Should Americans Skip the Alcohol to Make Professional Events More Inclusive?

This summer, I attended a tech conference with thousands of attendees. Employees of companies I dream of working from were there…and alcohol was served at nearly every major event. At the opening reception, alcohol was abundant. The only non-alcoholic beverage was water. Not only was there an open bar, but servers were walking around giving shots and pouring wine. I grabbed some food and sat down at an empty table. Pretty soon, the empty chairs next to me were filled with people bonding over the drinks, while I was awkwardly sitting in the corner, playing with my salad. I wondered, I can’t be the only person who doesn’t drink here.

I am not against drinking. Nor am I against drinking at professional events. What bothered me was how excluded I felt. Suddenly, I realized I was different from everybody else because I wasn’t drinking. The lack of other beverage options made me wonder if I really belonged in that room.

I suddenly began to understand how not drinking can hurt you professionally. My experience was less extreme than that of someone I know, who has been unable to land a promotion despite his stellar work ethic, performance reviews, and technical expertise. He gets accused of not bonding with his team. From his perspective, his team’s alcohol-driven bonding events are very exclusive. This isn’t just a problem faced by Muslims. It also harms recovering alcoholics, pregnant people, and people with allergies and other dietary restrictions. Can you imagine what it would feel like for a recovering alcoholic to be at an event where alcohol is the main focus? Most networking events I come across that are marketed to people over the age of 21 are either happy hours, cocktail parties, or involve beer.

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Many networking events involve alcohol and can be exclusive in nature.

People who don’t drink alcohol have two solutions in these cases:

1) Attend the event, but feel excluded because you cannot drink.

2) Don’t attend events where alcohol will be served, even if this means skipping out on important networking events that may land you new clients, jobs, promotions, deals etc.

Is it really fair to put professionals in this situation? When we are talking about increasing diversity in the workplace, why do we never talk about the beer culture in tech companies and how it excludes many people? Furthermore, why are the beverage options limited to alcohol? Why can’t non-alcoholic drinks be served as an alternative?

If we are serious about breaking barriers in tech, it is time for us to start creating a more inclusive networking culture. After all, drinking does not reflect on a person’s interpersonal skills.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Traveling via Airplanes

GHC is fast approaching, and I know some of you are nervous about getting on an airplane for the first time in your life. Fear not! This mini guide will help make your first flying experience as painless as possible.

A few days before the flight…

  1. Buy earplugs. Seriously, your ears will thank you for them.
  2. Finish packing and weighing your luggage. Ensure you have as many bags as you are allowed to take on board! Word of advice- overweight, oversize, and extra luggage can be quite costly. Be sure you are avoiding paying preventable fines by carrying only what you can to the airport.
  3. Bring an empty bag with you. I’ve been told you get too much swag at GHC to fit it all in one bag.
  4. Buy a travel pillow. I personally prefer memory foam ones since they are firmer, and also the ones that you can button/zip/stick from the front so they don’t slide off!

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My favorite kind of travel pillows are made of memory foam and close at the front.

A few hours before the flight:

  1. If you are flying internationally, arrive 3 hours before flight departure time. For domestic flights, you can leave 2 hours before departure.
  2. Don’t forget to pack your earplugs! Believe me, you will need them to stop your ears from hurting.
  3. Don’t wear anything that is shiny, sparkly, or bulky…the security scanner that you will have to walk through does not like reflective or bulky material. Believe me, I learned this the hard way!
  4. If you have space, pack a small blanket and some snacks. You might not like what you will be served on the plane, and if you’re traveling with Spirit, you will have to pay for everything you eat.
  5. Be sure to carry an empty water bottle with you. Unless you prefer buying bottled water…
  6. Do NOT pack any liquids, sharp objects or any other items that the TSA does not allow.
  7. Be sure to print out your boarding passes, or have them ready on your phone. Also, be sure to bring a photo ID with you. If you are traveling internationally, you do need your visa and passport.
  8. Pack earphones, a book, or something else to keep you entertained. Not every plane has an in-flight entertainment system, and even those who do might not have stuff you like.
  9. Bring a pen with you, especially if you are travelling internationally.

