Author Archives: Tracey Binnie

New girl in town?

Starting university is pretty daunting, especially when you’re going into a subject where you know you’ll be in the minority.  However, well done you for taking those first brave steps into studying a SET subject!  You’re going to do just fine.

If you’re still feeling a tad nervous, here are some handy hints to get you through the first few weeks:

  • Don’t be daunted if you’re the only woman on your course.  You may feel overwhelmed by the amount of testosterone in the room at first, but the nerves will pass and things will get better, I promise!  You won’t receive any special treatment, nor will you be singled out or ignored; you’ll be seen as just another student and soon enough you’ll forget that you’re the only one with two X chromosomes.
  • If your university has a group or network for women SET students, get involved as soon as you can.  As well has having a welcoming network for people in the same position as you, it’s a great opportunity to meet other women in your school or faculty and you will meet a lot of strong people from both academic and professional backgrounds.  If you’re a Scottish student, Interconnect can point you in the right direction.  If you’re studying at Edinburgh Napier University, I’m the Student Champion for our group, Connect, so please do get in touch if you’d like to join us.  I wrote a blog post about networking a while back, which you may enjoy reading.
  • There are loads of events for women in SET going on all the time.  Get yourself over to Eventbrite, a wonderful resource for finding out what’s going on in your area.  Many of these events are free, but if some require money your university may be able to help you with funding or even a free ticket.  Don’t be afraid to apply for events or conferences – a lot of students don’t be cause they think they won’t be successful, but how do you know if you never try?  I can highly recommend Target Jobs’s IT’s Not Just For The Boys!; this year they’re holding two events in London, so why not apply for both dates and see what happens?
  • Don’t alienate yourself by staying away from the guys.  You’ll find most of them to be very welcoming, plus you’ll have new friends to bounce ideas off.  If you are unlucky enough to run into the type of guy who likes to make jokes about sandwiches and kitchens, kick him inna fork just smile and walk away.  Alternatively, ask him why he hasn’t made you a sandwich – sorts like that don’t like the taste of their own medicine and will learn to leave you alone.  You may even find your newly-found male friends sticking up for you.
  • Lastly, you are a woman in SET and everyone salutes you.  We need more women and it’s fantastic that you’ve made it into your chosen subject, so let the bad stuff wash over you and focus on the positives.  University is a wonderful experience, so enjoy your studies, make the most of student life and celebrate your inner geek!

If there’s anything you’d like to add or ask me about on this topic, feel free to drop me a line.

Girl Geek Scotland: Conversations with Silicon Valley and Summer Startup Party

I was lucky enough to get hold of a ticket for this event, which was held on the 30th of August (last Friday) at Summerhall in Edinburgh and hosted by Girl Geek Scotland.  The evening was split into two parts:  a panel discussion featuring some Silicon Valley heavyweights, dinner and then a good old fashioned party, all mixed up with the usual networking opportunities.  There was a great mix of people from students and postgrads to entrepreneurs, industry professionals and academics from a large variety of geeky disciplines.

The panel, hosted by Suzanne Doyle-Morris, featured Ann Winblad, Heidi Roizen, Wendy Lea and Karen White.  All five women are held in high regard in Silicon Valley and are involved in more prestigious companies than you can shake a memory stick at, but have also been friends for many years.  This friendship really came across in the panel discussion as they talked about the topics raised by Suzanne, which focused on how they came to be where they are today and any advice they could impart to the room.  I admit that what I know about investment and venture capital could fit onto a postage stamp, but the panel were fantastic at keeping things simple for us dafties and some of their anecdotes had us rolling in our seats.

However, the best part for me was the truly inspiring advice given by each panellist.  Heidi in particular really spoke to me and seemed to be the most popular speaker with many others; she has such a wonderful sense of humour and made us laugh a lot, but at the same time the advice she gave based on her life was really invaluable.  I had totally forgotten that she was the subject of the Heidi Roizen Case Study, which is a really insightful and thought provoking read into gender stereotypes and assumptions on women made by both sexes.

