Quantum Computing: Potential, Practicality and Perils

The latest episode of Celebrating Technology Leaders focused on Quantum Computing, a relatively new yet fascinating career track. 

An IBM Quantum cryostat, used to keep IBM’s 50-qubit quantum computer cold in the IBM Quantum lab in Yorktown Heights, New York. Source: IBM Research – License (History)

Our panelists

How did our panelists end up in Quantum Computing?

Mariia Mykhailova, Principal Quantum Software Engineer, Microsoft:  Originally, I am a classically trained software engineer, and when I say classically trained, I don’t mean violin and Latin. I mean a lot of math, some software engineering, and a surprising amount of physics. However, I learned you can use physics for computation much later, only after I joined the [quantum] team. So, I graduated as a classical software developer and spent a few years in Ukraine working in the banking software industry. Then, I moved to the US to join Microsoft as part of the Azure team, and then, after about four years, I joined Microsoft Quantum. This was the first time we hired software engineers without a Quantum background. That’s how I joined the industry.

Marlou Slot, Ph.D., Quantum Materials Researcher, NIST | Quantum Lead, Womanium: I was a Quantum Materials researcher at NIST and am now diving into the world of quantum sensors. In addition, I’m the lead at the Womanium Foundation, building the future Quantum workforce. I was originally trained as a physicist and have always been extremely interested in materials. I joined the field of design of materials, which are analog Quantum simulations where we move atoms one by one, put them in the spots we want to, and design new materials. The next level will be Quantum Computing doing that. So, this is what got me interested. 

Temitope Adeniyi, Ph.D. Student, Quantum Technologies and AI, Cleveland State University: I’m a PhD student at Cleveland State University. My research is on applying AI in Quantum Technologies like Quantum Computing and Quantum Sensing. I also have a background in physics, and I started as a STEM educator to train kids on STEM-related concepts like coding, robotics, and design. During my master’s degree, I learned Python. I used that to work as a data scientist and a junior machine learning engineer for a while. During my MSC thesis, I started to learn more about advanced topics in machine learning, and that is how I heard about Quantum Computing. I became fascinated. So, my transition into Quantum Computing was gradual but deliberate. I began attending workshops, seminars, and programs like Womanium, which Marlou mentioned. Since then, I have had an opportunity to go fully into research on Quantum Computing and AI.

Denise Ruffner, Business Development Executive | Co-Founder Diversity in Quantum: I’m a biologist and still love biology but I joined Quantum Computing very early on at IBM, where I was part of the quantum team when we put the first computer on the cloud. I then became in charge of the ambassador program, among many other responsibilities, where I trained 350 people across the company to speak accurately about Quantum. From then on, I’ve worked at several startups and now consulting for companies. The interesting thing is that as I moved to business roles, I would get inundated by women asking me for help with their careers.  It was so overwhelming that I started a Women in Quantum group, and we grew to 10,000 people. Now, we’re morphing Women in Quantum to include other diverse groups and provide a way to support them. So, it’s a really exciting time – the new organization is Diversity in Quantum or diviq.org. So, check us out.

Quantum Computing Explained

Our panelists explained the terms you may encounter in quantum computing using as non-technical terms as possible. 

Quantum superposition 

Mariia: Quantum superposition is a phenomenon that says that quantum systems can be in linear superpositions of classically described states. Usually, a popular science resource would describe it as the way systems can be in multiple states all at once. It’s a pet peeve of mine not to say that under any circumstances.  [tilts her hand at an angle] If you look at my hand now, would you say that it’s horizontal and vertical at the same time? You wouldn’t. It’s at a specific angle, but it’s not horizontal, and it’s not vertical. This is very similar for quantum systems. 

Quantum entanglement

Marlou: When quantum particles get entangled, they are not independent anymore. So, their quantum states are linked, which means if I have a quantum particle – let’s say a photon- entangled with another photon, and I give one to Elon Musk and send it to Mars. Then, if I look at my quantum particle here – it’s in a certain state. Let’s say in a yes state, and then I know the other one is in a no state. So, this is a very special property we exploit in many ways. 

Will quantum entanglement mean that it will allow us to transfer information faster than the speed of light?

Mariia: No, the change of state measured in one of the entangled particles is measured instantaneously. But you ought to transfer information one party had, which the other party can now interpret. For that one, you need to send some classical information, which means you’re still limited by the speed at which you can send classical information.

Quantum tunneling 

Temitope: Imagine you went on a hiking trip, and you have a mountain or a hill which is a barrier in front of you, and you want to go to the other side. So, in classical computing, you would climb up the hill and down to the other side. It’s a bit of an effort, but you get there. With quantum tunneling, you have this magical ability to pass through the mountain instead of going over it. It’s as if you can teleport from one side to the other. Quantum Computing has this secret passage that traditional computers do not have, and it helps quantum computers process information in a super-efficient way. It makes them way faster than regular computers for certain tasks.

Quantum coherence

Denise: It’s the duration of the qubit and a way to compare the quality between qubits. So, coherence tells us how long a qubit retains its information, and this tells you about the lifetime of the information. And it’s a very important consideration when you look at a computer and how it will perform.

What does it mean that qubits are not stable?

Temitope: So, think of it this way. You have a mobile phone call – it can suffer from electronic noise such that your call breaks up. So, qubits, the building block of quantum computers, can also get disrupted. So, qubits are super sensitive to their surroundings such that a small thing, like a temperature change, the electromagnetic signal from Wi-Fi, or even a disturbance in the earth’s magnetic field can disrupt them. This disturbance can mess with their quantum state, so the information kept in them can be lost. So, just like how the sound quality of a phone call is disturbed, the information in a qubit can also be disturbed – this is what we mean by a qubit being stable or not. This is a big problem domain in Quantum Computing, called error correction because when scientists can correct errors or stability in qubits, we can say we now have good quantum computers.

Do we know if time works differently in the Quantum realm? 

Marlou: Let’s use quantum to measure time well. At NIST in Boulder, we have big atomic clocks that set the time standards for the US based on Cesium atoms, which is how our GPS works. So these clocks are the oldest quantum sensors, and now, we’re miniaturizing them so you could have one in your computer, in your car, or in your pocket to take with you and have great time-keeping based on quantum.

Now and Future of Quantum Computing

What problems are quantum computers – today or tomorrow – particularly good at solving? And what’s the hype?

Denise: We believe that Quantum Computing will be good at solving certain problems. I don’t think it’s really proven. The area of problems that most excites me for its potential is the area of drug screening and personalized medicine. So, in areas with a lot of computation, Quantum Computing could help.

Temitope:   I would say problems that require high dimensional data sets because I worked on machine learning. When the problem becomes so huge, classical machines cannot solve it. So, there’s a promise that we will apply the algorithms implemented on Quantum computers to, e.g., drug discovery and processing large sensor data sets.

Marlou:  They are suited to problems that have a Quantum nature, for example, designing new fertilizers and drug discovery, as Denise mentioned. Indeed, we are not there yet, but when the hardware is in place, these would be great potential areas.

Mariia: We expect algorithms with small data and big computation to be most suited. Based on how Quantum algorithms work, it can be very expensive to get the data in the quantum system to process it. There is a lot of processing power, but another bottleneck: how you get the information out of the system is extremely limiting. I like an analogy somebody gifted me:  it’s like trying to drink an ocean through a straw. You have a lot of information in your system, but you can only get tiny bits of it. These problems – chemistry is a great example – would be best suited.

What are some hurdles towards a faster progression and adoption of quantum computing?

Denise: There are two issues: one of them is bigger and more important than the other, which is the size of the quantum computer, and along with the size, we look at the quality of the qubits – coherence time,  errors. You can’t just say I have a 10-bit quantum computer; another has a 10-bit quantum computer, and they’re the same. Quantum Computing is still, in my mind, a physics research project and it’s still developing. To see a big adoption of quantum computing, computers need to advance. Companies also need to be more open to trying this technology and understand that this technology is going to take time.  But the time they spend now on learning about it is really important,  so as the technology grows, they can take advantage of it before their competitors.

Marlou: Recently, QEDC (Quantum Economic Development Consortium) reported that the industry will adopt quantum computing if it increases revenue and improves the efficiency of processes, i.e., it can give a practical advantage. Yes, then everyone would adopt it. How to get there? Indeed, the hardware is the bottleneck—the size of the quantum computers. Atom Computing recently announced that they have a thousand qubits, which is great progress, but we are not there yet. We need to get much bigger. We need to have very high-quality cubits. 

We also need to build the workforce.  We need to have people to work on it. There needs to be enough funding to push all of this forward. There need to be really low barriers for start-ups to get out of the academic labs and make tech transfers. If we had shared lab facilities, making it much easier for young researchers and startups to do this highly advanced research, these efforts would greatly accelerate practical Quantum Computing.

Are there any practical applications of Quantum Computing today, or is it mostly the promise of the future we are after?

Mariia:  We are still in the promise of the future phase. We need our quantum computers to be much larger, much less noisy and allow us to run much longer programs to achieve our first practical advantages. We expect that those advantages would be in quantum chemistry, material simulation, and these kinds of areas.

What are some threats, challenges, or ethical considerations as we advance in Quantum Computing?

