Monday, March 27, 2017

Checklist for First Hackathon

Cheatsheet for Your First Hackathon

What is a Hackathon?! I cover that here.
Come to a Hackathon with me, virtually.

First, you’ve applied to the hackathon.

Second, you’ve packed all the necessary things you need for hours of constant hacking.

Third, you're on your way to the hackathon location.

Your main goal is joining a team.

Introduce yourself to 5 people and see if anyone needs another team member

Introduce yourself to the sponsors tabling and giving out swag (Also figure out if they are sponsoring a specific prize or hack for the event)

If you still aren’t on a team, find out when and where people are pitching their ideas to build a team (this is usually one of the first events to happen so work fast at introducing yourself to people upon arrival)

You are now on a team. How To Pick a Hack/Project

Everyone can throw out ideas and the team pick one to move forward with

Pick from the specific competitions at the hackathon (ex. Microsoft Azure hacks, Amazon Echo Hack, Fintech Hack, etc). Then work backwards to pick a project that solves a problem in that specific area.

Getting Started

Once the project is picked out, everyone should take a portion of the project to work on. Ideally grab apart of the project that is your strength OR maybe even take this weekend to work on your weaknesses. So if web development is your strength and your group needs a website, start building the site.

See if any of the sponsors of the hackathon has resources that could help out your team.

Create a specific goal and start working on completing it.

Break time

You’ll see that everyone spends their breaks differently. Here are some ways that I’ve seen breaktime done at hackathons:


Snack break

Talking to sponsors

Checking out other projects

Walking outside


If you’ve made it this far then I'll let you take it from here. Enjoy the hackathon!

Grammarly yours, SemirahD

Keywords: tech, conference, hacker, hackathon, geek, nerd, women coder, girl code, code, coding, Microsoft, google, hackers, tech blogger, women tech blogger, tech advice

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Aren't 75% of American College Students Aware of Open Source (Specifically CS majors)

How Communities in USA support Open Source projects

From the perspective of a Mozilla Contributor/Volunteer

TOP 4 Open Source Contributions

1.         Campus Clubs

2.         Privacy and Web Literacy  

3.         Debugging/Remote Workers

4.         Team Project Management (IOT, Rust, Software Updates, etc.)

When are programmers or tech-ys or any other relevant parties introduced to “Open Source”?

Generally, in the USA, people are introduced to open source in college under computer science studies. However, they aren’t fully introduced to the concept of OS till they start their professional careers. Many local open source support groups are all older software developers or professionals working at large companies. I think this is pushed harder in the professional world because large companies are usually international and internationally the concept of open source is more imperative.

Open Source in Our Education System

Americans aren’t generally deprived or restricted access to many of the resources that we need so teachers and professors don’t push for their students to be exposed to open source. Of course restriction is not the only reason that someone would need open source resources but, it is a starting example.

I was personally introduced to open source, through Mozilla, my sophomore year of college. I was looking for a campus ambassador program that would help me build my engineering skills and I found the Mozilla Campus Clubs (previously known as Firefox Student Ambassadors). During this campaign, I learned about the many facets of open source and participated in some tech projects.

Open Source Contribution with Mozilla

Fast forward one year and I am now the Mozilla Reps North American Regional Coach, apart of the Campus Advisory Committee, and a Mozilla Tech Speaker. Through my volunteer work, I have learned so much about the importance of open source, the stigma around open source in my local area and around the US, the many resources available through Mozilla, and the many resources available through other open source focused organizations.

The Only Software Companies visible on Campus = Microsoft and Google

Mozilla has successfully promoted a free and open web to many universities around the world, except the US. There are many reasons and road blocks to explain this situation. From my perspective, Mozilla needs to invest an equal amount of resources that they invested in other areas around the world straight towards the US. It’s a large market and should be approached differently than you would Spain, India, Vietnam, etc.  

Where are the USA Open Source Organizations?

You can find groups of organizations in shared workspaces collaborating to push the open web, web literacy, internet of things, or some aspect of open source and a free/open web to the local community or a technically deprived sector of the local community.

There may be many other open source organizations out there that are doing the complete opposite but, this is what I’ve experienced so far. In addition to these small organizations, you have large corporations that require a focus on open source to function internationally or to accomplish large scale projects.