The main pieces of advice I took away from the panel are:

  • Failure is okay as long as you learn from your mistakes
  • Don’t be afraid to compromise without selling yourself out
  • Be proactive!  If you want something, go for it
  • Do what makes you happy, not what pleases someone else

In addition to the many companies in attendance, we were joined by representatives from Spraffl, which added an extra dimension to the evening via the power of anonymous, location based social media – it’s essentially Twitter without the usernames.  Some of the comments that came through on the big screens were typical of an Edinburgh audience – one user commented on the delay of dinner by suggesting that the trams would be up and running before we got fed – but it was also a great opportunity for people to spraff (post) their thoughts on the panel discussions.  Sadly half of the room was alienated as it’s currently only available for iOS; I’m an Android user and I won’t bore you with my thoughts on this, but it really does grind my gears when we’re second fiddle to the hipsters, grr.

After dinner, we moved to the Anatomy Room (for those unfamiliar with Summerhall, it’s an old, venerable campus used by Edinburgh University’s veterinary school and still boasts many original features) for some pictures.  We then decamped to the Dissection Room for the party (no animals were harmed by the revellers), complete with DJ and bar.  I met some lovely people – Yasmin, if you’re reading I’d like to say thank you for the drink! – and am also considering taking part in Byte Night, a fundraiser night where people sleep rough in the Meadows in Edinburgh to raise funds for Shelter.  This will depend on if I am in America or not; more on that later, if I win a sponsorship place!

I’d like to thank Girl Geek Scotland for a fun, educational evening and look forward to attending many more.  One thing though – someone might want to tell the caterers that vegetarians and vegans don’t appreciate being served a plate of salad for dinner 😉

What I did on my holidays

I wish my holidays could have been as full of adventure as Twoflower‘s, but I reckon there’s still time!  I’ve been doing an awful lot to keep myself occupied over the academic break though, but with a lot less dragons and swords and sorcery to keep me occupied. Oh no, wait, that’s a lie because I finally finished reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to the reprobates), but I digress…

So we’re now into August and my summer holiday is almost over.  At the end of the academic year in May I decided to keep myself busy as I didn’t want to spend the summer lazing around eating crisps and watching telly.  Alright, so a large part of my evenings have involved corn based snacks and attempting to make space on the Sky+ box (so much to watch, so little time and HDD space), but I’ve done other things too!

The first thing I wanted to do is keep my brain turning by teaching myself some scripting, C# and SQL in preparation for second year and I’ve spent a lot of enjoyable afternoons working on these via Code Academy, ProgZoo and SQLZoo.  Although I’m not a software engineer at heart, I do think that it’s important to have at least a basic grounding in this area and as a networker I’m going to have to learn scripting at some point.  I know a few people on my course who would disagree with me here, but sys admin isn’t all about typing sudo yum into a terminal and eating pizza, guys.  If only it was though *sighs*.  I’ve also been messing around with the likes of AWS to learn more about cloud services, which has also been a really useful exercise.

I’ve also been doing a lot of work – yes, actual paid work, who’d have thunk it?  Half of my work schedule has seen me working with my husband, who set up a web consultancy business after he graduated last year (he does more than websites, so if you’re looking for a talented developer he’s your man *nudge nudge*).  I’ve also been working with the Scottish Resource Centre on a part time basis, which has been really educational and thoroughly enjoyable.  Having a small child to entertain through the summer months means I can’t really work on a full time basis, so the flexibility of both jobs has been perfect – keeping just one child entertained for seven weeks is hard work!  If she had her way she would spend her entire summer holidays glued to Minecraft; I play too, but when you find yourself demolishing a mountain for the giggles it’s time to put the Xbox controller down…

MATT DAMON!

Speaking of gaming, I found my old PS2 and a box of games while clearing out a wardrobe, hurray!  Luckily the main television has an analogue tuner in it so it was a simple case of plugging in the RF cable, tuning the telly to channel 36 and going on a FFX binge.  Good times.

