Presenting at Grace Hopper 2014

My dear colleague & friend, Sthiti, & I had been wanting to submit an abstract for GHC for a few years now but in vain. Late 2013 we attended a Codechix meetup on Presenting at Conferences, at Stanford University. This was a great meetup, where several accomplished women who were regular conference speakers shared their thoughts and experiences on what it takes to submit an idea and then present at a conference. We also had a hands-on exercise to brainstorm ideas and then narrow down on a few that had the potential to make to an abstract.

We decided to take the ideas from our shortlisted set and write out an abstract to meet the upcoming GHC deadline. Since we didn’t have too much time to explore something new, we picked a topic that was closely related to our day jobs. We decided to introduce the Open Computing Language and its features. We did a few iterations on the abstract and finally hit the submit button.

To our pleasant surprise our abstract was one among those chosen to be presented at the Conference! After taking a couple days to rejoice, we got down to work. How hard could it possibly be to present on a topic that you work with on a daily basis anyway? Turns out – Very!

When you tend to know enough detail about a topic, you make assumptions about the audience’s knowledge of the subject. Until you do a mock session at home and have your husband/family looking at you blankly, as you ramble on. The key is to always know who your audience is and what matters to them!

Once we had some some slides up, we decided to consult with Rupa Dachere(founder of Codechix – codechix.org) and get her advice. Despite her super busy schedule, Rupa did several google hangout sessions with us to come up with a great outline for the presentation. We then started filling in the details and the presentation started taking good shape. If you are a codechix member & know anything about Rupa at all is that she is a hardcore techie! Which means a presentation is incomplete if there is no hands-on session 🙂

Though we were nervous about this at first, it seemed totally worth it. We put out some sample code with instructions on github (https://github.com/sushmakarthikrao/sample-ocl-app) and a few among the audience downloaded it, installed the OpenCL SDK etc. and had something compiling and running at the end of the session – how exciting!

A couple weeks prior to the Conference, Codechix gave a few of us GHC speakers a forum to present in a more formal setting, as practice. This was a great experience and helped us refine our slides further as well as provide valuable comments to other presenters.

Though we rehearsed and planned forever, we still had a few glitches on the day of the presentation. If you have practiced your demo or session on a particular laptop, then DO NOT change to another laptop on the day of the conference. Rookie mistake huh? 1. We realized we don’t have the right cable to connect up to the projector with the new system – Rupa, who was in the audience cheering us on, helped bail us out of this situation by running out and getting one. 2. One of our demos did not work as expected because it was not tested well on this new system 😦

Despite these hiccups, our session went off quite well. We had a good turnout & lots of questions from the audience – which was very encouraging. A few folks even came to talk to us after the session. Overall a great experience!

As with all other projects – it’s a lot of work.  But would I do it again – Absolutely 🙂

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