Marlou: Unfortunately, there is always the question of access and democratizing science. Then we talked about important and good problems to solve, but of course, there are also problems we might be able to solve that can be used for bad purposes, and the main one is encryption. Encryption is based on hard mathematical puzzles, and one puzzle that is classically hard to solve is factoring a number into two large prime numbers. It turns out that Shor’s algorithm, which could be executed on a quantum computer, is great at solving this mathematical problem that would break our RSA encryption. This means that right now, we need to search for alternatives that are safe for not only classical computers but also quantum computers, and this is an area called postquantum cryptography. It is an area in which NIST is at the very forefront of defining the new encryption standards for the quantum age. So, this is a threat, but we don’t need to be scared of it now. We need to act now to create the quantum-safe encryption standards for the future. It is also important for the industry to start early and be prepared.

Mariia: The threats of Quantum Computing are similar to those posed by modern AI but slightly further away in the future because if there is a potential, for example, for discovering a new material, it doesn’t matter which technology you’re using – sophisticated AI or Quantum Computing. You have to think about similar things. So, it’s important to understand what kinds of problems Quantum Computing can solve, not just the good ones but potentially the bad ones, and take care of that. It’s similar to the potential perils of any sufficiently sophisticated technology. 

Denise: The threat of being able to break today’s current encryption is a big one, but it depends on mature quantum computers. So, the issue is always when do you start? It’s great that NIST has published standards and will publish more standards. We also have to know that in most big companies or hospitals or whatever, it takes a long time to change how they do their security, and it’s generally a five-year or so project, and they need to budget for it. It’s not inexpensive, and so these are some of the challenges that businesses have today: looking at what the future is, when they need to plan for it, and how they can protect their business because there will be a timeline to act. Hopefully, the company will have updated their security by then, so it doesn’t impact them. 

Marlou: Even before that, because the data harvested now can be decrypted later.

Denise:  That’s a good point, and so there’s a lot of data harvesting that we believe is done,  that people just put the data somewhere safe, and when a quantum computer is ready, they can take that data and open it up. So, it is a big threat. 

Training the Quantum Computing Talent

How can we build and nourish the Quantum Computing talent?

Temitope:  It’s very important to involve students from a young age. They can start by learning the concepts. So, our group at Cleveland State University has been working actively to increase the engagement of both high school and undergraduate students in Quantum Computing. Last summer, together with Qubit by Qubit, we organized a Quantum Computing workshop for high school students in the Cleveland metropolitan school district. They had a tour of the IBM quantum computer at Cleveland Clinic. We also published a technical paper in IEEE QSE’23 – Design of Quantum Machine Learning Course for a Computer Science Program. It has resources, week-by-week topics, and starting points for an undergraduate to learn Quantum Computing and Quantum machine learning. 

Mariia: One of my first projects in the Microsoft Quantum team was the Quantum Katas, a tool for people to learn Quantum Computing and apply what they learned to solve small problems, implement their solutions right away, and get them validated. It’s really important to be able to apply your learning as soon as possible and get feedback. Especially for somebody who is learning on their own and doesn’t have access to a professor or an expert, they often don’t have this source of feedback. 

I published my first book in the summer of 2022 – Q# pocket guide. Now, I’m writing my second, which is about learning Quantum programming with more in-depth projects. I like to think about it as a perfect second book on Quantum Computing. Once you learn the basics, it’s your bridge to doing more complicated projects and what you must learn before jumping into research papers. 

Marlou: I will share about two initiatives I’m involved in:  the Womanium Foundation and the Colorado Quantum Tech Hub.  The Womanium Foundation focuses on creating new leaders in the next technology, i.e., what will be big in 10 to 15 years. We decided to design a quantum training where you don’t only code and program, but it also has a big emphasis on hardware. There was a big demand for it because it was not available elsewhere. If you take a Quantum course at university, it is often still quantum mechanics. That need was also shown in our participant numbers. We taught 2,000 people last year and 2,600 this year, including 45% women, which is very high and extremely rare in STEM fields.  The next edition will be this upcoming summer; everyone is welcome to join.  

Also, in Colorado, a new Quantum tech hub is starting. There is a  very strong Quantum Hardware industry here. We should start early to inspire young people to enter STEM. Quantum is for everyone. There are many different kinds of jobs. You don’t need a Ph.D. We must reflect this in the educational system, at high schools, community colleges, and universities, and join forces to put it into the curriculum.

Denise In Diversity in Quantum, I’ve been working with people on their careers, whether an undergraduate wondering what they should do next or a graduate student, a postdoc, or even a professor. People have many questions about the different parts of the industry – business development, marketing, program management, or science and engineering. So, what our group does is work with people to understand what their goals are and what the next step could be. It’s very career-oriented. We also do internships and scholarships where we help people travel to meetings. Still, I think the most important is helping people create a network of their own so that they have people they can rely on and not feel so isolated as the only woman or the only gay person in a program.

Diversity in Quantum is open to everyone. We’re inclusive; we want everybody to feel welcome. We do have a code of conduct like all groups have. There’s no membership fee. 

How can one continue to learn more and grow in quantum computing?

Tamitope: Join and learn from a community. I’m part of Diversity in Quantum and a product of the Womanium Quantum Computing program. I can’t talk about my growth in Quantum without mentioning the role these communities played in my life. Another one is quantum internships by QWorld.  I was a mentor for their summer internship program, which is very beginner-friendly but is more research-intensive. So, one of the groups designed a photonic sensor for a biological application, and another group designed a machine learning algorithm that’s a quantum generative adversarial network for detecting disease in medical images. So, this is a community where mentors can help you as you grow.

Marlou: Dive into it now; don’t hesitate. It might seem daunting at the beginning, but it’s very exciting. Join a community, join a beginner-level course. All Womanium videos are on YouTube. If you’re interested in software, build your portfolio on GitHub. Collaborate with others. Do internships, and if you’re interested in the hardware side, there is a very wide spectrum of Quantum Technologies and enabling technology like lasers and dilution refrigerators. These will be critical for the quantum age, and you can contribute. 

Denise: Quantum is broad, and just taking the first step, looking around and seeing what appeals to you, and going after that is the way to start. If this is remotely interesting, take that first step and try something. If it doesn’t work,  try something else. There are a lot of different things that you can learn and that are interesting. 

Mariia: If you don’t know anything about Quantum Computing, you probably want to

start by learning a little bit about it, and if you are, at heart, a tinkerer, you will learn better by trying to do something than by watching videos. For example, Quantum Katas allows you to learn the basics and then immediately try to apply them. 
Marlou:  Quantum is not big yet. It is the start, and if you start learning about it now, you will be ahead of many and experience this whole wave. So, this is the time to join Quantum and start learning about it!

ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders discussed Quantum Computing – View On-Demand

ACM-W Celebration Technology Leaders Episode 14 – Quantum Computing: You can now watch the recording here.

In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” our host, Bushra Anjum (ACM-W Standing Committees Chair; Director of Data Science & Analytics, Doximity), invited women technologists from diverse career paths and stages that are contributing to the field of Quantum Computing. With our experts, we aimed to demystify terms like “superposition,” “entanglement,” “interference,” “tunneling,” and “decoherence” in a beginner-friendly way.

Our panelists included:

Mariia Mykhailova | Principal Quantum Software Engineer, Microsoft

Marlou Slot, Ph.D. | Quantum Materials Researcher, NIST | Quantum Lead, Womanium

Temitope Adeniyi Ph.D. Student | Quantum Technologies and AI, Cleveland State University

Denise Ruffner | Business Development Executive | Co-Founder Diversity in Quantum

Our panelists shared their insightful perspectives on:

1. What kind of problems are Quantum Computers particularly good at solving?

2. Are there any practical applications of Quantum Computing that exist today?

3. What are some hurdles towards a fast progression and adoption of Quantum Computing?

4. What are some of the main Quantum threats and challenges? Are there any ethical considerations?

5. How can we build and nourish the Quantum Computing talent?

Here is what the online audience fed back about this webinar:
“I appreciated the diversity of the panel (research, software engineering, business, etc.)”
“Liked the relatively non-technical, introductory format of the information.”
“The quality of the panelists and their quantum knowledge

You can now watch the recording here.

Celebrating Technology Leaders Episode 13: Inspiring Women of DevOps

In episode 13 of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” our host, Bushra Anjum, spoke with three technologists with successful DevOps careers to learn from their experiences, both as DevOps engineers and as women in the field.

  • Dorothy Nordberg, Sr. DevOps Engineer, Pure Storage: Dotty is an engaging Team Lead who excels as an advocate and mentor. She is also an accomplished DevOps Engineer with over 10 years of experience in systems administration, maintenance, and automation. Through various speaking engagements, panel discussions, and individual sessions, she has enjoyed and been energized by many opportunities to mentor several hundred folks new to tech.
  • Ayesha Noor, DevOps Manager, Yotascale: A QA turned DevOps Professional working for over a decade in the industry, currently on a mission to help large enterprises reduce their cloud spend.
  • Keheira Henderson, DevOps Engineer, Freelance: Keheira is from Nashville, TN, and currently lives in Colorado, working as a DevOps Engineer. In her free time, she collects backpacks, builds mobile apps, plays video games, and naps.

