Interviews

Interview with Andrea A, Trinity University First-year CS student

What got you interested in CS?

I think there is just so much that you can do with computer science. Computer science just opens the door to a lot of different things. Like, everything nowadays needs computer science; we’re all on our computers.

Have you noticed any serious gender gap in your CS classes?

Oh actually, the class that I was in, like the whole front row in the computer science lab was made up of girls. There was actually a really good amount of girls in there.

So, you withdrew from the introductory computer science course this semester, what prompted you to do so?

Well, my grades weren’t that great, and I felt like if I started over next semester I could do better. Because I really want to do [computer science] but it wasn’t working at this point. And I just need to start over.

So you’re still interested in CS? First semester didn’t deter you?

No, I know I can do it. I just need to be in the right mindset. I just did not really come in that prepared and just the whole starting off college and everything—it just wasn’t the right time for me yet. All of the professors are really enthusiastic and really encouraging. And I really like that about here. Computer science is definitely something that you have to come into and be ready to read a lot and actually really follow along with the lessons. If you slack off a little bit you are going to get left behind. So I suggest before taking [CSCI-1320] maybe get the book beforehand and watch a couple of the videos for Scala. And keep up with the reading and do the homework, because computer science is hard but interesting.

Interview with Julia K, Trinity University sophomore CS student

What led you to CS? What prompted you to take the intro course last year?

In high school I did a lot of engineering/pre-med stuff, I always knew that I wanted to go into science. And then I did like the coolest thing ever and I went to engineering camp one summer. It was basically just overnight camp but they made us learn how to code and do MATLAB and C and C++, and I just really liked it. I actually liked it a lot more than I did the actual engineering stuff. So I decided I would rather code than be an engineer.

So you had experience with C and C++, but had you ever tried working with Java or Scala (which Trinity teaches intro classes in).

I got here and I barely knew what I was doing. I had some basic stuff from camp, but that was it. I kind of just stuck it out.

Have you ever had a moment where doubted majoring in CS?

Oh, all the time. I can think of a million reasons why anyone would quit CS. I mean, they make it hard for a reason. Kind of all of last year I was just wondering if this was like, the right thing for me, but, I don’t know. I just stayed in the classes and talked to my professors and my advisor and he thought I should at least stay one more semester and he was right, I actually really enjoy it. Once you finally start learning how to code and have a sense of what you’re doing it’s not even that bad anymore.

What is one moment that you are particularly proud of in you programming experience thus far?

I think it is hard to differentiate the moments because when you finish something and it works, and you know you did it all by yourself—you figured it out all by yourself—there’s nothing like that feeling. It is just like a straight high. And that’s how it is every time. So I cannot necessarily differentiate each time, but it is pretty freaking awesome.

So what is your goal in industry? Do you want to work in a technical position?

I don’t know, I mean coding is fun, but it’s not the entire industry. And I’d like to get out and see what that’s like, just try everything—whether it’s technical or managerial or something like that.

Have you ever had an experience with imposter syndrome? Have you ever felt like maybe you weren’t as qualified or as good as other around you?

Oh, everyday of my life. But, that is what makes it fun. For me it’s not necessarily a competition but it is a lot more fun for me to think that I am playing catch up and it makes me work a lot harder. It helps to motivate me.

What advice would you give a young girl who wants to go into a STEM field of study?

Definitely try it. Try all facets of it, see what you like see what you don’t and don’t just quit because you think it is hard are you don’t think you can do it. Because you definitely can, you just have to stick with it. But at the same time, don’t stick with it just to stick with it, stick with it because you like it. CS is badass. It is going to be one of the most important jobs in the next 20 years and everyone should take a class.

Interview with Dr. Mark Lewis, Trinity University CS professor

How did you get involved with computer science when you were younger? It was when I was young. One of the first home PCs that came out was the TI-99 and this was a small device that had a keyboard, the computer part was built in, and it hooked up to a TV. And my parents bought one, so I started playing around with it and I was seven at the time. On that particular machine you had two options, it had a little cartridge thing you could push in much like a came cartridge or you could program in basic. Those were your only two options. So anyone who had a computer at that time, you learned how to program because that was about the only thing you could do on your computer. And then it was something that I kind of continued pursuing playing with. I also do a lot of physics stuff so there were periods of time where I would use the computer primarily as a tool for physics and math and then when I came to college I double majored in the two.

