Monday, October 4, 2010

Snippets from GHC2010 - Part 1: Anita Borg

One early morning (7:30 am to be more precise :D) at GHC2010, I had a special breakfast with Google scholars from all over the world.  I felt very fortunate to be part of this crowd. But even more fortunate to listen to Alan Eustace (Google Senior Vice President, Engineering & Research - at the time of this writing) talking about Anita Borg. It turns out Alan and Anita joined DEC's Western Research Laboratory the same day and they were friends for 15 years. 

Listening to Alan's memories of Anita Borg confirmed my impression of her. She was a fearless technical woman! I wish I remember all that was said... I'll try to document what I do remember. 

Anita Bord did research in systems with publications in the top conferences of the field (ASPLOS, ISCA, SOSP - check out her DBLP entry). It was during one of the SOSP conferences that she managed to get together all women in the conference (a handful), start the Systers mailing list and initiate what years later became Anita Borg Institute. It turns out that the first discussion happened in the ladies room. All women in the conference fit into one. I really think Anita would be really happy and proud to learn that at GHC this year, there were so many women that all men restrooms on several floors of the hotel were thoughtfully transformed in ladies rooms. Hard to believe? See it for yourself! 

Anita was a fearless spirit, she loved to dance, she loved to dress up, she didn't only talk about Woodstock, she actually went to Woodstock, and when she had an idea, it took only weeks to start making it happen. Apparently Alan and Anita used to walk to a coffee shop in Palo Alto and during these walks, she used to talk about her ideas on various topics. It took only a few trips to cristalize her idea of a conference for technical women, what is known today as Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. She was a leader in her field, not because she called herself one, but because everybody that truly knew her wanted to contribute and help make her ideas happen. Alan mentioned that although she's no longer among us, he can still "hear" her persuasive voice and vision. 

Anita had an amazing talent for public speaking. Her illness affected her ability to speak, but she did not give up on talking about women and technology even when it was hard to stay coherent. She truly dedicated her life to encourage women to be fearless and involve themselves in technology.  

I believe GHC is full of events that would make Anita proud: technical presentations, mentoring workshops, brainstorming on how we can encourage more women to participate in computing, and... dance. Oh, yeah, we danced! Someone saw me dancing and said something along these lines: "When I saw you talk in your session, I thought you were sooo serious. You're not that serious..." I added: "I'm very serious! I'm serious at work, serious at play too." :)

It took me three years of thinking about GHC before I actually participated in one. If you haven't started thinking about it, please do! Don't miss on the opportunity of meeting and be inspired by 2K+ women in computing. Next year, GHC is in Portland (Oregon), Nov 8-12. Save the date! (and the money to participate...) Or if you can, even better, participate in this year's GHC India

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