Let’s get to know them!

Can you tell us about your educational background and career journey? How did you get into your current role?

Keheira: I got into computing from a weird path. I wanted to be a music producer but ended up attending an engineering school. At that time, I mainly focused on mobile security research. I’m an Android developer. I’ve been in DevOps for two years now. My major transition was through doing more automation – freelancing automation like managing back-ends. It worked out for me.

Ayesha: I did my Bachelors in computer engineering around 13 years ago. I started as a QA engineer, and for the first five years of my career, I worked as a QA engineer with some infrastructure management work. Eventually,  I got bored with QA, so I shifted to infrastructure management and developing CI/CD pipelines for the small project that I was working on. I then got an opportunity to work with a Silicon Valley startup, and that’s when I completely switched to DevOps. So, everything that I have learned in DevOps is at that startup, and I have seen growth from zero to where we are today, which is working with big enterprise customers in the US. So, that’s how I got into DevOps, and I’ve been working as a DevOps engineer for around six to seven years.

Dotty: I have a non-traditional background. I do not have a computer science degree. I have a bachelor’s degree in maths. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I started working as an administrative assistant, which is a good job. I wanted to do something else, something more on the science end. So I worked to get some Microsoft certifications, which allowed me to get two job offers as a Microsoft systems administrator. 

Interestingly, the company I worked for had no openings in its IT department. So I interviewed at these other places. So, when I got two job offers, I chose one and handed in my two-week notice to my manager. About an hour later, the director of IT came over to talk. When I had talked to him previously, he had told me there weren’t any roles. So, I thought he would just congratulate me on my new role at the other company. Instead, he offered me a job in the IT department.  It was a better offer, so I wound up staying there and learning a lot. It was a great job.  That was when I was living on the East Coast.

I grew up in New York, lived in Georgia for a while, and then moved to Silicon Valley, California. As a tech person, it’s interesting to see all the buildings with signs of Salesforce, LinkedIn, Meta/ Facebook. I started working as a contractor at one of the big companies that had just acquired a little startup that was building satellites. They had two launched into sub-orbit around the Earth, and that was just a dream job because I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut. So I got to do that, and that was a great experience.

I have learned more and more as I went along – the Linux operating system, different CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous deployment) tools, and platforms. I am constantly learning new things and am now learning Terraform to work on infrastructure as code as I get into the coding side. So, it’s been an interesting journey, and I’m still excited and happy to go to work.

What’s it like to be in DevOps?

Keheira: I work in the space industry. For me, it’s system admin and automation. So, a lot of Terraform. I am currently learning Ansible, but I had a background in AWS beforehand. So many times in my previous job, I was at the table when projects were built and looked into resources versus budget based on a particular stack. I was working with VMs, and servers using Docker and Kubernetes. 

Dotty:  I would agree with that.  DevOps is development and operations – we manage, maintain, monitor, and scale the systems the engineering teams use to develop their code. So, that’s the operation side, and then wherever we can, we automate tasks. There’s a joke that DevOps and operations people are kind of lazy in that if something is repeatable or done constantly, you automate it so that you never have to do it again. Then you can work on something fun. 

Ayesha: I would completely agree with all said. In addition, it’s a job where you have to have the mindset to make things work more efficiently to help everyone run their stuff more cohesively, in a more fail-safe way, and much faster than they would. In my experience – working in a startup –  things are often chaotic.  Initially, the developers did a lot of the setup, and it was complete chaos. So, automation and maintenance play a big part – we clean up, adhere to best practices, and remain true when faced with very fast bills or shipping out increments of the product repeatedly and frequently. You do the right thing, even if it takes time or more effort, instead of doing what works now.

How do you manage different teams that may have conflicting asks or preferences?

Dotty: That’s a big one. There’s the software development life cycle, where one of the first stages is planning, but that’s months before the actual product is shipped. You can’t always predict what you’ll need at what time. DevOps deals with the resources needed, sometimes at the last minute on the development side. Say, we will get requests for 100 new systems. That’s often not possible – there is a misconception that operations, DevOps, and sys admin teams have servers just sitting in the back waiting to be used. We do not. In this case, the general plan is to put the fire out -by asking the requesting team will 10 get things unstuck? Then we can see if anything can be reused or repurposed to get another 10 the next week. If you need 100 new systems, it can take three or four months from when it is ordered until it is delivered, racked, and stacked. That’s even pushing it. So the hope is that engineering and development teams will bring DevOps in as early as the planning phase and ask: “Do we have the resources to do that? Do we have the infrastructure to roll this out in a month or two?” I’ve been in a couple of planning meetings where they brought us in early, and everybody was much happier with the infrastructure they requested. I was hoping that teams would talk about it, and it would catch on with the other engineering teams. Managers may need to push a bit more to get the DevOps side of things into the planning stages. 

Keheira:  ln my previous job, I managed five teams. The cool part is getting people to understand what DevOps Engineers are there for. Over my time – the change from when I started to when I left was amazing. In the beginning, they were just talking about XYZ deadlines. Because of my security background and experience in the cloud, I could insist on compliance even though it makes people mad as it slows them down. So over time, it got to the point where we talked about upcoming deadlines, the pipeline compliance-wise, and how we can better position ourselves moving forward. In my first few months,  I thought I would quit and return to being an Android developer, but in the end,  we planned better with deadlines. I just felt really good.

Ayesha:  When I joined my startup, the developers had already set up a lot of the production infrastructure, but they needed to go deeper into infrastructure. They created AWS lambdas which are your on-demand compute. So serverless. They had three different lambdas if they wanted to create one lambda in three different environments. So, therefore there was a very long list of – hundreds of – lambdas that I was supposed to manage. We had to rename them to be more legible because nobody followed the naming conventions. I remember looking at that mess and thinking there was no way I was spending the next four weeks renaming and structuring them. That’s where the automation mindset comes in. So, I made a whole pipeline that would create versions within the lambdas for different environments, so I shrunk that list of 400 lambdas to 100. That was one of the first opportunities I had for automation, streamlining things and making them neater and more manageable. I remember that very fondly. Overall, how you see tasks of weeks getting reduced to hours is a very nice feeling I chase personally in my career.

Is DevOps a promising career for women?

What are the unique challenges and opportunities for women who want to go to this career compared to a software development position?

Ayesha: I made the switch from QA to DevOps. Keheira would be more suited to speak about development versus DevOps. DevOps fuels learning because there is something new to handle each day, which I had started lacking in my career in QA after five or six years. Eventually, QA becomes repetitive. So, DevOps broke that monotony for me. The multitasking aspect of it and the breadth and depth of it were very gratifying for me. That’s something that many women can relate to because we’re juggling everything all the time. In the Pakistan Tech scene, many women are directed towards QA because that’s a ceiling on their technical talent, which I am very intent on breaking. After all, you can go for more challenging careers. You can go for things that you would eventually figure out are more suited to your natural temperament. 

Dotty: DevOps is a good opportunity if you have that mindset. If you like to learn, if you like science and tech, go for it. When I first started, I was usually the only woman on the team, and that can be intimidating if you’re “the only,” whether you’re the only woman or you belong to any other underrepresented group – because of race, nationality, or LGBTQ. It can be intimidating. But the good news is that it’s getting better. At one point, I was in a team of 20 people, and I was the only woman. That’s 5% female. Now I’m on a team of eight people with two women. So, that’s 25%.  

It’s taking a long time, and we have a long way to go, but companies are investing in DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion – programs, which is great. Some companies have clubs for folks who have different identities. There’s one at my company for women in engineering, but anybody can join. So, allies are more than welcome.  Also, benefits like maternity and spousal leave are very beneficial to women and their families. 

So, it is a promising career for women, and it’s improving.  I’ve seen it in my career and look forward to the next couple of years too. Progress is slow, but it’s there, and we’ll celebrate every little step as we go along the way, building up on that. 

Keheira: It’s a good career. I’m a researcher. I researched mobile security for my Computer Engineering degree, tried grad school, and dropped out.  I love research. I love learning. DevOps was a cool fit. My biggest challenge has been being the only black woman on my team. In my previous company, in the entire section of the organization, people liked to challenge you a lot more. But my parents raised me to challenge folks back. Often, people just say whatever and keep it moving and expect you to be okay with that as a woman. But if you sit down and lay your credentials out on the table, it makes it a lot easier for people not to see you as just a developer who happened to be in this. 

This job allows me to code after work a lot more. I get to read many more things, and then I get to try a lot more.  I can screw up a system that no one cares about because it’s on dev. But if you do that as a developer, the whole app crashes. It’s really fun for me to learn new and niche things and focus.  I plan to go back to graduate school next year. I don’t know what I’m going for, maybe maths or network security, but it’ll be important for me to grow.

How can one be successful in this career?

What is the skill set required to be successful in this career?

Dotty: A coding language of some kind, familiarity with continuous integration and continuous deployment. Operating system knowledge helps. Nowadays, virtualization is big- AWS, Kubernetes,  VM, server systems versus client systems. For non-technical skills, curiosity and problem-solving are really good skills to have. If you like to solve puzzles in your off time or have a learning mindset,  you will do well in your DevOps career. 

