Team Sectumsempra at GHCI 2018!

Posted on by Avneet Kaur

We are so thankful to the RGSoC organizers for giving us the opportunity to attend Grace Hopper Celebration India 2018, which was held in Bengaluru, India from November 14 - November 16th 2018. With the ever so encouraging keynotes, life transforming stories of prominent women paving their way in technology, the much celebrated career fair, it was definitely an experience of a lifetime and I couldn’t miss it for the world. Unfortunately my teammate Rupal was unable to attend due to personal reasons. The 3 days of the conference were full of learning, networking, and some fun and games too! There was so much to take back and to realize that there is so much more to learn as we tread forward in our journey in tech. And as I put this down in my words, I feel so elated to cherish the experience yet again, with the dewy memories of time well spent. So here goes how my days at the conference were spent.

Day 1: Inspiring Keynotes, Envisioning the future, Mottos to live by and much more…

As I arrived at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre, the first thing that caught my eye was the huge queue in front of all the registration booths. So many women from varied technological backgrounds and at different levels in their career paths had gathered for the Grace Hopper India rightly termed as a ‘Celebration’. More so because, it was a celebration of the amazing journeys each and every attendee their had gone through, and how proud it made them feel to be there at that time. The excitement from their cheery voices, planning on how they are going to spend the much awaited three days, surrounded the conference ground.

While standing in the queue, I was amazed to see how some of us could bond over the the simplest of things such as when they would commence the registration. Uponreceiving the badge, all the women, with their smiles as wide and eyes as bright as they could ever be, swarmed towards the main hall. And that itself was a sight to behold.

After finally gathering in the main hall, all of us eagerly waited for the keynotes to begin. As the welcome presentation by Geetha Kanan, the organizer of the conference commenced, all of us cheered and hooted with excitement while she walked us through the beautiful journey of GHCI through the years, as well as the women behind it all. We all were so thrilled to see an all women team behind such a reputed and well-appraised conference. Soon after, the first keynote by Lori Beer took place, and she gave us such important lessons while undertaking our journey in technology. She emphasized how its so essential to dream big. With her talk, we all envisioned to carry forward the dream of achieving the “Fifty Fifty ratio in tech by 2025”.i As I write this down, I reminisce her words, which ring repeatedly loud and clear, in my head: “Be bold, be brave, be yourself, be unstoppable.”

One of the talks that stood out, and for me, it definitely was the highlight of the day was by Vaishali Kasture,one of the keynote speakers. She educated us on the importance of the art of selling, and how crucial it is to be able to put yourself out there, to be able to derive the best for yourself, your company as well as your clientele. Citing her own example, she mentioned proudly and just as casually , that she came from a non-tech background herself but was in the tech business for quite long now, and to top it all, she was addressing a gathering of 5000 female engineers, which was quite unconventional, thereby highlighting the essential need for all of us to learn how to negotiate well, and to sell as well. While talking about unconscious bias, she pointed out how it is common for us it is to assume that selling and negotiating are associated with masculinity its time to eliminate that. Moreover, she engaged the audience through interesting anecdotes from her experience so far. An interesting thought she provoked, stuck with me. “Out west they say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but here we say that the nail that sticks out gets the hammer.” And that was one of the key takeaways for me, that is, mastering the art of ethics, as well as negotiation, and doing it with a lot of empathy and ethics.

All the speakers shared their experiences from their tech journeys, and left us with thought provoking words and all the more encouragement to be engaged with tech as a career, and do things right. Their words, energy, conviction and most importantly, the motivation with which they spoke, spread infectiously and so quickly among the crowds and while young girls quickly soaked their minds with all that was pouring in, I too, not falling behind gathered it all to take back home with me, not only to cherish, but to carry it forward in my journey in tech. As the day concluded, with happy hearts and craving minds, and we looked forward to know what’s in store for the upcoming days.

GHCI 2018

GHCI conference 2018 (source: Avneet Kaur)

Day 2 and Day3:

It marked the beginning of the career fair, and so many women joined the conference on the second day.There was a great lineup of speakers everything ranging from Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, to talks on Career advice, Emerging technologies, Using Tech for Social Development and Innovation, and so much more.

