Invention And She’s Geeky 2012

1910Ford-T

By Anna Billstrom (Developer, Momentus Media)

I really want to find this picture of my great-grandfather standing in front of his car, that has a license plate with a big circle cut out of the center. He’s showing off his invention. A way of keeping your car from being stolen. You take the center of the license out with you when you leave the car. Ta-da.

Inventing things is so much fun! OK blog post is done.

Alright, more background: She’s Geeky is an “unconference” that is, a loosely self-organized conference based on whatever the attendees want to convene over. I’ve gone for 3 years running, just the Saturday, though it’s held from Friday to Sunday. This year was markedly different for me.

The first year, I remember drifting around to various sessions with my friend Sarah Mei, not really knowing what it was about or what to do. I remember creating a session with her simply because we both wanted to know more about it – the Semantic Web. A half dozen or so ladies joined us, and we had a really interesting, in depth conversation, researching and discussing it. It’s still one of the best conference talks *I have ever been to* for quality.

My second year, I met my programming partner Stacie Hibino, in a talk on Pair Programming. We ended up collaborating on various projects outside and in hackfests, which has been super, super fun and fulfilling. I also convened a “give back” session- in that I wanted more women to contribute to open source, and I had just gotten over that hurdle myself that year. It was really well attended, and I left with that warm feeling that I think some folks would actually contribute after hearing my war stories.

As someone who has spoken at many conferences throughout my career, that feeling was new to me. It’s also interesting in that I’m not one who really needs to be helped with firsts like that, I’m pretty confident, rash, extroverted, etc.. But the fact that so many showed, and the questions I fielded, made me think that it was important to many people. That led to several discussions with book publishers on more ‘first’ books regarding programming and open source, which was also fun.

This year I was really tired from a long ski day the day before, and had a hard time getting down there – biffed the Caltrain schedule, etc. Looking around the starting circle – we all introduce ourselves then present session topics – it may have been fatigue, but I wasn’t into it. I thought about not coming back next year. I don’t like mushy feel-good sessions. As it got around to me and Stacie, I convinced her to give a talk I wanted to go to, “cool tech stuff” (she’s in an awesome innovation lab at Samsung), and I pitched two talks – My First Android App and a practice talk for a conference, “Why I Went to the Cloud”. Neither were well attended, though the Android app got a few devoted folks. I wasn’t that into it and rushed through the content, though the Android one was fun, for me, as I am pretty interested in it right at this moment.

Stacie’s talk was awesome, and is more about this post, as it’s about invention. We got about 5 women, we sat in a close circle, and talked in a somewhat structured way, about the future. I love the future! I love invention! It’s so creative, and it makes your brain hurt. I wrote *copious* notes that I can share if you’re interested. We spanned from personal usage, to gadgets, to recycling, to material production, to repairing and manufacturing models, to user interface, to the real strategies of innovation, etc. It was a great group and really couldn’t have been better if planned.

So now I’m warming up to it and realizing that it’s — like most things in life — what you make of it. Since I’m a “no mushy-feely” talks kinda person, and all of the talks were about lifestyle stuff, one stood out all by itself: Arduino. An open source embedded system library. That means, you can code hardware to do things. Fancy bike jackets with turn lights. A swimming, floating robotic shark (no lie).

Akkana, the teacher, and several cohorts, walked through a few demos and discussed offhand applications, experiences and uses. It was really eye opening. Of course the fun stuff happens outside of class. At break time, with a friend from an entrepreneur program, she showed me the LilyPad, a sewable Arduino chip, and at dinner we discussed more applications for Arduino chips. Then at lunch yesterday – even more discussions, my inbox, my journal, all full of ideas for… yep, programs that make things do things. Dur! Of course! Obvious that I would like that! Why have I never gotten into this??

Not over, though. Stacie and I gaze at the schedule on the wall, and the next session isn’t about anything that interests us, so, we decide to put up a sign that announces what we will be talking about. “How to win at Hackfests”. We’ve had a good run of it and both really enjoy them- so we thought we’d brainstorm some ideas (I’m of course thinking of how to integrate an Arduino chip). Stacie plops it on the wall and we wander off to an open room. It ended up being one of those great “give back” talks.

I honestly think more women will enter hackfests because of that discussion. We went over how we went, the ones we went to, how they’re run, what it’s like to do it, how to think of an idea, how to organize one, etc. all of the “firsts” involved. Ladies seemed really interested, we got a lot of good questions – though once in a while it splintered off into the technology of what we did – but still, it was really neat to realize that it’s hard for some folks to do this, and that it’s so easy to help them with just war stories of what we did.

So yes, definitely coming back next year, ha.

This post was originally posted at Banane.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Anna Billstrom is a developer with Momentus Media, a startup in the Mission District of San Francisco specializing in helping brands go viral. Their recent app “8 Bit Your Pic” for Black Eyed Peas saw 2 million users in 2 weeks. She’s done the gamut of OLAP DB modeling to iPhone development and Ruby on Rails. Currently, Anna is enjoying the fast lane of rapid, viral app development on Facebook. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @banane.