Keheira:  I’d agree.  From more of a developer perspective,  I would learn the cloud, and I’d be good at my stack but be able to fully deploy to the cloud. So, as an Android developer, I can still do back-end development. I get excited about coding. It’s my hobby. I’m also a documentation snob – that helps me. In my jobs, I talk to design teams and back-end teams, and in startups, it’s unbelievable. There’s no documentation. So, I would force everyone to approve my documents beforehand, and then we’d go on to the next step. That helped me be known even in the startup I was working in. They knew if you talked to Keheira, you would have some documentation, and then she would automate things for the mobile devs.  It’s probably not everyone’s best path, but that’s what worked for me. 

Ayesha: I agree with what everyone said, but I would also like to add that you need very good people skills to get everyone on board with your proposals. I agree with Keheira that documentation helps a lot. I might be wrong, and it might be very gender specific, but I think women are more organized.  This career path has a lot of breadth – you must know many things. You might not be going very deep into a technical stack, but you must know how a basic network works and OS. Women juggle that well because we are already used to multitasking and keeping many things under control. It became very apparent to me that this job was suited to how I operate. 

Is DevOps a good career for a fresh graduate, considering requirements like breadth of experience, multitasking, and many skills in terms of hardware and software? 

Keheira: So, I will be a little controversial. DevOps shouldn’t be a first job.  I think it’s very hard to manage and see the big picture if you don’t have at least two to three years of experience in one of the other core things – if you haven’t been a system admin, you haven’t been a dev, you haven’t been on the operation side, it’s hard to see how the things connect. When I moved over two years ago, there were no Junior DevOps positions.  And I understand why, but I don’t know how to change that. It’s very hard to say, “Let’s have a junior,” as we expect people to set up three load balancers using Terraform by the end of the week.  That would be overwhelming. But if you already understand a bit of Terraform or AWS or know how to figure things out quickly, it’s a lot easier to connect the pieces, and you won’t feel beaten up within the first three to six months.

Dotty: I agree, it could be tough. I will take the opposite view – it could depend on the organization. Our DevOps team has an entry-level person who started from the software side. But they had that growth mindset; they were super enthusiastic during the interview process. They were passionate about what they did. They knew enough that the other team members could help them with what they didn’t know. And they had other skills that we needed. So, it could be a first career if it’s something that you’re excited to do. I have been on many interview panels, and your passion for what you do is just as important as your skills, and in some cases, when you’re starting, it’s more important. They need to see that you are interested in learning.  New tech comes out every week, and suddenly, the DevOps team has to learn it. There’s so much to learn – even some seniors like me are learning Terraform now. Other people on the team, with fewer years, may have Terraform knowledge. So, there’s a balance. If you were to find a job that you were interested in but requires skills you aren’t sure about, and you got the job offer, go for it. They’re going only to hire you if they think you could do the work, and you’ll be interviewed by six to eight senior-level people who know what they’re talking about and what the job entails. So, go for it. 

Ayesha: I agree partially with both panelists. It is a growing job, not an easy one, and sometimes that scares fresh grads. You have to have a passion for learning. You will have a steeper learning curve in the beginning. You will have to be more dedicated to your job. I agree with Keheira because I was already in my former career when I switched over. That helped me ease into a new career instead of being thrown into the midst of things and having to drown or swim. However, things are changing. I’ve hired a junior DevOps who has developed as his first job. I see myself helping him learn things in months that I learned in years. So, it’s easier with support. That’s why I like DevOps as a career option for women. Whatever background you’re coming from, you can ease into it,  even if you’re starting as a fresh grad, as long as you are very committed to your job. You have to know that there will be a learning curve, but it will be very well worth it in terms of job satisfaction and career progress. 

Which type of experience would help a person to ease into a DevOps career?

Ayesha: I would have adopted more easily if I had some admin experience before switching because it was a steeper learning curve. Any experience you have before switching to DevOps will not be wasted. Even today, my QA experience is very relevant because I have an eye for detail. I know how to spot things that could go wrong.  Because I have had experience with security testing, for example, I can weigh in on security issues that come up, and I know how to resolve them now that I’m on the other side. Anything you know may help because DevOps requires a breadth of experience. 

Keheira: For me, the system admin part was the biggest deal. You don’t have to do it as a developer, but I learned on my own because I was interested in how people were not using a mouse when they worked. Then probably QA – sometimes people say they had never written a test as a mobile developer. In the developer world, especially mobile, the testing is through QA. We don’t write tests. I wish I had done much more in college to focus on testing. A lot of the time, you’re looking at a pipeline of tests to see what broke and why it broke. I would understand more of the thought process if I wrote better tests. 

Dotty:  I’m coming from the other side. I was a Systems Admin, and now coming to the coding side. So, for me, it seemed like a pretty easy fit. When I first started many years ago, DevOps did not exist. Many of the senior folks I work with now are like me. They were sys admins,  and they may have had a computer science degree. They also have home systems set up and their home networks. If you do stuff at home, that would be helpful to you to get experience to bring to the job. 

Where can fresh graduates or people looking for their first job go to find entry-level DevOps positions?

Keheira:   I found my first DevOps job on Reddit. I know that is unusual, but there’s a r/devopsjobs and r/devops.  So I’m also a space nerd and work in the space industry through the government. So, at that time, they were talking about a satellite company that had an open house to hire folks.  I was excited about working in space and getting out of my mobile struggle. I failed my first interview because they were looking for a more senior person, but they mentioned another opportunity. So look in unusual places. I’ve never got a job off of LinkedIn. Sometimes I lean heavily on social media –  I didn’t know how to get into DevOps – so I asked anybody I could on these platforms what books I should read and study. I didn’t see any jobs at the time when I was looking for this. So, I was just throwing questions everywhere.

Dotty:  if you’re looking for a new position, I would do a job search on LinkedIn or indeed.com, one of those places. Find jobs that look interesting to you. Then figure out which skills are needed for those jobs. Compile a list and find the top skills that all those jobs that you’re interested in are looking for. Then highlight them on your LinkedIn profile or wherever you’re looking for jobs. I have gotten jobs through LinkedIn. Recruiters have found me. 

If you don’t have those skills, figure out a way to get them through online courses or certifications. Many places like LinkedIn Learning, AWS certifications, Coursera, udemy.com, and Khan Academy offer low-cost or even free resources. Then, network, like Keheira was saying. 

Ayesha: From a transitioning perspective, it’s very important to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing in their job function because that helps you understand how things function overall. Then it makes it easier to switch. Before I switched from QA to DevOps completely, there was a time when I was doing both. I was managing IT departments and infrastructure in addition to doing QA. So, if you want to switch, it’s very important to network within your team and shadow someone senior doing something you are interested in. That’s always a good learning experience because you get insight into practice instead of theoretical knowledge.

Could certifications help improve your profile or make you an ideal candidate?

Keheira: So, speaking for government work, it’s a requirement to have a Security Plus. So, if you want to be in that realm, red tape like me, you need a Security Plus. Even if you don’t have it, it usually is a requirement that within three to six months, you get it. I do not have any Cloud certifications anymore; I’m so far into the work now a certification wouldn’t help me. It hasn’t been a requirement; no one has questioned me that way, but if you’re interested, maybe Terraform certification would be useful.  I would advise you to learn the material; you don’t have to always sit for the test. I don’t have a networking certification, but I know the networking basics. That’s fine for work.  I don’t feel pressured to spend money to get a certification. 

Dotty:  If you’re already employed, see if your company will pay for your certifications. I’ve done that, which is awesome because it can get very expensive quickly. I would highly recommend searching the internet using the resources I mentioned earlier. 

Ayesha: Certifications sometimes increase your visibility for potential recruiters because they are stamps showing you are skilled in a particular area. If you are going for certifications, go for something specific to your job function instead of very generic ones.  I completely agree with Keheira that you must learn the material, and it’s not always important to sit for the test if you cannot afford it. I recommend going through practice tests because they have actual scenarios on which you can test your knowledge. For me, certifications have always been a way to stamp out any imposter syndrome I have. So every couple of years, if I’m lagging with certifications, I  sit for the exam and have a stamp on my resume that shows an external party has vetted the skill. But they’re not a mandatory requirement for progress in your career.

What is the next step for a person who is considering this career? 

Ayesha: A comprehensive roadmap is shared on roadmap.sh for DevOps, which helps you get a grip on the breadth of things you should learn. So, you have a nice checklist to go through. I also recommend courses from Tech World with Nana. She has very nice courses for someone looking to switch to DevOps, even if they don’t come from a tech background. Those aren’t apprehensive, and they could help you bootstrap your career.

Keheira:  I’m a person that makes up my mind and then just goes for it. So, I’ve got most of my advice from older people in SRE (Site Reliability Engineering).  If you talk to people with that old-school system admin SRE background, they’ll tell you way more than I ever could because while this is such a new field, it has many old-school setups and structures. So, ask them questions. I would make a blog. I’m really big on that – I have my blog. Track your progress. That’s the easiest way. If you get a new certification, write about how you studied for it and the topics that interest you. You can repost that on Linkedin to attach your name to the things you’re learning. When it’s time to look for a job, and they look you up,  you will have all these links, which will be your secondary resume.

