Event, Technology, Work

Grace Hopper Celebration India 2018: A designer’s perspective

It was my first ever Grace Hopper India Conference for women in tech and having a reputation as a top conference for tech, I had high expectations from it. And more so because it was organized by women – who were, from my experience in corporate life, organized, efficient, empathetic and warm.  And this year there was even a Design in Tech track. Naturally I was curious and interested.

This year the event was very large with nearly 5000 attendees, 440 companies, and about 300-400 odd attendees from Microsoft itself. There was also 1% men in attendance, the largest ever in GHCI, as we heard in the keynote.


A celebration of women in tech

Beyond the usual welcome and introductions, the first keynote speaker was Lori Beer (Global CIO, JP Morgan Chase). She shared her journey of moving from technology to finance. The key takeaway from her keynote was her message to Pay it forward – what kind of impact can you make in your own way, how you can support other women in the field and what can you give back to the women in tech community.

All the first day talks, including the keynotes, were almost calls to action to the women attendees – about owning their career and believing in themselves. It might seem redundant for some, but for most of the audience, these messages really resonated because we work in a primarily male-dominated profession, even now.

I’ve always been a designer in tech and for most of my career I have been the only woman in the room and had never seen women at the India leadership level until recently. Younger colleagues have asked me why that matters, but it does.

It takes a lot of grit to speak up when you’re the only woman in the room when you might be the only one with a different point of view. It takes a lot of determination to overrule interruptions and still make your point. It takes a lot of perseverance to imagine your own career path when you don’t identify with any of the role models in front of you because they didn’t have to make the same choices of pregnancy, motherhood and parenting.  It takes a lot of courage to come back to work and prove yourself again and again because you made different choices than the people in power.

For many, this set the tone for the rousing and motivating experience for the next 3 days.

However what could have been done better was to include the male attendees into the conversation, but there was no acknowledgement of the men and how the genders can collaborate/support each other better. After the first initial mention of the 1% men stat they were forgotten in most of the sessions I attended. Like SheroesSummit, this could have been a great platform to not repeat the biases of the past and start on a more inclusive note, and possibly including different gender identities.

Design and tech

The conference content was significantly tech-intense and of good quality from what I heard and experienced. There were at least 5 parallel tracks running so it was quite easy to miss out.

Though the organizers had tried to address multiple themes within Design in tech, like de-mystifying Design, Design Thinking, the journeys of a few well-known women Design leaders, and how to transition to a UX career if one is so inclined, there was a fundamental lack of interest in the evolution of Design in Tech or in trying to understand the relationship between Design and UX – the terms were used pretty interchangeably. For a number of attendees, this was an intro to Design so there was a risk of miscommunicating the concept of design and its role in technology.

These were the talks that stood out for me:

Inclusive Design and Accessibility: Swami Manohar from Microsoft Research

Dr Manohar began by talking about recognizing your privilege and exclusion, before addressing inclusive design, and why diverse perspectives matter. His point of view, which is Microsoft’s point of view about Inclusive Design is that if we make it better for the usually excluded group of users, we make it better for everyone.

From How to Design, Innovate, and Create Designs that People will Love: A panel with women design leaders.

“Wait for the right moment of insight – a non-obvious, disruptive insight.”

Sonia Manchanda

 Among the panel there was Sonia Manchanda and Anuradha Madhusudan who really stood out for me.

“Ask yourself, does this idea fit into the narrative of the company?”

Anuradha Madhusudan

It was interesting for me to see how much curiosity there was around design. It shows that not only is there a lack of designers in the field, but also not enough designers who can demystify and evangelize their process and work to their tech partners in meaningful ways. There was a whole session on developers who want to become designers.

A case study about how these developers, Sampada and Aslesha, used design thinking to solve a real problem. I was quite impressed by their level of empathy and how they learnt and applied the design process while solving this problem.

This talk Design for Conversational Interactions by Vidhya Duthaluru and Vandana Abraham was really good, crisp and useful. From a project they had done for Uber, Vidhya succinctly identified all the steps one needs to think about while moving an interaction to a conversational experience.

This was a set of useful conditions to know while Designing for Emerging Markets by Muzayun Mukhtar.

The gender conversation

As I mentioned above, this was a celebration of women in tech. But the idea of “women in tech” itself was a bit fuzzy to some. In almost every talk I attended, by women and men presenters both, there were some sweeping statements about why women would be good at design or women would be good at accessibility or women would be good at storytelling – it’s not about gender, it’s about the person and the skills! This not only reinforced gender stereotypes but also diminished the content of their talk for me.

