Pan Selling something ….

The specifics of how it all started are not clear in my head right now, but I remember it was a quick chat – What are you doing for the winter break? Can I come? And so Abhinav and I bought tickets for a Central American adventure.

It was a backpacking trip which required a backpack so after extensive googling, I zero-ed in on this one – and it proved very good for the trip.

Fast forward to landing in Guatemala and reaching Antigua – I immediately fell in love with the city with its cobbled stone streets, beautiful coloured houses, exotic street lamps and lovely Christmas Angel decorations. We reached on 24th Dec evening which was the perfect timing as Guatemalans celebrate Christmas on 24th eve.

I felt I was in the book ‘Alibaba and 40 Thieves’ – teleported into a different time where life was slower and simpler. You could walk the whole city (it was almost only around 10 by 10 blocks). Most houses were single-storied with heavily decorated/casted doors and grilled windows with flowers. At a point, Abhinav said I was obsessed with taking pictures of the doors and windows!

Backpacking means staying at a backpacking hostel (does it really?!) – our hostel was one of the fewer buildings that was three-storied, so called the Terrace Hostel. As midnight struck, the sky lit up in fireworks at all angles – I felt it was Diwali! Fireworks against the backdrop of volcanoes was a beautiful one and we could see sparks coming from slightly far-off mountain villages too.

There are some things that Nicaraguans love:

1) Hammocks – they are everywhere, of every size imaginable, made from all different types of material (from net, to plain cloth, to just wrapping a long cloth around two poles) – it could be seen in hotels and in small hut houses.

2) Rocking chairs – I think I saw the most varied types of rocking chairs in my life in the 5 days there. Walking through the city when we caught a glimpse of houses, most of them did not have sofas, instead they had rocking chairs. Made from cane, from wood, from metal, from cane with metal stands, you name it – it was everywhere. If only I could fit one in my backpack, I would have a lovely souvenir.

3) Nicaraguan women wore these pretty lace-y half aprons – wonder what they call them, but they were mostly white with pockets and tied across the waist on top of their dresses. Looked very convenient and handy to carry money, phone, etc – sort of like a fashion accessory without the hassle and with convenience – I wonder if different cities/families had different patterns.

Similarly, the Mayan women of Guatemala loved embroidery – waist belts, scarves, wrap skirt, extensively threaded blouses – they seemed to have many pieces to their daily wear and all of them looked pretty! One of the postcards I got shows a Mayan women dressed up in her gear and it is beautiful 🙂

Apparently Mayans were called Indians too, so we found company in our clan.

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GHC12: Keynote Speaker Nora Denzel

Nora Denzel: What an amazing speaker! I loved how she coupled some really valuable career advice along with her amazing sense of humor.

Starting off on a light note, she shared her story of the TRS 80 computer and how it motivated her and enabled her to decide at the age of 16 that computing is what she wanted to do in her career. Touching upon the theme of the conference – ‘Are we there yet?’, she mentioned how she felt that we were not there yet, also evident through statistics. I was astonished to learn that women make 57% of the workforce, however, only represent 25% of the technical jobs worldwide. This puts the case forward for the need for more women in computer science.

She then provoked some thoughts by asking “Why is it that we need more women in computer science? Why can’t we let girls decide what major they want to take, without trying to attract them towards computing?” The answer: simply that diverse teams make better decisions, in turn leading to a better society as evidently men and women think differently. She emphasized through examples that when women are better represented on teams, the success rate of the project generally increased. I liked how she spoke about ‘reversing the reverse revolution’ (of the % of technical women not moving at a positive rate) by making sure that every single female in the room made a conscious effort of recruiting atleast 1 technical woman every year.

After putting her case forward for the need for more women in tech, Nora came down to 5 key points of career advice she had for everyone who wanted to stay very long in the tech industry:

1) It all starts with your attitude. Your attitude is like a flat tyre, if you don’t change it, you are not going anywhere.

2) For longevity, you have to feel very comfortable with being uncomfortable. Comfort and growth are ‘or’ bit and not an ‘and’ bit.

3) Act as if you are courageous. Courage means being able to act in spite of your fear.

4) Be your own PR agent. Every time you open your mouth, it is a press release. Be careful and deliberate.

5) It takes a village. Don’t be in your career alone. Maintain a group of people inside and outside of your office who you can reach out to when you need advice and who reach out to you when they need advice or are feeling low.