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The best bit about the holidays though has been the time to work on the home projects.  We turned our Raspberry Pi into a media server using XBMC, making streaming from the network drive a doddle.  However, there comes a time when a household like ours needs better connectivity and so I’ve planned out a proper home network for us, using the old PC as a server.  We desperately need a decent wifi network upstairs too (concrete floors and a bejesusload of cavity wall insulation does not make for a strong wifi signal from the router downstairs), so I’ve made a wishlist of hardware to buy in September (UK based students will know).  Sadly the spare router fell over and died while being used to broadcast a secondary WAP, but I guess you can’t expect a cheap router from your previous ISP to last any longer than three years, never mind six…

XBMC on our telly

So there you have it.  The weather’s been great, work is fun and I’ve been spending lots of time with the wee one.  In preparation for the madness of September I’m going to sit back, enjoy some relaxation time and Film4’s Studio Ghibli season.

Interconnect Student Champion

 

Interconnect

 

Recently I applied for the position of 2013-14 Interconnect Student Champion for Edinburgh Napier University.  I got the job; huzzah!

The job involves promoting and developing Interconnect activities and events working with staff and liaising with my fellow students.  On a more local level I’ll also be working on promoting Connect within the university with the lovely Maria, who will be representing the engineers.  As there are a few champions dotted around the country, we will be meeting several times throughout the year to discuss our collective experiences and our thoughts on how the network is developing both local and nationally.

I’m slightly nervous as the role is brand new and I want to set a good precedent for the future, however I’m also very excited as if my ideas work they might be used for years to come!  I really am looking forward to getting stuck in though and coercing encouraging more female students to get involved with the network.  My involvement with Interconnect last year was a huge confidence booster (being a female student in the School of Computing can get lonely at times) and it’s great to have such a wonderful support network to turn to, so if I can get the word out there to new and existing students Interconnect will hopefully be as beneficial to them as it is to those of us who are currently involved.  We might even be able to convince more women in study computing or engineering, which would really be fantastic.

Here’s to a successful 2013-14!

 

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Mmmm, Pi…

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Yesterday saw the latest arrival to the tech collection – the Raspberry Pi Model B.  We decided that we wanted to build a proper media server but the old PC is a tad on the bulky side and we have far too much clutter as it is, so decided to take the plunge with a Pi.

Setup was really easy, which was a case of setting Raspbian, the recommended OS, up on an SD card and putting it into the Pi.  If only all operating systems could be set up that way – I’m looking at you, Microsoft!  After the initial setup gubbins (which didn’t take long) I finally booted into the desktop and had a proper muckabout.  It’s a very smooth experience and the Pi is very responsive, although we had to swap the wifi keyboard and mouse for their USB cousins as the Pi doesn’t seem to like them.  That’s easily fixed though so I don’t consider that a disadvantage, although it is nice to be able to press a key without it repeating itself to infinity!

Buoyed over with her success with Marvin on the Transformer, my daughter wants to learn more programming.  Luckily with the likes of Scratch that’s going to be very easy – for those unfamiliar with the program, it offers a GUI method of programming and a simple, jigsaw like method for putting various parts of the program together.  The simplicity of it makes the learning process so much easier, plus the novelty of working on such a teeny computer will (hopefully) keep her interested.

Before she gets her grubby mitts on it properly though, I need to turn this baby into a media server.  A friend of mine sent over a great wiki using Ubuntu so I’m going to get my teeth stuck into that next week.  This will be extra fun as our router’s on its last legs – our ISP wants money for a replacement, which they can sing for, so I shall have fun wrestling with it instead as I attempt to set up a new device.  Game on!

End of Part One

That’s my first year of university over and done with!  I can’t believe it’s all over, time really has gone by so fast.

When I walked out of that last exam I had mixed feelings; a lovely sense of achievement at achieving so much over the past seven months, but a teeny wee feeling of sadness as I now have to find something to keep me occupied until September.  It sounds pathetic, but I’m actually going to miss university over the summer.