I was really intrigued by one particular talk on “Analyzing Gender Stereotypes in Bollywood movies” by Nishtha Madaan, who is a researcher at IBM. It was interesting to know about the prevalent bias in AI, because of the kind of data that is fed into systems, and what the outcome is. The talk was based on the study of bollywood movies data and images data from wikipedia and analyzed the differences between the appearances, introduction, role portrayal, dialogues, actions of the male vs female actors and highlighted the much prevalent bias.The goal of this study was to methodologically analyze this and find ways to remove this kind of bias. The talk concluded with a well deserved applause roaring through the entire audience. I too enjoyed the talk thoroughly.

Next up I attended various talks centred around various applicationsof deep learning. One of them was about Fake Article Detection from Multilingual Documents using deep learning, which was again quite engaging. Another interesting talk was on Vision Based Railway Track Monitoring Using Deep Learning. Both these talks opened up my horizon of knowledge on things, applications that deep learning plays and possibly can play an essential role in, and how it is being used as an extensive tool in research.

Apart from attending various talks, I also attended the career fair, which was definitely the highlight of the day. Unlike the quiet conference halls, the career fair hall, was brimming with cheery noises, fun and games at various booths, people networking in groups near booths, and ofcourse, girls gathering up to solve quizzes and puzzles to win goodies was a common sight to behold. On both the days, I visited the various booths in the career fair, which had interesting opportunities for all women.

All in all, GHCI18 turned out to be a great experience, full of learning, exploring new things, learning about new tools and technology and most importantly their applications. The highlight of the event was definitely the keynotes on the first day, which filled within us great waves of enthusiasm and encouragement to not only carry forward, but to lead our journey in technology with pride.

DV Team Farewell

Posted on by Violeta & Diana

Time’s up!

What an incredible experience!

While most of people went on summer holidays to unwind, we decided to do the opposite. Working throughout summer, combining our full time job with a part-time Summer of Code experience. After an intensive three months of 60+ hours work, it’s hard to believe this Rails Girls Summer of Code experience is coming to an end. Read what the DV Team learned during this coding summer.

Living Style Guide - PIMD

Living Style Guide is the Open Source project we have been selected for. It helps developers to create front-end style guides easily with SaSS and Markdown. The project is created by Nico Hagenburger (designer and software programmer) with the help of Jen Geacone-Cruz (Content Director). Our main tasks were linked to the porting of the project from Ruby to JavaScript: to refactor and enhace code, implement plugins, test code in Vanilla Javascript and improving the documentation.

Our main targets:
- Easy to use in JavaScript projects – in build tools and within the browser
- Extendible: The main API is the DOM tree known from the browser
- Compliance with CommonMark specs – Markdown files render perfectly on GitHub; all additional commands will be CommonMark compliant and won’t leave ugly artifacts when used in files on GitHub

It resulted in a new plugin on npm packages, called PIMD. PIMD stands for “Processing Instructions for Markdown” and is the base for the JavaScript version of LivingStyleGuide – an API to extend Markdown by DOM manipulations as known from the browsers.

How did we work on it?

Before the project began, we gathered to organize ourselves and created a list of desired outcomes. Our summer would be successful, if we achieved the following:

July: plan, learn as much as we can, connect with the RgSoc-community and start contributing to Living Style Guide making our first contribution to open source
August: keep working hard and make the best out of the summer!
September: finish the Javascript version & test Living Style Guide.
October: finish the last issues for PIMD project and hopefully be ready to find and start a new tech job as Junior Front End Web Developers in Barcelona when the summer is over.
From the beginning, we tried to stay organized and clearly communicate our goals. Yet, with no timeline in hand, opposite time schedules, no real idea about how the code worked and no instructions, we worked on random issues. One month gone, we lost the excitement without the inputs from the mentors. That changed when we discussed it with our supervisor Lucas and met our new mentor Bright. Things went much better from that moment on, we were lucky to have coaches that are very talented, no only in coding but also in explaining and lifting our spirits.

