An interesting, interesting event.

The entire evening/morning was scheduled around panels (and meals), including a student (undergrad) panel, a career panel, and a bioinformatics panel. There was a speech and a single panel the first evening. The others were Saturday morning.

I always find myself in a sticky place at these types of events, in which a minority gets together to discuss the fact that they are a minority, which much of the conference felt like. Okay, so women are a minority in the computing field, and it ain’t getting any better (worse, in fact). Why are we sitting here finding all the differences between male and female coding methods, and the differences in management styles, and differences in job opportunities? If we are here to celebrate women in computing, then let’s avoid male-bashing, let’s avoid ostracizing, let’s avoid separating. Because I think we all know women can do that quite well. (Kidding, kidding. Sorta. Um, not really.) It’s not a matter of how (stereotypical) male programmers hate documentation, it’s a matter of the fact that yes, women do tend to bring more of that to the table. It’s a matter of semantics, yes, but it also puts a very different spin on the conference. I wasn’t the only one to feel uncomfortable with some of the questions posed to the panels on those topics, because a very cool grad student brought that point up, seconded by several of us.

There was also a bit of affirmative action rah-rahing (blatant “let’s take advantage of the system while it’s open and we have the advantage”–don’t forget blacks aren’t the only ones used to fill quotas) that made some of us squirm. Actually, that same grad student and myself, openly.

This was the first time a regional women in computing conference (modeled after the national-level Grace Hopper conference, apparently) has been held, so it was very much a pilot run. Some things could do with improvement (there were, of course, evaluation forms), but it was really a very fun conference, and it was a heady feeling to be pioneering (even if I can’t stand the head pioneer) regional, more affordable, more accessable discussions on some of the issues in computing for women.

There was mad networking taking place. For example, many of the women present are involved in women in science/computing/etc. organizations at their universities, and I made friends with a couple of women (“older” women–they’d done the family bit, and both were back in college for CS/bioinformatics) that are holding another conference in April I may drive up to that focuses more on bioinformatics. The grad students were so interesting–almost exclusively Asian and Eastern European, which I didn’t expect, and friendly and willing to be made into exhibits for examination for us undergrads. They told me that most of the grad students at their colleges were international students, which surprised me. We discussed the differences in culture that cause the low rates of women in computing in the U.S.; apparently, it’s not unusual for a third of CS students at a university in India or Albania to be women.

I even crawled out of my shell (took me a couple of hours, though), and made friends with some crazy girls from DePauw. One was ridiculously immature, and got us yelled at by their next door neighbor for excessive noise (is it our fault the walls were paper thin?), and the other reminded me eerily of a super-smart girl I knew in high school. I got along very well with the latter chica.

An interesting situation with my room came up. For some reason, I was given a room with a single queen bed. And I had a roommate. Imagine my surprise when my door just opens seemingly at random as I’m settling in. Better yet, this roommate is the most notorious freshman CS in our school. Juniors and seniors know this chick and loathe her. Now, I had listened to the problems people had with her, but I didn’t know her well myself, so I sort of reserved judgement on her personality–she’d always been nice to me. I did believe the rumor of her questionable hygiene, however, and what was the first thing she said to me when she came in the room? “Sorry, but I overslept this morning and didn’t get to take a shower before my [Diff. Eq.] test, and I’ve been running around all day getting ready for the trip.” Okay, ew. I don’t want to hear the words “no shower” and “running” in the same sentence from a roommate, particularly when we carried some stuff down endless-seeming flights of stairs to load up the vans. And we were not sharing that bed–there would be none of that. I volunteered to take the couch, but she insisted on taking it. No, really, she did.

We actually got along surprisingly well. We talked for about an hour before I hit the hay that night, and there was no open strife at all. She’s got multiple interests, seems moderately smart, is borderline anti-social, and cares very little about external appearences. But she believes all the hype about Rose. And that’s scary. We were sitting at a breakfast Saturday morning with the DePauw chicas I met before and a moderator for the next panel, and anytime we started talking about some issue like professor discrimination or small campus attitudes toward women versus those of large campuses, she would always pull one of those, “Well, at Rose-Hulman, we’ve got…” and she would talk about how great and important RHIT is compared to other people’s universities. WTF, mate? She actually sat there and said, “You know, I visited [insert college, like IU], and thought the campus was very ugly. Rose is much prettier.” How disgusting. I like Rose, and I joke about it being superior (with the way they fly the damn “Best Engineering School” banners all the time, it’s a joke around here), and I think it’s pretty, but to sit there and say, after someone remarks that they enjoy the prettiness of their campus, that your campus is actually prettier, is just… Grr. Why didn’t she just whip out her non-existent dick and a ruler to set the matter straight? And she happened to be on the student panel. I was thoroughly embarrassed by some of the comments she made. I wanted to stand up and go, “Okay, now wait a minute…” even though we were on the same team. It was disturbing. Next year, I’ll volunteer for the damn panel, even though microphones and cameras are involved.

The event was… fun. I’m not sure it was mind-blowing, or particularly inspiring, but it was a unique social situation (90+ computer science women in a single damn room? Wow.) and it was wonderful to get to talk (one on one, and during the panels) with women with such a variety of different perspectives on some of the issues with computing jobs, education, and social stigmas. Well worth the loss of study time (finals next week–yay!) and the discomfort of not being home (I dislike hotel life).