My Take on TakeOver Innovation Conference and Toronto

view-from-CN-Tower
This picture I took from the CN Tower makes me wonder if the picture on my blog’s template header is from Toronto.

 

Last month I attended the TakeOver Innovation Conference. Lately I have been mostly attending conferences as a Speaker, but this time it felt great to be on the attendee end. The conference took place in Toronto, Canada, and it was my first time being there. This is my personal take on my experience.

The conference program consisted of various talks in multiple industries. We learned more about how they are using emerging technologies such as block-chain, AR/VR and more in various sectors. Topics covered issues in Retail, Finance (such as VC), Media, Healthcare, Women in Tech and more.

What is TakeOver Innovation Conference?

According to the conference website, “TakeOver is TribalScale’s inaugural Innovation Conference”. The conference consisted of three tracks, human innovation, industry innovation and economic innovation. In specific, it had a focus on emerging technologies in tech and how they can or already foster innovation.

TribalScale is a digital firm specializing in the design and development of world class digital products.

One day when I came across TakeOver’s Conference and after taking a note of all the details I noticed they had a diversity scholarship to attend. On the 25th of September I got a congratulatory email that I had been selected to attend the conference. I was elated, but then I realized the conference is on the 2nd of October and there wasn’t much time left to plan, so this was the most impromptu travel I have ever had! The plan was to travel from Athens, Greece to Toronto, Canada. There was a lot of preparation to be done, packing, planning my budget and more. Luckily, TribalScale employees assisted me to book my flights and book accommodation for the duration of the conference giving me a couple of extra days to settle (thanks Ruth & Samantha for the assistance!)

Getting to Canada

This was my first time to travel to Canada. It was a long journey and being on the plane without company for so many hours is boring and uncomfortable. I realized that my flight had no TV screen to pass time in the plane, that was a bummer! I was very tired with all the planning so luckily I spent most of the time semi-sleeping during the Greek morning hours and I believe that is what helped me adapt faster to the Canadian Timezone.

Once I landed in Canada, some awesome family friends drove me to my hotel after first taking me to place to get some food. That helped a lot, as it made it easier for me. The transport system in Toronto works differently from the one in Athens but the train to get you from Pearson Airport to Downtown Toronto seemed pretty straightforward and not too complicated. Toronto is also very multicultural which I liked a lot. Read more

Open-source contributions. It is good enough.

Ever since I finished my Outreachy Internship, I have been contributing to several open-source projects here and there.  Even so, whenever I was asked on if I am currently contributing to any open-source project I often said no. I said no not because I wanted to be dishonest, but because at that specific point I felt what I contributed was insignificant. Can you imagine?

open-source code on laptop screen

I decided to reflect my contributions in a reverse motion and think of how far I have come in this past year.

An open-source  journey

 

Add Authentication (user accounts) with Devise

As I was doing the rail girls training in the first Rail Girls Athens workshop I noticed a link on the manual is not working. My initial gut action was, report the bug! Then I thought… “Wait, I know how to contribute to open source and I know how to fix it. How about I try to do so.”
This is an interesting way to contribute, finding something buggy while you are using something and realizing it might be something you can fix, then going ahead to fix it and see how it goes.

–  Added List Delete Example

I applied to attend the first local Django girl workshop in Athens. I did not get selected however I did not let that stop me from doing the tutorial, I did it myself then found a piece in the tutorial that I thought would be better explained with some examples. So I decided to contribute to it.
Improving already existing projects is cool too.

Swag I got from participating in hacktoberfest 2015 an open-source initiation.
Swag I got from participating in hacktoberfest 2015.

– Learn X in Y minutes : Fixing some typos sample contribution

Last year I wanted to take part in Hacktoberfest, I was trying to find ways to get started. I notice the Learn X in Y minutes had some documentation in Greek language however, there were a few typos. I decided to fix several of them. Do you know a unique language? Maybe you can help an open-source project in close captioning, documentation, or translation.

– Adding Consistency: Hugo

Sometimes contributing is not overly complicated, things such as adding consistency to a documentation can be very beneficial as it makes it easier to read.

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Talk Coaching: Few Lessons to Keep in Mind

Black Microphone Before a Talk

Few weeks ago I was provided with the opportunity to do a 1-1 professional talk coaching session, as part of Mozilla Tech Speakers training. Since such opportunities do not come as often, I decided to share the experience with you all, so that you can get the chance to gain some valuable knowledge like I did. This way, we all get an equal opportunity to learn, and improve. Now let us go right to the gist, below I will post my takeaways in a random order.