How aware are you of the gender gap in the tech industry? I don’t know about the tech industry, but in this department, very. Though I feel like it has improved—so, one of the things that happened after the dot com bubble burst, enrollment in computer science nation wide dropped. And the media liked to talk about outsourcing and basically they had this line that there were, ‘no more programming jobs in the US. All the programming jobs were going to India and you just couldn’t get a programming job in the US.’ Which of course wasn’t true. But a lot of people believed it. And there were a lot of times that at recruiting events I would have to convince parents that their were still jobs in computer science. But that had an interesting impact upon the gender balance because in a small department like our if the enrollment goes below a certain size, we’d have situations where freshman year you would have like two, maybe three women come in; they were probably in different sections of the classes, they didn’t necessarily know about each other and when the numbers get too small there is a significant feeling of isolation. And so, you would go from having just a small number of women to zero because they’d felt like they were alone and drop out [of CS]. Because enrollments are going up now that aspect is kind of naturally fixing itself. Where getting past that threshold where people feel like they’re isolated and just having other women around helps the ones that are there stick around in the department. So I feel like we’re getting almost up to about 30 percent. So last year the algorithms class that I taught was about 7 out of 21. So around 3o percent is what we are seeing in this department right now. Obviously that is still not parody, but compared to the 10 percent where it had been not too long before that, it’s an improvement. It’s a significant improvement. In industry, I don’t actually see industry all that much, I read the reports on it, but that’s not what is highly visible to me.

How do you feel the Women in Computing club is affecting the gender disparity here at Trinity? How is it doing and how do you think it is helping? I think [Trinity University Women In Computing] is beneficial in that it prevents, once again, that sense of isolation. Everyone gets to see everyone else and acknowledge that there are other women in the department, and I think that is very beneficial. It forms a cohort of people that can support each other. It’ll be interesting, and in some ways since this is only the second year it has existed, you’ll have to see over time how this affects recruiting. Because this would be just at the beginning of possibly affecting recruiting. And in some ways it doesn’t impact first year recruiting. First years come in and are picking what they want to major in based on what they thought they wanted to major in prior to getting to Trinity. Where it could have an interesting impact is if sophomores who are disillusioned with whatever their first choice major was, how often women in that situation choose to look at computer science. And I think Kylie [the president] has done a very good job making this visible across the campus, so it will be interesting to see how much of an impact that has because it definitely could have a significant impact but we won’t know for a few years yet.

What is the department itself at Trinity doing to increase visibility just within the university? In some ways walk a fine line there, because our enrollments are growing whether we do anything to increase our visibility, right now computer science is a hot field—here and everywhere else. Which, we are currently at seven faculty and we’re overloading a few of our classes next semester to get everyone in, which leads to the, ‘Hmm, maybe we don’t want to recruit too heavily right now.’ Next year we should have an eighth faculty member that will allow us more flexibility to do such things. Once again, after the dot com bubble burst and there was that low point, I actually went and put of posters and stuff like that and tried to just promote computer science in general. I would do things like out up stuff on lower campus where the first years were running around. Right now we haven’t been because were at a stage where, at least this year, we don’t want too many more people. In some ways we’d love to have them but we don’t have seats for them. So hopefully the addition of another faculty member next year, and a lot of things are happening even outside of us. So, the MIS [management information systems] minor is growing in popularity, the business analytics major that was just created requires CS 1. SO there are a number of things that are happening outside of the computer science department that are pushing more people to take at least an intro course in it. We think that’s wonderful, as long as we can staff them. We’re kind of in a phase right now where we don’t feel a strong need for us to promote for people to come into computer science. We do for the recruiting, so we have this Trinity in Focus event coming up and we participate in those things, we try to get first years coming in who are interested in it and make sure they realize that Trinity does have a strong computer science department. And especially if you compare it to other small schools in Texas, none of the other small schools in Texas really come close to what we have. Rice is the only other school below 10,000 that has a strong computer science department. And so we want to make sure that people are aware of that, who visit here to know that it is an option. And that’s one of the things that computer science faces is that a lot of high school students think that if you want to major in computer science that you need to go to a big engineering type university. And that’s really not the case. You have to be selective in what small schools you look at, but there are a lot of benefits to having the individual attention a place like Trinity can provide when you are learning to code. Because honestly, learning to program can be extremely frustrating and that’s how computer science starts off. The end goal is you use the computer to build wonderful things and affect peoples lives, but in order to do that you have to learn how to talk to a computer. So the early steps of learning how to program can be very challenging for a lot of people; and it really helps to be able to come in and talk to faculty and get one on one time. Which you don’t do at UT or A&M.

