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Quality, Curiosity and Enthusiasm were the hallmarks of Women’s Technical Conference 2018

It would be an understatement to say the mood was upbeat among the participants of WinTechCon-2018.   “This was a great initiative,” “Such a conference was long overdue,” “Thank you for starting something like this,” were comments that the organizers of WinTechCon heard over and over again from the participants.  Shalini Kapoor of IBM echoed these feelings in her keynote talk on “How AI is changing the world of IoT.”  She pointed to the artwork in the backdrop of the stage, where a woman employee is seen standing with her briefcase, looking at her shadow on the wall. The shadow, on the other hand, shows her as a superwoman with a cape.  To paraphrase Shalini Kapoor, women technologists often do not recognize their own potential in a technology industry which is dominated by men – the woman employee must take time to recognize her innate talent and speak out for herself.  WinTechCon aimed at doing precisely that – provide a forum for women technologists to showcase their work.

The initiative for WinTechCon-2018 came from IEEE CAS Bangalore Chapter. As its secretary, when I first spoke to Roopa and Suhasini from Texas Instruments (India) in March 2018, they immediately saw its merit and soon Roopashree arranged a meeting with Santhosh Kumar, the Managing Director and President of TI, India. Without a second of hesitation, he agreed to provide all support and advised us to form a Steering Committee with representatives from companies that are in the space of semiconductors and electronic systems.   Roopashree (TI), Viji Ranganna (Qualcomm), Rituparna Mandal (Media Tek), Sumedha Limaye (Intel),  Jaya Singh (Texas Instruments) and Parvathi Rachakonda (IBM) constituted the Steering Committee – as the lone male member, I played the role of an advisor who occasionally stirred the pot. Soon, support poured in from Intel, IBM, ADI, Qualcomm, Cadence, Samsung and Boeing. Many other companies agreed to encourage their women employees to submit papers and participate in WinTechCon.  Meanwhile, I sought support from IEEE Bangalore Section. Sudeendra Koushik, the Chairman of the section, responded immediately and also brought in the IEEE Women In Engineering Council of Bangalore.  A steering committee was formed to draw the blueprint for the conference. In the minds of the Steering Committee, the agenda of the conference was very clear – create a high-quality technical conference that would parallel any major IEEE conference that technologists long to attend.

 

Technical Program

A program committee was soon formed and Rittu Sachdev Singh from TI was elected to lead the committee with representatives from Intel, IBM, Canon, Boeing,  Bosch, Mediatek, Samsung, and TI.  In parallel, an organizing committee was created under the leadership of Antaash Sheikh (TI) to start working on the logistics.  The respective committees were soon using teleconferencing, e-mail, and a WhatsApp group to exchange ideas and take decisions. Interestingly, many members of the committee met one another face-to-face only at the conference! We used e-mail, LinkedIn, Facebook and WhatsApp to publicize the Call for Papers.   For women professionals who had never written a paper before, we held a half-day workshop on technical writing. In the end, the conference received an overwhelming response and 110 papers were submitted. With its goal to create an excellent technical program, the committee assigned the papers to experts from industry and academic institutions and ensured that at least three reviews are available for every paper. After much deliberation, 12 papers were selected for presentation. Four demo proposals were shortlisted and 10 papers were selected for poster presentation. The selected papers were in the areas of VLSI design, electronic systems, system optimization and design automation.   An invited talk in the area of 5G communication was included (Jiji Jayadevan of Mediatek).  The paper “Short-term HRV using acceleration PPG under Severe Ambient Settings using in-house Developed Wearable” by Payal Mohapatra, Preejith S.P. and Mohanasankar Sivaprakasam (Indian Institute of Technology, Madras) won the Best Paper award.  The poster paper “Application specific Transmit Power Optimization using Predictive Modelling” by Hinduja Ichapuram, Prasad Rao, Maulik Patel, Diwakar Sharma and Tushar Vrind  (Samsung R&D Institute – Bangalore India) was adjudged the Best Poster.  Two embedded tutorials were included, one on Functional Safety and another on the use of Cognitive Technologies for improving customer experience. The former tutorial on Functional Safety  was jointly given by Jaya Singh (TI) and Trupti Joshi and Ritu Agarwal (Intel).  The lateral tutorial was given by Gargi Dasgupta (IBM).

