Undergraduate Madeline Zhu ’14 attended the WECode (Women Engineers Code) Conference at Harvard University on Feb. 8 and 9. Here’s what she learned.
Kimber Lockhart doesn’t want women pursing computer science careers to become product managers. Or at least, not automatically. Too many women, she says, default to product management because they think that’s the only way to work with people or because they perceive software engineering as too technical.
“As more and more women go into product management, the engineering ratio goes way down and this is a problem,” Lockhart told the more than 350 undergraduate women from forty universities assembled for the inaugural WECode conference. The Senior Director of Web Application Engineering at Box, Inc., an online file sharing and cloud content management company, urged the aspiring computer scientists not to shy away from highly technical engineering positions.
The WECode conference was the brainchild of JN Fang ’16 and other members of Harvard Women in Computer Science (WICS). The conference included keynote speakers and workshops on technical skills like building Google Apps and using Palantir as well as résumé reviews and mock interviews with corporate recruiters. Panels of academics and professionals discussed topics such as big data, social impact technology, and technology in education. A series of ten-minute “lightning talks” offered insight into everything from computational biology to mobile applications in finance. On Sunday, the conference morphed into a hackathon, where participants formed teams, received guidance from many conference presenters, and competed for prizes.
More than a dozen corporate sponsors and recruiters from prominent companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft were there, but the tone of the weekend was community, not recruitment. Participants were paired with mentors for lunch and encouraged to exchange ideas and experiences.
Alice Lee, a first-year electrical engineering and computer science student at Tufts University, found comfort and inspiration. “There are so many people, especially guys, who know exactly what they’re doing and it’s terrifying,” she said. “It’s really, really reassuring to hear these women say that ‘that’s okay’ if that’s you.”
This is exactly what Fang envisioned—focusing on connecting and empowering engineers and computer scientists. “My primary purpose for this conference is to create a community,” she said. “I want participants to be able to find a support system here.”
Photo courtesy of Harvard Women in Computer Science.