Despite this and some other logistical challenges, #ghci18 was a great experience and I also managed to catch up with friends from elsewhere at the conference. I met a number of really nice women and found that spending time in the company of women can be very supportive and affirmatory. If nothing else, that’s one good reason to go to women in tech conferences every year!

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Event, Life

The empty space

A couple of months ago we lost our beloved Dida, our mothers’ mother. When I lose someone from my life, I have a ritual of committing to paper all the memories before they grow dim in my mind. This is one of those ritual drawings.

For all the cousins: Rishi, Ribhu, Reshmi, Ruby, Nikon, Bimbo, Josh-da, Mishti-di, Babun-da, Pushan-da, Raja-da, Ruchi-di, Rinku-di, Badshah-da and Tupshi.

Dida

Bengali words

Hall-ghar: the big room, literally the hall
Adda: A gathering for gossip, among other things. Wikipedia definition
Taash: cards
Kodbel: A fruit
Putiram: a sweet shop
Eecha: A sweet made with coconut in the shape of prawns from East Bengal
Cheet: A gur candy probably invented by my Dida
Patla Dal with kaalo jeera: Watery dal made in the East Bengal way
Daler Bora, Daler Paturi: Dishes made with lentils, from East Bangal
Mourala Maachch: Tiny fish from the Bay of Bengal

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sketchbook, Technology, travels

Rishikesh, lord of the senses

There is something special about a midweek holiday. Being the crazy workaholics that we are, we surprised ourselves with this rare treat last week, and drove up to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. The last time we went on holiday, there weren’t any people to sketch, so this time we made sure that we’d get some suitable moments. 001

002[At the ghats we look around for peace, shade and people to draw.]

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[The photographer sits and talks about another two months…and then. I couldn’t keep up with his Hindi.]

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This is not the brown boy, though it looks like him.

And here’s a restless little flower seller.

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[Drawing from life is tough, but it must be done. It’s the only way to get away from the pre-conceived imagery in my head.]

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[Here we are at Triveni Ghat waiting for the arati to start. It was very beautiful when it happened.

Prayer and worship always catch me unawares and I never know what to do.]

At one of the ghats we met Or, a graphic design student from Israel. He wanted to talk about moleskines and pens.

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“Everyone is a hippie here, or a yoga nerd! I don’t want to talk about yoga or music.”

He was rather funny. “But India has karma, I love that concept.”

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Our spiritual quest was punctuated by birthday calls from friends, all recommending their special things to do in Rishikesh, with love. And I kept thinking about all our beloved apps and digital services, which are just isolating us from each other more and more, and that just hearing the voice of a dear one on the phone is all it takes.

When we were not drawing people at the ghats, we spent time on the terrace of the hotel, watched birds, napped in the hammock, and listened to the Vedanta podcast about the price of success.

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At other times we talked about the most human human.

Finally while stirring coffee we identified our purpose of the holiday – do nothing.

It’s much easier to have fun after that.

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[At breakfast one day this girl was sitting so calmly, and waiting for breakfast. Maybe the point of a holiday like this is really to slow down, savour the moment.]

You can see how much I over-analyze. It’s hard to be in the moment sometimes.

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 [We stayed a few hours more for the zently relaxing yoga class. What a perfect holiday. Sigh.]

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Event, sketchbook

A happy new year with last year’s sketchbook

As always I’m wishing everyone a happy new year in Feb because that’s when it really hits me. Happens to you also I’m sure – so a very happy new year. Last year I had a great year and a great sketchbook, most of which I was too lazy to scan. So here goes.

I think it was October (?) that I happened to go to the book launch of Gandhi before India by Ram Guha.  Until the session began, I amused myself by drawing the people in the audience. If any of you reading this post go to book launches, please don’t stop – I love drawing faces of book lovers – a refreshing change from the blue line Delhi metro commuters.

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and here are some insights from Mr Guha about writing biographies:

1. Never anticipate

2. Look for sources that emanate from the person himself

3. One must flesh in the secondary characters

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Life, sketchbook

Weekend art

From my March sketchbook.

art-kela

LINKS

Bangalore Art – There was an interactive dance show that we couldn’t find anywhere, not even online later

Mughal Gardens – Did you know Delhi has these amazing gardens? Now we have to wait for next year.

Rashtrapati Bhavan – That’s where the President stays.

Nityan’s show – my very talented friend is also a great artist.

TRANSCRIPT

Weekend Art (Kelas)

We went for Bangalore History and couldn’t find it.

BB: Oh it’s not even mentioned here.

We went to Mughal Gardens and it was already shut!

Finally we went to hang out in Rashtrapati Bhavan. And the call of coffee was too strong to ignore.

BB: Not all kelas (flops: pun) – We went for Nityan’s show last night

Me: Trust you to draw a silver lining on my dark cloud…

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