Tuesday, March 10, 2015

“Writing code is an act of creation”

A gender focused conversation with Francia Granda and Gabriela Vera

As we celebrate International Women's Day, themed "Make it Happen" in 2015, we bring forward the story of two of our Smartmatic women. Programmers, Francia Granda and Gabriela Vera, discuss why they love programming, who inspires them, how they have built their career paths and how they perceive gender equality at work.

Creating from scratch 

“When implementing functionalities in a system, it is possible to bring to life things that would not otherwise exist.” This is part of the beauty of programming according to Francia, for whom “writing code is an act of creation” as well as a satisfactory mission because “it creates a sense of belonging with ‘that new thing’ that became a reality directly from your imagination.” She notes that what she likes best of programming and her job is “to be part of this silent and hidden system that moves today’s world.”

On the other hand, Gabriela comments that she was captivated by programming because “it is always a good challenge” for her. She loves “building things that did not exist and make them be as useful as possible”.

They both agree on the satisfaction that represents creating useful solutions through programming. “For me, the biggest contribution of computer science and electronics to the world has been the ability to help people achieve their objectives without getting involved in too many mechanical aspects, allowing them to evolve faster,” says Francia. Gabriela adds “You get to create something (whether it’s an application, or a machine), with a design that can be changed easily according to what the final users expect or need.”

The creation journey

To understand how girls in tech get inspiration and motivation, we asked our programmers who they admire in the field. They both had a very clear answer: Grace Hopper, the "mother" of the COBOL language.

“She worked in the creation and tuning of the first computer (Harvard Mark I). Also, she led the team that designed the first compiler in the history of computers, which opened the way to create COBOL. This programming language generated around 70% of active code at the time. Hopper died in 1992, leaving behind an inimitable legacy. She was a brilliant programmer and a pioneer in computer science at a time when the field was dominated by men,” reflects Francia, while also adding: “A curious note is that Hopper was the creator of the term ‘bug’, which we commonly use to indicate an error or failure in the system. This came about after finding a little insect (‘bug’) between the electronic cards affecting the running of the Mark II. The term ‘debugging’ came later”.

The inspiration to start programming came at a young age for both of our guests. Gabriela Vera has been programming since she was 16 “but simple things, maybe a few simple console games, just trying things out” she said, paving the way to what has become her real passion. “I loved technology in general, so I studied electronics. Then I found out you could program micro controllers (chips) to make a hardware or system do exactly what you wanted… And that was it, for me! I’m a firmware programmer. I love the combination of having a machine behave as you want it to, and being able to change some of its hardware if necessary to make something else”.

Francia, on the other hand, started to program when she was even younger, at only 10, in a computer centre for children, where she learned basic concepts and how computer programs work. “In couple of years I learned mid-level BASIC and PASCAL, so since I was a little girl I had already envisioned what I wanted to do for living: creating programs with which I could control physical devices. That vision grew with me and led me to become a computer electronics engineer.” She adds “Most of my professional life has been connected to programming. From hardware design, firmware and software applied to the academy and research, to working in the industry of technology companies, such as my current role here in Smartmatic, where I do software testing. A very different perspective to approach coding.”

What the future holds 

Besides their admiration for Hopper, Francia and Gabriela share a desire for improving the field and succeeding in their careers. “I hope to be able to integrate in one vision: code designing, execution, quality assurance, plus usability and end user’s experience; combining all the steps that a product needs to follow before it is truly usable,” reveals Francia. She states that her career plan in Smartmatic is allowing her to start achieving that vision step by step “and I hope I can keep on including areas and expertise into my work, and be able to run every aspect on the deployment of a technology.”

Gabriela suggests a similar approach for her own future plans. “In coming years, I hope to work with higher level programming languages, to learn more about the design and architecture of software alone, and to manage a development team. To be able to visualize a complete program, design, architect and assign tasks.” Her career in the company has empowered her creativity as she also notes “my work makes me think that the future you dream can only exist if you help building it, if you think of something that should exist, but it doesn’t, why not make it yourself?”