Daily log

Once the project started, we made a daily log with what we did that day.
Each day we had at least one sit-down where we’d ask about each other’s progress and maybe even teach each other what we learned or how to build something.
After three months of research, tutorials, building and deploying, we finally built the minimum viable product of our project. The last month, we refactored, tested and added new features to each component.

Lessons and Challenges: Things we learned along the way

One of the best and worst parts of our project is that we were given freedom to build using whatever stack we wanted. It was very freeing and made us feel like our mentor really trusted us with making the right decision.

However, as newbie developers sometimes we would spend days or even weeks researching different technologies, not knowing if we could overcome the steep learning curve. It was a challenge itself to know when to ask questions and ask for help, to manage frustration and to know when to stop and get proper rest.

The best parts of the experience were the small victories, the aha moments, sharing the journey with really caring people, admiring Nico’s work and hoping we can be at that level some day.

Spending three months, peppered with lots of success and failure, we loved every minute of it! Which is the best lesson of all from working on the RGSoC project this summer.

What RGSoC taught us

Besides contributing to open-source, we learned new tools and technologies and improved our skill-set. This is how Rgsoc helped us kickstart our careers and grow a lot as individuals. We learned…
it is really hard to predict and allocate time for building a new page or feature - because a lot can go wrong, and can totally derail the project.
good communication is a huge part of a developer’s job and keeping everyone posted about our progress made a huge difference on our contributions and the team’s spirit.
how to work with code that doesn’t have an immediate visual result, as we have been working before with websites and games and never with a so complex project.
a lot about unit testing and the different frameworks and assertion libraries.
how to work remotely with different people and how to collaborate to other people’s projects
to back up our code if we are going to experiment Dr Frankenstein style with Git and Github
advanced Git and Github uses, getting to a proficient level
how to use Gulp and implement plugins
more advanced ways of using npm and modules
about lint, prettier and other code formatting tools
how to create better documentation and how important it is
the importance of paying attention to detail, syntax and style
how amazing and helpful the dev community can be!


We learned a lot during summer. Among others how to spent hours working on the same problem, freaked out,miscommunicated, lost our code, worked with complete opposite work schedules, were stuck, tried pair coding, coded alone, changed mentors, shifted projects, went to an incredible JavaScript conference, met awesome people, learned the open-source world, faced our fears and doubts and just kept going. Step-by-step. And our hard work paid off, we are celebrating with a few milestones:
- The PIMD-project was released as an npm package.
- We created a PIMD Live Demo and documentation file.
- We implemented new plugins


We would not be able to thank RGSoC enough for all we learned through this summer. A big big thanks to RGSoC and all the Sponsors for giving us this opportunity and the organizors for their constant support. And of course, this summer would not have been so amazing without…

Our mentors: Nico and Jen. We could not have hoped for better mentors. Thank you Nico for all the patience, guidance and kindness you received us with. We won’t forget the experience of being part of your great project. We hope we can meet you both soon!
Our Coaches: Tobias (React developer-based in Düsseldorf, Germany), Tetiana (Ruby Developer-based in Kharkiv, Ukraine), Cristina (full-stack-developer-based in Barcelona), Bright (React mobile developer- based in Berlin, Germany) and Bogdan (JavaScript Developer-based in Kharkiv, Ukraine), thank you so much for all you help, time, energy, patience, source-code sessions, exercises, positive vibes, laughs and so much more
Our Supervisors: Lucas Pinto you had a big impact on our summer of code, thank you for caring for our well-being throughout the summer and always being there for questions, support and for sharing your own experiences. Srishti thank you for taking over when Lucas went on holidays and for continuing supporting us. RGSoC-Community: Thank you for being so responsive and helpful. We loved to meet you all and have the opportunity of sharing our journey with so many amazing people.

The Journey Continues…

We will for sure continue to code. And are planning to find a job in tech in Barcelona by the beginning of 2019. We want to finish our Front-End Nanodegree, learn React and build up our portfolio with projects built the past months. We also want to learn more about some of the technologies, frameworks and tools we discovered during our journey with Living Style Guide.

We don’t know yet what the future holds for us but we have some idea of where we want to go next. We both want to keep working very hard to become full time Front End Developers. Diana wants to build up her skills on technical writing and Violeta will continue improving her current skills on UI and UX Design.