Dotty: I will be the old-school person that you can all contact. You can find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to talk to anybody if they have other questions or want one-on-one time. I can hook you up with resources. I do come from the old-school system admins, and SRE does overlap quite a bit with DevOps. So, if you can find an old DevOps/SRE person, they would be more than happy to help. I look up to my peers as my helpers; they’re always super helpful. That’s one of the best things about working in this career. I work with super smart people, and they are more than happy to help. 

As we close this panel blog, feel free to reach out to any of the panelists! They all said they were happy to help. 

Celebrating Technology Leaders Episode 13: Inspiring Women of DevOps

Inspiring Women of DevOps

DevOps engineering is a relatively new career focused on building bridges between the developmental and operational sides of software development. An effective DevOps engineer possesses a diverse technical skill set, such as operating systems, programming languages, software development lifecycle, and cloud technology, to name a few. In addition, their communication and problem-solving skills (both technological and interpersonal) are expected to be top-notch.

So what does it take to become a DevOps engineer, and what does the career progression look like? What kind of work environment do they operate in, and what are their most significant challenges? And most importantly, is it a promising career for women in tech?

In this episode of “ACM-W Celebrating Technology Leaders,” Bushra Anjum, ACM-W Standing Committees Chair, invited women technologists with successful DevOps careers to learn from their experiences, both as DevOps engineers and as women in the field.

Our panelists were:

  • Dorothy Nordberg | Sr. DevOps Engineer, Pure Storage – Dotty is an engaging Team Lead who excels as both an advocate and mentor. She is also an accomplished DevOps Engineer with over 10 years of experience in systems administration, maintenance, and automation. Through various speaking engagements, panel discussions, and individual sessions, she has enjoyed and been energized by many opportunities to mentor several hundred folks new to tech.
  • Ayesha Noor | DevOps Manager, Yotascale – QA turned DevOps Professional working for over a decade in the industry, currently on a mission to help large enterprises reduce their cloud spend.
  • Keheira Henderson | Devops Engineer, Freelance – Keheira is from Nashville, TN, and currently lives in Colorado, working as a DevOps Engineer. In her free time, she collects backpacks, builds mobile apps, plays video games, and naps.

(Unfortunately, our 4th panelist, Jessica Kalinowski, couldn’t join us on the day.)

The participants enjoyed vibrant discussions and commented: “The varying backgrounds were perfect! QA, Dev and Sys Admin, it was really helpful to hear each perspective, and I also appreciated the focus on hearing real experience breaking into a dev ops role, how past experience was helpful, and what it has been like as a woman. Even the fact of having three different cultures. This set of panelists was very well selected and representative. It was laid back but also very professional. A very positive experience.

Our participants appreciated to hear the different journeys the different women followed into the role of DevOps. “I learned that with my computer science degree and work experience, i still can change my career direction. I’ve been doing tech support and network management. I am now teaching myself Python, and relearning Javascript. Seeing these women let me know I can still push forward in a different area of IT even at 40.”

You can now watch the panel on-demand using this link.

Indo European ACM Celebration of Women in Computing

The first Indo-European ACM Celebration of Women in Computing: A Decade Celebration was virtually held on June 22, 2023.  ACM-W Global Chair Ruth Lennon welcomed the participants with her inspiring speech;  ACM-W India Chair Heena Timani and ACM-W Europe Chair Rukiye Altin, followed by giving an overview of activities carried out in their respective regions.

The event held two panels. In the first panel, ACM-W India Treasurer Rutvi Shah chaired, and the panellists shared their ACM-W chapter experiences. The panellists included ACM Women Trondheim Vice Chair Anna Szlavi, who is also a postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Anna also talked about womENcourageTM, which will be hosted at NTNU in September. Elif Şen, who is ACM Bilkent (Turkey) Chair, talked about her experiences at Bilkent University, Turkey and how an ACM chapter can inspire women in other fields. Dr Geetanjali Kale, who is the Chair of ACM-W Pune Professional Chapter (India), inspired listeners with her words “Collaboration is a key to success” and encouraged all to collaborate more. Shreya Sharma, Chair of the ACM-W chapter at ABESEC (India) and Shagun Kesarwani, Secretary of the ACM-W chapter at ABESEC (India), shared their journey through ACM-W.

The second panel of the event was chaired by Dorota Filipczuk who is ACM-W Europe Vice Chair. The guests on the panel were the founders of both regions. Reyyan Ayfer, founder of ACM-W Europe and Arati Dixit, founder of ACM-W India, told us how the idea of starting regional ACM-W became alive.

We thank them for their selfless work in supporting, celebrating, and advocating globally for the engagement of women in all aspects of the computing field. We are looking forward to many more joint celebrations.

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 1

Whether you are a student or an experienced engineering leader, a robust network, an opportunity for peer learning, the prospects of mentorship, and a crowd-sourced catalogue of career opportunities are vital for your personal and professional progression. In this episode, we invited senior women technologists who have devoted decades of their lives, either full-time or as passionate volunteers, to creating and nurturing empowering communities for technical women.

Celebrating Technology Leaders Episode 12

Our panel, with host Bushra Anjum (ACM-W Standing Committees Chair and ACM Ubiquity Senior Editor), discussed various support and learning communities for women in tech. You can join these communities based on your individual goals and career stage. Our panellists also hoped to inspire you to create spaces where you can empower others and nurture a sense of belonging. This article highlights key discussions in three parts; you can watch the full video here.

We start with getting to know our panelists. Please tell us how your background, personal journey, interests, and career aspirations led you to where you are.

Nidhi: Bushra referred to our background as “Decades of experience”. So, I’m definitely one of those. I have a few decades of experience in Chief Technology and Product Officer roles. Like many of you on the panel, I’ve been the only woman engineer, the woman manager, and the only woman at the exec table. I got to a point where I felt that I needed to do something. After a ton of introspection, I realized that the pursuit of more is just relentless. I could have continued in a larger organisation, with a more significant role and more pay, but I felt like I’d arrived. I needed to do something to change the equation: Women hold less than nine percent of engineering exec roles, and it is my mission to change that, and that’s why I founded SheTO.org. Today we are the largest private network of women and non-binary engineering leaders. Our goal is to help new leaders grow and thrive in their careers. They, in turn, will inspire the next generation of women to enter and stay in the industry and aspire to these higher roles.

Kathleen: I’m currently the VP of engineering at OwnTrail, a community and platform that helps folks achieve their next milestones in life. How I got here today? I have a background in computer science. As a student, before college, I was equally interested in languages, math, and science; I didn’t really lean one way or the other. So, when I entered college, I considered linguistics and math. As a young student, I decided to major in French, travel, and be an exchange student – do a summer semester abroad after graduation. I wasn’t excited about the types of jobs I was getting: I was doing tech support and translation, but I wanted to have a broader pool of jobs to choose from. I wanted to be able to move anywhere I wanted to. So, I went back to college and got a degree in computer science, which is how I ended up in the field and worked through many companies over the decades.

Farah: What Kathleen said resonated. I was interested in reading and languages, but also science and math. The one thing that tipped it for me was that I was an avid gamer growing up. So I was comfortable with being behind the computer. At some point in early high school, I felt it would be fun to sit behind the computer all day. That didn’t pan out exactly as planned, but that was the idea. My interest in languages and reading was deeply influenced by my parents. My dad would always have a lot of books around the house. He was an engineer by profession. So, I was introduced to a vast range of topics at a very young age, which helped me consider my creative side within my technology roles. My background is in computer science. I had made that decision by the time I was in college; some of it was because I loved STEM subjects, but also because of a process of elimination. For example, I didn’t want to be a doctor. After I graduated, I started as an engineer at Microsoft and went on to management roles at Microsoft, eBay and Electronic Arts. I also had a chance to do a startup.

Rose: My background is in mathematics and computer science. I went the route of software engineering and had an opportunity to do a lot of consulting. I had an opportunity to work in the Telco space and the geospatial industry when mapping technologies were just getting started. I spent about 15 years there and then moved into finding a community that would help me grow in my field. So, I found Anita Borg Systers community and came on board as a full-time, helping many women in tech across the globe but also myself. It’s very rewarding to see other women succeed – those you’ve mentored – and try to move the needle as much as possible. With Anita Borg, I also started with open-source technologies. Then I went on to CMD-IT (Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology). I got to work with minorities and people with disabilities, which also hit home with me. I must tell you that life opportunities steered me to where I am today.

How have communities (or lack thereof) played a part in your career progression as a student or an early-career professional?

Rose: I graduated from a historically black college and university, and so I saw so many of me in other majors. But it was very different when I came into the corporate world. It was mostly all men. I got to work on many government projects,  so it was a lot of military and intelligence. So, while trying to find something – and I don’t remember how – I found Systers. They were very instrumental when I was trying to get promotions and with how to deal with very uncomfortable situations. So, just having Systers’ email list was very important to me. It helped me navigate through some very tricky times and gain the confidence that I belonged in this field. It’s just been an amazing opportunity for me to join that community.