What do you suggest a student who is late to the game but still wants to learn how to code do? So the question is how much do you want to learn how to code. So how much is your desire and how far do you want to go. So if you want a basic knowledge, a course we have for that is CSCI-1311, which unfortunately because of the staffing issues we’ve had very few sections of, so we have one section of it right now for next spring, but it is full and has 24 people on the waitlist. So that one is a little over subscribed, our hope is to have more seats there because that is really intended to be a general introduction to computer programming. And if all you wanted was one class to give you the basics that’s the route you would go. But that class doesn’t necessarily lead on to anything, it is not the prerequisite for anything we do. So then CSCI-1320, which is our standard CS 1, is a more rigorous introduction that leads on to CS 2, there is a low level computing class on through the major or the minor. It turns out the way our major is structured you can start the beginning of your sophomore year and you don’t have to break any prerequisites, our longest prerequisite structure is six semesters. So someone who is getting a late start as in the beginning of sophomore year, that’s not technically a late start for us. After that you won’t major in computer science, even picking up the minor at that point would be potentially challenging, just getting the number of hours in. Some of the majors like engineering and pre-med start off really broad because you have to take—so for premed you have to take your chemistry and your biology and you need an intro physics class and you need some calculus, there’s this whole set of intro classes that you don’t even have time for so they end up getting staggered a little bit. Engineering has a similar type of thing, where right off the bat they’re like, ‘You need to take all of this.’ We’re not like that. We have one class right up front; it is our introductory programming course and then things kind of spread out after that.

INTERVIEW WITH DR. MARIA KLAWE 10/1/2014

(0:02) How do you increase student knowledge about this lack of diversity and the importance of closing the gap, (specifically students who might not be privy to these kinds of lectures and aware of this gender gap)?

So I think one of the most important things is to talk about it. It’s really surprising that this is the only discipline where participation by women has declined. So talking about how unusual it is that you have these great jobs, and not enough people for them, and that women could do really well in computer science, and they’re not doing it. So you know, I actually I mean there have been articles in the press, there are blogs about it, there’s tv and radio. But I actually I think among student communities [you should] put it on your Facebook page, share it with your friends, encourage your friends to make it go viral.

(1:07) Do you have any advice for girls or minorities who are at universities where they are especially underrepresented, somewhere where they’re not as fortunate as we are at Trinity to kind of have equal footing? Or places where the “bro-culture” is very prevalent?
I think one of the really important things is to talk to the department chair. In my experience, the place that most change comes from is from the department chair. It’s also really important and it sounds terrible but, whining is not usually the right approach. Usually being constructive and optimistic and saying ‘I’d love to work with you to change this’ and ‘here are some of the ideas I have’. You can look at things like the Anita Borg Institute, NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology), there’s a variety of organizations that basically give you a bunch of tools to make change. So going to your department chair with enthusiasm and preferably a couple of you so it’s not so scary, and saying we’d really love to help make this a place where women have a great experience. We’ve looked up all of these resources and here are the kinds of things that make a difference, and we’d like to work with you to make it happen. I think most faculty members, particularly department chairs, when they have a couple of energetic and enthusiastic young women coming and saying we want to help you change the culture, they embrace it. The second thing is, if you try that, and you basically get a department chair who is sort of too tired, go to the department administrator or the secretary and ask who the most friendly or the person most likely to follow to be interested in this, and then follow that advice. So start with the chair because it’s always best to start there, but then if you get pushed back or if you just don’t get a lot of enthusiasm with them saying, “I’m really too busy to take this on”, then you talk to the secretary or administrator, because she will always know, it’s almost always a she, and she will know who cares about this issue.