I loved her quote on the last point when she said: “It is not what you know or who you know, it is who knows what you know!”

Moving into the last part of her speech, she bulleted 5 points on how to convince girls to get into tech. I am going to give you all 5 points here below, but my favorite is the last one.

1) You get to wear what you want.

2) They feed you all the time.

3) You get awesome swag.

4) The money is good (but don’t get in if that is the only reason why you want to get in!)

5) You have the power to change the world – change people’s lives so profoundly that they cannot think of going back. I got goosebumps when I heard about a project at Intuit that using simple phone messaging and doing real-time search, led to 30% more wages for farmers on a daily basis. I have a personal favorite quote from Margaret Mead which goes – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And when Nora mentioned about being able to have this massive impact through your work, I found it extremely exciting and inspiring!

She ended her speech by re-quoting one of her favorite quotes, which enabled her to get through her hard times: “Ships in the court are safe. But that is not what ships are made for.”

I left the room inspired by Nora’s words. And completely amazed by her candidness and light-hearted nature. Also, her ability to weave memorable stories made her a great speaker and I am going to work on developing that skill during my next Toastmasters project speech!

GHC12: How to optimize your job search

Moderator: Carolyn Strobel (Anita Borg Institute)

Panelists: Dawn Carter (NetApp), Stephenie Harp (CA Technologies), Ivo Lukas (24Notion and Girls in Tech), Kendra Arimoto (Facebook)

1) Tell about a time of successful job search

Helped to see what I needed to improve on, investigate the companies you want to work for. Contacts came from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – please tell others that I am looking, send me some contacts.

Seeing where your friendly people are working at, reached out to people I knew or ask friends to introduce you to someone, or reach out on your own.

If you using a blog for looking for a job, be specific and use it for that.

2) Networking is key. Connections should remain intact, don’t burn bridges in personal and professional lives. Connect with people on any tools. Go back to university and check out for events that are happening there. Volunteer and you will meet new people.

3) What if you don’t have a network?

You do have a network. Put your resume online – you need to exist online, build your online presence. Have a blog – helps to make a network. Don’t be afraid to ping people and just say hi or pick someone’s brain over a coffee.

4) Career fairs – what to do?

Meet the exhibitors. Stop by every booth you can. Find out what the companies are about. Ask them if there are people at the booth who are doing what you want to do. Try to get some follow-up action/email/contact info of somebody. Have an elevator pitch to get the recruiter to notice you.

What is it about those companies is why you are passionate about that company?

5) What information you want to know about someone when she comes to your booth?

Your presence (how you carry yourself), speaking clearly, articulating your thoughts, smile/handshake, who you are/what you like/what drives you/what cool projects you working on/what do you want to do? Think about things what you will be doing when you join the job the first day (ask those questions at the end of the interview).

6) Online job searching

Start early (6-7 months in advance). LinkedIn jobs page. Attach yourself to a recruiter and then you get into their networks. Internmatch.com. Search for recruiters on LinkedIn (make sure you add details to your profile so that they know what you working on – reverse search). Find out from Alumni, see where they working on, reach out to them. Mostly its a referral in today’s job search. When you ask people to introduce you, send them a bio so that they can forward that to that person to give a background. Volunteer for your passion areas.

GHC 12: How to Market Yourself with a Strong Technical Resume

Presenters: Erica Lockheimer (LinkedIn), Wendy Gustafson (Cisco)

Technical Branding and Networking:

How to strengthen your LinkedIn profile/resume to stand out

How to land a job: networking tools and strategies, on and offline.

– Your web presence + Resume (complete your profile at LinkedIn)

Look for passion, fit, articulate your interests and show your personality.

Be comfortable with writing on the board, your thought process, interactive, articulate your ideas.

Look at similar profiles to figure out what others have done.

Describe projects you worked on, with links. If impacted a group/improved metrics, state it.

Ways to network:

– Keep contacts up to date.

– Alumni pages.

– Friends’ friend (2nd degree connections)

– Keep strong relationships.

Pick couple of group pages, Company pages

Referrals work. Take on as many interviews as you can.

Now over to resume writing:

– Can include your LinkedIn profile link.

