Palantirians, Superwomen and Hospital Clowns

I have just arrived home, left my luggage next to the door of my apartment and have to run to the desk in my small room in Zürich. Already I am longing to go back to London, a city I have come to love, where the contemporary and the nostalgic blend together, side by side, and where I had the luck to meet so many inspiring, amazing people, thanks to the Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship.

Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship

Still not a month ago, I got a call from the Palantir Office in London (affectionately referred to as Grey Havens) informing me that, out of over 1,000 applicants, I was one of the ten selected winners of the Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship. As great as it was unexpected, they asked me to come visit Grey Havens in London and meet the other 2017 finalists.

What is Palantir and why do they call their London headquarters “Grey Havens”? Palantir Technologies is a privately held software as a services (SaaS) company based in Palo Alto, California, which focuses on analyzing, integrating and visualizing data. A palantír (sometimes translated as “Seeing Stone,” but literally meaning “Farsighted” or “One that Sees from Afar”) is a magical artefact made by the elves from J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy universe. Hence, it makes a lot of sense that Palantir decided to call its European headquarters “Grey Haven’s,” an Elvish port city.

Grey_Havens_movie

After waking up fresh and energetic, I left St. Martins Lane Hotel and walked down the streets of Soho towards Grey Havens. There, I received a warm welcome from our host, Adriele Parker, the Diversity Recruiting Programs Specialist at Palantir Technologies, and met the other women (a.k.a. superwomen) for the first time. Then, we had the chance to get to know each other a bit better over an amazing breakfast.

Spoiler alert: There will be a lot of me eating awesome food during the day!

Afterwards, we all had two 30 minute interviews to decide the amount (up to 10,000£) each of us will receive, followed by an exclusive office tour. Grey Havens is so cool! Forget about greyish cubicles where trained monkeys code and eat bananas – it is full color, with scooters, cute puppies, nap rooms and delicious snacks everywhere (no joking, ask them about the Palan-tire and you will see them exchange looks and smiles).

Next, we had a private demo of Palantir products and it was already lunchtime (food, food, food!). We then received very interesting career advice, took part in a CV-workshop and addressed some doubts about how working at Palantir is like in panel for-and-by women in tech. It sounds pretty intense but I had so much fun! And there was, of course, a tea break (it is Great Britain, after all) and a fantastic dinner at the end.

They also encouraged us a lot to apply for an internship or a job at Palantir, which is something I will definitely consider in the near future since I admire and share both the culture and the philosophy of the Palantirians.

It has definitely been one of the best days of my life, a decisive career kick and a wonderful opportunity to start a network of superwomen in tech who love coding just as much as I do. I will remember this wonderful weekend in London forever and how my brother and I were singing our hearts out at the foyer of the Apollo Victoria Theatre to the masterpiece of Wicked: “Defying Gravity”.

Wicked-Apollo-Victoria-Thea

Learn to Code with Master21 and WST Zürich

Meeting the other scholarship winners and the Palantirians was such an awesome experience that I do not want it to end. Hence, I am more excited than ever to announce I will be one of the coaches at the event organized by Master21 and Women Shape Tech (WST) Zürich during the European Code Week.

If you always wanted to try coding but never did… this is your chance! Both women and men are welcome to sign up for the workshop and learn, hands-on, to use HTML and CSS. At the end of the evening, every participant will be the proud maker of a simple website they coded themselves.

master21

UnGometVermell – Make Hospitalized Children Smile

UnGometVermell is a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds and awareness of social animation in hospitals. This project is very special to me – I have wanted to start it since I was a teenager but had to wait until today to build an interdisciplinary team of truly awesome people with a common mission: to turn hospitals into more human and friendly spaces, helping patients to fight loneliness and fear with smiles.

We are about to launch the campaign together with our new website, so very soon I will write a new blog post to tell you all about it and encourage you to donate. In the meantime, you can explore our landing site, follow us on social media and enjoy the fantastic illustrations of Jeenal Patel for the campaign booklet.

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Data is the New Bacon – How Big Data is Revolutionizing the Bacon Industry

Last week I had the amazing opportunity of teaching Girls in Data Science, a one-day workshop organized by Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona), and aimed at introducing teenage girls to STEM disciplines. Our Capstone project was an automatic detector of cholesterol levels, programmed in Python, with the girls completing this task masterfully. On top of that, we all had lots of fun together. So I asked myself: Will any of them choose to pursue a tech career later in life? The odds are certainly not in their favor.

The Ugly Truth

Despite the gender imbalance being a mainstream topic of debate, the situation doesn’t seem to be improving much – if at all. The big question still remains: Why don’t more girls choose to study STEM?

