I was documenting the Embedded for Her program: what has happened so far and what we plan to do hereon. Read on!
EMBEDDED FOR HER
"Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”
-The Atlantic’s April 2017 cover story
The field of technology has always been dominated by men in terms of numbers and influence. This is something most of us would have come across or have ourselves observed and probably wondered about. This has been proved right by various statistics from around the world. As of 2009, women hold less than 25% of STEM jobs (science technology engineering math) in America, according to ESA (U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration). And we can say beyond reasonable doubt that India’s situation in this regard is not remarkably better either. So now many of you would just say that this is a widely familiar (and perhaps even accepted?) fact. But lets take a brief and conclusive look at the history of computing. Ada Lovelace (of the 1800s era) who is often accredited as the first computer programmer and is thought to have initiated and marked the beginnings of the field of computing, was a woman by the way. As computing flourished in the 1940s, women have led major developments in programming and software development. But by 1984, 37 percent of computer-science majors (only!) were women. Today, only one in four computing jobs is held by a woman. So what just happened?! Well, that is a discussion by itself which we will save for later. A more important thought: What can we do about it?
With this question in mind, FSMK (Free Software Movement Karnataka) came up with an initiative called Embedded for Her. It was a ten week comprehensive hands-on course aiming to teach Embedded Systems, a fast developing and promising field which is a fusion of computer science and electronics with a focus on hardware-software co-design, to women passionate about it, held on weekends (10 June – 12 August 2017). The course was specifically aimed at strengthening the fundamentals of electronics and programming, building the technical skill sets, coming up with new ideas and putting your creativity into practice through a project, getting competent and confident, meeting new people, startups and the industry. The course had 12 participants from varying educational and career backdrops, varying age groups, and widely varied interests, motivations and hobbies but with one thing in common: passion for embedded systems, coding and electronics, and I was one of them. The mentors and volunteers were largely freelancers, students, professionals and hobbyists. There were guest speakers on many topics from technology and current developments in it to startups to the ideas of open source resources and data privacy to gender issues and also motivational talks from noteworthy people. The entire program was held at startups and makerspaces: Workbench Projects, ONZE Technologies (I) Pvt Ltd, Black Pepper Technologies, Bangalore Alpha Lab, IKP Knowledge Park and HasGeek.
The course was divided into two phases:
During the first five weeks we took classes from mentors along with practical sessions where we learnt:
- Basics of electronics
- Basic embedded C programming with Bluey, an nRF52 development board
- Working with UART, ADC, PWM, interrupts, timers and counters
- Working with Makefiles, compiling, linking and programming, working of a processor
- Developing a state machine
- Setting up a git repository
During the next five weeks we worked on the projects. We formed teams of four and each team pooled all the ideas the members had to arrive at a useful, do-able and potentially enhanceable project. We had the support of the mentors and instructors throughout the course of our projects and used most of the concepts which we learnt in the preceding five weeks. All our projects were an amalgamation of a host of different technologies from image processing to sensor technology to mechanical actuation concepts.
On the Sunday following the last weekend of the course (13 August 2017), we had the Open Day hosted by IKP Knowledge Park where we exhibited our work and many invitees including volunteers, activists, people from the industry, experts from related domains, colleagues, family and well wishers came and had a look at our projects. They appreciated us and offered their comments, suggestions and constructive criticism. Most of the invitees and the teams and the mentors were of the opinion that these projects must be developed further into consumer-friendly marketable products which many of us are planning to. Hopefully
Personally, I learnt a host of new and useful skills which many years of my formal education couldn’t or didn’t attempt to teach me meanwhile also helping me add a valuable project to my profile. Apart from that, the program helped in building my confidence and willingness to actively involve in such technical workshops and activities and gave me a close-up view and some insights into the startup culture which was an exciting black box to me. I met a set of motivated, magnanimous and talented people, many of whom have interests, motivations and hobbies which are totally off-beat and inspiring from those of most people I have known.
And, that is not it! After ten weeks of learning, practicing, brainstorming and brainbashing (seriously!) from our side and prior to this the countless weeks of envisioning, planning, preparing and collaborating by the mentors and the volunteers for this whole initiative to come into being, we didn’t want to leave things there. So we finally decided to call this the First Edition of Embedded for Her! Henceforth, we decided to have monthly meetups and this time teach ourselves the topics which are of interest to us, do new projects, teach people (become mentors ourselves) and bring in more people to our now tiny group. And as the first step toward this, we decided to meet up on 10 September 2017 at yet to be decided place and discuss how we want to take things forward from there and possibly get started with the plan.
Here are few snaps from our weekend activities and the open day :))