moving WITH the mountains

Ahhhh. As I take a deep breath and look around, I can finally come to realize that everything is going to be alright. Now that the semester is over and paper writing is mostly on pause, right now is the time to sit and reflect on the fact that I made it through the second year. WOOT WOOT! This year was an interesting one. There were times when classes wanted a bit more attention and then there were times when it was research too, but ultimately WE made it through! *does praise dance*

I think I’ll dub this year “the year of networking”. I got to collaborate even more with some amazing researchers on projects at amazing universities and research labs such as Philip Guo and Joey Perricone. I attended the CRA-W Conference in San Diego and networked with so many like minded females in computing. Many of them were actually women of color who were further along on their PhD journey so I’m really thankful for that! I also finally got the chance to meet the amazing Jamika Burge at the conference and talk about future projects we had in mind. Representation is super important to me as a mentee and as a mentor. I had the opportunity to attend smaller local conferences for minority students in undergrad presenting their research at NC-LSAMP in Pembroke and one in Chapel Hill to encourage the next wave of female PhD students in the RDU Triangle. I even went to one workshop in Finland where I got meet one-on-one with amazing researchers such as Andy Begel. Needless to say, I’ve definitely found extreme value in networking.

At these conferences I got to meet some amazing researchers from around the globe and this year has really made me thankful to be around these people. The weird part here is acknowledging that I’ve been able to meet these people, but also, recognizing this semester that I, the drooler, am slowly becoming the droolee.  What I’m trying to say is that people in my field are recognizing my work and they think it’s cool! Yes, they have been established a bit longer in the field than I, but that doesn’t dispute the fact that now more than ever I can consider myself to be one of their “colleagues”. ( I know right?! That’s downright crazy!)

**OK. Here’s where I brag a bit:…but if you aren’t happy about your accomplishments than who will be?!**

This year I was able to serve on organizing committees and program committees for relevant conferences in my field. I was also able to receive two competitive fellowships: Microsoft Research Fellowship and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. It’s just so crazy because this time last year I was thinking the opportunity to be a worthy candidate  was looking pretty slim for these fellowship programs, but this year things just worked out. This year I was able to write more papers and submit more work than I  ever thought I would by my second year. I also got 2 full papers accepted at FSE this year and now I’m interning at Microsoft Research with Nachi Nagappan, Tom Zimmermann, and Christian Bird! I mention all these things to acknowledge the amazing difference a year and persistence makes. SO KEEP GRINDING!

From Seattle to the Olympic Mountain Range
From Seattle to the Olympic Mountain Range from Lourenco Photography

**brag rant complete**

Anyway, I think it’s super important to arrive at this feeling; this feeling of “being OF the community”. I had a similar feeling when my first workshop paper got accepted but nawww this year ended with a “next level” feeling. It’s kind of an attention shift and your perspective on how you approach research changes a bit (well at least for me it did). When the first person comes to you and recognizes you for your work it’s kind of like an OMG moment. As in you are in complete awe yourself; you didn’t even realize that you were coming off as someone who knows what they’re talking about. But the truth is YOU ARE someone who knows what you’re talking about! YOU ARE knowledgeable of what’s going on in your field! YOU ARE a valued voice at the decision table of your research area!  And that moment right there is just super refreshing. In a way it kind of gives you fire to continue the next couple of years in your program. I’m definitely not saying that I want to be in the program for 11 more years, but you get the idea.

It’s kind of like “Wow, I’ve encountered all these challenges and I know there’s more to come, but hey I can roll with the punches, yeah I can stand and hold my weight amongst the big dogs in the field, I can move with the mountains.”

tune into yourself.

This semester I’ve learned a lot (one reason why I haven’t posted a blog in a while). I learned how to be a better writer, a better proofreader, a nice listener, but most of all I learned how to put myself first. I know it sounds weird and selfish to say, but it is definitely essential to my current progress in the Ph.D.program.

I have been to several workshops for Ph.D. students where they harped on the topic of “taking time for yourself” multiple times. However, I never realized how important it was until I realized I didn’t have any time for myself. It is very easy to get overbooked and bogged down with papers and projects and disregard your well-being. But just as easy as it is get bogged down by other work it should be just as easy to know when you NEED to take a step back and take a chill pill.