Farah: For me, it was more that there was always a lack of communities. I desperately wanted to be a part of one with more people like me. When I immigrated here to the US, I didn’t know a lot of women from Pakistan or South Asian women in general. So, part of my founding Pakistani women in Computing was that there just aren’t a lot of communities for support like Rose has talked about: A group of people with a shared history, some shared context where you don’t have to explain yourself every time from scratch. You can jump right into what is troubling you or share an issue without that fear of judgment, and there’s that safety in that. So, the idea of a community has been in my mind for a long time. I wish  I’d had a better network early on. Then, I could have started some of these things earlier. A third area which did help was the employee resource groups at Microsoft. They had a wide range of these communities: if you’re interested in investing or want to know about real estate etc. A bunch of us were really into puzzle hunts in person. I realized, retrospectively, that even joining some of those and meeting like-minded people and doing interesting activities outside of work helped a lot in building confidence and networking. It allowed building more organic relationships; maybe later on, you could go to those people for work-related things. So, don’t underestimate the value of some of these communities, which may not be tech communities or directly work-related but help keep your network more open and diverse. 

Kathleen: I would say that in University, there weren’t communities, or they weren’t very visible because I didn’t really find anything then. This was in the early to middle 1990s, when only a few women were in the computer science department. You knew the other women on at least a nodding basis because you kept seeing the same faces in classes. After college, when I moved to the Seattle area in my early career, the company I first worked at had one other woman developer. She was more towards the end of her career. So, we hung out a bit, but I did meet many women in other non-technical roles in the tech world – HR and design. Through them, I did get involved in some communities.  At that time, in the mid-90s, Digital Eve was a big one in the Seattle area, and they put on a lot of networking events. So, I met a lot of people through that. In the last few years,  I’ve started seeing employee resource groups coming out of the DEI initiatives at companies I’ve been to. So, the previous consulting company I worked at – Affirma in Bellevue, Washington –  had a women’s group and would put on internal webinars towards the DEI space. So, that was a new experience. Then, of course, I’m a part of the OwnTrail Community, which I’ll talk about later.

Nidhi: Like Farah and Kathleen, I didn’t belong to many communities. It started when I was doing my undergrad at an engineering school in India. We were four women in a class of 70. We didn’t even have a girls’ bathroom in my college. We used to go to the men’s bathroom, and the same journey continued when I came to the US as an immigrant for my master’s. Over time I realized that I struggled and hurt with my go-at-alone approach because you can lean on others. That was the genesis of the idea behind SheTO. So, when I was at Hired, I got invited to this intimate dinner of CTOs. I expected to walk into a room full of men because that’s who I always work with. But, to my utter shock, I walked into a room full of 15 other women who were highly accomplished. They were all VPEs, SVPs and CTOs. So, I thought, even when I, who have been in this industry for this long, don’t know of 15 other women,  how can the next generation of women be inspired? So, that’s when I came across one study by Gartner which said that less than nine percent of engineering exec rules are held by women. So, that was the moment when I had an if-not-me-then-who moment. I quit my job to pursue something more meaningful, and I made it my mission to make a dent in this gender gap as much as I possibly could. We were previously called Diversity, and now we’ve rebranded to SheTO. So, that’s how SheTO came about.

Continue to Part 2 to read more about our panelists own initiatives and communities for women.

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 3

Part 1 – Introductions and impact of communities in career

Part 2 – Initiatives and communities for women

We continue with Kathleen’s journey in a startup. Kathleen, please tell us more about OwnTrail, which you were a member of before you joined the team. Now, you’re the VP. So, how did that journey play out?

Kathleen:  I didn’t find a space in social media that felt very comfortable, primarily because of the inauthenticity of how people presented themselves or how you felt you had to present yourself. So I had been following OwnTrail because I knew one of the co-founders, Rebekah Bastian, who has been a speaker in this series. Also, the previous VP of engineering was my former business partner. So, I knew the company and followed what they were doing. I joined the community early on, and the community there is very authentic. The way people share their experiences is genuine. Own Trail – the trail part- is a visual representation of your journey through life. It encompasses your work and personal life; you can share as much as you want, and the trail has milestones. One of the features we built after I joined the company is called Help beacons. You can add this beacon on a milestone on your Trail where you’re looking for support, and the community can come and help you. Sometimes this is a career pivot: people may be looking to get into a data science field who previously have been traditional software engineers.  Sometimes it’s: “I’m setting up a home recording studio, and I need help doing this”. The array of things that people ask for help is quite broad. The community we’ve built so far has just been so great. It doesn’t have the negativity that I felt around other social media sites where they did not bring any joy to my life. So, I have since left them. I’m sure many of us can relate that many social media sites do not spark joy. 

Are there any requirements for joining the OwnTrail community?

Kathleen:  No, not at all. We did start out as a woman-focused site. So, you will find that many of our members are women, but we are open to all genders and all stages of careers and students. Most of our members are mid-career adults looking to make a career pivot or work on their next milestone, but we’re open to anyone. It is free to create an account. The trail Creator is in our free tier, as also the Help beacons and conversations. We have a paid membership option for making more direct connections and private messaging. But anyone can join. 

OwnTrail is a woman-led startup, and we all know a woman-led startup is a challenging adventure to embark on. So how has the journey been so far?

Kathleen: Recently, there was a report that less than two percent of all VC funds in 2022 went to women-led startups, which was down from 2021. Our co-founders, Rebekah (Bastian) and Kt (McBratney) started OwnTrail in February 2020. We immediately went into the pandemic, which made it an interesting time to try to get funding for a startup. Still, we have raised $1.5 million. Rebecca started another Community called Authentech, which she found as she was trying to raise funds from VCs that OwnTrail didn’t fit into – like Fintech or Healthcare. So, she created this community called Authentech which is more value-driven human-centred technology. OwnTrail is currently in the Tech Stars Anywhere Accelerator, which goes through April. That’s exciting, and we got some more funding through that. We’re currently a team of eight employees and hope to grow the engineering team and the rest of the team. So, we’re doing good and excited to grow more.

Nidhi, what are some of your plans to move SheTO forward and make it more financially self-sufficient?

Nidhi: If you think being a woman founder makes it hard to raise funds, try raising funds for a non-profit. That’s a thousand times harder.  One of my goals this year is to make SheTO a self-sustaining organization and begin by establishing partnerships with corporations. Salesforce is actually one of our early partners. So I’m super excited about that. This economy obviously is not the best for these conversations. Still, I never thought I would be a founder, but here I am. I didn’t think I could raise money, but here I am. So, this year’s goal is to raise funds to sustain and invest more in the growth of SheTO. Our approach this year is to monetize some of our programs, e.g. accelerators and workshops,  without taking away the significant value we provide for our community members. 

These are challenging economic times. We hear about layoffs, and maybe tech is no longer the blue-eyed child of the job industry. People are nervous. Rose, what is your advice in this situation?

Rose: Many tech companies are going through a reduction in their workforce and trying to reduce operating costs. Still, this is also an opportunity. Such situations allow me to be more creative and see where to make more impact. So, I consider it as an opportunity rather than something really scary.  With COVID, we have seen that areas such as healthcare and education need the help of technical professionals. There are many problems and issues in smaller communities. In hospitals, nurses and doctors are trying to be ahead of the game this time around because it’s not as if the next pandemic will not happen. It’s just a matter of when. We saw an entire education system go virtual, from grade school K-12 to colleges and universities, which they were not technically prepared for. So there’s so much need for experienced professionals to help solve problems. The US federal government and even state and municipality governments need to digitize. I have been part of this kind of collaboration with civic tech organizations here in DC. Still, all across the country, tech skills are needed. 

We need to understand many different industries go through these [changes] every so often. Everybody’s revamping, and they’re thinking about what’s the next innovation. As a co-founder, it helps me focus on how to make an impact in this world and leave it a better place. 

When I retire, I expect things to be very digital so that I can access everything from my watch, phone and wherever. So, we’re not there yet, so this is an opportunity. I always tell people that when you see a lot of downsizing, there’s also an opportunity to start your own thing. Now is the time if you have an invention or something you’re working on. There’s a lot of money right now, particularly from the federal government and the investors looking for the next big thing. So, we can put our heads together and develop some amazing solutions right in our backyard.

My final and favorite question. What career advice would you give to your younger self today?

Rose: I would let myself know that just lead with life. You’re going to have opportunities. You want to plan, but sometimes the plan doesn’t always go in your favor. You get discombobulated sometimes. But, my life events have led me to incredible opportunities. I’ve had such a fantastic time in tech, and it pushes and energizes me even further. So, lead with life. 

Farah: It’s been such a fun career. There’s so much that you can do in Tech. I would tell my younger self we can do much more together than alone, so don’t be afraid to seek help. Let people know you’re struggling, need support, or want to understand something new – find communities. It doesn’t always have to be in the workplace;  it can be things you enjoy, leading to other opportunities. The more people you know, the more you will feel at ease. Everybody’s similar, and everybody struggles at times. So, that perspective really helps. 

It’s a difficult time for many people, and I want to offer the same encouragement and support.  It feels like doom and gloom, and everything’s falling apart, but just take perspective.  It’s a global macroeconomic trend, affecting not only tech but many other areas. Natural disasters are happening in countries. Other countries have all kinds of political upheaval. People from tech are probably in the best position. They have excellent employability skills. They should be snatched up really quickly. Compared to some of these other things [happening in the world], that perspective really helps. 