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The TSA has very strict rules for liquids & gels.

At the airport…

  1. Each airline has a special terminal. You figure out where you are supposed to go by airline.
  2. If you were unable to print out your boarding pass beforehand, you can print them at the kiosk at your terminal.
  3. If you are checking your luggage in, you will see a line up at the desk with your airlines name on it. The people at the counter can walk you through the process of checking your luggage in.
  4. At the security, you may have to remove your jacket and shoes, and empty your pockets. You will also have to place your electronics out of your bag in the bins provided. Then, you will have to walk through a scanner. Make sure you are not wearing a belt.
  5. After you go through security, find a screen that has all the flight times listed to ensure your gate number hasn’t changed. Some airports arrange flights by name of the flight while others do it by destination or flight time. Also, the screens are constantly changing so you may have to wait a minute for your flight information to display.
  6. After you confirming your gate, follow the signs posted to find it. It’s ok if you get lost! Don’t hesitate to ask people for help. Time is of the essence when traveling, so do not waste any trying to find your way around. At larger airports, you may need to take a train or shuttle to reach your gate!
  7. Once you find your gate, if you have time, you can relax or shop around. Keep in mind boarding starts half an hour to an hour before the plane takes off.
  8. When boarding, they usually call travelers out based on seats, zones, etc. Read your boarding pass so you know when to join! Pro tip: If you have hand luggage, try to board early. The overhead bins fill up fast! Otherwise, you can relax and let others board before you.

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The flight information board at the IAH in Houston.

On the flight…

  1. If you are the kind who gets nervous, start reading a book. Believe me, when the plane is in the sky, it feels no different from a bus.
  2. Keep your seat-belts fastened and stay seated. Listen to all the safety advice they give at the beginning of the flight.
  3. If you are about to fall asleep, let the flight attendant know if you want them to wake you up for meals.
  4. On international flights, you may have to fill out a declaration form to declare the value of everything you are bringing with you, how much cash you have, whether you are travelling with goods that are not allowed (for example: meat) etc.
  5. Be truthful on your declaration form! Lying can get you in a lot of trouble.

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Early morning flights are my favorite. Check out that spectacular view…

After landing…

  1. If you are travelling internationally, you will have to go through customs where they will check your documents and declaration forms before allowing you to proceed to the luggage pickup.
  2. If you get sent to the back room for extra screening, don’t panic! This has happened to me countless times before. Just explain the reason for your journey, and prove to them that you will only be staying in the country legally and for a very short period of time.
  3. At the luggage pickup, read the signs right above each belt. They will have your flight name and time written on them. Make sure you are standing in front of the correct belt!
  4. After you’ve found your luggage, tell whoever’s picking you up what terminal you landed on so they can find you easily. Some airports have multiple flights land in the same terminal so ensure you get it right!

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Luggage belt at the IAH in Houston.

Mastering Your “Elevator Pitch”

So. Grace Hopper is fast approaching, and you’re terrified of speaking to recruiters. What the heck are you supposed to tell them? You know you will bore them with a list of accomplishments, and they can already see those on your resume. How do you stand out from the crowd? This short list will help ensure you are ready to rock one of the most important parts of a career fair- your elevator pitch.

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THE DOs:

  1. Research the company and the role(s) you are interested in beforehand. This will allow you to figure out what kind of candidate they are searching for.
  2. Once you know what they are looking for, highlight those accomplishments in your pitch. For example, if they want a Python guru, this is an excellent opportunity for you to brag about leading a student organization that teaches Python to underrepresented minorities, the impressive app you built on Flask that won a hackathon, or the time you wrote Python scripts to automate your workflow for fun.
  3. Mention a cool fun fact about you that will make you stand out. Make this relevant to the company’s culture. Are you applying for a job at a travel website and have been to all 50 states or traveled on almost all the major airlines? Mention this in your pitch. But please, keep it very short. This isn’t meant to be the focus of your pitch.
  4. Don’t forget to mention the basics, your name, major, university, and graduation date!
  5. To conclude your pitch, mention what role(s) you are interested in, and where you found the job posting. For example, “I am interested in Software Engineering internships and I noticed on Monster.com that you are hiring.”
  6. Keep it short and memorable. Recruiters listen to hundreds of elevator pitches. Make yours stand out.
  7. Dress to impress. For most tech career fairs, a pair of slacks with a nice shirt, or dark jeans with a plain tee shirt work best.

