WECode (Women Engineers Code) is the “largest student-run conference for women in computer science in the country,” dedicated to fostering a community of diverse technical women to share ideas on technology and innovation.
In the spirit of giving back to our community and fostering the next generation of women computer scientists, we sponsored Bunker Hill community college student Clare Roberts to attend WECode. Afterwards, we invited our sponsee to visit the Tulip office in Somerville to see what we do, learn about our product, and learn about working in a startup environment.
Read Clare’s account of her experience:
Recently, I had the privilege of attending WECode. WECode, held annually at Harvard University, is a conference by students, for women in computer science. As a woman pursuing a new career in computer science, I knew that a conference like this would be beneficial: more exposure to the industry and networking opportunities are extremely valuable when transitioning careers. What I didn’t expect was the boost of confidence that comes from listening to stories and anecdotes of women who have succeeded in this field.
The most pervasive theme to the weekend was one of empowerment. Each workshop, panel, and keynote speaker added their own twist: Dara Treseder (Carbon) urged us to chase opportunities that will create additional opportunities, and to find and use our voices. Zeina Barr (Raise the Barr) encouraged us to work outside our comfort zone to ensure the inclusion of our peers and colleagues. Catarina Macedo (Microsoft) advised us to be unafraid to say yes to advance your goals, even when you’re not sure you’re on the “right” path. Pooja Sankar (Piazza) emboldened us to be comfortable taking an unconventional approach to meet our goals, and to continue “knocking on doors” until someone says yes.
Inspiration and encouragement are vital, but career-specific advice is not to be underestimated, either. Zenia Barr pointed out that, while many companies work hard to recruit diverse candidates, few companies work intentionally to retain these candidates once they’ve been hired. The key is ensuring that there is a company culture where all employees—from the top to the bottom—value maintaining diversity at the company, and everyone is committed to including their colleagues in discussion and collaboration. I really appreciate this insight because finding a cultural fit is something that can be underestimated by folks while searching for a job, but coming from a place where you have a solid idea for what makes a culture a good fit for you and what you value is empowering.
Sam Chin (Tulip), an economics major who became a hardware engineer, provided some specific insights on how to transition from a non-tech background to a career in tech. For example, if something comes up in an interview, and we do not know about it, we should be unafraid to admit it, and even ask the interviewer about the topic. We should take notes on what the interviewer takes the time to explain, show active listening by repeating back any key points, and make a note to study that topic when the interview is over. No one knows everything; the important thing is being enthusiastic to learn (and showing it!). Prior to attending Sam’s talk, hackathon-type gatherings were nowhere near my radar. They did not seem accessible to me. She advised us that, whether or not we choose to participate in a hackathon, most have some kind of concurrent career fair opportunity. Later in the weekend, another student I met mentioned the hackathon that takes place annually at Mount Holyoke college. Within 24 hours, I went from thinking that hackathons were not accessible for me to taking time to research some and finding several that would be realistic for me to possibly attend.
Prior to attending the conference, hacking in general was not really something on my radar. To this point, most of my experience coding has been with simple programs that do not require any kind of authorization, encryption, or password protection. I think it’s fortunate, then, that I attended the workshop Tulip (Michael, Mason, and Nate) held that dived in to the perils of the Internet of Things. Specifically, Michael told us about a real-life example of a consumer webcam whose firmware had significant security flaws. The software for this webcam used passwords to protect some, but not all, of the various functions a user could use to interact with their device. The result is that a hacker could, remotely, give themselves admin privileges on the device and use it for their own purposes. Seeing the code that caused the vulnerability was influential in that, even before I am able to write software where privacy and encryption are paramount, I am given insight into how a potential hacker might approach trying to compromise my program. It’s clear to me that, even if something does not seem outwardly to need password protection, it’s likely not a bad idea to include it!
Overall, I feel very lucky to have been presented with the opportunity to attend WECode—thank you, Tulip, for sending me!