According to Simina Berceanu, Head of Talent Acquisition and Development, "Smartmatic's workforce is approximately 40% women. There are plenty of reasons for women to be attracted to Smartmatic, from our open culture to the work we do promoting equality, fairness and transparency within society,” as she expressed in a previous post.

Speaking of gender equality, Gabriela, who is currently working in a team with one more female developer and two ‘very technical’ QA woman engineers programmers, comments: “I do not see a gap just because a programmer is male or female, more than I see it from people having different personalities or preferences on how to code. I believe everyone that loves this field can do incredible things if given the opportunity.”

Francia also has a very positive vision opinion on this topic. She highlights that currently the firmware team is practically only women. “The fact that a team that handles electronic design, drivers and low level programming is integrated mostly by women shows that there are not activities in this field that cannot be faced and solved by women. I believe that distinguishing between male and female performances in computer science is irrelevant, as we all have the same skills and capabilities to write good code and be great programmers.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

9 lessons Leonard Nimoy left us

Leonard Nimoy at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.
As Mr. Spock started his journey out of this earthly life last Friday (dying in his home at 83), what better way to honour him than learning one or two things from his life. 

Given that here in Smartmatic we are a varied ecosystem of geeks, cinephiles and TV series addicts -many of whom are ‘Star Trek’ worshippers or Trekkers - it will be an exciting task to attempt to “live long and prosper” with Nimoy’s assistance.

1. Believe in your art. Leonard Nimoy was an active supporter of the arts, he was not only an actor, but also a director, a poet, a writer, a photographer as well as a musician. “His poetry was voluminous, and he published books of his photography,” stated the New York Times obituary. 

2. Be curious, brave and open about what surrounds you. Through his photography, published poems and his two autobiographies (“I am not Spock” and “I am Spock”), Nimoy showed his curiosity for challenging himself and the world around him with freedom and courage.

3. Be creative and share your ideas. Nimoy came up himself with the famous split-fingered vulcan salute for the Spock’s character. He recreated a Jewish gesture from a blessing in his childhood memories and shared it with the Star Trek director and crew. The rest is just history and LLAP!

4. Don’t be afraid to try as many roles in life as you can. Literally and metaphorically. In his professional and personal life, many roles filled Nimoy’s list. Besides all the mentioned above, he also worked as a soda jerk, movie usher and cab driver while studying acting and served in the Army for two years. He was also a husband, father, grandpa and beloved friend

5. Never feel too old to try new things. Nimoy returned to college in his 40s to earn a master’s degree in Spanish from Antioch University in Austin. ‘Just because.’

6. Do not do things to get rewarded. Even if as an actor, he received four Emmy award nominations (3 for his character Spock), he never won. Except, of course, the respect and love of devoted fans. Nonetheless, he kept on working and developing his craft.

7.  Keep on rediscovering and learning who you are. Nimoy maintained an evolving –sometimes complex- relationship with his Jewish heritage and culture. He became an activist, wrote and gave talks about it; he made photographic essays on the subject and he produced and starred a television movie on the story of the Holocaust deniers.

8.  Inspire others to discover new things. According to the NASA and the Space Foundation Nimoy created a positive role model that inspired untold numbers of viewers to learn more about the universe. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award for such accomplishment. 

9. Learn from your life and be considerate. Nimoy was not afraid to share some of his views on life and spirituality. “To me, spirituality means living a decent life, treating people decently, caring about what happens to somebody besides yourself, being aware that you’re not alone on this planet, and not everything is about you. It just means living a full life as a considerate human being,” commented the actor in an interview in 2010. His last tweet from @TheRealNimoy read: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

Mr. Nimoy’s death was caused by an end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed it to years of smoking, even if he had given it up three decades earlier. However, as his friends and family have expressed: he did live long and prosper, so now the journey across the stars is all ours.