There are many hidden open source contributors around the USA that are fixing and finding bugs, working on localization, or building open source resources. However, these ninjas work remotely and usually keep their work within their virtual community.

Are You An Open Source Contributor?

In conclusion, your average American open source contributor either; 1. Works remotely 2. Is in a small organization geared towards minorities OR 3. Programmer at a large corporation.

I don’t mind that this blog post act as a call to action to rally the open source troops and prove me wrong. If you were wondering what does the open source world look like in the USA…. This is what I’ve found (... so far!).

Grammarly yours, Semirah D

keywords: open source, free and open web, software, Mozilla, firefox, student, campus ambassador, computer science major, FOSS, OS, redhat, grace hopper open source day

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Working out with Natural Hair

Going to the gym with natural hair is the ultimate struggle.

Hair is the main reason that many black women don’t go to the gym. Because after spending so much on a new hairstyle, we want it to last it’s full lifetime (for me, 2-4 weeks). And sweat is the top killer of fresh hairstyles. With that being said, who is running to the gym to ruin their wash and blow dry? Not anyone I know, but me.

I want to share with you how I make my hairstyles last while still being able to workout (like legit sweaty and hot workouts), at least 3 times a week.
This is my normal wash and blow dry that I maintain for 2-4 weeks

What To Do With Natural Hair Pre Gym:

1. Massage anti-frizz serum through hair (not a lot of product, just enough)

2. Massage coconut oil through hair as well

3. Brush hair into middle/high ponytail (perfect position to place ponytail into that back hole of a baseball hat).

4. Wear a headband that will protect your edges and soak up sweat

5. Optional step: Wear a baseball cap to keep hair down and another object to soak up the sweat.
working out with natural hair, sound of charm blog
Gabrielle Union is rocking a perfect example of the baseball cap and ponytail hairdo

What To Do With Natural Hair Post-Gym:

1. Take off hat and headband

2. Keep hair in ponytail and allow the hair to dry before taking ponytail out

3. When hair is dry, take ponytail down and brush or comb through hair.

4. Optional, spritz dry shampoo on scalp (Many people do not like to fill their hair with products because it makes their hair heavy and nasty. However, for others, dry shampoo makes brushing through the hair post-gym easier and if your hair collects a lot of build up from sweat then dry shampoo is necessary.)

5. Optional, put hair into a bunch of braids (and for bed throw on your head scarf)

6. Additional optional, brush down edges before putting on head scarf.

Other Natural Hair Gym Tips and Tricks

Create a hairstyle schedule that works with your gym schedule, For example:

1st week of getting your hair done

Hair: Straight down and bumped (no heat, rollers!)

Gym: 2 light workouts (ex. pilates, yoga, weightlifting) and 1 heavy workout (full body, Zumba, TRX, tibata, etc.)

2nd week

Hair: Curled (no heat, rollers!)

Gym: 2 heavy workouts and 1 light workout

3rd week

Hair: Creative twist and braids, Half up/Half down

Gym: All heavy workouts

Co-Wash Option
Many of you have co-wash routines as well. When I have a wash and blow dry, I don’t co-wash. When my hair is in braids or out in it’s curly natural state then, I co-wash. Everyone’s hair is different so you may have to try different things to find what works for you.
Cold Air Trick
Another little trick that I’ve learned helps prolong my hair after the gym is letting cold air run through my hair. I do this by either eating my post-gym snack in front of the fan at home or slowly walking back home from the gym so that the cold air can dry my hair faster. The warmth keeps your hair damp and can make it revert to it’s natural curly state. With a straight wash and blow dry, I don’t want it to revert to being curly.
Coconut Oil is Bae
Throughout this journey, continue to care for your hair as you normally would OR you may find that your hair needs more love. I now massage oil on my scalp so that build up doesn’t occur. I also braid my hair when I get home so that any humidity and frizz from the day dies down. For braiding, I either do the simple 2 cornrows going back or a ton of braids all over (usually with my hair parted into 4-8 sections).   
Did this help?
Let me know if you found this helpful. Also let me know if there are tips I’m not using that could help OR if I’m doing something the complete wrong way. Like what a do shawty? Let me know in the comment section below.