Our Medium Account: we wrote during the Summer of Code about our journey and the conferences we attended.
Diana’s Github
Diana’s Linkedin
Violeta’s Github
Violeta’s Linkedin
Violeta’s Twitter
PIMD Project Repository
Living Style Guide Github
RGSoC daily logs: a history of every team hard work during the summer

RGSoC Teams at GOTO Berlin!

Posted on by Avneet Kaur

Our experiences at GOTO Berlin

Arati- Team Popcorn

The GoTo Conference, my first conference, concluded an already unforgettable summer and I have RGSOC to thank for both. From the morning train ride mentally preparing for the day, to the evening capped off by a social event or a chat with a new acquaintance, I was constantly exposed to new concepts, people, tools, companies and more. For instance, “Functional Programming in 40 Minutes“ by Russ Olsen made me curious about learning Clojure, particularly since he said learning languages was a hobby of his. The timing of the conference couldn’t have been better. It came right at the point where I was starting to try to figure out how to apply my math background to programming. I had the opportunity to meet several people involved in machine learning, a field that is constantly brought up when I mention my intention, and attended enough talks about the subject to have an understanding of what it involves. The main impression I was left with, however, is that of being intensely inspired. I had expected to be exposed to new concepts, technical information and tools. What I hadn’t expected was to gain insights in other areas of my life. One particularly inspiring talk was “How Software Can be a Force for Good”. Hearing Francesco Mondora describe the unconventional approach to business at his company renewed my hope in the impact a single person can have on the world. Their emphasis on making a positive difference, whether it is to the environment or in the lives of the people working at the company, has given me a lot to think about for my own life. It has shown me the work place as a context to not only live out your values fully, but also to support them in a way that only a team can.

Rupal and Avneet- Team Sectumsempra

My teammate Rupal and I, Avneet had the opportunity to attend GOTOBerlin 2018, all thanks to RGSoC organizers and GOTOBerlin organizers as well. It was a 3 day conference with diversified tracks. We were particularly interested in the Applied AI and Blockchains track of the conference and mainly attended the talks in that domain. It was an experience of a lifetime and we learnt so much during the 3 days at the conference. So here’s an insight into how our days at the conference were spent.

Avneet and Rupal from team Sectumsempra posing with Dajana, GOTO organiser

Avneet (Left), Dajana Günther (conference organizer) (Centre), Rupal (Right) (source: Avneet Kaur)

Day 1

We were welcomed on the first day by the volunteers at the registration booth. As we stepped into the hall for the first keynote, it was huge and full of motivated technologists. We were overwhelmed by the atmosphere and felt great to be part of something so huge. We seemed to be a little late for the first keynote. After it ended, we decided on which talks to attend for the day and proceeded with it. There was an interesting session on paving careers in technology by various professional leaders in technology. They talked about how their journeys in tech have been and how many of them became leading CEOs and founders of companies, even after following unconventional career paths. We did realize at that moment that its necessary to continuously improve and adapt to different tools and technology in order to excel in the field. They also talked about career expectations we should have and how we should not be afraid to leave a company to join another if we feel that we are not getting the right dues. They talked about the importance of diversity in technology and how their respective companies are promoting it. We were overwhelmed with the heaps of information we gathered and quickly jotted down as much as we could.

Another interesting talk we attended was based on how Information Technology plays an important role in CERN. The talk also talked about how IT has led to the overall growth of the particle physics laboratory in the past so many years. Moreover, it was surprising to know that running that particle physics laboratory takes so much of electricity that takes up most of a country’s electricity.

Day 2

We were extremely excited on this particular day as we were supposed to give a talk on our RGSoC journey and motivate other girls as well to participate. This was our very first talk and we very nervous and excited at the same time. We were elated to see how enthusiastic the girls were when we started to tell them about RGSoC. They cheered on as we shared our experiences about how wonderful the journey has been. They were quite amazed by the opportunity and were looking forward to apply.