Interview with Dr. Luz Cristal Glangchai 9/22/2014

When approaching an investor with a start-up, you talked about often times there aren’t very many women there. Did you feel like you had to pitch differently because you are a woman? “So the interesting thing is, I don’t know if I felt like I had to pitch differently because there were no women to pitch to, but I did feel like I had to dress very conservatively, like in a suit. I tried not to show my femininity. So I didn’t feel like I had to be more aggressive, but I did feel like I had to dress more like a man.”

So you experienced this with NanoTaxi (her first company), did you feel like you had to that when you were pitching VentureLab? “By the time I got to VentureLab I didn’t care any more what the guys thought, so I just dress like this (gestured to self).”

What skills should all women be proficient in in technology? “That is kind of a hard thing to say, ‘All women.’ But, I mean, everyone needs to know excel, everyone should need to know how to do a presentation, whether it’s keynote or powerpoint, everyone should know how to use a computer, cellphones.”

Would you recommend coding at all? “I don’t think that everyone needs to know coding, I think it’s good that everyone tries it. Like for me, I’ve tried coding, it’s just not my thing. I like mechanical stuff better. But I think everyone should definitely try it and take a class on it. I took a class a long time ago in C+, so I suggest everyone tries it to see if they like it or not, but I don’t think it is a skill you have to have.”

What would you describe VentureLab’s work culture as? “Part of our core values, one is to always be innovative, two is to have fun, and three is to make sure it is always a safe environment. Our environment is very laid back, so jeans, shorts, t-shirts. I’d say that is more the techie feel, so like, if you go to Geekdom or RackSpace, everyone is very low-key and casual.”

When you worked in engineering did you feel like you had the same opportunities as men to advance? “No, definitely not. No, so it…the interesting thing, and this happens a lot, is ou’d go and you’d make a presentation and you’d say this great idea and then you’d sit down and then the guys next to you–say his name is Jim–would be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this great idea, we’re going to do x.’ And all of the other guys are like, ‘Ah, that’s so awesome.’ And there you are sitting there saying, ‘Wait a second, I just said that.’ There is some sort of weird, subconscious thing where the guys in the room, they don’t kind of notice you’re there. It is very very interesting, I’ve had this happen like three times.  So one time I was in an investor meeting and they needed an expert in nanoscience, and these guys all knew me, like we’re friends. And they were like, ‘Gosh you know, we really need this advisor to help us on this nanoscience issue,’ and they were like, ‘What about Bob, what about Joe?’ and I was just sitting there seeing how long it would take for them to say my name. So finally I raise my hand and was like, ‘Guys, right here.’ So, there’s just something interesting that I think even when women are going in, trying to get to the next level the management are guys that just kinds of overlook you.”

How do women in tech treat other women? Is it competitive? Collaborative? Indifferent? How would you describe that? “You know, I don’t know because there have never been that many women that I’ve worked with. I think some of the older women have been a little more competitive, but I’d say a lot of the younger women are a lot more collaborative.”

How do you think women and technology at the academic or university level compare to women at the professional level? “One thing that I’ve noticed is that women in academia were definitely much less collaborative, but I think that is true of a lot of professors. The kind of have that pompous mindset. I think the women in tech industry were much more jaded, because as a professor it is much more of a cushy job, and in tech you’re working 60-80 hours a week non-stop.”

How would you advise women in college to getting into the entrepreneurship field? “I’d say take a business class. I don’t think there are any technology commercialization classes [at Trinity University] but I would definitely say that. Because before I took that class I was just pure engineering and science and that was the class that completely changed everything for me. So for me, personally, I would take a technology commercialization class.”