Grammarly yours, SemirahD

Keywords: natural hair, teamnaturalhair, black girl hairstyles, gym hairstyles, natural hair struggles, how to do gym hair, workout hair, black girl workout hair, black women gym hair, sweaty hairstyles, sweat, fitness, fitfam, gabrielle union, baseball cap, headscarf, bostonblogger

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How Two Days On Wall Street Transformed My Career

The Female Engineer Version

I read this cool article called “How Two Days on Wall Street Transformed My Career” from this guy who worked all his life to get to Wall Street.. He got there and was unnerved by the money hungry environment. I thought it’d be cool to do a parallel article on how my two days on Wall Street transformed my career. This guy that made it to Wall Street and later quit, ended up coming over to the dark side AKA the technology industry… Engineer nerds like to have fun and everyone is starting to find out our secret.

Earlier in January, I was invited to interview for a really big company on Wall St. in one of their investment teams (As I’m still in the job-seeking process I won’t share the exact company). My past internship experience includes: ocean engineering, health industry, sneaker designing, aerospace engineering, and manufacturing. Finance isn’t the chronological option after an engineering degree but, it is still a viable choice. An engineer on Wall St is just as beneficial as an engineer at Dell or Microsoft, they are: creating solutions, analyzing, solving, and innovating! However, Wall Street is definitely unlike any working environment that I’ve ever experienced which is why it transformed my view on prospective career choices.  

Define Objectives

When the guy in the original Wall Street article quit after 48 hours, he called on mentors, friends and family to help him get back on a defined career path and with specific objectives. He basically had to figure out what he wanted. Ask any college millennial what do we want and the majority of us have no idea… Like ask me what my 5 year plan is?? I have no idea! To the guy who quit Wall St and made an expedient decision to head to the technology industry, I give you kudos because as you can see from my very diverse resume… I’m not quite sure what I want either. This is exactly why I became an engineer because all I need to do is equip myself with a set of valuable skills and then go out and find a project or mission that I’d like to devote myself to.

For the people who have trouble defining their “professional objectives”, try pointing your career towards your passions. Honestly, working on something you love is bound to be a rewarding experience. Yes, it’s 2017 and we are all about getting this money or what not but a lot of those incentives are short term. We want quality over quantity. I prefer long term happiness.

Make The Leap

I’m not talking about making the leap from the Engineering College to the Business College. I’m (ehmm.. all women engineers..) are here to stay! I’m talking about making the leap towards what you are actually interested in. Don’t let someone or anything else hold you down into a space you aren’t comfortable in. For example, I was sitting in engineering classes for 2 years and kept going to hackathons(tech competitions) because this bizarre world of “programming” was intriguing to me. I didn’t want to change my major or try a random coding class because it just didn’t seem to fit the same engineering path that everyone else was on. I finally rose to the challenge and took a coding class as an elective for my engineering major. My first coding class went great and I turned around and made it a minor 3 coding classes later.

Rise to the Challenge

Throughout my engineering and coding classes I fail numerous times. Even at my internships, I could tell you about so many failures. I would get a bad grade or design something completely infeasible. I made sure to build a strong support circle so that I wouldn’t quit after second guessing myself after every failure. Talking to other women engineers at networking events and to other classmates, I begin to see that our successes are built off of the many failures that we overcome. That must mean that I have a lot of failures to endure because I’m still building my engineering/computer science foundation. Continue to fight for that strong foundation of failures that are rewarded with great successes!

Endure the Crucible

Each year of engineering college gets harder and harder and rumor has it that once you get into the industry, you must continue to grow and learn. Again overcome the hardships is rewarding. You gain these new levels of confidence after each challenge. For example, all Junior Year mechanical engineers have this confidence about them, in their studies, because we’ve all passed Calculus 1, 2, 3.. Differential Equations, etc. Yes it was hard and gruesome but, endure it. If you can endure the first 5 seasons of Game of Thrones or not having access to Season 7 of Shameless, then you can endure the pressure to perform.