Nidhi:  So, plus one to what Farah said, I’ll keep it short. Two things. One – find your tribe and use it. Often we get motivated to find a tribe but never use it. So, in a community, you will get back as much as you give. Two- just be kind to yourself. We’re too hard on ourselves. We want to be perfect, the ideal workers. But it’s not our fault because we got laid off. This, too, shall pass, and you will thrive coming out of this recession.

Kathleen:  I am in an interesting position now, watching my daughter, who is almost 20, and in electrical and computer engineering. So, she’s following a similar path, and I watch how she’s doing things. When I think about how I do things and what she does that I didn’t do in university, I see she has found her tribe. She is not just joining communities but getting into leadership positions in those communities, which would be advice I would give myself.  Especially in my early career, I just fell into leadership roles or leading projects. I would encourage myself to seek it out more actively as a student and in my early career. So, it’s really a great experience watching her. She’s doing a great job.

Thank you so much, Kathleen, Nidhi, Farah and Rose, for spending time with us. 

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 2

Part 1 – Introductions and impact of communities in career

Continuing our discussion, could you talk more about your own initiatives? What are also some other initiatives that are available for free for anyone? Are there any other communities you can recommend to our audience members?

Nidhi: For SheTO,  there’s no membership; it’s free. The way we think about SheTO is two concentric circles. If you identify as a woman or non-binary person in engineering, IT, project management and program management, you are more than welcome to join. You can just go to SheTO.org/joinus. If you’re an individual contributor, you will get invited to our open events, which we typically do once a month or our mentorship program. If you are on the management track, an engineering manager and above, you also get to participate in the slack community and all of our programming such as workshops and accelerator programs. Almost everything is free. I intentionally Incorporated us as a 501c3, and my goal is to help as many women as possible. Some of the accelerator programs and workshops are paid. So, you can tap into your Learning and Development budget. You can take advantage of the plethora of programs that we offer.

In addition to SheTO, many great communities exist, such as Girl Geek and Women in Product. Girl Geek does these dinners and conferences. There are also Lesbians Who Tech that focus a lot on conferences. There are a ton of them out there. So, find your tribe and go hang with them.

Farah: With Pakistani Women in Computing, we run talks throughout the year – tech talks, talks on building your brand, building your self-confidence. We do virtual job fairs every year. So, many companies in North America and Pakistan list their openings with us. You can sign up for one-on-one workshops with other engineers who can help you with coding interviews. We have a workshop on resumes and Linkedin. So, we provide support with a hands-on practical approach. You don’t have to be from Pakistan; you don’t have to be a woman. Anybody can participate for free. All these past events and videos are on YouTube. 

In addition, I can share Above Board for senior women, which is an exclusive platform and community providing access to senior leadership opportunities.

If your goal is to support – you want to give back, you want to be the person to benefit these communities, there are many ways to do that.  You can donate to scholarships such as Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Anita Borg. In Pakistan,  you can volunteer with Code Girls Karachi. I’m also working with the national curriculum Council in Pakistan to build the curriculum for K-12 for computer science, which will scale to every public school in Pakistan. So every one of us here can also give back in those ways. There are some fantastic organizations where your dollar goes a long way, and you can help locally or globally.

Kathleen: I mentioned OwnTrail, where I currently work and am also a member. That is open to anyone – you can freely create a trail, ask for help, and participate in conversations. We have a TED Talk-like series called Trail Talks which you can attend or view the recorded ones on our site. Another community that I participate in now is elpha.com, geared towards career development and job-seeking women. It’s more than just a job site, though. There is a lot of discussion on the site, and many “office hours” type of community events where they bring in people to do Q&As from the community. Finally, an organization I just recently learned about is OSTEM, which stands for “out in STEM”. It is towards students and early career professionals in the LBGTQ+ Community who are in STEM fields or working towards STEM degrees. They have a lot of student chapters throughout the country but also professional ones and offer some career development-type of programs.

Could you talk about the power of communities, not only for professional support but also for personal support?

Rose:  In 2018, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to be private about it. I also knew that there was a lot of work that I still needed to do while at Anita Borg and Black Women in Computing. So, I met with my inner circle; four of us are on the Founding Committee of Black Women in Computing. I told them I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on a Zoom call. And we all cried. They asked to get back to me in a week and devised a plan to let the Systers and all the other affinity communities know. They reminded me that gratitude is essential for people who want to help but don’t know how to. So, they reached out to everyone, including all affinity communities worldwide. They got a mailbox for me. I love handwritten letters, and I also love spy novels. So, I had a lot to read during that time, and once I was up to it, I wrote back to everyone who sent me a handwritten letter. It was so comforting to know that you have support like that. Even when I wasn’t going to be able to make it to that Grace Hopper, they made these little note cards. So, I received 1500 plus little note cards that I read daily, whether I was going to treatment or getting ready before another surgery. It was the hardest time. But just to have that kind of support… We talk a lot about tech and how we can support careers, but we also have to support each other as a woman. We go through a lot. We are most likely the ones who care for everybody in the family, but we still have to get up and work. We have no days off. We constantly try to set an example as we represent the only one (of our kind) at work. So, I’m so happy about having that community. 

I have a lot to thank my community for because it’s tough to deal with everything you have to. When COVID hit,  I lost many people in my community, especially my family. After 17, I just stopped counting. So now is the time you should reach out – some of the communities I mentioned earlier – Anita Borg has Systers, Black Women in Computing, CMD-IT

I’m also a Filipina. I was born in the Philippines.  I’m part of Filipina Women in Computing. So, we have these layers of intersectionality. My older sister is blind. I have two nephews who have Muscular Dystrophy and are both wheelchair users. One is autistic. I bring a lot of this to my work and my personal perspective on technology and innovation and have a sustaining impact. 

If you’re at the executive level, there are also Black Women on Boards – a massive initiative to ensure we have voices at the exec table. So there are a lot of initiatives around women, but also, we’re trying to help black women.  We are pleased to share information because we’ve experienced (the lack of) it, and there is no reason why the next generation should ever feel alone. 

We have discussed the role of the community in professional support and personal growth. But I would like your input on the community support to establish yourself as an immigrant. What are some of the unique needs and challenges there?

Farah: If you’re moving countries, if you’re moving context, there’s a lot of learning that has to happen, but there’s also a lot of unlearning. In a stable context, you can fully immerse yourself in your new career and focus on that. You don’t have the luxury of doing that when you’re moving again. Support groups at that time would have been super helpful for me. For example, knowing somebody who could cook food from back home or with who I could share a story about my childhood or talk about sports. Cricket is a sport that many of us in southeast Asia understand, a sport which resonates with us. We play different sports and listen to different music.  We have, as Rose mentioned, intersectionality.  So, that sense of belonging is not there; it’s a very lonely place, and you are also trying to figure out the work situation. At work, in a water cooler conversation, everybody is talking about the football game from last night, and you’re trying your best to fit in, but you can’t. So, it’s very apparent to you that you don’t fit in. Even though you may be killing it at work, not having that support can undermine your self-confidence. That feeling permeates into work. Having some support groups that help you feel more comfortable in your skin would have been very helpful. They can help you figure out that you don’t have to assimilate but can integrate, and you know the difference.  As Rose said, because we went through it, we don’t want anybody else to go through it. We want people to learn from our experience and see how we can pay it forward.

With PWIC, it was the idea that we have all these women coming from these different contexts. Some are born here, and some aren’t. But, in every conversation I’ve had with different people, e.g. a chapter in Pakistan, Europe, and North America, there are underlying threads,  issues, and very similar circumstances. So, if we started talking, we would all find those threads, and there’s something very comforting about having that. 

At work, you’re always the one flying the flag of being the perfect (single) example of your kind. It’s a lot to shoulder. It’s a million tiny paper cuts every day that exhaust you, and you don’t even realize it. Being able to integrate well and having support when you’re going through a family or health crisis or any other personal crisis is vital for your mental health. What I love about our current work environment is the open conversation and recognition of the importance of mental health. Understanding what communities are available for mental health and not just for work is very important.  

Especially for young people who have gone through COVID, it is a very different context – having to start work life remotely. What helped me a lot as an immigrant, who was integrating, was going into the office and finding people of all experience levels willing to share, help, and support. I learned by example. I learned more because I got to interact with people in person. But, unfortunately, I see a whole generation of kids who are not getting that [due to COVID]. 

Continue to Part 3 to read more about women in startups and how to navigate the current tech climate.

Latina Computing Professionals Panel at Tapia 2022!

by Adriana Alvarado Garcia, Karla Badillo-Urquiola, Brianna Posadas, Wendy Roldan

Latina women, historically underrepresented in computing [1], face additional challenges starting their careers. To bring awareness to this issue, we organized the panel “Becoming a Latina Computing Professional: Barriers and Accomplishments” for the 2022 Tapia Conference. We enjoyed reconnecting at Tapia and sharing our lived experiences with current Latinas navigating the job market and the recruiters of future generations of computing professionals. Based on our conversations and collective reflections, we summarize three key takeaways: 

Job Searching as an Interdisciplinary Scholar Takes Persistence 

A key theme in our conversations was navigating the job market as interdisciplinary scholars. Wendy shared how her research on children and families, equity, and design education positioned her well to interview for academic, non-profit, and industry roles, but it also came at a tradeoff. Brianna shared her experience positioning her work in a new space like agriculture. Being on the job market as an interdisciplinary scholar can be tricky, as the candidate can be “too much” or “not enough” of one discipline depending on the institution. It also makes the job search longer, as finding an institution that appreciates and supports an interdisciplinary research agenda takes more discussion and negotiation.   