1. Hiya Barbie – Looks Do Matter

At the end of the Girls in Data Science Workshop, one of the teenagers approached me and said that, for an engineer, I had really cool hair. Is it possible that a girl in STEM really does need to be bold?
Well, perhaps not bold, but, according to Google Images, women in tech do need to look nerdy and dead boring, otherwise they may have problems proving they are a good tech professional.
Consequently, because girls are raised to value appearance, and are overwhelmingly praised more, as they develop, for how they look and act rather than what they think and do, they will not choose a career that sentences them to be, in effect, ugly cows.
Instead, little girls will pick a degree that accords with their looks, so that when adults approach them before they can even talk, and say things like, “Oh, how pretty you are!” “How beautiful!” it makes them feel valued and supported.
Would this happen to a little boy? Never say never, but we all know it is very unlikely and, unfortunately, such behaviors take a lot of effort and a long time to change.
In the meantime, Hacker Girl (an awesome Facebook sticker) came to save my day. She may still be a bit too geeky for some, but I swear, one of these days, I am getting pink hair too (or at least a party wig). Now that would be cool hair for real!

hacker

2. Self-fulfilling Prophecies and Other Black Magic

The idea that boys are better suited than girls for technical stuff is as much a part of our society as the USB Pet Rock or the Goldfish Walker. 

The big problem is that this, “boys are better at math,” thinking drives girls away from STEM fields before they even consider it. At the end of the day, why should a girl want to bother at all? If she gets good grades in math, she will be seen by her teachers and schoolmates as a hard-working student (but never brilliant), in the best of situations.
If, somehow, she manages to overcome these entry barriers and asks for a recommendation letter to get a tech job later on, such a letter will probably be full of (un)conscious gender biases that will put her at a disadvantaged position against male candidates.

3. Much to Learn You Still Have, My Old Padawan

When we are growing up, we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. Thus, if successful women show girls what they have achieved in life, they can inspire them to also pursue a career in STEM later on.
The trouble is that, despite the figure of a mentor being highly important, there are very few female role models in STEM.
It is well known that, worldwide, women are a minority within the tech industry (accounting for less than 20% in their respective countries), but if we take a closer look, we will discover that the number of women in tech jobs are even fewer than it may, at first, seem.
Most women at tech firms don’t actually code, and not because they have moved up the corporate ladder to management positions (more female leaders are needed anyway), but because they have never held a technical job. I have looked at quite a few women in tech panels that turned out to be like this:

women

My Pretty Little Lie

At this stage, you yourself will have noticed that this blog post is not about how Big Data is Revolutionizing the Bacon Industry. However, if you have read thus far, this probably means you are either a woman in tech already (hurray!!), you have become increasingly interested in the topic, or you actually believed that, at some point, I would explain how Data Science is taking bacon obsession to a whole new level.

If the latter applies, I encourage you to check this very interesting article and learn about a data-mining project from the folks at Wired.com and FoodNetwork.com that studied whereas bacon truly is a magical ingredient that makes any dish taste better.

In any case, let me say a big THANK YOU for sticking around and reading through this article. My list was by no means exhaustive but I believe it highlights some of the issues that need to be considered when fighting gender discrimination in the tech industry.

May the Odds Be in Her Favor

As Phineas and Ferb would say…

phineas

There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

So why not learn how to code?

Regardless of your gender, age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, learning how to code will empower you to do things you can’t even imagine right now. And if you are a woman, you will be crushing gender stereotypes at the same time.

So, how can you get started? My personal favorite course for beginners is, The Python Bible™ | Everything You Need to Program in Python, but there are tons of free, awesome courses online.

P.S. Another great way to spend your summer vacation is to lie under a beach umbrella with your friends doing simply nothing. If you have no beach nearby, or no friends, your life is sad – but do not cry. This means you will learn how to code even faster.

Here We Go Again

Examination period is over and I could not be happier! To be honest, when ETH exams were getting closer I was not quite sure about whether I was going to make it. At the end, however, all the sleepless nights and tense moments added up to lots of new knowledge and some nice grades in my transcript so I really feel all this effort has been worth it.

In addition, the Spring Semester 2017 is starting tomorrow and I am really excited about it! In the next few months I will learn about Game Theory, Theory, Programming and Simulation of Neuronal Networks, Statistics for Experimental Research and Wearable Devices among many others.

If I had to pick only two I would go for Industry and Competitive Analysis which teaches you a very practical set of methods to quickly obtain a good grasp of an industry. By the end of the course, I should be able to understand factors that impact on the financial performance of an industry as well the financial performance of firms within it.

The second course I am very thrilled about is High Tech Start-up Management, a seminar organized by the HSG and the ETH that gives insights into conceptual knowledge and methods for the development of scalable business models. Since it is not a regular course, it had an individual application process so I am really proud they selected me!

What have I been up to these days? Well, after finishing the exams I flew back to Barcelona and started putting together my brand new 3D printer. I still have to callibrate it (which will be a major headache) but you can already see the pictures of the assembling process and the first prints!