Achieve Mastery

As a women in engineering, the imposter syndrome in me wants to say that I have not achieved any mastery at all. But that is wrong. After 3 years of internships, co-ops, and classes, I have achieved mastery. In the sense that, like the Wall St guy, I have earned the right to pause, recognize, and reflect. As a underclassmen engineering student, I did not have that right. I went from a lost and inexperienced engineering student to a passionate experienced engineer undergraduate and women engineer advocate. That was a dramatic transformation.

Next Play or Your Next Move

No one is ever at a halt. You will have a Next Play. Continue to seek out opportunities that will lead you to your next opportunity. My Next Play will be at the National Society of Black Engineer’s National Convention as a workshop speaker. This will be a challenging endeavor but, I’m excited to see how I come out in the end.  

I hope this personal transformation framework borrowed from that Wall St guy’s article will allow you to think through your own transformation stories.

Grammarly yours, SemirahD

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What Does An Engineer Look Like?

Harvard Wecode Conference 2017

Women in Tech

Harvard's WeCode conference is an (unofficial) extension from the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. It's a 500-person event for women in computer science and engineering. This was my 3rd year attending the conference and I'm so grateful for the experiences I gain every year. There are cool techy workshops at WeCode, special professional guest, and networking for days!

umass dartmouth, swe, nsbe, tech blogger, fashion blogger, lifestyle blogger
Head of Capital One's Diversity team (Julie Elberfield) alongside me (Semirah - far right) and 3 other women engineers

Harvard dorm Cambridge View
One of my top favorite aspects about WeCode is that every year I stay at a Harvard dorm with a Harvard student. I'm still friends with my host from 2 years ago! Staying on the Harvard University campus allows my friends and I to really immerse ourselves in authentic Harvard academia and social experiences.

A big topic at WeCode (and many other tech conferences) was Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. If you have ever interacted with an Amazon Echo speaker then you have already dabbled in the world of artificial intelligence. Companies like Microsoft, Google, and various start-ups are working to bring VR and AI to mainstream consumers. Virtual Reality is already available to the masses via Play Station, Oculus Rift, Google, and so many more.

"Anything you design has bias in it" the reason we need women engineers because men unintentionally design with bias

"Work in a place that will allow you to make mistakes and supports you" 

Two Sigma did their infamous "Blinky Lab" workshop where participants work on a quick Arduino activity.  

Two Sigma gives participants an electrical kit with wires, usb cords, LED lights, and alligator clips. They have computers all set up with their software and the necessary libraries(technical term for a virtual location that stores specific data) downloaded. Once a participant attends the workshop, all we need to do is adjust the code and set up the hardware.

Once the hardware is all set up and the code is fixed, the magic happens! Essentially, we get the LED lights to blink different colors and run at various patterns.

BONUS: Two Sigma let's us keep the LED kits to try the experiment at home or share with younger siblings. I can't wait to show my younger brothers this cool (and wicked easy) engineering activity.

"Coding should be our new liberal arts" - Latanya Sweeney
I've attended the WeCode conferences 3 times and each year I work with the Harvard WeCode team as a Campus Ambassador. I try to grow from my WeCode experiences every year so, this year I made my experience centered around intentional personal growth. I usually try to attend every single event and workshop but this year I tried the opposite approach.

I had long and meaningful conversations with a few recruiters, fellow women engineers, and collegiates. This allowed me to build stronger connections, as opposed to quick resume handouts and introductions.

"You should know how to make something using technology"
While at WeCode, I was honored to be invited to a networking dinner with Square. The dinner was a beautiful roundtable of women engineers and professionals having intellectual conversations over sangria and tapas.

Networking dinners are the hidden gem of professional events. This is when the ties are loosened, the blazers come off, and the entertaining industry stories are shared. However, you still must keep a professional demeanor so watch your alcohol intake and have a good time! 

We love the NERD shirt!

Grammarly yours, Semirah D

WeCode 2016 (Dinner with Goldman Sachs as a Sophomore):

WeCode 2015 (Harvard Hackathon as a Freshman):

keyword: engineer, women in tech, women in stem, internships, facebook, google, women in engineering, Harvard, Harvard university, boston, nyc, California, san Francisco, nerd, geek, coding, computer science, mechanical engineering, conference, women conference, women coding, lady geek, mixed girl, black girl code, black engineer, nsbe

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