Megan Smith on Moonshoots at GHC 2013

megan smith at ghc

Note: I had a hard time taking notes on this talk because Megan speaks really fast, and jumps around a lot. Her joy and excitement for technology was so apparent – there is no way I can capture that. You can watch the video here.

Megan starts with a video – we are a species of moonshots. It’s a good way to set the stage for her talk.

She talks about this idea of a heroic engineer, and that the 21st century is about creative collaboration. More about wondering around than leaning in.

Passion, obsession and love for technology – shows a picture of a robotics conference as an example.

On finding your passion – feel the power of what it is to invent things. Because “in effort, there is joy”. Tech is hard work, but there is joy.

Tells the story of George Washington Carver. A former slave, who became a plant doctor. Invited to University, he saw the South was devastated by monoculture, and invented things from peanut and sweet potato.

As a freshman at MIT, Megan worked with the space team in the shop. They built underwater test equipment, to test what humans can do in space.

Advice: life is who you travel with. So find astonishing people and hang out with them.

Worked on IBM material surface and cleaning technology in California. Only woman on site. Riggers stared at her. Eventually they started showing her things – the flip side of people staring at you can be great.

How networked we are as humanity. The Google Science fair is full of kids leveraging the internet. We can work with people in remote places because of connectivity. She showed MapMaker, and people in Lahore drawing themselves onto the map.

Khan Academy is evolving education. Classes are so victorian! This was the beginning of MOOCs (massive open online courses) – flip the classroom, learn at home and collaborate at school. Mentions the CS4HS work on curriculum.

The extension of one laptop per child is kids without teachers – give them tablets, and let them teach themselves until the internet comes. Pushing not just for schools, but for new, innovative learning.

Connectivity in Africa is really changing things. See blog post by David Sengeh, Transforming ‘Aid in Africa’ into ‘Made in Africa’. Things don’t just happen – people do things. Bringing ideas and trying to help is well meaning, but does’t respect social fabric. Think of the French in the American Revolutionary War – they were more like angel investors. That model of change – be more like the French.

Shows update of internet connectivity – points out how many people are still to join us. The Silk Road was a trade route, but also a route for social innovation. It’s still an important network. The Erie canal was crazy but cut prices, and also helped with civil rights work.

Seneca Falls was the first women’s rights event. There was the Declaration of Sentiments, declaring for out rights. The men shut women out, so the women decided to collude. This was first wave feminism, when women went from being considered property to being able to vote.

Second wave – Gloria Steinem, and women at the Boston marathon (account of the first woman to run it)

Today Sheryl is amping the conversation about getting out of deep bias. Technical women have largely been invisible, we need to become visible. Talks about the Makers videos.

We need to fix the historic technical record, women are the founders of history, their stories are just untold. Talks about the ENIAC programmers, who later it was claimed were models in the picture! The documentary is coming. Women have always been part of the industry. Katherine Johnson calculated Appollo trajectories. We need to know about these women who have always been there.

Bletchley Park was half women. It is a profound diversity story, the Nazi’s built the “perfect machine” but a crazy group of misfits, they win. Cutting the war by two years, and saving 14m lives.

Gina Davis institute research investigates the media bias for children. Lots of princesses were women, but not a lot of computer scientists. Children need to see the truth, they need to see that we exist.

Women Techmakers at IO, realised that only slides with pictures of men and cats, women wouldn’t feel included. It’s about ambient belonging – unconscious bias. The physical environment influences people’s choices of university.

Google[x] has hardware and software. Skunkworks. They work on moonshots. Like the self driving car  – this combines strength in geo with the strengths of people winning the DARPA challenge.

Glass is heads up display. Shows video (teacher using Glass to show his advanced physics students glass, video on what it fees like to wear Glass).

Project Loon – bringing internet to rural edge case places. Balloons are cheaper than satellites.

Makani power – kite based windmills.

Solve for [x].

It’s a moonshot factory, like the Willy Wonker labs. Looking for the 10x, not the 10%. Try to say 2/3 “yes and” and 1/3 “yes but” – more time building up than tearing down.

What’s your <X>? Find your passion, combine it with hard work – you’ll be unstoppable.

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