However, I do have a few bits and bobs to keep me going.  My SQL skills haven’t been touched since 2003 so I’m going to have a SQL for Dummies session in order to hit the ground running in second year.  My husband recently started his own web consultancy business (SHAMELESS PLUG) so I’ll be working with him to build the business up and get his admin sorted, courtesy of my awesome organisational skills.  I’m also going to hit t’interwebs and the university’s resources to gen up on C# and scripting – coding isn’t my strong point but I’m determined to get better at it!

We’ve also decided to finally get round to building that media server and have been inspired by one of our friends to build one with a Raspberry Pi running Ubuntu.  As a huge music fan this is the project I’m most looking forward to and am going to thoroughly enjoy tinkering.  Our daughter has shown an interest in coding so we can use the Pi as a resource for her too – everyone’s a winner.  We do have some work to do though as the pinnacle of her coding career thus far is below, but it’s a start:

10 PRINT "Daddy smells"

20 GOTO 10

Finally, now that I have around four months to myself I can finally get round to watching the hundreds of hours of telly still sitting on the Sky+ box.  Damn you Film4 and your Studio Ghibli season…!

BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium, 4 April 2013

bcsw_col_logo

Thursday saw fellow student Aga Banach and myself representing Edinburgh Napier University at this year’s Colloquium at Nottingham University.  I’ve spoken a lot about this event recently so I’ll keep the descriptions to a minimum, but the Aberystwyth University run event is a great opportunity for female computing students from across the UK to get together and meet industry professionals, academics and employers whilst mingling with their peers.  There is also a poster competition, with very generous prizes provided by the sponsors.

Aga and I were selected as finalists in the poster competition so the main sponsor, Google, very kindly paid for our travel expenses and accommodation.  Aga’s poster covered the digital matte painting process while I went for a poster detailing my journey through university:

aga_postertracey

We arrived in Nottingham the day before and spent an enjoyable evening wandering around and taking in the sights.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Nottingham if this guy isn’t mentioned at some point:

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Aga and I then retired to our accommodation, which was surprisingly nice for student digs!  I spent the evening working on my pitch for my poster while drinking tea and watching Netflix, my new favourite thing ever.

The event kicked off at 10 am, before which those of us who stayed overnight got to know each other over breakfeast.  After the welcome speech and inital tech talks we broke for lunch, where afterwards we set up our stands and spoke about our posters to the judges and other attendees.  There was a prize for each year plus a People’s Choice award, so Aga and I got an opportunity to take a look at the competition and vote for our favourite.  The range of subjects covered was huge, with a lot of brilliant projects and ideas on show.

I got a lot of positive responses from my poster and spent the afternoon chatting about what it’s like to be the only female networking student in my year and the support I get from the groups I’m involved with.  I had an especially lovely chat with one of the Google student recruiters about the cloud and big data, discussing our love for Dropbox (who very generously gave me 50GB of space when I bought my Galaxy S3) and how to manage listening to Google Music with mobile data allowances.  I’m with 3 so no data caps for me, huzzah!

I was also approached by Ann Danylkiw, who was there to make a documentary about the Colloquium and the experiences of women in tech.  I agreed to take part and had a lovely time chatting with another student on camera about our experiences, which were surprisingly very different but made for good subject matter.

Afterwards we had some more technical talks and the prizegiving.  Unfortunately Aga and I didn’t win anything, although we were very pleased for those who did as several were from Scottish universities – well done, Scottish winners!  Aga and I did spot a couple of factual inaccuracies in one of the winning posters (not sour grapes, just good old pedantry – honest!), however the standards were generally excellent and I have some ideas to think about for next year’s poster.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly at the Lovelace Colloquium and will definitely be attending again next year.  I would like to once again thank the organisers, in particular the lovely Hannah Dee, who worked so hard to put on a great event.

Here’s to next year!

Happy Easter!

 

Yummy Easter cake

 

So it’s finally Easter and the sun has even decided to come out, huzzah!  Our Easter weekend has been great, full of sunshine, homemade Easter cake, chocolate and a hormonal pet rabbit (a real one, not the decoration).