Further that day we attended a very interesting talk on “The mathematics in Simpsons” which sounded quite bizarre at first but it turned out to be the highlight of the day. Simon Singh the author of the book by the same name as the talk opened the talk by narrating an intriguing anecdote about how he met the writers of the show “Simpsons”, and interestingly all of them were mathematicians. His talk was centred around the various instances of cleverly inserted mathematical concepts and figures into the show “Simpsons” and how the writers’ love for mathematics found its way into the show. He concluded his talk by narrating another interesting anecdote of how a famous singer changed the lyrics to her song after Simon pointed out a few mathematical errors in the lyrics!. The crowd cheered as he played the corrected version of the song and the hall was soon filled with huge rounds of applause. Another funny thing that we observed was that before his talk, the stall where his books were kept was empty, but as soon as his talk was over, people rushed to the stall and started asking for his books. My teammate Rupal was just lucky enough to get the last signed copy. After a day of technical talks revolving around various aspects of technology, Simons talk proved to be a great refresher and lightened the mood.

Later in the evening, we attended the GOTO Gathering, where, all the attendees had gathered to play interesting games while enjoying a great time together. After a cheery evening day, we went back home with happy smiles and with great enthusiasm, looked forward to attending the next day.

Rupal and Avneet with Simon Singh, a keynote speaker at GOTO Berlin

Rupal (Left), Simon Singh(Centre), Avneet (Right) (source: Avneet Kaur)

Day 3

On this day we attended various talks on topics such as Blockchain and its applications in industry, Languages of the Future, Agile development etc. We quite enjoyed the one on applications of Blockchains. The talk was based on various ways in which blockchain technology could be adapted into daily life. For example, the speaker explained how a good implementation of blockchain can be used to trace grocery items, like a how a banana reached a particular home after being passed through a chain of farmers, wholesalers, and vegetable vendors. Moreover, it even talked about how use of blockchain can do away with the need for physical documents and hence the trouble when a physical document such as a permanent residency card or passport are lost. Further we learned about the challenges that prevent blockchain from being widely accepted and used in the industry. Further we also attended a talk on PoP songs and Machine Learning which was quite interesting, followed by another talk on how its important to focus on Software principles first and Machine Learning second. Then we met other scholars, made friends and had a great time sharing our knowledge with them as well as learning from them.

All the talks we attended gave us a new insight to how technology is being used in various ways and how it is continuously growing. We learned about interesting concepts of frugal innovation, changing the lives of people in developing countries. We also learned about how important it is to start teaching young children to code to prepare them for the future.

Rupal and Avneet with Laura Gaetano, RGSoC organizer

Avneet (Left), Laura Gaetano(Centre), Rupal (Right) (source: Avneet Kaur)

Interestingly, on our last day in Berlin, we met Laura, one of the RGSoC organizers, and she was really kind to show us around some of the great places in Berlin. We are really grateful to her for that, and my teammate rightly said, “Laura made us feel home in Berlin, and made our trip a memorable experience.” All in all, we had a great time at GoTo Berlin conference and we are really thankful to the RgSoC organizers for providing us the opportunity to attend and make memories of a lifetime. It was a great learning experience and we consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to attend the event and also learn so much from the technologists of today.

Sharing your knowledge

Posted on by Sabine van der Eijk

Team potatoCode at 🔮 the future of the web 🔮 MirrorConf

Asked by 🔮MirrorConf and Rails Girls Summer of Code to attend and speak on the conference in Braga, Portugal. We were excited and full of ideas: our talk would be about beginning devs and what hurdles they can encounter. To begin with, the organisation team did an excellent job in taking care of their speakers and because of this there was a very welcoming atmosphere. We felt very welcome! Our talk was due on the first day of the conference, among other great topics.

Credits to Mirror Conf potatoCode 🙋‍♀🙋‍♀ Alina & Sabine at 0:44 seconds

To kickoff our talk, and out of curiosity, I asked the audience how many of them had just started programming about a year ago, some 30 hands were raised. Then I asked them who wasn’t programming at all and another 50/60 hands were raised. So I concluded: “Awesome, I then assume all others are mid-level / senior developers, this talk will be for you!”. Total attendees must have been around 250/300.

