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Diversity in Computing 2011: Richard Tapia Conference

April 10, 2011
at 10:50 am PST

“You, who represent two worlds, should use both to move forward.” This year’s Richard Tapia Diversity in Computing conference started off with thoughts from the founder.  Richard Tapia is a mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  He is, among other honors, the first Hispanic elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

The conference focus was to bring forth traditionally underrepresented students in computer technology and create a welcoming environment to have technical discussions as well as to provide networking opportunities.

We were pleased to have Mei Wang represent Cisco at the Doctoral Consortium on Sunday. There were several of us at Cisco who attended to recruit students and listen in on some of the sessions.

Cisco Giveaway Fan
This year’s booth giveaway. You know you’re talking to computer scientists when the first thing they ask is: is the fan reprogrammable?

The panel and speaker topics ranged broadly. I heard that the speakers were asked to ensure their talks were technically accessible by all of the audience members (from freshman to PhDs).  So, it wasn’t a technical conference so much as a conference designed to expose students to the full gamut of possibility.

For example, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, Distinguished Engineer from Microsoft, managed to cover Gutenberg’s bible, Photosynth and mapping in his whirlwind talk about building a collective visual world. Here’s a link to his mindblowing 2007 TED talk about photosynth if you haven’t seen it.

The early career development workshops provided some nicely specific advice. Rather than just touching on the importance of mentoring, there was a solid list of things to discuss. Among them: Negotiation skills, Imposter syndrome; What would you have wanted to know when you were at my age?

In this video about his life, Richard Tapia closes with the statement: “I know who I am. I like who I am and this is where I want to be.” It is a big achievement to get to that kind of maturity and self-confidence. Even tougher when you are first in your family at college or first in your family in a technical field. The conference was definitely a way to accelerate this type of “who am I? What do I want to be?” learning for students.  Hats off the conference organizers.

Fav Quotes from the conference (thanks to @deanabea for live tweeting these!):

From William Wulf’s closing speech at the conference: “Creativity is finding unexpected connections between things we already know”

From Richard Tapia on opening day: “I’m not the best at anything, I’m just second and third and fourth at a lot of things”

Lessons Learned:

For Exhibitors/Sponsors:
- Bring a box cutter.  Luckily, I had a little swiss army knife on me to open up all the exhibit materials.  Some of my fellow sponsors used car keys. Conversely, it’s good to have packing tape for closing day to ship everything out again.

For SF Fairmont visitors:
- When the conference chair tells you to take a cab from the BART (rapid transit) station to the San Francisco Fairmont, you should listen. I got turned around by construction and ended up walking up California St.  Phew.

For new conference goers:
- Bring your resume to conferences.  You never know what opportunity might come up
- Talk to everyone you can. Get inspired and have fun!

Related post:

- 2009 Conference Attendee Joy Buolamwini’s post: Diversity in Computer Science (Laughable?)

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