THE DON’Ts:

  1. DON’T go over 15 seconds.
  2. DON’T speak too softly or quickly.
  3. DON’T talk about irrelevant things. You only have 15 seconds. Read the job descriptions and tailor your accomplishments accordingly.
  4. DON’T forget to give your contact information (business card & resume) to the recruiter.

Be confident and have fun! Remember, this is the recruiter’s best chance in getting to know you, so end with a conversation starter, such as: “Can you tell me what the typical software engineering intern’s day looks like at your company? Are we given one major project to work on, or do we focus on day-to-day tasks like a regular full-time employee?”

If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments section!

Becoming A Google Scholar

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, career decisions have caused me great grief in the past. I am an ex-liberal arts major with a serious save-the-world streak. I am also ambitious, hard-working, and, if this year has taught me anything, awfully resilient. I enjoy setting challenging goals and meeting them. Armed with this knowledge about myself, I set out on a radically different path than the 16 year old me had initially planned when I switched my major to Information Technology from Political Science.

The teenager who grew up wanting to be a lawyer, now dreams of becoming a data scientist. In just 15 months, I taught myself web development, founded a chapter of ACM-W, started facilitating technical workshops on campus, won the Grand Prize at a hackathon for developing a web application that breaks language barriers in computer science, and eventually co-founded my own startup. Toward the end of Fall semester last year, tragedy struck and I found myself unable to fund my educational expenses. That’s when my adviser encouraged me to apply for the Google Women Techmakers Scholarship.

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Me (in the orange shirt) at the Google Student Retreat this summer with the other Google Scholars and CodeU’ers!

Even though I had a strong GPA and a resume I was proud of, I also suffered from severe Imposter Syndrome. Two days before my application deadline, I cried and told my friends I wasn’t worthy of receiving a Google scholarship. I considered not submitting my application, but my friends and adviser encouraged me to do it anyway. From the minute I submitted my application to  an hour before I received the admission decision, I checked my email constantly. I checked Quora multiple times, wondering when I would receive the decision. After almost 6 months passed with no response, I started to worry. I called my friend, and cried on the phone, saying it was foolish of me to put all my eggs in one basket and hope I would receive such a competitive scholarship. My mind was racing with thoughts of what would happen if I didn’t receive this scholarship. Would I have to take a year off from school? I returned to work after the call, and wiped the tears from my eyes when I received an email from Google.

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Me at Googleplex with the other Women Techmakers Scholars.

My heart started pounding. This would be the moment that would change my life forever. If I received the scholarship, not only would I be able to complete my degree on time, but I would also get to network with really amazing people who have the same interests and passion as me. If I didn’t receive it…well, I unfortunately had no back up plan. This was a huge risk I took. In retrospect, it probably was unwise and I would not advise anybody else to try this.

When I finally got the courage to read the email, I could not believe my eyes. I jumped up and down with excitement and ran straight to my coworker, and then to my boss, telling them I received the scholarship, and later wondering out loud if I really deserved it. Perhaps, they made a mistake. I called and told a few of my close friends, but kept the news to myself. I decided I would not believe it was real until I received the money or attended the retreat. I knew people who received acceptance letters from top universities, only to get followed up with a rejection letter claiming the other letter was an accident. A part of me really wondered if this is what happened to me. I have since come to realize these emotions are unfortunately shared by other high achieving women, some with PhDs in the field! The Imposter Syndrome is something minorities frequently battle in their careers in tech.