Lessons on Giving a Talk

When you are giving a talk, speaking to people, you want them to feel who you are, and know you a little.

Before going out to the stage or wherever you are going to speak at, ask yourself, “What is it that I love about this group of people today?” When you ask yourself this question it will give you a sense of motivation that will make you speak with more passion to your audience.

What they hear and do after your talk is what matters. When you give a talk, also try to see it as a learning opportunity for you. Ask yourself “How can I use this opportunity to learn more about my topic?”. You need to find the way to bring out your best self.

Now about keeping your audience engaged….Everything you do or say should be for them.

Mystery is a good motivator to keep people. Hold back info, build it up…then reveal.

Questions are powerful, however, one caveat of it is that, if you ask the wrong question, you might lose credibility.

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Algorithms & Data Structures: My Journey.

journey path of algorithms

Some years back I had a dilemma that led me to never study algorithms and data structures as a computer engineering student. I am the type of student that always goes above and beyond. One thing that I did during my studies is take courses that were 1 year ahead of my class. For example, if I was a Freshman (1st year), I would register in classes from the Sophomore year (2nd year) with any remaining credits (my university system is one of which you are given a fixed amount of credits for each semester, but passing courses ahead of time made me have an excess). I reached a place where one of the courses I passed was removed from the curriculum so the next year, which was the year on which I was originally supposed to take it, I was eligible to swap its grade for a future course. Due to my inexperience with being in university or studying computer engineering, I had little to no experience on which was the best course to switch my grade with. My background was science oriented, biology, chemistry, you name it. My experience with computer science was very minimal, hence my knowledge of it was lacking foundations. I had no advisor, so I resorted to asking people, in specific classmates in the same or an older year than me, however, I never thought of asking any professor. In my naive brain I thought that a student is more likely to know the answer based on rumors from other students or if they have done the course before. That sometimes holds true but not all the time.  After asking around I was advised to assign that passing grades to “Algorithms and Data Structures” because that course was hard, and even the ones that did pass it say they barely understood what was going on in that course. I strongly remember that there were 2 students out of the several I asked that told me it is a fundamental course to take. I did not take that word seriously, I did not understand why it is fundamental, I looked it up a bit online but I still did not understand what it was about. I decided to go by the advises of the party of opinions that were the most resounding. I assigned that not-so-awesome grade to algorithms and data structures and after that day I was not eligible to join the lab classes of it anymore because on paper I had already passed it.

Years after I tried to look for internship openings, and I realized that…software engineering internships which was what I wanted to try were asking for “algorithms and data structures” as one of their requirements. Later, I learned that, that is one of the fundamental coding interview must-know in order to become a software engineer or ace the challenging coding interviews. For top companies it seemed to me that no matter how intelligent or smart I was, all that mattered was how much I possessed that hard technical skill. That was depressing. Right there the dream of being a software engineer started to fade. I once more went online and tried to ask the search engines to show me the way. Show me the way to learn this skill! I did get an answer, but not the answer I wanted. I read some books, checked out series of recommendations on the right and best book to read for this subject but it looked so complicated. It looked very confusing, after a point these resources hardly made any sense and I will call it quits for several months, try again, temporarily quit, and repeat; I struggled.

I developed a phobia on data structures and algorithms, one that told me that it is so hard, and I would not be able to learn it. Eventually, I felt that the tech industry does not have a place for me. I felt that I needed to have known what code is at the age of 6 so by my early 20s I would have the necessary coding experience needed to do well in a coding interview. Life doesn’t go back and by the age of 6 or 12, I had no computer anyway.

 

The Turning Point

Over the months I changed my focus on being able to build some skills on other areas I was lacking. Several things happen till It lead me to decide to learn it again. It happens that I had the wrong goals in mind. I wanted to learn algorithms to do well in a coding interview to get a software engineering internship at an awesome company, when instead I should be learning it because it is a skill worth knowing and it is something that is bound to make my brain think smarter.

This time I was fortunate to get to know a wonderful person who is there for me in this journey of learning. That is very comforting. You can also join us in this journey of learning, a never ending cycle, having in mind that we are walking the same steps together in asynchronous times and paces.

I want you to join me in this journey. If you are struggling to learn this very important fundamental knowledge feel free to follow me in this path. This is a skill you can learn, and you need to start believing you can. That is the first step and that is how I am starting myself.

Task 1: Believe you can learn it. It might take hard work, but believe you can.

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