It’s also great to get a breather from uni, although I’ve set myself the task of getting some coursework done and handed in a couple of weeks before the deadline.  I’m using this time to gather my thoughts for the final push towards the end of the semester and my first year so I can go out on a high.  I really can’t believe how fast this year has gone in!

My first year has been fantastic and I’ve learned an awful lot.  The main challenge has been getting used to full time study again whilst learning how to juggle study time with family time, which is pretty difficult but doable once I set myself some rules and boundaries.  It’s been a while since I was first at university (doing journalism – what was I thinking?!) so although I knew what to expect, it still takes some time to get back into the swing of student life.  Luckily I’ve had lots of support from my wonderful family and the teaching and faculty staff, plus all the various groups and events I’ve become involved with to support the 20-odd women in first year.

Although this year wasn’t plain sailing all the way through, I feel really good about my experiences from first year – good and bad – and am all set for second year.  I’m not resting on my laurels yet though as I still have two class tests and my coursework to go, but the way the first year has been planned has been a great way to ease back into full time study.  From the support of the staff to practical tutorials such as report writing, I’ve built a really great foundation in my first year on which to continue forward.

Finally, please wish me luck in the poster competition at the Lovelace Colloquium tomorrow!

 

Edinburgh Napier Applicants Day 2013

Connect

Saturday saw me spending a very enjoyable – if freezing cold – morning helping to man (woman?) the Scottish Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SRC) stand at Edinburgh Napier University’s Applicants Day.

For the uninitiated, the SRC runs Connect, the Napier branch of Interconnect, a national networking group for female STEM students.  We set up our stand with the aim to speak with as many potential female students as possible and tell them all about our experiences with the group.

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In addition to applicants getting the opportunity to speak with us fabulous reps about how much fun we have being members of Connect, we laid on lots of information and freebies (the mind maps were designed by schoolkids for a sister project).  These babies went down rather well too:

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Engineering sweeties!  Oh yeah!

All in all it was a pretty successful day, with lots of applicants and staff alike stopping by for a chat and a lemon flavoured spanner.  The women we spoke with were mainly engineers so I didn’t get much of a chance to sell the School of Computing, however we all had a great time discussing why groups like Connect are so beneficial for female STEM students.  The main thing that came out of the discussions we had with applicants is that we all enjoy being part of such a lovely, friendly and resourceful network of women from lots of different disciplines.  After all, who can argue with cake, coffee and a good old moan about coding?

Interconnect field trip

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my first Interconnect outing, where we spent the day at the offices of Selex ES.

 

Selex

 

Around a dozen STEM students from various universities across Scotland spent a very enjoyable day hearing from several female engineers, who talked about their backgrounds and work with the company.  Selex is still very male dominated, but they are very focused on getting more women to work for the company and there are so many great opportunities for engineering and computing graduates.  It’s so heartening to hear the stories of women overcoming the prejudices and discrimination, even in university, and their subsequent success stories of sticking in, working hard and being recognised for their talents rather than their gender.

We also got a tour of the facilities, taking in areas such as the climate lab and manufacturing section.  My personal favourite was the section containing the near field and far field rooms, where they conduct various radar and antennae tests.  The staff who showed us round were clearly very enthusiastic about their work, showing us the equipment they work with and the various pieces of radar equipment they make.  A good amount of manufacturing is also done on site, although sadly we had to settle for looking through the windows when it came to the plant tour.  Everyone was very happy to answer our questions, of which we had plenty!

The only downside of the day came from one of the ladies looking after us.  After asking me what I’m studying (Computer Systems and Networks), she then assumed that I would be looking for an IT support job for a financial services firm after graduation.  Cue the Jackie Chan meme:

Jackie Chan

Alright, so maybe they want software engineers and mathematicians more, but to categorise me like that without even bothering to ask anything specific about my degree is downright insulting.  I mumbled something along the lines of “there’s more to my degree than that”, as I was so taken aback by her assumption, but by then she’d moved on.  Obviously the fact I study networking and found the antennae work really interesting means nothing to some people!

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Selex and loved the tour of the facilities in particular.  Their graduate scheme does look pretty good (the benefits are fantastic) and I would recommend you take a look.