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What to Expect When You're Expecting, and Other Adventures in Computing Careers

* UPDATE: NEW! Want to bring a child with you to WiAC '12 to get a jump-start in learning about this important area? When you register for WiAC '12, you can now purchase a guest pass for those 18 years or younger for only $50. Get started on your registration for WiAC '12 at USENIX Federated Conferences week here.

Last night I booked my flight to Boston for Federated Conferences Week, which will be held June 12-15. I also booked a ticket for my 15-year-old daughter, Cleo. Why? Because I'm a single parent, which means I bring her with me on business trips when I can.

I don't think they covered this part of parenting in my copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, so I'm writing the Business Travel with Daughters chapter as I go... Believe me, this chapter has required many, many revisions.

I didn't ask for permission from my employers or colleagues when I made the decision to bring Cleo with me on a business trip. My colleagues are aware of my status as a single parent of a teenage daughter, so I assumed no one would mind. Besides, my kid will be exploring Boston during the day while I'm attending sessions, so it's not like anyone will be tripping over her in the hallways.

I did mention that my daughter was coming with me in an email I sent to the USENIX Women in Advanced Computing Summit (aka WiAC'12) organizers and speakers.

I wrote, "I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in Boston. I'm bringing my 15-year-old daughter with me to Boston - she's taking her first programming class next year, so it'll be great for her to meet some/all of you."

The first Women in Advanced Computing Summit will be held Tuesday, June 12, as part of Federated Conferences Week, and the point of my email was to ask recipients two questions:

  1. How will WiAC'12 be different from other "Women in..." tech events?
  2. Why are you excited about the first USENIX WiAC summit?

Before any of the women answered my two questions, one of them replied, asking, "Do you have plans for your daughter on the days of the conference(s)? I will be bringing my 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. I was planning on sending them to the science museum. Maybe the kids can hang out together!"

The next woman who replied also commented on my plans to bring Cleo, saying, "Hmmm — what an interesting idea — I wonder if we should have a 'daughters' event as part of the day." She told me that she's been bringing her kids to conferences with her for years.

These were not the reactions I was expecting. No one sounded concerned about my unprofessional behavior, my priorities, or my kid being a distraction. Suddenly, I wasn't worried about how I would juggle parenting and participating at the event.

The WiAC summit is exactly the kind of event I've always wanted to attend. And our daughters are one of the reasons why we need events and discussions that focus on the topic of women in computing.

"I am excited about this summit because it provides opportunities not just for reflection and discussion but also for action," responded Jessica McKellar, WiAC'12 panelist and Project Lead, Ksplice Group at Oracle. "It is a rare chance to hear the perspectives of super-technical women from both academia and industry and from multiple generations about what it really takes to change the dynamic for women in computing."

McKellar is right — the workshop isn't just about discussion. We need to follow up with action, which is why Cat Allman, Program Manager at Google's Open Source Programs Office, will facilitate an afternoon workshop. The goal of the workshop is to "... assess the day and declare an intent to concretely change the shape of computing to make it more supportive of women who desire a career in a computing profession." In the workshop, attendees will focus on answering:

How can we support the up-and-comers, change the landscape to reduce or remove barriers to women, and engage the other gender to aid in improving the culture?

"Over the years I've met so many terrific women in CS and the tech industry through USENIX," Allman says. "Having a chance to collect some of them together to specifically talk amongst ourselves about career issues in our industry is going to be great!"

We hope you can join us next month in Boston. Be sure to register by May 29 to take advantage of the early-bird discount.

(You might also want to read: 7 practical reasons to teach children about open source)