Alina & Sabine talk, hurdles of a beginning dev

Credits to Experta Global (@ExpertaGlobal on twitter October 18)

Everyone can be a good mentor

In this Summer of Code project we were lucky to have good coaches and a supportive mentor and supervisor, we voiced that everyone can be a good mentor for a beginning developer. It’s not only mentoring in a traditional way that’s important. Among other things, if you don’t like to teach it’s still good mentoring to write extensive documentation. Or to answer questions on reddit and stack overflow. There are so many ways in which you can contribute meaningfully to the growth of your junior, and for that matter of your team members. Another example is to write comments on Pull Requests you get.

Noblesse oblige

What the conference talks all boiled down to, one way or the other, is that developers have one job. That job isn’t programming, it’s an ethical responsibility. It takes awareness to contribute in a thoughtful and meaningful way that doesn’t exploit, harm, disrespect, shame, or exclude any user of the product you work on. Whenever you’ve got a hunch that what you’re developing could be harmful or doesn’t respect a user’s privacy it’s a warning to stand up and question your colleagues and stakeholders. Take a stance and explain your doubts, help to make the web a safer place.

“Amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity” Amber Case

Amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity

Credits to Hi Interactive (@hiinteractive on twitter October 19)

The French saying “Noblesse oblige” can help you remind you of your responsibility as a programmer. Nobility obliges could just well be Developers oblige. Developers are more than ‘just’ code writers, a developer ideally should be fully aware of her/his social responsibilities. By the way it’s not obligatory, it’s a requirement that every developer should fulfill for a more inclusive web. To quote Vivianne Castillo: “You can have comfort OR you can have courage. But you can’t have them both at the same time. Choose.”. In the spirit of the talks at this conference and of Developers oblige, choose for courage to speak up!

“Choose courage over comfort!” Vivianne Castillo

Choose courage over comfort! Vivianne Castillo

Credits to Expertera (@ExperteraGlobal on twitter October 18)

“Saying NO is a design skill. Asking WHY is a design skill. Rolling your eyes is not a design skill.” Mike Monteiro

Saying NO is a design skill. Asking WHY is a design skill. Rolling your eyes is not a design skill. Mike Monteiro

Credits to Simona Ritrovato (@strillart on twitter October 19)

Obrigada 🔮MirrorConf! 🙋‍♀🙋‍♀

I think we can’t thank the 🔮MirrorConf organisation enough. The team and the help we got from Laura, Zemith, José, Joáo, among others of Subvisual was outstanding! Also we would like to explicitly thank Ana Sofia for arranging that we could attend the conference, awesome job! Obrigada! 🙋‍♀🙋‍♀

Subvisual Team oganizing MirrorConf

credits to XING Portugal (@XING_pt on twitter October 18)
Credits to Mirror Conf find potatoCode Sabine at 0:11 seconds

Team potatoCode 🙋‍♀🙋‍♀

Sabine van der Eijk & Alina Leuca

🔮MirrorConf speakers Alina & Sabine

credits to Subvisual, organisation 🔮MirrorConf

Full Stack Fest in Barcelona

Posted on by Amalia Cardenas

One of the highlights of this summer was attending the Full Stack Fest in Barcelona. The Full Stack Fest is a language agnostic conference that focuses on the future of the web. The conference was outstanding, I learned a lot, met some great people and overall the conference had a positive impact in my personal development.

Klaus Fleerkötter , Anemari Fiser , and Amalia Cardenas at the Full Stack Feast

Klaus Fleerkötter , Anemari Fiser , and Amalia Cardenas at the Full Stack Feast. (Photo taken by Amalia Cardenas)

All talks were great sources of learning and inspiration, but there was one that was particularly inspiring for me. In this blog post, I want to share what I learned from this talk.

Avoiding Digital Bias by Adam L. Smith

The talk on avoiding digital bias given by Adam L. Smith was one of my favorite talks during the conference.

From Adam’s talk I learned that machine learning is a field of computer science that gives computer systems the ability to learn rather than be explicitly programmed. Developers working on machine learning algorithms analyze data, extract features from the data that they want, and train models to behave in a certain way.

The use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is impacting a broad range of fields. For example, machine learning is already helping predict severe weather patterns, detect privacy breaches in healthcare, and it is affecting the way repairs are performed on critical infrastructure.