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The Google Techmakers Scholars inside the Google office in Sunnyvale

Now, I know three things. First, Wayne Gretzky was right when he said you miss 100% of every shot you don’t take. Honestly, having confidence and courage is extremely important! You never know what will happen unless you try. If I allowed my self-doubt to hold me back, I never would have become a Google scholar. Second, the scholarship was not a mistake. It was given to me because Google found me worthy of it. Third, because Google found me worthy of being a Woman Techmakers Scholar, it is my responsibility to continue the work that helped me earn this honor in the first place. Thus, this year with my student organization and my blog, I will be focusing exclusively on recruiting and retaining women in computing majors at my college and around the world. Here’s to a fantastic new (academic) year.

Tips For Attending Your First Tech Conference

So, you’ve decided to attend your first tech conference! Hooray! Since I have attended quite a few of those, I decided to create this little guide on making the most of your experience.

A few weeks before the conference…

  1. Make sure you have enough money for the trip. Also, have a stack of emergency cash on hand just in case. If you are planning on using public transportation, that would be a life saver!
  2. Get your lodging in order. Location is key here! You want to be close enough to the conference (in case you need to grab something in an emergency), yet also be near some tourist attractions in case your want to do some sight-seeing after the conference…without breaking the bank.
  3. Figure out how much food will be provided. Is it just light refreshments or full meals? Do you get breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or will you be expected to get your own meals? This will have a huge impact on your budget so don’t skip this.
  4. Figure out your transportation. Will you be using public transportation? Flying? Taking an Uber? Or driving? How will you get to the conference and back? Figure these things out in advance so you can budget accordingly.

A few days before the conference…

  1. Check out the list of activities happening at the conference. Figure out where and when they take place so you can arrive on time. Remember, to network and have fun! The earlier you arrive, the better. I usually try to come at least 7 minutes early since that gives you plenty of time to find a good spot and network before the event.
  2. Look to see if there is a career fair at the conference, so you can prepare accordingly.
  3. Check out the talks schedule. Talks are one of the most important parts of a conference. However, some conferences like PyCon record all their talks. If your conference is doing the same, don’t skip on a fun activity for a talk!
  4. Go through the list of notable speakers. Remember, networking is extremely important! Read a brief summary of their talks and do your research so you can you can have a fruitful discussion.
  5. Create a list of talks and activities you are interested in, and what time they take place. This will help you attend all the events you want to attend on time.
  6. Print out your resume and business cards. Polish your portfolio. Companies WILL be looking for people to hire. This is your time to shine!

 A day before the conference….

  1. Check the weather so you can dress appropriately.
  2. Make sure your travel documents are ready!
  3. Did the conference send out specific instructions for checking in? If so, read them so the process goes smoothly.
  4. Pack your laptop, a pencil/pen, and a book to take notes in.
  5. Make sure you’re all packed and ready to go!

At the conference…

  1. Remember to write down any important resources you learn about, or the contact information of cool people you meet.
  2. Take notes during talks! You will be bombarded with a lot of information and trust me, you will forget it if you don’t write it down.
  3. Attend as many networking events as you can. Remember, conferences give you the privilege of being in a room full of a large group of people who share your passion for tech. Unlike hackathons, they don’t have the same competitive atmosphere so they are a lot more beginner friendly!
  4. Try to sit with a new group of people during meal times so you can network.
  5. Attend poster sessions to check out the latest research. This is incredibly helpful, especially if you plan on presenting your own research someday!

After the conference…

  1. Make sure to follow up with any people or companies that stood out to you. 

Above all, remember to have fun 🙂

 

Switching From Liberal Arts to STEM

My biggest mistake in high school was not keeping my options open.

Despite my high grades and the fact that I tutored my classmates in mathematics, I decided to not take calculus in high school, which has been my biggest regret to this day. After graduating, I didn’t take a single math class for the next 3 years, and (unsurprisingly), I had forgotten everything by then.

