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Edinburgh Hoppers: women in technology celebrate 10 years

On 5 December, Edinburgh University’s student-run women in technology group, the ‘Hoppers,’ celebrated their 10th anniversary.

The group is named after Grace Hopper, an American computer science pioneer who paved the way for computer programming languages like COBOL.

Here is one Hopper's report of their anniversary event:

“Established in September 2005 to provide a peer-support network for female students in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, the Hoppers has managed to thrive despite the constantly changing constituency of members.”

By students, for students

“The group is entirely run by students, for students, and we believe that Edinburgh University Hoppers is one of the oldest student-run societies for women in computing. Over the years Hoppers has created a sense of community, particularly among the undergraduate women in Informatics, who represent approximately 17% of the total cohort.

“Most of the group’s events are focused on skill-development, and coding nights are always popular. However, the ultimate goal is to cultivate an open community with the aim to provide a supportive and inclusive society where people are comfortable and build both technical and networking skills to thrive in the tech environment.   

“Moreover each year the society elects a small committee of ‘presidents’ who develop further skills in fundraising, event planning and financial management.”

Anniversary event

“Despite the wild and windy weather, approximately 50 participants joined the celebrations on 5 December.  The event brought together old and new Hoppers, undergrads, postgrads, staff and alumnae, including presidents spanning the past 10 years.  

“Role models have always played an important part in Hoppers activities, and this event was no exception.  The afternoon started with a series of short talks from researchers and alumnae."

Katia Shutova - Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

“Guest speaker Dr Katia Shutova - a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Cambridge - discussed her research in natural language processing, in particular computational modelling of metaphor, giving interesting insights into how we can be subliminally influenced by the metaphors that politicians use, and describing a system to automatically paraphrase into more neutral language.” 

Jane Hillston - Personal Chair in Quantitative Modelling

"Professor Jane Hillston holds a Personal Chair in Quantitative Modelling in the School of Informatics. Jane discussed her path to computer science and the female role models who supported and influenced her. She stressed the impact that the existence of strong role models can have in encouraging more women into the discipline, and exhorted all present to be conscious of their own potential to be role models for the next generation."

Kate Ho – at the digital interface to the Scottish Government

“The final talk was given by Kate Ho, who as an undergraduate in 2005 was one of the instigators for the formation of the Hoppers group.  With a portfolio career that has included completing a PhD, starting a successful start-up and now working on the digital interface to the Scottish Government, Kate has a broad perspective.  She spoke about the importance of community and networking, from a technical point of view, and more broadly. 

“Kate pointed out that we are fortunate in Edinburgh to have a thriving tech community with many tech meetups on offer every week, but spoke with understanding about how intimidating these can be particularly for novice, female programmers.  Nevertheless she encouraged everyone to get involved in multiple communities, including Hoppers, to expand their network and their skills."

Panel discussion

The Edinburgh Hoppers anniversary event panel takes questions
The panel takes questions

“Further activities in the afternoon included a panel session, allowing the audience to pose questions to women at different stages of their careers, both within industry and academia. 

"Topics raised included how to widen the pipeline to get more female students into the discipline, facilitating transfer into the community for women who perhaps initially completed a degree in a different discipline and how to overcome the ‘guild’ mentality, which can be particularly off-putting for women who are lacking confidence in their technical abilities."

 

Speed networking

"The speed networking session that followed quickly overcame the students' initial shyness and the room was soon buzzing with lively conversation, further facilitated by drinks and canapés. 

“As a momento of the occasion, participants were encouraged to visit our photo booth where they could have their picture taken with a life-sized iconic picture of Grace Hopper. 

“Like all Hopper events, this was run by students, for students, with minimal support from the staff in the School of Informatics.  Nevertheless a few female staff came along to share in the fun and it was a pleasure to see the joy and excitement that these young women have in their chosen field of study.  The value that they derive from the group is evident from the fact that it has kept going for over 10 years.  Given the enthusiasm and passion of the current female cohort, it will keep going for at least another 10 years.”

Useful links

Edinburgh Hoppers website

Edinburgh Hoppers facebook group

Photographs from the anniversary event

Professor Hillston's web page