– Organized and consistent formatting

– When specifying projects – show what YOU did (not we, team) – creative problem solving, improvising, your ideas

– Convey your efforts in terms of the problem that was solved, the value added, the positive result, and what you learned from it. Demonstrate the ability to tie in your efforts to the bigger picture and overall value add.

– Don’t make it a task list.

– Call examples of where you applied your skills

– Quantify (lines of code, #test cases, $$ value of project)

– Highlight areas where you stood as a leader (filled an opportunity gap, took initiative, went above what was asked, motivator?, community service, negotiated a win)

Resume should convey your personal brand (key points flow from your resume – execution person, e.g.)

– Third party review your resume and get feedback. Have them summarize in 2 sentences what kind of person they see in the resume.

– Tailoring your resume to the job you applying for. What lights you up? Does my resume tell someone what I really enjoy?

GHC 12: Here I come!

I am super excited that GHC is coming nearer and nearer!

Last few days have been crazy with things to do for GHC and work and vacation, all at the same time. Here are the ‘things to do/prepare for GHC’ that some of you might find helpful.

– Pack a sweater/cardigan as it might be a little chilly

– If you are considering career change or are going to enter workforce soon, get copies of your resume

– Get your name cards ready

– Setup a blog/twitter account to learn and share amazing GHC experiences

– Download the GHC app on your mobile

– Go through the schedule and see what sessions you would like to attend

– And then during the conference, make sure to drop by the ABI booth and learn how you can help/get involved.

I am excited about the career fair, social and collaboration track, career development track, some sessions on security and mobile computing and then the open source hackathon!! Also I gather that some familiar faces will be there from GHC 2008 and I am looking forward to seeing those folks again.

Keep an eye on this blog for interesting updates live from the conference.

Women mean business!

I had the opportunity to attend the Women in Asian Business Conference themed Inspire, Challenge and Change (organized by Deutsche Bank) yesterday. I had been waiting for this since the last few weeks as the speaker line-up looked amazing. Well the wait was worth it! There were some amazing conversations and I left the conference totally inspired, challenged and ready to bring some change!

I was hoping to do live-blogging from the conference, however, due to no Wi-Fi, got down to note taking.

“You really cannot be what you cannot see!” What a bang on statement to begin one’s speech. Jennifer Siebel Newsom was the first featured speaker and she spoke about the impact that media has in our lives. I was astonished to find out that an average American kid consumes more than 10 hours of media a day! She mentioned about how media is consumed and how it dictates our culture. For more information, check out her documentary Miss Representation. She highlighted to the audience that it is we who are in the driver’s seat. And our lives are about not just our external physical appearances, but about our brain, about who we are inside and about our contribution to this world.

It was then time for the panel session with panelists, both male and female, ranging from different industries, each with their own impressive stories.

Reshaping workplaces differently and breaking stereotypes were the common answers for the ways women can take leadership roles without sacrificing their roles as mothers and wives. Surprisingly (well may be not that surprising!) it was found that when entry level professionals are asked if they would be willing to take a job anywhere around the world, majority of women say no and almost all men say yes.

The questions then came to having women quotas – one of my favorite topics when it comes to gender diversity. I liked how most of the panel agreed that they did not believe in having a deliberate quota policy, but rather hiring the best person for the job. But there is a catch to that! Claire Chiang emphasized how important it is for CEOs to be able to spot talent, to walk the talk when it comes to mentoring women and to have women in their succession plans – in other words, to make a ‘voluntary commitment’ to supporting women. She mentioned that when the boardroom has more women, by default a woman would be heard better and share better insights. I loved how she mentioned that the ‘supposed’ glass ceiling is cracky and the only thing needed now is to have a tool to shatter that ceiling allowing women to fly high up in the sky!

Another reflective quote from the panel was that it is only when you stand on the shoulders of giants, that you can see very far, which very well sums up the importance of having sponsors and mentors in your career. It was also emphasized that it is not enough to just be a sponsor, but also important to tag your best people along while you climb the stairs (just like men tend to do), enabling them to climb the stairs of their career simultaneously.  Georges Desvaux noted how there are not enough women in the workforce to sponsor all other women down the chain, therefore, it is absolutely necessary that men also raise their hands to mentor women.

Next came the most awaited section! The Q&A with Kiran Bedi – one of the women I look up to ever since I was a kid – Yes, Madam. Sir! When asked how did she come about to being called Sir – she said simply – She was just being herself. The people did not know there was a sir in that girl.