In high school, my plan was simple: go to a small liberal arts college to study political science, then apply to law schools. This plan never came to fruition, as I realized pretty soon politics weren’t my thing. I came to this realization in my junior year, after completing a research fellowship at the top university in the world and interning with a local lawyer. Talk about bad timing.

While everyone in my cohort was getting ready for graduating, or accepting job offers, I was still pondering over whether I should complete my liberal arts degree and go for a master’s in a different field, or switch my major entirely and start all over. I will save the story of why I decided to study computers for a different day since it deserves a post of its own. However, I decided to delay my graduation and stay in school because I knew I had access to scholarships and internships to make myself a more competitive applicant in the job market.

It all boiled down to this: do I want to be the woman with just a bachelor’s degree but ample work experience, OR the woman with a master’s and no work experience? Every single industry professional I spoke to preferred the former over the latter. While yes, it does mean I am 2-3 years older than most of my classmates, and I will not graduate until 2020, this decision did wonders for my resume.

Ultimately, I want to get a PhD in HCI or UX Design, and work as a UX researcher. For now, though, I am content with being a web developer.

Which Language Should I Start Learning?

As a new programmer, you are probably wondering what language you should start learning. Most people either start with Java (if they took a computer science class in high school) or C++ (if they started learning programming in college). The truth is, there is no perfect language as each has its own quirks and perks!

I know quite a few languages. While I am in no way proclaiming to be an expert, I do know enough to write this short introduction to help you get started. Next week I’ll be sharing more resources to help you dive deeper into your preferred language!

Java

  • Pros:
    • Java is one of the most popular programming language that was used extensively by companies in the late 90s and early 2000s. As a result, many companies that were created around that time period (i.e Google and Amazon) still use the language to maintain their code.
    • Java is extremely versatile and can be used for everything from web development to developing games and Android apps!
    • Java is very fast and very useful for larger applications.
  • Cons:
    • Extremely verbose. There is a lot of “overhead” in Java. A program that could be written with only 15 lines of code in Python can easily take more than double the amount in Java.
    • The syntax can be quite confusing for new programmers. Unlike other languages like Python and JavaScript, everything in Java is divided into classes, and there is a looootttttt of overhead.

Python

  • Pros:
    • Out of all the programming languages, Python is the easiest to pick up for beginners since it is so similar to English.
    • Very little overhead, so you can focus more on learning the core concepts of programming instead of focusing on learning the confusing syntax.
    • Like Java, Python too is extremely versatile and is used in virtually every field from FinTech to CyberSecurity, and even Machine Learning.
    • Python has a great community of developers who are very open and accepting of new programmers. You won’t meet a lot of arrogant Python developers, I promise!
  • Cons:
    • Python can be very slow.
    • It doesn’t work as well for larger programs.

JavaScript

  • Pros:
    • If you want to be a web developer, you cannot avoid this language.
    • JavaScript has lots of built-in functions that make it super easy to learn this language!
    • You can pretty much build an entire fully functioning web app with just JavaScript alone (and HTML & CSS, of course!). Seriously, that’s how powerful this language is.
  • Cons:
    • Since JavaScript has so many functions, I wouldn’t recommend learning it as your first language since it will not give you the ability to get a lot of practice with core concepts.
    • It is pretty much only useful for web development.

C++

  • Pros:
    • Gives you adequate practice to pretty much pick up any programming language in the world. Once you master C++, every other language is pretty much a piece of cake.
    • Are you interested in making compilers? Your own operating system? Perhaps even your own programming language? C++ is the perfect language for that.
    • Since it is such a difficult language to work with, finding a job is extremely easy for C++ developers. You will barely have any competition.
  • Cons:
    • If you think Java is unnecessarily verbose and has a lot of overhead, you should seriously check out C++….
    • Is it really worth writing 15 lines of code for something that would only take 3 lines in Python?

These are just the top 4 most popular programming languages in the world, but there are plenty more! If none of these are your cup of tea, maybe try GoHaskell, Sass, or Kotlin instead?