Hacker Society Last Lecture

On April 15th, 2015, I attended my final Hacker Society as a senior at Case Western Reserve University. I’ve been part of the club since I was a sophomore, and as a fifth-year senior, it was a tough goodbye. This is the write-up version of the talk, full of everything I would have said with more time and less emotions. This originally appeared as a Medium post. This is lightly edited with updated images.

Everyone was a beginner at some point.
You become arrogant when you forget or choose to ignore what that was like.

One of my favorite xkcd comics. https://xkcd.com/1053/
Rarely people do not comprehend things because they are dumb or incapable.

It’s more likely that they are overwhelmed or embarrassed that they do not know where to start.

Be the person that removes hurdles for someone. If you see someone in the student lounge who looks like they want to bang their head off a wall, just politely ask what they’re working on.

Pride exists, and it’s okay for them to refuse your help. Sometimes just having the safety net of another person there to help out will be enough for them to take a deep breath and move on.

Teach a workshop. Show someone how to do something new. Get comfortable with describing something from square one.

Ask questions to others. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you don’t know something.

Do more of the stuff you like.
Do less of the stuff you don’t.

Seattle rains a lot. I roll with it a lot better now.
I spent a lot of time being a closet supporter of women in tech, afraid that I’d be judged as some sort of nut because for a long time I had a pretty twisted view of what feminism was.

But at some point you realize you realistically don’t have that much to lose. I started posting about women in tech and technology on Facebook and Twitter, and something started happening. People weighed in. We had cool discussions about it. We branched into related topics. People started sending me articles they found. I had created a dialogue.

Shortly after, I had a whole community of people who were interested in things I was interested in. My life improved ten fold. I started doing more of the stuff I liked and talked more about the stuff I needed to talk about. Other people were interested and wanted to talk about the same topics. Social media- like any technology- is good and evil; you just need to learn how to use it.

I also learned the value of quitting what I didn’t like. I spent my first year of college as a biomedical engineering major, technically. I never even made it to the first BME class. Those exploratory courses my first year taught me I didn’t like the community in that department, but I was trying to hang out with them to change my own mind. Forcing it didn’t help. I didn’t like the community. I didn’t like what BMEs did every day. I realized I was only trying to pry my way into a community because there was a stigma (mostly in my head) that people only dropped BME because they couldn’t cut it. The day I switched to something I loved, college got a lot more interesting.

Quit spending time on things you hate when you have the power to change them.

Dorothy Pijan Leadership Awards with Hacker Society and Club Advisor Dr. Harold Connamacher.

Don’t wait for someone else to write your story.

I can’t stress how important it is to write down what you do and what you make happen. A lot of times people do something and the actions are taken for granted because it’s hard to remember than a person made it happen. Share your story. Get used to feedback and criticism. It helps you find teammates and make progress together.

People noticed things were changing in the department, but no one really knew what was causing it or really seemed to be interested. I had spent countless nights trying to make campus a better place for women in tech. When I was asked in an interview why I didn’t have more contributions to side projects on top of my two part-time jobs, school, and Hacker Society, I realized no one knew my story. I tried writing everything I had done probably a dozen times, but fear of how people would react kept holding me back. When I finally pulled the trigger to publish, the response was worth it. I had more offers to speak and join in conversations and opportunities to further the cause than I had time to respond to.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t spoken up and said what I was doing. When you tell your story and let people know what you’re interested in, those who want to help often reach out.

Don’t wait for someone else to write your story. Publish before it’s perfect. It’s more important that you do speak up than it is that you say all the right words.

chmod 777
You don’t always need to ask for permission.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who said something like this. 
If you wait around for an administration (or anyone else for that matter) to fix your problem, it might never get done.

My regrets at Case include me waiting too long to try to change what I thought was broken. I always had an excuse. I was taking too many classes. I was too involved in other things to dedicate my time to it. Surely, someone in the department was working on this. Almost definitely someone else had to have noticed that this was a problem.

And I’m about to be a major hypocrite here: You don’t need to be elected to something to make things happen.

I shouldn’t have waited until I was PR director. I should have picked something up and ran with it earlier. I should have made time to attend more Hacker Society meetings. I should have actively volunteered when they were looking for student talks. I should have spoken up. I should have raised my hand. I should have tried and failed and fell on my face with grace and gotten back up.

I didn’t realize a lot of the barriers were in my head until I tried to go after them.

But that’s easy to say in hindsight.

Say Thank You while you can.

You'll rarely regret saying thank you.
During my time at CWRU, I learned the hard way that you can’t take for granted that people will be there tomorrow.

When I got incredibly ill my sophomore year, the five professors I had that semester went above and beyond (and then some) to make sure I finished that semester. Two of them died before I could properly thank them. It haunts me all the time. If someone helped you get through something tough, it’s easy to take for granted that they know you appreciated it. You don’t have to throw them a parade or release a thousand balloons in their honor, but you can make someone’s day by showing them gratitude. Write an email. Stop by in person at an office hour to visit. Say something nice about them in a way you’ll know it gets back to them.

It also helps keep that person going. People joke that they lose faith in humanity, but people losing the spark in their passions —and I think it’s especially so in teaching- comes from the doubt about whether they’re really making a difference. Every time you tell someone you’re grateful, you’re fueling that person to keep giving back. And I can’t stress how important that is. Don’t let the champions you already have quit because they got reasonably discouraged. Build them up just much as they build you up.

There’s an over-instagrammed, filtered Maya Angelou quote that says people won’t remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

So speak up when someone is being interrupted.

If you see someone having a hard time, cut someone a break if you have the resources to do so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lent someone a computer, stayed up late to help them finish their homework, or just listened when someone needed to vent about a bad professor or class, but I know there are even more times when someone bailed me out as well. Diego stayed up all night trying to install a FORTRAN compiler on my Mac (you read that correctly). Andrew helped write a ton of my group’s senior project even though he wasn’t in the class. As a freshman, Sean and Beau taught me data structures in their apartment. Kevin lent me a Databases Book that actually helped me learn SQL.

Fairy godparents are only real if you want them to be. You have to be the fairy godparent.

Do NOT take advantage of someone’s kindness. You’re the kid that ruins recess for everyone. Don’t be that kid. No one thinks your cunning or clever for “finding the loop hole.” Recognize when people are trying to make something better and respect it.

Everything is going to be okay.

Seriously, life got better when I got a dog. 
I’m going to be a hypocrite again, but everything is going to be okay.

I freak out all the time. I was freaking out before this talk. I have made myself nauseous over my grades, classes, and future. It all works out, but I know that’s easier to say now that I have my degree in hand, job lined up, and everything feels like it’s falling into place.

But you need to remember there are significantly more good people than bad in this world. Significantly more often than not, people will be glad you did something. Or they won’t care. But they won’t actively hate you or berate you for it. Most of it is in your head.

Thank you, Hacker Society

When I joined Hacker Society, I was a scared sophomore who didn’t know the first thing about computers. I don’t mean to discount the value of my traditional education, but Hacker Society is what taught me how to put what I was learning into practice. It gave me a support system and friends. It pushed me to tackle things I never would have even thought to try before. I will miss spending my Wednesday nights and my Saturday afternoons with you. I will miss traveling to hackathons. I will miss coding at The Jolly Scholar while competing in Trivia Night.

I’ll have my eye on you, and can’t wait to support you as an alumna.

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