Career Choices are Informed by Personal Values and Virtues

Navigating the job market during COVID-19 helped illuminate the importance of centering our values and the kind of life we wanted to live. For example, managing the dissertation and the academic job market simultaneously contributed to Karla’s stress-induced illness. She had to prioritize her health and family when choosing the right department. Likewise, when comparing her job options, Wendy faced the challenging position of letting go of her dream to become a professor. Instead, she prioritized her happiness and lifestyle. Growing up in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, Adriana prioritized large cities over small towns.

Community is the Key to Success 

Our stories demonstrated how critical it is to have a strong support system to learn about the “hidden curriculum” of the job search. We all built a network of peers and mentors who share our identities in the Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Science fields by attending mentoring events such as the CHI-Mentoring workshop (organized since 2010). In addition, the Tapia conference is a prime resource for connecting with other Latino computer scientists. Our mentors advised us through our job search, educated us on the unspoken rules of interviewing, and served as sounding boards as we debated offers. We also asked them questions about aspects of the position that were important to us, but not always covered by recruiters: Is there a strong Latino community? Is there a Spanish-speaking Catholic church? Is there support for spousal hires?

We call on the computing community to create supportive spaces for the underrepresented and to promote transparency in the process of recruiting for academia, industry, and other career paths. We look forward to continuing these discussions in more spaces for other Latina computing professionals to share. We thank Dr. Manuel Perez Quiñones for being our strong ally.  

[1] https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/women/

Get Ready for an Exciting womENcourage 2023, in Norway!

By Alexandra Dediu, ACM-W Europe Communications Chair

womENcourage 2022, Cyprus

womENcourageTM 2022 was held in Larnaca, at the University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus (UCLan Cyprus). The event was attended by internationally recognized speakers, judges and mentors. The attendees were welcomed by the president of ACM, the president of ACM-W and the president of ACM-W Europe, in addition to the local chairs, organisers and supporters.

We hope you enjoyed all the sessions, and in case you missed them, we are waiting for you next year!

womENcourage™ 2023 will take place at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway, on 20-22 September 2023.

The theme of the conference is Computing Connecting Everyone. The general chairs will be professors Kerstin Bach and Letizia Jaccheri. We met the organizing team this year when they attended the event in Larnaca. 

Trondheim is Norway’s capital of technology and history. It was founded in 997 by the Viking King Olav Tryggvason and held a special place in Norwegian history and culture. Today, Trondheim is Norway’s innovation capital with many research, development and innovation activities. 

The conference will be anchored at the Computer Science Department of NTNU. The department has 3000 students and 300 employees across three campuses of which 30% are female.

We are looking forward to meeting you there. Please follow the conference website for updates throughout the year and details for participants.

The 4th Summit on Gender Equality in Computing (GEC’22)

by Alexia Giouroukou

The 4th Summit on Gender Equality in Computing (GEC’22) took place in Thessaloniki on June 16th -17th, 2022. GEC’22 summit was opened with the welcome talks from Efstratios Stylianidis (Vice-Rector for Research and Lifelong Learning of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki) and Panagiota Fatourou (chair of the Greek ACM-W Chapter). The first keynote speaker, Dr Alexandros Triantafyllidis (Professor at the School of Biology AUTh), shared uplifting messages of solidarity and social responsibility to support at-risk researchers based on his involvement in Inspireurope, a Horizon Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action.

The summit continued with the very interesting workshop entitled “Act Together – The Role of H2020 Projects and EU Initiatives & Their Impact on Gender Equality in STEM”, organized and implemented by the EU H2020 programme, so-called “Sister Projects”, with the main subject the presentation of the impact of each EU project on the EU gender equality targets and the settings in which they are addressed. The project’s aim is to form a strong and sharing society by changing the stereotypes and giving equal opportunities.

During the first-day poster session, intriguing flash talks were given by undergraduate, graduate and PhD students, as well as young researchers and professionals of any gender, to disseminate their research work and discuss their ideas with the other GEC participants. The day concluded with a keynote talk and an inspiring discussion with Dr Marily Nika (AR Product Lead at Google and a Fellow at Harvard Business School), who provided a perspective on being a woman in tech and shared her lessons learnt on leveraging AI towards creating value.

The Dean of the Faculty of Sciences of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Prof. Hara Charalambous, opened the curtain of the second day with an inspiring welcome talk. The keynote talk by Prof. Evimaria Terzi (Professor of Computer Science at Boston University) covered and discussed various approaches to creating the “best” team and the open problems in this emerging area with a vibrant Q&A with the audience.

The industrial panel entitled “Career Pathways & Opportunities in Computing” revealed a more sensitive and personal aspect of the event, as it gave the opportunity to acclaimed employees from Pfizer, Accenture, Vodafone, Deloitte Greece and Netcompany-Intrasoft, to share their experiences in the marketplace, how they overcome the
obstacles and difficulties and give valuable advice to younger employees.

The young researchers continued to share their work and innovative ideas and findings during the second poster session. Following the poster session, Dr Antonia Gogoglou (Machine Learning Software Engineer for Meta/Facebook in the USA), gave a very personal keynote speech, where she shared her experiences in both academia and industry as a woman in tech, talked about her personal views on gender equality in the field of Computer Science and the emerging challenges the field faces.

Then it was time for creative and playful experiences! We had the honour to host Dr Hanne-Louise Johannesen (CEO and Co-founder of Diffus Design), who organized an exciting and interactive workshop. Altogether, a visual matrix representing core aspects of GEC’22 was created. The matrix contained combinatory understandings of different technological terms (e.g., AI, ML, HHI, HCI) and key topics (e.g., gender, ethics, community, equality), while the outcome was fascinating.

The workshop “Becoming Better Together – Learning Through Mentoring”, was organized by Prof. Geraldine Fitzpatrick (Professor of Technology Design and Assessment and header of the Human-Computer Interaction Group in the Informatics Faculty at TU Wien Austria) and Prof. Panagiota Fatourou (Université Paris Cité, France & University of Crete and FORTH, Greece). The workshop aimed to inspire a culture of mutual support where Greek academic women, students and young researchers identify and promote each other’s talents and achievements, recognize their strengths and investigate the potential of contributing as mentors to younger peers.

Last but not least, Amalia-Michaela Sotiropoulou (Resourcing Consultant of Vodafone), was excited to present Vodafone’s journey from Telco to Techco and its youth opportunities for employment.

During the 2-day event, five of GEC’22 sponsors (Accenture, Deloitte Greece, Netcompany-Intrasoft, Pfizer and Vodafone) were present in the exhibition/posters area, willing to develop fruitful discussions about their companies’ opportunities with young, promising researchers, while at the same time networking with all the summit’s participants.

The entire event has been recorded and is made available on the Greek ACM-W Chapter’s YouTube channel.
GEC’22 would like to thank its supporters and sponsors, all who contributed to making this event so successful, and of course, its attendees for their participation and enthusiasm!

1st Greek ACM-W Chapter Winter School on Fairness in AI

Starting this year, the Greek ACM-W Chapter, with the support of the ACM Europe Research Visibility working group (ACM Europe RAISE), organizes a series of annual winter schools, on timely computer science related topics. The main goal of the school is to offer the opportunity to young computer science professionals to learn, interact and make a difference.

The inaugural edition of the Greek ACM-W Chapter Winter School (GECSW22) took place online on February 24-25, 2022. Living the revolution of AI, with issues of biased treatments, exclusion, and unfairness being raised, the topic could not be anything else than “Fairness in AI”. Participation was free but limited to facilitate interactions. After the selection process, more than 60 participants from more than 20 countries had the opportunity to be part of the

Introduction to GECSW22

Top scientists from around the world presented their exciting work on the topic in the two-day event. Participants learned, through scientific talks and tutorials, the fundamental theory behind algorithmic fairness, the state-of-the-art in ranking, recommendations, web search, online markets, computer vision & some software tools. Also, they understood the need for a broader, multidisciplinary treatment including police, education, legal, philosophical and societal views.

2 Full Days of Activities

For a more engaging and interactive virtual school, participants were divided into working groups. Each working group (7 people) had to complete a small task (see image). At the end of the conference, the participants presented their work and voted for the best presentation.

Working Group Assignment

The entire event was live-streamed with the help of people from Athena Research Center and has been recorded on the Greek ACM-W Chapter’s YouTube channel. (Respecting the personal data of the students, their presentations have not been recorded)

The full program of the event is still available on the official website of GECSW22.

GECSW22 Agenda

GECSW22 would like to thank its supporters and sponsors, all who contributed to make this event so successful, and of course its attendees for their participation and enthusiasm! Until the next GECSW, see you at the 4th Summit on Gender Equality in Computing by the Greek ACM-W Chapter!