindu women. Women in skirts and suits and headscarves and frocks and sarees. There's twelve thousand women here all in some field of tech or the other. CEOs, Product managers, professors, researchers, UX architects, backend developers, CTOs, recruiters, product managers, scientists, students, scholars, professors. All female, all in one convention centre.

I'm listening to them, talking to them, making friends with them, and I've never felt more sure of my decision to stick with CS. I've never felt less alone in this field.

I woke up at the literal crack of dawn and got breakfast at the hotel. For some reason, I thought I'd be okay in pyjamas since it was, you know, not even 6 am, but no, everyone was dressed and pressed and perfumed and in pencil skirts while I lumbered around in my flannel pyjamas like a weirdo.

But I made it to the morning keynote on time! It was in a massive hall, with hundreds, probably thousands of people, and I kind of just sat there waiting for it to start, mulling over how I somehow managed to end up in the middle of all this.

First, we had Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute address the audience. She talked about GHC's roots, Anita Borg's vision for women in CS, and how she wants the conference to be bart of making that vision a reality. GHC has much more outreach than I thought it did. According to her, conference attendance increased by more than 50% compared to last year. We also had Alex Wolfe, president of ACM speak for a little bit. I didn't really...pay attention?

And finally, Hilary Mason, who delivered an intriguing keynote focussed on her insights and experiences in big data and data science. She was a really good public speaker-- calm, poised, and very clear in enunciating her words.

After the keynote, my friend and I ran into OpenText! It was their first time at GHC too, and they were incredibly nice to us. We were just all excited to find other people from Canada (I did eventually into Waterloo grads and students from UBC or U of T). We hung around for a bit, made some WiCSy plans for an event with them, took some pictures, an then we were on out way to the Student Lab Opportunities event.

...which was a hot mess. The line was like an hour long, and when we got there, there wasn't enough space and we had to wait even longer. But I ran into into interesting people- students from Stanford and Columbia who knew my friend.

Unfortunately, by mid-morning, my little sniffles had turned into a full blown cold, so all my conversations were punctuated with hacking coughs, and I sounded like a guy who just hit puberty. So I headed back to the hotel.

I ran into Tracy Chou! I knew her from Twitter, so obviously, she had no idea I existed. I was super awkward and breathless and earnest, and she was extremely nice and easy going (and also pretty) (but looked really confused).

Back at the hotel, I got some rest, and chatted with the roomie. And also wallowed in self-pity. I headed back later for a talk on machine learning by Microsoft, but I couldn't get in, it was full. So I wandered around, randomly picked a talk that was going on, and that turned out to be quite interesting as well. The Apple engineer I was next to knew the recruiter I'd been talking to, she told me a lot about Apple's policies and what it was like to work at Apple.

In the afternoon, I went to the Dropbox exploratorium, which was somewhere downtown. I had a great time with the engineers there; most of them were actually Waterloo grads, and knew the recruiters that had come to campus a week ago. We played around with python, they held a demo for some of their upcoming products and features, and they even had someone from the performance team present that I spent a good twenty minutes talking to. "Cupcake" is apparently one of their official mottos, so they had a massive selection of cupcakes, and an even larger selection of frosting.

And then of course my phone died. I spent an hour wandering around downtown, totally alone, looking for my hotel. I did find it eventually, but then I was late for the career fair fml. So I dashed up to my room to dump the day's swag in the closet, and headed out again, gulping my unending supply of mint-lemon tea.

Mayhem. The fair was pure mayhem. Every tiny booth was full of people, handing out résumés, chatting up recruiters, grabbing ALL the swag. I did all three.

I'm so screwed, because I packed enough clothes for two weeks in my tiny carry on, and I have zero room for the ten(ish) tote bags and twenty-something t shirts and don't-even-ask-me-how-many stickers I picked up. I know lots of people arranged all the swag they got and took these cool pictures but my bags (PLURAL) of swag are in a corner and I'm actually frightened to look at them and see how much I got, soooo yeah.

I made sure to have a decent conversation with the companies I was really interested in, though, because that's kind of the point of career fair (which the swag-grabbing people seem to miss imo)-- Bloomberg, Pinterest, TwoSigma, Palantir Lyft, and Rackspace were booths I really liked. Spotify wasn't hiring for the winter, so I just pathetically grabbed their swag and left. Quora was hiring but I was intimidated by pretty much every one, and I basically shyly stood there and stared at them until some from their booth (presumably) took pity on me and said hi. Google and Facebook were okay, but everyone was in this crazy rush to register online (because they were't taking paper résumés) and I just lost interest. GE was very underhwhelming, because I showed up at their VR booth after they invited me through email, and when I told them I was an undergrad, they sort of lost interest?