 

Keynote Talks

The morning keynote talk was given by Shalini Kapoor (IBM) who chose to talk about the work that her group is doing in the space of Internet of Things.  We began to hear about IoT about six to seven years ago. It is a term used to describe the possibilities in a world where just about anything is connected to the Internet so that it can be monitored or controlled. For example, IoT is being employed in monitoring building safety and industrial manufacturing.  In the manufacturing shop floor, machines can be monitored on the Internet. Artificial Intelligence can help monitor the health of the machines and thereby reduce the down-time of the machines through preventive maintenance.  Optimizations that were not possible in the past are becoming possible due to our ability to gather data from sensors distributed geographically in the building or the shop floor. For example, by collecting temperature and occupancy data in a building and simultaneously monitoring weather conditions, optimum conditions can be maintained in the building while 10 to 15% savings in energy are achieved.  Smart assistants installed in the building can also improve the user experience.  “I have to travel a lot for my job and I always find the temperature setting to be too cold in the room.  If only I could talk to an intelligent assistant who understood my voice commands and set the temperature to my preference! With assistants like Watson, we are close to this reality where a user does not have to struggle with buttons or computers or passwords.”

Prof. Susmita Sur-Kolay talked about Quantum Computing and how they might change the complexity of computational problems. She gave a short history of Quantum Computing for the uninitiated and explained how quantum computers will allow polynomial time solutions for problems such as integer factorization. Since prime number factorization is at the heart of many encryption schemes, quantum computing will challenge these systems. To a question on when will quantum computers actually become a reality, Prof. Sur-Kolay said the quantum computer may not take the form of a general-purpose desk-top or lap-top computer. Instead, it will likely be a coprocessor to conventional computers. Companies such as IBM, Google and Microsoft are investing in the space of quantum computing. IBM announced a 50 qubit computer and Google announced a 72 qubit computer. However, it may be another 10 years before we see the true realization of a quantum computer.

A panel discussion on the topic “Tracing the Trajectory of Women’s Careers in Technology: Challenges & Solutions” was moderated by Antaash Sheikh (TI). The panelists included Garima Srivastava (Samsung), Roopashree (TI), Viji Ranganna (Qualcomm) and Krishna Paul (Intel).    The panel discussion centered on how the initial phase of a woman engineer is crucial to her career, what challenges does a woman face in coming back to resume her career after having a child in an industry where changes are rapid, what can women do to overcome the setbacks they may face, and why there are so few women in individual contributors’ roles as opposed to managers.  The panelists recounted personal anecdotes and stories to make their point.  They felt that today the company policies and technology are both in favor of young mothers and young women technologists must take advantage of them.  “Sometimes, if you feel that you have to take on a smaller designation to pursue your passion in technology, you must not hesitate to do so,” advised one panelist. Another panelist felt that the opportunities to innovate in the semiconductor/systems space are limited in India, irrespective of the gender.  “That being said, a woman who is passionate about technology must not give up and purse her dreams,” she said. “It was tough for me when I decided to push for an individual contributor’s role. If I raised my voice in meetings, I was branded as being aggressive.  I used one-on-one meetings with my male colleagues to resolve conflicts that would arise in group meetings. In an individual contributor’s role, one has to find work and we may face ups and downs.  But we need to stick it out!”  One of the questions from the audience was about why young girls, despite enjoying greater success in the high school than young boys, do not quite see the same success when they enter the industry.  In response, the panelists felt that girls lose out on networking opportunities and the hands-on learning that boys who are able to spend extra hours at the college. Going by the spontaneous applause from the audience throughout the discussion, it was clear that there was a strong resonance to the points being made.

A hallmark of the conference was the active participation by the attendees. Every session was packed and hands went up instantaneously at the end of the session when it was time for Q&A. The organizers had to cut back on the number of questions in the interest of time.  The technology demos and company booths also received a significant number of visitors.

 

Some statistics about WinTechCon-2018

 

Number of Submissions 110
Accepted Regular Papers 12
Accepted Demo Proposals 4
Acceptance rate 15%
Reviews 315
Number of reviewers 91
Number of reviews 294
Total number of attendees 220
Total number of companies represented 40
Composition of industry/academia in participants 80:20
Composition of male/female participants 10:90

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