She said how it was through “performance” that she shut the mouths of her critics; the performance that comes without trying hard to be someone else, by being naturally, authentically yourself. She said we should take as much comes our way and more and be ready for challenges and taking risks. The goal should be “not to beat the best, but to be the best”.  She emphasized how important it is for girls (in addition to their academics) to play competitive sports from a young age as it teaches them how to win and lose very early in life (she herself was an Asian tennis champion who used to head to the court straight from school for tennis practice everyday). They should not be mere spectators; because if they learn to compete early, they will reach the boardroom too. There is a need for girls to have a strong sense of self-confidence and one has to desire to get what she desires.

She then spoke about her experiences at the Tihar Jail; how she made it into an ashram sorts from a prison through collective, corrective, community based action. One thing she said which really resonated with me was “You must be trustworthy; if people know what you are doing is for their good, not your own selfish good, then they will follow you.” She was the highlight of the evening for me – left me totally spellbound with her authenticity, her energy and her candidness. And guess what, she was so approachable and friendly at the end after the conference when people were lining up to talk to her.

Next came the closing speaker for the evening – Mrs. Moneypenny – a charming lady with a nice sense of humor. Those of you who read the Financial Times must know her. She gave 10 tips for women to be successful in their careers from her recent book. Here you go:

1)   Accumulate human capital. Success is like a deodorant, which helps to ward off the smell of failures.

2)   Acquire social capital – if they trust you, they will help you. You should have someone who can pick the phone for you.

3)   There is no such thing I can’t do. What do you want to do? What experience do you need to go and get it?

4)   Learn to say No. Prioritize.

5)   You can’t have it all – understand your own ambitions. You can’t have it in parallel, though you can have it one after the other. Therefore, plan your career breaks and make sure to upgrade your skills during those breaks.

6)   You can’t have it all, but have to do it all – so outsource, multitask.

7)   Financial literacy is very important – you have to know your finances. Have a number end line in mind for your life. Work hard to understand the metrics of annual reporting of your company.

8)   Have a third dimension (my favorite!) – Run home, work but have something in addition e.g. volunteer, charity, sports, etc. It helps to build your CV and makes you interesting.

9)   Get noticed – spend 5% of your time on self-publicity. Do your own PR, present yourself well, have fun and laugh at yourself. She gave an example of how she carries the FT in her purse every single day.

10)   Build a team you don’t pay, you don’t control. To get someone to support us, do something for them (ties in with third dimension).

And to end it, she said take trophies as they come. Inspire and get inspired. There exists a special place in Hell for those women who did not help other women.

That sums up the WAB 2012. I really enjoyed being at the conference and feel lucky that I was able to attend. Now over to start implementing some of the advice from above and looking forward to WAB 2013!

Grace Hopper Conference: Rewind and Retune!

Grace Hopper conference (GHC) is the gathering of women I idealize; the women in whose shoes I want to be 5-10 years from now. Having been part of this awesome conference in 2008 as a Google scholar, I had the opportunity to present a BOF session on student computing groups with girls from Canada, India and Mexico. Being in my final year, I was initially perplexed whether I should go to graduate school or choose an industry career. Talking to various women at GHC and learning from their experiences enabled me to decide and gave me a head start in my professional career. This empowered me to exceed my own expectations on joining the workforce and subsequently led to my selection for an accelerated career path at my current firm. GHC 2008 was the first instance when I had seen so many amazing technical women in one place and had left the conference with immense inspiration.

This year, I am most excited to be part of GHC because of my accepted submission on perspectives of junior women in technology. Sharing the stage with two other super women and talking about my experiences over the past 3 years, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community, as several other attendees will be taking their first steps into a technical career. Moreover, this is also a time when I am keen to learn more about the amazing work being done in the software industry and GHC provides the avenue where all the best tech companies congregate, so I am looking forward to learning more about various opportunities out there. In addition, I am excited to have been chosen as an official blogger for the conference! I remember these few years when I could not attend GHC, the wiki, blogs and tweets were my best learning materials from the conference. So I am very happy that I will be reaching out to many more folks other than the attendees and sharing the awesomeness of GHC 2012. So do look out for interesting coverage on some really exciting sessions here on my blog!!