Furthermore, I kept working on the pulmonology project (let us call it DeepBreath from now on) and even though we had a lot of trouble cutting the respiratory cycles (and this is the reason why the classifiers were not performing as intended) it seems that we have finally found a proper way to do it. As you can see, the preliminary results look promising:

image

Finally, Medmake (the association I co-founded with my colleague Joan Puig) was hired by Hospital Sant Joan de Déu – Althaia (Manresa, Spain) to teach a group of twenty-five extremely motivated doctors how to turn medical images such as CT or MRI scans into 3D models that can be printed afterwards. The best part is that it does not end here: there will be an incoming session in which we will sit together with these doctors again and discuss their particular clinical cases.

Last time I did such a collaboration was an incredible success. Together with the cardiology team from Hospital Clínic (Barcelona, Spain) we developed an intervention planning system to aid TAVI procedures.

Do not know what TAVI means? Transcatheter aortic-valve implantation (TAVI) is a technique that provides an alternative for high-risk patients in need of an aortic valve replacement. Currently, the only clinical effective treatment for severe aortic stenosis is valve replacement but, unfortunately, one-third of the patients cannot undergo surgery because of several risk factors. TAVI provides an alternative for such patients.

More than 40.000 transcatheter implantations have been done since 2012 and the potential market is large. However, TAVI procedures are about 20.000€ more expensive per patient and in one-third of cases there are complications afterwards. Good news are that these potentials adverse effects could be partially avoided improving patient selection, intervention planning and aortic sizing with the support of medical imaging. This is why we builded up an intervention planning system that will help cardiologists to find the more well-suited implant for each patient. If you are curious about it, please take a look at our published article!

In conclusion, I strongly believe this kind of interdisclinary collaboration between technical and medical professionals is critical to solve the current and future healthcare challenges and I can only celebrate the hospital’s commitment.

 

Merry Xmas!

It is Xmas time and 2016 is almost done! When I think about it, it has been such an awesome year. My life in Zürich just started but I already have many new friends and we are all part of a great university.

I keep working on the medical project involving machine learning. Last Friday we finally manage to run the first tests and got an accuracy of 65%. Not bad but there is certainty a lot of margin for improvement. As my colleague rightly said, we should not expect to get things right first time but rather keep iterating until we finally suceed. I feel it would have been a pleasant surprise and may we even call it a xmas miracle? I can only agree with him though. Where would be the fun otherwise?

In addition, he also gave me the most amazing present ever: I was having trouble understanding harmonic oscillators so he wrote a short story in which Newton, Leibniz and Feynman explain them for me. You can read the story too. I also encourage you to visit his blog. I am pretty sure he is a future Nobel Prize in Physics so he will be telling you about the frontiers of science.

More good news: I am the 11th winner STEM Scolarship Winner of Toptal worldwide prize and I am extremly excited!! This prize is not only a major recognition but it will also provide me with some financial help and an amazing Python mentor that will make my project go full steam ahead. I have not skyped with him yet but his name is Atanas Pavlov and he has ten years of experience working in computer modeling and data analysis.

logo-stack-pythonOn the other hand, I am planning to use my scholarship money to get a new computer (of course, with Linux inside) so that I can work on data analysis properly. I also have enrolled myself in a Python for Data Science and Machine Learning Bootcamp and I have bought a 3D printer so that I can  have an even wider active participation in initiatives like E-nabling the Future or The Hand Challenge. Below there are some pictures from our last workshop.

I only would like to finish wishing you the best in the year to come!

 

 

 

 

 

Winter is coming!

Winter is coming, ladies! Winterfell or Zürich I am dying of cold and it seems the worst is yet to come. However, I will not let anything spoil the moment because I am having such an incredible time..!

It has been a couple months since I started my masters at ETH and I am finally getting the hand of it. I have also learned a lot about Linux these last days and it is, indeed, not as difficult as it might seem although the learning curve is pretty steep at the beginning. This just means it will take you a bit longer to fall in love with your operating system.

Selecció_046(001).pngAnother big discovery has been Bastli, which I find one of the coolest places at ETH. Bastli is the electronics laboratory of AMIV (Akademische Maschinen- und Elektro-Ingenieur Verein) and it offers students free workplaces and tools to implement your own projects and ideas.

Among many other cool stuff, they have a couple of 3D printers which is great because it means that even though I am not in Barcelona anymore I can keep helping in social initiatives I love like «E-nabling the Future» or «The Hand Challenge». Actually, I am going back to Barcelona in a couple weeks because, as I told you in a previous post, I am the co-founder of Medmake, an association that offers 3D printing services and products for healthcare professionals. We have collaborated with several regional hospitals, organized 3D printing courses and taken part in a wide range of social initiatives to promote technology among girls like </Girls in the lab>. We even made it to the national TV recently! So as you ladies can guess, we are pretty excited about it.

