GHC open source code-a-thon to benefit humanitarian relief



When Vidya Srinivasan returns to the Grace Hopper conference this week, she’ll get a quick answer to her recent tweet about the opening day Code-a-thon—“LOVE #OpenSource?”

Affirmations will surely come in the form of the 230 participants signed up for Open Source Day when the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing begins Wednesday in Houston.

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Contagious enthusiasm has never been in short supply at what is the largest gathering of women in computing. In her fourth year of attendance, Srinivasan, a technical program manager on the Microsoft SharePoint team, will join an expected attendance of 12,000—up from 8,000 last year and 4,700 in 2013. But the swelling numbers will mean little if they don’t translate into more women entering and staying in technical fields—perennial goals at the heart of this year’s GHC mission: “Our time to lead.”

For Srinivasan, leading Open Source Day has involved starting in February with a team of GHC volunteers in North America and Europe to design an event for participants to finish coding a project in a day. The resulting apps are “built and maintained as ready to be deployed, always-on, open-source solutions, supporting ongoing nonprofit community work, community and civic resiliency preparations, and disaster response and relief efforts.”

GHC attracts participants across all levels from undergraduate students to luminaries like Lean-In guru Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith. The 3-day conference features leading technical speakers, career development sessions, awards, a poster session, and career fair. It’s named after the late Grace Hopper, whose career spanned the earliest days of computing in World War II up to the 1990s.

Although Hopper pre-dated hackathons covered live on Twitter, her “just try it” spirit helped define the underlining philosophy of Open Source Day—learning by doing.

“It’s not always about the end result, it’s the experience that matters,” Srinivasan says, highlighting the value of collaboration in a dynamic environment along with using the latest coding techniques and best practices. “Our advice is: ‘It’s okay if you don’t have a complete plan when you start. Go there and do it anyway and you will eventually figure it out.’”

Some aspects of working in technology aren’t as forgiving, however, an issue that inspired Srinivasan to start working early this year to organize and host a panel discussion called “Navigating Up from Rejection.”

The session, scheduled for noon Thursday, will explore ways of getting through unexpected roadblocks. As conference notes state, “what matters is how we respond to rejection by finding a new path.” Srinivasan’s panel includes an entrepreneur, a principal software engineer, a 15-year IT veteran, and a data scientist from the White House.

Srinivasan will join more than 800 attendees from Microsoft as well as large contingents from other sponsoring tech companies including Apple, Google, Cisco, Amazon and Facebook. Sponsoring universities include Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Georgia Tech, USC, UCLA, UCSD, Harvey Mudd, Montana State, NYU, Purdue, Rice, Texas A&M, University of Houston and University of Maryland.

Open source organizations include Microsoft Disaster Response, OpenStack, Systers, Women’s Peer-to-Peer Network, uProxy, OpenHatch, Mozilla, and Cloudera.

Reach Vidya Srinivasan on Twitter @VidSrinivasan.

—John Kaiser, Research News

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