“Brilliant experience, fun and inspiring” sums up the 5th ACM Celebration of Women in Computing womENcourage 2018, which took place at the Hotel Metropol Palace in Belgrade, Serbia, between 3-5 October.
womENcourage (womencourage.acm.org) is a flagship event organized annually by ACM Women Europe. By selecting a different location every year, womENcourage reaches women across Europe and brings them together for a unique and inspiring experience.
The success of womENcourage 2018 was confirmed by the survey taken by the participants, showing that 94% of attendees were “inspired and encouraged” by the keynote presentations, workshops, panels, posters and meeting accomplished women, their role models.
Participants came from 23 countries. They represented different professions, including academia, media, and multinational technology companies, and different age groups, with 57% participant between 17 and 30. Local participation was prominent with 29,3% attendees from Serbia, followed by the UK with 22,3% of attendees. The gender diversity was topped this year with 11.3% male attendees.
womENcourage presents a unique opportunity for women in computing to come together, share ideas, network and discuss challenges that they face during their career. The common sentiment and the value of womENcourage to the women professional community is summed by one of the attendees: “We need more of these activities to encourage women in [our respective countries] to take more initiative in engineering, IT and other technical areas of expertise”.
In contrast to many specialized professional events, womENcourage fosters exchange of experiences and information across computing disciplines and through networking, workshops, and collaborative activities, brings together women with diverse interests and backgrounds. As such, it entices women to support each other and work jointly towards empowering women to succeed in their pursuit of technical professions. womENcourage 2018 was dedicated to “Making our Future Together” with the intent to inspire all the attendees to take every opportunity to make a difference in enabling women to succeed..
womENcourage 2018 was made possible through generous support from Google, Facebook, SIGCHI, SIGOPS, Oracle Academy, IBM, Microsoft, Bloomberg, and Informatics Europe. It was also sponsored by ACM-W and Belgrade Institute of Technology.
The program included inspirational and insightful keynote addresses, tech talks, panel discussions, workshops and tutorials.The first keynote address was delivered by Prof. Kathleen Richardson, Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI at De Montfort University, Leicester. Her engaging and forward thinking talk “A dystopia in the making? – the rise and rise of ethics of robotics and AI” provided key insights into themes surrounding a human in the age of robots and AI, and machines providing substitutes for intimate human relationships.
The second keynote address was from Google, a Diamond supporter of the event, delivered by Radha Narayan who is working at the Googler in London. Radha has a vast experience in product, program and people management and is a passionate author. Through a ‘wonderful and empowering’ talk she took the audience through her own life journey exemplifying “The Four C’s of a Fulfilling Career”.
The first TechTalk titled “Science keeps me walking in high heels and travel the world” was delivered by Milica Djurić-Jovičić, Director of Innovation Centre at the School of Electrical Engineering, University of Belgrade. Through her achievements, Milica has set an exemplary role model for younger women. She spoke about her research journey in the academia, from a “curious girl” with research aspirations to becoming “lady boss”, a head of the Faculty’s Innovation center.
The second Tech Talk titled “Giving the World a Place to Work Together” was delivered by Astha Agarwal and Rachel Gauci, working at the London office of Facebook, a Diamond supporter. Both engineers, Astha and Rachel shared their experiences and excitement of working on a product called Workplace that enables collaboration, group communication, and social network engagements in a corporate environment.
The attendees also had a chance to learn about “ACM Chapters and Celebrations of Women in Computing” from Reyyan Ayfer, vice chair of ACM-W, and George Eleftherakis, Chair of ACM’s Committee of European Chapter Leaders.They gave an engaging presentation, providing information about support and resources available to those who wish to organize regional celebration and establish student chapters.
The program also included two engaging panel discussions. Prof. Tiziana Catarci, from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, moderated a panel on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and societal challenges of “Building Computing Systems and Services for the Society”. Panel participants Olja Rastic Dulborough, Multidisciplinary Software Engineer at IBM, Patricia Pons, PhD Student at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Adriana Wilde, Associate Lecturer at the University of St Andrews, and Dorota Filipczuk, PhD Student at the University of Southampton, provided their view on the issues that arise from dramatic changes to individuals’ everyday practices and societal transformations due to prolific adoption of digital technologies. Together with the audience, they explored the challenges for the HCI as a field that strives to inform and drive new technological advancements and, at the same time, must ensure reach, inclusion, diversity and accessibility of innovation by all the members of the society.