This time the American Embassy from Madrid has invited us to the inauguration ceremony of the «American Space» in Barcelona. We will be in charge of a technical workshop for kids and teens to motivate them to go into computer science or engineering when they grow up. Awesome, right?

However, it does not end here! I came to Zürich to become a medical innovator, to find a team of people that truly believe there is nothing impossible and start working on something great. And this is precisely what I have been doing: interviewing several doctors to find real world needs, screening the needs they mentioned, brainstorming to come up with possible solutions, selecting the winner idea… and I am finally ready to begin the implementation part.

biodesign2Unfortunately, I cannot give you ladies many details about the project yet (otherwise I would be doing a public disclosure!) but I promise you all it is an amazing software project that will give me the chance to use and improve a lot my machine learning skills to help pulmonologists (i.e. doctors in respiratory medicine).

motivationIf we succeed, the idea is to patent the software and develop a b usiness model around it but we still have a long hard way to go! Innovating in the medical field is certainly not easy but there are some resources that can be very helpful (like the book «Biodesign: the process of innovating medical technologies» by Yock, Zenios, Makower et al.) and the great reward of knowing you are working to improve the quality of many lives.

Linux, text books and Gruyère

Grützi, ladies!! A couple of weeks ago I started my Biomedical Engineering Masters at ETH (Switzerland) and I couldn’t be happier. It’s an amazing university and so many cool events happen at the same time that you barely have time to sit down and study (or write a blog)!

eth.png

Among many other cool things, this last week I joined AMIV (Der Akademische Maschinen- und Elektro-Ingenieur Verein), the ETH Entrepreneur Club and the BEEZ (Biomedical Engineering ETH Zürich) and I am pretty sure I’m still missing a lot because the possibilities are endless.

Another great change in my life has been my computer. I’m still working with the same but now it runs on Linux! Linux is generally more light-weight and less resource heavy than Windows which is great for my old friend. For those of you that might not know what Linux is, I recommend you the following tutorial on youtube. 

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As commented in the introductory tutorial, although a lot of work has gone into making desktop Linux distributions more user-friendly over the last ten years, there is still a pretty sharp learning curve. This is why first it may be a good idea to install Linux into a virtual machine such as VirtualBox and decide afterwards if you are ready to make the leap. In easy words, a virtual machine is an application that allows you to install additional operating systems, known as “guest systems” within another operating system “host”, each with its own virtual environment. For example, you could install different GNU/Linux in VirtualBox installed in Windows 10 or vice versa.

There are also many online courses to get you started and some books for Linux beginners. However, learning Linux might still take you some time and effort. This is why I decided to join a series of workshops organized by TheAlternative.ch, an ETH student organization that wants to encourage usage and comprehension of Free and Open Source Software (also known as FOSS) as an alternative to proprietary software. LinuxDays are starting next week and will continue all month so hopefully by November I won’t be a newbie anymore. Wish me luck!

 

How to turn your Webcam into a Microscope

We see past time in a telescope and present time in a microscope. Hence the apparent enormities of the present.

Victor Hugo

University is about to begin again and I am really excited! It will be my first semester at ETH Zürich and I cannot wait to meet my future colleagues. In the meantime, I have been working in the low-cost microscope I told y’all ladies about in my last post.

 

Probably, you are wondering how a webcam can become a microscope. This is indeed magic because it is so simple! BBC Science explains it really well in the following article so that everyone can do it.

How can a webcam become a microscope?

The webcam’s digital camera works by capturing light through a small lens on to a CMOS or CCD image sensor.

The sensor converts the picture into a digital format that is transmitted to the computer usually via a USB cable.

The lens on the camera is designed to take a wide-angle view and focus it on to the small sensor.

But if you flip the lens around, this process is reversed and the very small image appears magnified instead.

This way a basic webcam should be able to achieve 200x magnification.

 

Amazing, right? If you are not sure of how CMOS or CCD sensors work (I had only a vague idea myself) I recommend you the following tutorial.

I used an old webcam I had at home and I am quite happy with the results (about 50x for free!) although I couldn’t get 200x magnification as claimed in the article but maybe with a newer camera it would work even better!

resultats

Google Chrome Icon on phone screen

The image above is part of the results I obtained and it is a picture of my phone screen. Can you see the rgb leds? I think it is pretty cool!

I also discovered that using this very same principle other people already built digital microscopes (I have been scooped!) and since they cost the same as a new webcam (yes, I destroyed my old webcam so I need to buy a new one) I think I will get one of these instead.

microscopi.PNG

To conclude, I would like to mention something that made me feel so proud of myself for a little while. One of my Linkedin contacts saw my projects on GitHub and decided to collaborate: he is helping me to improve the cardiology project code. GitHub is really working!