In Conversation with Simran Bhuria

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When I walked into Simran Bhuria’s room, I knew nothing about the annually conducted Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) beyond what I’d read on the internet. All I was aware of was that GHC was a two-day conference-cum-celebration conducted for women in fields of technology.

Simran, a 3rd year Computer Science major at Ashoka University, where she started the Women in Computing Society (WiCS), spoke passionately about the GHC-India 2017, which she had the opportunity to attend, having won the scholarship that is offered to meritorious individuals which covered the expenses of participating in the celebration. Over the course of a three hour conversation, she drew me into the world of computer science and technology, discussing everything from her experience at the celebrations to her current studies in Machine Learning.

Read on to take a look at snippets of our talk, which ranged across a variety of emotions and topics.

What is the Grace Hopper Celebration?

“Grace Hopper Celebration is one of the biggest technology gatherings for women in India. It happens to promote women in tech. The whole celebration has two components. One is the talks and career mentoring sessions. The other is the career fair, where 40-50 companies’ recruit women for their tech divisions. They take registrations for people who are interested and so on. The event tries to help women who aren’t currently working to get back into the workforce, for freshers looking to get into the field, for anyone looking to change their field and for someone who just wants to connect with other women in the industry.”

Simran on the process of applying to be a part of GHC 17:

“I knew they existed two years ago but also knew that they only offered 200 scholarships and that too, only for final year UG, Masters and Ph.D. students. When I launched WiCS, the first speaker I invited to Ashoka was Rashmi Mohan, the programme chair of GHC. We talked when she came here and she encouraged us to apply. I was like, “Might as well try.”

When talking about the GHC Career Fair:

“The career fair was literally like a fair. It was so nice. There were around 50 companies that had set up stalls. You could register your interest for them. They send you an email and ask you to send your resume if you’re interested. Most of them were accepting only soft copies through links they had then and there, or accepted it later.”

About the company game stalls:

“All of the companies had these games and goodies that they were giving out for winning the games. **shows me a bag that declares “not surprisingly, I’m a techie”**

They had limited gifts, so they gave small gifts for registration and offered games like crossword to acquire other prizes.  Some of them made the whole game about their own company, they were marketing through it, they were really smart. So yeah, that was fun as well.”

[Sidenote: we digressed into a wholesome conversation about the games that won’t be covered in this interview, but suffice it to say that her favorite game was one offered by Cisco, which basically involved pulling toy fish out of a moving structure using a plastic fishing rod and bait]

How the GHC networking sessions work:

“They have specific networking sessions as well. During the lunches across the two days, there are multiple networking sessions going on. The Oracle session, the Microsoft session. You basically take your food, meet people who are interested in work possibilities there, or are working there already. You talk about opportunities, questions, basically connecting with people. In computer science, networking is really very important; one of the large reasons why the celebration is held is networking. It’s a very good networking opportunity because women from every company are there.”

Dissecting her experience at the celebration:

“It was an exciting and enlightening experience. I learnt a lot about myself, as well as stuff that’s going around in the tech domain, especially tech learning. I got a sense of what my life would be like if I worked in the corporate sector. I met people from companies and realized there are a full range of tech roles you can have. I got a sense about where I’m heading and whether I want to head in that stream. The talks were also helpful because I got an idea of the things that were going on in tech and the level at which they were.

A lot of work piled up for me- I spent four days in the conference, missed two exams. That’s how I have 6 exams coming up the following week. (both of us struggle not to laugh in semi- hysterical manner) But it was a worthwhile experience. My CV got shortlisted for [some companies for whom I registered my interest at the fair]. I’m not looking for jobs in the corporate sector at the moment, but it was a good experience knowing what they’re looking for.”

Her favorite speech and speaker at GHC 17:

“The keynote speaker this time was Rebecca Parsons. She’s the Chief Technology Officer at Tautworks and her presentation was really good. She presented her talk beautifully. She spun the whole story around her journey of learning programming languages and intertwined her life in them in such a beautiful way. After each slide, she had a life lesson and a programming language she learned. One thing she said really stuck with me: when you change a career or change direction, it should be because you want to change in that direction, not for you to get away from something. It was the best talk, the whole two days.”

On the relationships she built and who inspired her at the conference:

“I did exchange contacts with a few people. We communicated and connected with each other. And Rebecca Parsons was very inspiring. She loves programming languages, she’s been in the tech field for a long time now- since C, one of the very early languages, came in. It was really inspiring that she knew so many programming languages- I think I counted at least 6. Even her journey of moving from an entry-level position to the CTO was very inspiring.”

On meeting fellow Ashokans:

“At the career fair, I met a YIF. She said it’s been so long since she’s seen an Ashokan. She was very excited. And she told me that Ashokans find their way everywhere. **we both laugh** It felt really nice. It was fun to meet someone who understands you.”

Pre-Conference Jitters and Post-Plane Landing Crisis:

“This was my first time down South. Also, I’d heard from people that Bangalore was really unsafe in this season. So I was afraid of that. Oh, and I forgot to tell you— my carry-on bag on the plane got picked up by someone else! My laptop and passport— just gone. I freaked out. I mean, my laptop?! I mean, 3 years worth of data. The laptop is my life, everything worth having is on my laptop. Then, finally, [I found the guy who had my bag]. I was apprehensive about the whole trip pehle se (since the beginning) and then this happened!”

Biggest worry about the conference:

“Before the conference, my biggest worry was whether I’d be able to make this a worthwhile thing by attending everything I wanted to. The talks and the company fair were going on simultaneously so I was worried about squeezing everything in and rushing from one place to another- to the extent that I printed the whole schedule, only to realize that when you enter, they give you a bag with a schedule inside it!”

#Tips from Simran to survive the two days of the conference:

“If anyone is ever attending this conference, do not wear uncomfortable shoes. Especially heels. *despairing, serious expression on Simran’s face* I wore heels and barely sat down for five minutes. It was like, my God, I’m going to die.”

Her views on the space for women in computer science in Ashoka:

“There are very few women in computer science. *spends a bit of time counting the number of CS majors* There are around 11? That’s why I created the Women in Computing Society. I realized at my first year here that people drop out of computer science after they take it, because it’s slightly difficult and people get daunted. I also feel like people have been telling women for so many years that CS is not a “women’s domain”. Plus [these women] don’t see too many women in the class. They see their chances of success as very diminished. So [they] drop out, they see failures as confirmation of this. It’s so deep rooted that people don’t even see it anymore. I don’t know if this is the reason, but it felt like the reason.”

How she hopes to expand this space for girls:

“That’s why I started WiCS. I wanted to try to change the ratio to some extent. I don’t know if it helped. We decided to have basic programming before the programming courses actually start. If you have some idea, it’d be easier to catch up. I don’t know about the space. We’re trying to get there. I think the workshops and talks and stuff [that WiCS conducts] may help. The speakers [we call in], they’re very successful women in computer science. I think it definitely helps, just looking at such women. It’s a sort of motivation to move forward.”

 

The conversation then flew into the ground of Simran’s own journey into computer science, and then her attempts to explain Machine Learning and other science-fictioney concepts to the completely ignorant and unaware creature that I am. Her love for what she learns and does was apparent in her descriptions and enthusiasm, which piqued me and made me realize how amazing the field of computer science could be. When I finally left Simran’s room and the conversation, I left not only with more knowledge about the celebration itself but also with my previously lacklustre (read: non-existent) interest in computers and technology elevating slowly into a genuine intrigue.

 

Edited by Vasudha Malani

All images are the courtesy of Siman Bhuria

 

 

 

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