Thursday, October 3, 2013

GHC 2013: Welcome & Keynote – Megan Smith

Oct 3,2013

It's Day 2 of the Grace Hopper Conference of Women in Computing and we are here at the Key Note by Megan Smith, VP @ Google [x]. The hall is filled with 4600 smart girls and women and the stage is set up in an incredibly artistic way. 

The stage is all set for Megan

Let me start with an intro about who Megan is-
Megan Smith is an entrepreneur, tech evangelist, engineer, and connector. At Google[x], Megan works on a range of projects including co-creating/hosting SolveForX to encourage and amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and collaboration. For nine years prior she led Google’s New Business Development team managing early-stage partnerships, pilot explorations, and technology licensing for Google’s global engineering and product teams. She led the acquisitions of Keyhole (Google Earth), Where2Tech (Google Maps) and Picasa, and also led the team transition to add more engineering with Google Crisis Response, GoogleforNonprofits, Earth Outreach/Engine and increased employee engagement. Prior to joining Google, Megan was CEO and earlier, COO of PlanetOut, the leading LGBT online community, where the team broke through many barriers and partnered closely with AOL, Yahoo!, MSN and other major web players, and was early employee at General Magic and Apple Japan. Over the years, Megan has contributed to a wide range of engineering projects, including an award-winning bicycle lock, space station construction program, solar cook stoves and was a member of the MIT student team who designed, built and raced a solar car 2000 miles across the Australian outback.  She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT, where she now serves on the board. She completed her master’s thesis work at the MIT Media Lab.
Megan Smith

Megan introduced herself and started with a short video about moonshot thinking. Here are some quotes I loved from the video- "When you find your passion, you are unstoppable", "We don’t know how to do it yet, but we are gonna do it anyways". Quite an inspiring start indeed.

Megan focussed on the idea of Moonshot thinking from her early years in the professional world. She says "The 21st century is all about technology. While I'm little more of a wandering around person unlike Sheryl who is a Lean In person, what we all aspire to do has a common motivation- Innovate". She shows an image of the 1st robotics conference in St.Louis and talks about the passion that the generation has for robotics and technology.
The 1st robotics conference in St.Louis

Megan's style of presentation was heavily image oriented. She let the images build the flow of her talk. While I tried capturing few images, I 
couldn't really blog and take pictures at the same time. I'll try my best to write the gist of Megan's talk in a way that makes sense even without the supporting images.

"In effort, there is joy" says Megan. There is an amazing amount of joy in putting in effort to do something you have always wanted to do and considered impossible, but there is even more joy when you succeed. Having this image of how success looks like and taking risks to get there is what makes a difference. Megan was an adventure trot. During her schooling at MIT, Megan recalled how she was the only girl in the Sophomore year project and how she gathered courage to let people watch (or rather stare) at her and took the next step even with all the negative criticism floating around you. One interesting thing I learnt about Megan today was- she is a Mechanical Engineer!

She then switched gears and shared her thoughts about the different technologies and individuals who are changing the world.
  •  She urged the audience to take advantage of the fact that the world is one huge open network. There are an amazing number of tools available today which our earlier generations did not have access to.
  • She then spoke about Khan academy- the Heroism of one individual who was passionate about promoting education who began the revolution called MOOCS.
  • The one laptop per child project is creating a revolution by getting laptops to the 50 million kids who are earning to have a teacher to study. 
  • The power of big data in technology and innovation. She showed an image from Africa, and how under networked Africa was 3 years ago, and how much it has improved today. Do check out the "Aid to Africa" project that transformed Africa to "Made in Africa"- which was started by David Sengeh, a PhD student at MIT.

Image of the world displaying the internet connectivity 3 years ago

The image that touched me the most personally was the one taken from space. All that the folks in the space shuttle could see was this thin line- the India Pakistan border. This calls for us to act on more important things than hostility and division.
Image of planet Earth from the space shuttle

Megan then shared some resources that show real progress in 2013 in terms of visibility and conversation.  
  • Lean In Org
  • Global Women & Girls Focus
  •, which focuses on resurrecting the extraordinary work women did all along
  • Women Techmakers at Google I/O

As the last part of her talk, Megan shared details about the 4 public projects Google [x] was doing. The sole mission of Google [x] is to work on Moonshot technologies. 

  • The self-driving car project
  • Google Glass (
  • Project Loon (an idea to bring the internet to the most under-connected parts of the world by using 3G hot spots on balloons)
  • Makani Power (Kite based windmills)

Megan concludes her speech with two powerful quotes- "Think 10x, not 10%", and "Your approach should always be 2/3 yes AND, 1/3 yes but!"So, what's your [x]?

Happy Reading!

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