Interview with Dr. Kimberly Hambuchen 10/08/2014


(0:12) Did you play a lot of video games when you were younger?

I didn’t, I had this conversation at lunch today and somebody was telling me you obviously play some kind of game, I don’t know. I played Nintendo Super Mario Brothers and that was it. I take that back I did play quite a bit of Atari when I was very young. But I was’t like a gamer. I would not call myself a gamer at all. I actually went to arcades and played the big machines, that was big when I was in middle school. So I did that sort of thing, everybody did that. So no! I really didn’t.

(0:52) We were all wondering about it because you said that joysticks were used to control the robot’s movement.

Yeah and you know honestly I makes me crazy to run these robots, I just ended up in this position because that’s the software I develop, but it makes me crazy. When I can hand it off to somebody off I’m like yee-haw you go for it just make sure you don’t crash the robot. So it’s not really that I enjoy the running of the robots so much it’s the human interaction side. How do we make these robots easier to operate.

(1:24) Would you say that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of you job? What would you say is the most rewarding and whats the coolest technology you’ve ever used?

I mean I going to nerd out and say coming and doing things like this, getting to spread the word on what we’re actually doing, especially when we have little kids come, and girls who are really interested in robots. They want to participate in their first robotics team but they don’t know if they just want to hang out with all the boys, they don’t know. Seeing girls get really excited to see another girl telling them about you know what she does in robots and this advanced work, so thats really the best part of my job. And i get to do that a lot because we do a lot of tours at NASA. Coolest technology, I was recently blown away by something we did, I want to say it was when we finally got Valkyrie walking and it actually walked over to something, like a valve, and it turned the valve, we were all just stunned, we couldn’t believe it was actually happening. So really that robot, in the time frame we put that thing together, I can’t believe we did it and actually made it do some stuff, you know, more than some other teams actually were doing at the competition, so Valkyrie is a really cool robot, its gorgeous when you see it move it also is mechanically and control wise, which is getting really technical, it is the best robot we’ve ever built.

(3:24) And she’s a she, which is original in itself.

That was someone’s idea on the team and we were like thats beautiful, that’s a brilliant idea lets go with it. I would say Valkyrie is probably the coolest piece of technology I’ve seen so far.

(3:41) And speaking of Valkyrie and the failure you experienced at the DARPA competition, what kind of advice would you give to young students, especially girls, because a lot of times girls will get into math or computer science classes and they’ll get impostor syndrome, where they feel like they’re doing worst than everyone else. So what advice would you give them about accepting failure and learning from it?

I have lived impostor syndrome for years, its only in the last few years, that I was like okay you can stop doubting yourself, you’re not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes. I think it may be a process of maturity, because I also know a lot of guys that I work with who still are like, somebody is going to figure me out soon, I think its a personality type, because I know a lot of guys who think they’re the greatest and they don’t know jack. They don’t know what they’re talking about, and I also know women who do that too. I don’t know how you get the experience into someone to tell them that they really are good enough, earlier than they’re going to experience it. I don’t really know, just at some point in your life you will realize you belong. But the failure thing its, in robots everything we do is a team effort, so the failure was everyones and its a lot easier to deal with when your entire team has failed. You’ve got people who can finally start to make jokes with you when you’ve stopped drowning your sorrows. Almost everything I do in robotics is a team effort, most of the time failure is a combination of everyones failures. It’s pretty easy to deal with failure when you’ve got a bunch of other people who are in your same boat. It’s not just one person who caused the failure, its a collection of issues that developed over a specific period of time, but then personal failures well I screwed up that, just keep chugging along. I don’t take set backs very hard or personally, but then I also don’t really celebrate the huge major achievements like I should, which is part of the impostor syndrome, they’ve never really effected me that badly, everything I’ve screwed up or failed at was, so cliche, a learning experience.

(6:45) Is that the advice you would give students, young girls especially, you just kind of learn from you failures?

Exactly, just go out there and do it jump off the bridge, because what’s the worst that can happen, I mean you fail and then you move forward.