The second panel was moderated by Dr George Eleftherakis from University of Sheffield International Faculty, CITY College in Thessaloniki. Five panel participants, Orlaith Lawton, Senior Marketing Manager at Oracle Academy, EMEA, Branka Stojanovic from the Institute Vlatacom, Katherine Stanley, Software Engineer at IBM, Alexandra Oborina, Senior Consultant at Accenture, and Xavier Salazar, Strategy Support Project Manager at Barcelona Supercomputing Center, discussed the issues of “Charting Your Professional Path: Academia, Industry, Both?” In a lively and interactive session they discussed the values and priorities that shape an individual’s decisions to select and pursue a specific career path. By exchanging experiences and opinions, the panelists engaged the audience in considering opportunities, benefits and challenges of different work environments including academia, sart-ups, industry and public sector organizations, non-for-profit organizations and similar.
womENcourage provides a supporting environment for students to present their work. For many, a womENcourage poster presentation is their first public presentation experience. This year, womENcourage introduced a sharpening process aimed at assisting students to improve their poster abstracts and presentations.
From 55 submissions, 25 posters were selected for inclusion in the event. The posters were exhibited throughout the event and provided students to discuss the details of heir research with the attendees. This year, the programme included 3-minute speed talks giving each poster presenter an opportunity to introduce their work to all the attendees during the main programme sessions.
The poster presenters came from 14 countries including UK, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Germany, Turkey, Albania, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, India, USA, Brazil and Chile.
womENcourage started with a Hackathon on the first day of the event. The Hackathon was open to all interested in technology and building and sharing their creations in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Its main purpose was to have fun, learn something new, network and get to know each other, and support creativity by providing time and place for participants to explore their ideas and interests.
The participants were asked to suggest ideas prior to the event and given an opportunity to create teams from the participants. Selected projects were presented to the attendees who joined the projects based on their interest and preferences. As a result, 6 teams of 3-6 members – contact details were exchanged so that the members can discuss the project, brainstorm ideas and narrow down the focus of the work.
The 8 hour hacking experience, started with an ice-breaker: the teams were asked to spend 3 minutes introducing each other and then come up with a list of as many things as they could that all members of their teams had in common. This allowed them to get to know each other before beginning to work together. The team who performed best in the ice-breaker session found 8 things they all had in common!
The participants were not required to be programmers or have a Computer Science background. They were supported by amazing mentors from Belgrade Institute of Technology and Facebook, Inc., helping them all day! The teams were encouraged to start with brainstorming and then select their top three priorities. Whether the aim was to create a mockup of a design or to code the core algorithm, it was up to the teams to agree what the priorities were.
The crown of the Hackathon event were 5 min project demonstrations to a panel of judges. Astha Agrawal from Facebook, Inc., Nevena Stankovic from Google, Inc., Destin Valine from NCR Corporation, and Tiziana Catarci from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” evaluated the projects based on technical difficulties, impressiveness, usefulness and practicality, execution during the hackathon, and ACM Values, including the team work, learning scope and professional development outcomes.
The Hackathon prizes were awarded at the end of the day, during the Welcome Reception. The winning team received the first prize for prototyping a system to recognise fire in the forests – a method that could be extended to drones! The runner-up team worked on the smartphone accessibility for elderly people. Using NFC tags, they developed a simple touch interface for mobile phones, so that the users can easily select a phone number without looking it up.
Participants of the Hackathon described it as fun, exciting, interesting, challenging, and inspiring. They enjoyed working in teams, happy with the projects they selected. More than 90% of the participants expressed their interest to attend the Hackathon from the next womENcourage 2019.
The second day of the Conference provided an opportunity for the participants to meet representatives of the womENcourage supporters and discuss employment opportunities at their firms. Google, Facebook, Bloomberg, Oracle Academy, IBM and HiPEAC all participated. Here we see the participants checking out the HiPEAC job wall.
womENcourage is organized and run by volunteers. Recipients of the womENcourage Scholarships played a particularly important role during the event, assisting throughout the whole three days.
Every year, womENcourage organizers conduct a survey to receive feedback on the programme and organization and to gather suggestions for the future. The participants were inspired by the keynotes and tech talks, suggesting “There should be more talks of this kind, we need to show more ladies who have made their path in the industry and be a role model for future generations.”, “Milica had managed to put the beauty and technology together in a unique, inspirational way.”, “An
excellent motivation for me regarding my career”, “fun, simple, inspiring and really encouraging”.
Asked whether they would like to attend womENcourage celebrations in the future, all the respondents to the survey answered Yes. This 100% vote of appreciation was a great success for the womENcourage organizers and ACM-WE. It is a step forward in the ACM-WE mission to connect women in technology and continue to inspire them on their professional journey.