There isn't really much to say besides the fact that I did the whole meet-recruiter/say-hi/hand-in-résumé/grab-swag cycle for two hours. I did wonder how effective career fairs even are, though.

After career fair, I hung out with people from CapitalOne, went home and nursed my steadily worsening cold, and slept in.

And that was day one! 6/10 I think, +6 points for all the womennnn and -4 for the most untimely cold of my entire LIFE

Oct. 13th, 2015

Grace Hopper - Day Zero

I spent most of yesterday preparing for GHC, which included things like scrambling to finish CS 246 homework (didn't), scrambling to finish CS 241E homework (didn't), scrambling to do my chores (did), trying to get rid of my untimely cold (didn't), printing resumés, and updating to El Capitan (finally).

Day zero started early. I woke up at seven to do all the things I couldn't do last night because of an untimely cold (boo)-- iron my clothes, wash the dishes, last minute packing, pharmacy run.

And then it started! We took a group photo, said goodbye to campus, Waterloo, people in Waterloo, and all eighteen of our group were off to Toronto Pearson.

Realization #1: Waterloo has lots of interesting, insanely smart and insightful women in STEM that I wish I'd met earlier. I've already met people that I can't wait to to get to know better and hang out with during/after the conference. This is probably going to be the best part about Grace Hopper this year. Having a community in tech to be part of is important and helpful, and something that I've felt is sorely lacking in my life. Grace Hopper (and WiCS too) are steps towards fixing that. All through high school, the best friends I had were guys, but nothing beats fawning over a Kate Spade piece one second and talking concurrency the next.

The airport was fairly uneventful. I had a bunch of documents ready for the customs, which I was sure I'd need, given my last experience entering into the US as a non-American/European/person-that-can-whizz-by, but nope. We all went through as a group, which was fun. At one point, we were waiting for the last girl to clear customs, and this officer came along and told us to keep moving.

"Well actually, we're waiting for someone," I told him brightly.

"Well actually, I'm telling you to keep moving."

Jeez. Okay.

We did introductions at the airport. I know lots of people hate the "Tell us one interesting thing about yourself", but I feel like that's only because they don't think their lives are interesting enough or think they have to say something like "I can play chess with my eyes closed". But I like getting to know people more, so even things like "I just moved here." or "This is my first time going to the US" interest me. And honestly, it's just a way to start a conversation with a person. Plus, I always have a backup interesting fact (I once read 33 books in a month).

Realization #2: I am supremely disorganized. I'd planned to figure out what to do during the conference in advance. But I forgot. Of course. I spent all my three hours in the airport lounge adding events to my Google Calendar, and realizing there's too much I want to do, and have no idea how to do more than 10% of it.

And then it was time to board! We got on a tiny plane (turns out the "Express" in "Air Canada Express" stands for "tinyass planes with no legroom and barely any space for carry ons"), buckled in, and took off. For the second time in two months, I got a window seat...with no window. What are the odds.

So I was supposed to do CS 245 homework right now which is due Wednesday, but a. I forgot to download my assignment. Welp. and b. I honestly wanted to forget UW existed somewhere back in the great white north.

And so I focused on slow music, my current read (Patrick Ness), and keeping my mucus at bay.

It was glorious.

But then we had to land, boooo. An hour long bus ride away (during which more socializings happened, yay), we were in the middle of downtown Houston, which was simply crawling with women (and a few men) in GHC lanyards and totes and then SUDDENLY I WAS VERY EXCITED (also also hungry). We checked in, grabbed candy, and hastened towards the convention centre. I think we tried to get into the whole "Waterloo represent" thing and chant the Waterloo cheer but it was honestly a struggle between the hunger and the GHC excitement.

GHC check in was super fast, 10/10. We also got these totes with an insane amount of swag. LADYLIKE swag, actually. There were tons of evening events/company parties (I think Pandora had one?) but all I wanted to do at that point was stuff my face with pizza and go to bed.

So I stuffed my face with pizza and went to bed.

Until my phone rudely buzzed with an email from PD1 people, who informed me that I have yet to hand in a résumé that they deem worthy of a 75% or above.

And that's how day zero of GHC 2015 Houston ended.

With me on the tenth floor of a fancy hotel in Houston, TX, USA, tucked in bed, mournfully sniffing, and angrily trying to make my résumé "less technical, please".

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