European Women in Technology 2018 — Conference Overview

Gabrielle Fournet — Data Scientist at Boost.rs shares with us her experience at the European Women in Tech Conference.

https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/women-in-technology-world-series/

I want to give you an overview of this amazing conference I went to at the end of last year and for which I was given the opportunity to present as a speaker: European Women in Technology (November 28th-29thin Amsterdam).

Who was the audience?

https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/women-in-technology-world-series/

Well, as the title mentions, it is focused on women, so I was surrounded by many, many of them which is not common, especially in Tech! However, Tech does not mean only techies (software engineers, app developers, etc.). What was interesting is that there were also women working in other functions: marketing, product managers, company founders, consultants, etc.

What was the conference about?

Diversity and inclusion

Amongst the recurrent topics were diversity and inclusion: how to attract more women in Tech and make them feel welcome and integrated in a Tech company mostly comprised of men. Diversity topics were not only about women but also about making people from different backgrounds to work together. The main takeaway I got from this topic is that we should not hesitate to reach out to colleagues from other departments, be it marketing, data science or engineering to solve our problems. The panel of speakers from HP also mentioned that “Best teams are diverse teams”.

What does it take to be successful in Tech?

To reformulate this question, mostly what was meant was: Do we need Tech skills or Soft skills? There was a whole session about soft skills which should already point you to the answer to that question: Soft skills indeed. Another related talk asked this other question: Is it better to be a “generalist” or a “specialist”? And the answer was a “generalist” meaning that to be successful in Tech, one does not have to be the best in hard skills, technological skills, one has also to spend time developing his/her soft skills.

How to be a better leader? (Mayke Nagtegaal @ Message Bird)

An effective leader is able to do 6–7 things at the same time. Therefore, he/she needs to prioritize tasks by taking a step back and be able to look at the big picture to know what is important and what is less important. Leaders are curious, opened to change as they evolve in an everchanging environment, they are therefore opened to learning as well. The challenge is to never keep a stable status, always try to raise their own bar. What should not be forgotten however is to take good care of themselves and take a step back. Mental and physical health are very important.

How to be a better manager? (Amanda McAlister @ Bisnode)

On the manager side, here are some tips for beginners or advanced managers: 1) be aware that you have unconscious bias from previous experiences, 2) consciously limit these bias when it matters, 3) use a clean language, pay attention to the way you talk to people, 4) get to really know your people, 5) create spaces for people to connect inside and outside of the office, 6) seek out opinions from every member of your team. Concrete ways of involving everyone are microlearning sessions, 15 min presentations of team members about any topic they care about, work-related or not, organize a small internal event in which each team can have a booth and explain to other teams what their work is about, organize escape games, sports, etc.

How to maintain a positive attitude and be boldly you? (Olivia Schofield @ Spectacular Speaking)

Olivia started her talk with this big question: “Does success come to those who wait or those who make things happen?”. Her point was to make people react and urge them to stay ready for opportunities and grasp them as they come to us. Then, she made people do some exercises: talk to each other (to practice networking), push each other (to feel powerful and strong), tell a limiting belief people had as a child to their neighbor and find the benefit out of it (to find positive things out of anything), etc. Her talk was very inspiring and stimulating.

What the conference was *not*: a Tech conference!

Indeed, there was only one session called Tech Talks. And the Tech presentations were barely scratching the surface of the technologies underneath. They were mainly telling the history of it, the current use of it and speculating on its future evolution. So, if you are a Techie looking for a hardcore Tech conference, this is maybe not the conference to attend.

One of the Tech talks I liked though is the one from Alivia Smith @ Dataiku. She listed interesting articles about the dangers of AI. Between 2015–2017, interest in AI increased, everyone had great hopes in it but then, things started to go wrong:

1. December 2017: The Chinese government plan to develop SCS — a Social Credit System — for all Chinese citizens, straight out of a Black Mirror series episode:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/chinese-government-social-credit-score-privacy-invasion

Here’s a teaser:

Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games […] now imagine a system where all these behaviors are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school — or even just your chances of getting a date.”

2. July 2018: ‘I was shocked it was so easy’: meet the professor who says facial recognition can tell if you’re gay:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/07/artificial-intelligence-can-tell-your-sexuality-politics-surveillance-paul-lewis

This person is also the main brain behind the Cambridge Analytica scandal — which he left just in time to take an academic position at Stanford. To save you the reading: “Presented with two pictures — one of a gay person, the other straight — the algorithm was trained to distinguish the two in 81% of cases involving images of men and 74% of photographs of women. Human judges, by contrast, were able to identify the straight and gay people in 61% and 54% of cases, respectively.”

1. July 2018: Amazon kills internal AI-based recruiting tool that showed bias against women

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-jobs-automation-insight/amazon-scraps-secret-ai-recruiting-tool-that-showed-bias-against-women-idUSKCN1MK08G

The spoiler:

In effect, Amazon’s AI system taught itself that male candidates were preferable. It penalized resumes that included the word “women’s,” as in “women’s chess club captain.” And it downgraded graduates of two all-women’s colleges, according to people familiar with the matter. They did not specify the names of the schools. […]

Instead, the technology favored candidates who described themselves using verbs more commonly found on male engineers’ resumes, such as “executed” and “captured,” one person said.”

About my presentation

The title of my talk was: “All skills are not equal: discover the skills that will accelerate your career success”. My audience was about 150–200 people. The main questions I got at the end were about ways to improve the skills I was putting emphasis on: autonomy, negotiation, networking, etc. Worry not, a white paper is on its way and I will publish other posts on how to improve each of these skills. Cherry on the cake: a few people came to talk to me after my presentation to ask more details about Boost.rs!

If I were to do it again though, I would… put more personal experience and perspective in the talk, so the audience can relate better with the message I was presenting. I felt my talk could have been clearer in that respect.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed attending this conference, I met very interesting women and got inspired by their great talks. As a speaker, I had the chance to spend a lot of time with the other speakers in the speakers’ lounge which was even better for networking purposes. I encourage women working in Tech to attend this conference, it gives good tips on how to be confident as a woman in Tech and be successful in a career in Tech.