While the impact that machine learning algorithms can have on science and society is promising, Smith argued that careful thinking and planning are required to avoid inappropriate bias. As he pointed out, “Machine learning can’t be fair or just unless it is given fair and just data.”

For counting, sorting, grouping and extracting certain types of patterns, machine learning is a useful tool. However, moral values and the ability to transfer high level knowledge from one domain to another is something that current algorithms are not equipped to handle well – although research is being conducted to correct this.

One of Smith’s main points was that, some bias is natural, but when personal data such as gender, age, race, socio-economic background, political preference, etc., are processed by machine learning algorithms, there is a significant and unique risk for unfair bias.

Smith argued that great care is needed to eliminate unwanted bias. During his presentation, selection bias, confirmation bias, training bias, and inappropriate bias were discussed and eye-opening real world examples of how these types of biases appeared in various projects was presented.

Adam L. Smith explains four types of bias

Adam L. Smith explains four types of bias. (Photo taken by Amalia Cardenas)

Real world examples of bias

An example presented by Smith highlighted findings from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Automated testing and analysis of the Google advertising system revealed that male job seekers were shown more ads for higher paying executive jobs. One reason for this was that women clicked less on higher paying job ads, thus the model had trained itself not to display these types of advertisements to women candidates. This type of bias is problematic, because encouraging male candidates to apply for higher paying jobs further increases a bias that already happens offline.

Smith also presented an example of bias in facial recognition algorithms used by the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs to authenticate valid passport photos. A man of Asian descent had his passport photo rejected because the facial recognition software erroneously identified his eyes as closed, even though they were clearly open. This example highlights how issues can arise when models include biased data. Currently most of the facial recognition models are trained with facial data heavily skewed from the US and Europe.

An example of bias in passport photos

An example of bias in passport photos. (Photo taken by Amalia Cardenas)

Possible solutions

Smith highlighted ways to address these biases and provided possible pitfalls that can arise. One proposed solution for addressing bias was to increase the amount of data used to train models. Quadrupling the amount of data has shown to double the effectiveness of an algorithm. However, Smith cautioned against the risk of training models with data publicly available on the Internet as it can reinforce existing biases. This is especially dangerous as it can take years before a bias that is packaged into an algorithm is detected or corrected.

Example of existing biases

Biases can emerge when datasets accurately reflect unfair aspects of society. This image showcases how using publicly available data from the internet can reinforce these existing biases. (Photo taken by Amalia Cardenas)

Regulation was another solution that was mentioned during the presentation. In Europe at least, good legislation that protects people from discrimination due to their identity and other protective characteristics is already in place. In addition, GDPR does offer algorithmic accountability and protection, and requires the creation of algorithms in a transparent and verifiable manner in order to mitigate against algorithmic decisions that negatively impact someone’s life, freedom, legal status or vital livelihood.

A testing model to avoid digital discrimination

The talk closed by providing a testing model to avoid digital discrimination. An important first step that needs to be taken when designing an algorithmic system is to identify the stakeholders of the system.

It is also important to consider the risk and impact of all algorithms we build. Smith argued that most of the algorithms we build are low risk and low impact. However, we still need to be vigilant. The misuse of algorithms for example in the case of political advertising, can have dire consequences for how democracies function.

To make algorithms more robust and mitigate against potential bias, Smith also proposed the need for diversity in teams who can provide a wider perspective than a homogenous group. Finally, once an algorithm goes live, it’s important to constantly re-evaluate and adapt it to changing social norms, new data, and unanticipated experiences.

Slide showcasing ways to avoid digital discrimination

Slide showcasing ways to avoid digital discrimination. (Photo taken by Amalia Cardenas)

Closing Thoughts

I want to thank the organizers of the Full Stack Feast in Barcelona for the opportunity to attend this wonderful conference. I also want to thank the Rails Girls Summer of Code organizers for encouraging us to attend a conference as part of our summer training. Finally, I want to thank Klaus Fleerkötter , Anemari Fiser, and Mónica Calderaro for including me in the Thoughtworks community at the conference. This made the experience less daunting, and incredibly enriching.

Keep in contact with Amalia





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