Tune in

That catch here is that’s definitely easier said than done. I started off this semester as I have with other semesters doing my morning yoga, ab workouts, and road runs three days a week. As the semester continued, my courses demanded more time and my research had more deliverables. The late nights trying to get work done limited the time I had in the early morning for me; I was so drained! I eventually came to a point where I was not getting as much work done because I felt like I was just going through the motions. I was feeling overwhelmed one week and I literally had to take a step back and disconnect during a crucial time for a project. Some members of my team weren’t as understanding of what was going on with me, but it wasn’t about them, IT WAS ABOUT MY SANITY.  I realized that I had cut out everything that was keeping me balanced and took that weekend to recharge my batteries. The following week I came back strong and knocked action items out of the park!

I brought up my experience to say that it is important to also know that you are breaking no rules taking your “me time”. Whether it be 2 days or a week, I think it is integral in keeping your sanity. It often feels weird saying that you’re going to take some time away from your work, but don’t let it discourage you. Honestly, at the end of the day it’s up to you to know your limits and save that time for you. Believe me when I say others can’t tell you when to take that time.

As I approach the end of my second year in the PhD program and reminisce on this last semester, I think a #MajorKey🗝 to me staying in school was getting that non-work time. Literally, every Saturday I try to make it my goal to keep that day work free. In an ideal world that would include me not opening my laptop on Saturday (Side note: that doesn’t always work for me because I like to Netflix & Chill 😬 ). I alsListen to your body. It's smarter than you.o use this day to catch up with my siblings and try to do non research related things I may have missed throughout the week.
The same concept of taking a day off every week may not work for you, but regardless it should be essential to get that time in and do something that recharges you. Giving yourself about 30 minutes or so a day can be another alternative. Making sure I get that time as part of my routine helps me be more productive all around! I still have those times where I skip an occasional workout or two (I’m working on it geesh! 🤓 ), but I think it will all work itself out if I listen to my body and tune into myself.

Have a #MajorKey🗝 to maintaining this balance? Feel free to share your wisdom in the comments section!


The Finnish Top Five

Recently, before the break, I had the opportunity to go to Joensuu, Finland to present one of my up and coming research projects, Studying Sustained Attention and Cognitive States during Remote Programming Technical Interviews”. The workshop was called Eye Movements in Programming, from November 22-24th at the University of Eastern Finland.

This workshop style was a little different from the one I previously attended, but definitely in a good way. The style of the workshop is what definitely encouraged me to write a blog about my experience.

1. World Cafe

As opposed to having all the accepted papers stand up and give talks, there was a World Cafe. During this session there were about 6 presenters. Within this 45 minute time frame each presenter had 3 groups come to their station for 15 minutes each. During this time the presenter gave a small 5 minute talk about their work and the remaining 10 minutes was used for discussion with the visitors at the station. This format was great to have an intimate discussion about your work and get valuable feedback from different perspectives. This was awesome because presenters had time to talk about different aspects of their project with each rotation. It also gave the attendees a great reason to go follow up and ask more questions during a coffee break that they didn’t get to ask during the initial discussion. One side note: I actually received my first best presentation award from this session :).

2. Keynotes

The keynotes were very well selected. Meike Mischo from SMI Vision spoke about some of the eye tracking tools such as the SMI Eye Tracking Glasses that I used this summer and how to use them with other physiological measurement tools.


Dario Salvucci of Drexel University gave a nice talk about applying cognitive models developed for other applications to programming such as the ACT-R model.


Aside from the keynotes, there was a nice selection of 4 interesting talks selected from the paper submissions. Two of them were from PhD students:  one early in their career and one approaching graduation. The remaining two were individuals who have already completed the process, as one researcher was from industry and the other was from academia. They both offered interesting perspectives on interpretations of eye tracking research.

3. Social Activities

20151123_193241   20151123_192904

This is the first workshop I’ve attended that had planned social activities for the attendees. On the 22nd we gathered for a casual lunch and got to meet each other. Following the lunch we went for a walk around the city and watched the Christmas Celebration Kick Off with fireworks. The following day we were taught to make Karjalanpiirakat, a finnish rice pastry that you eat with egg-butter, at a local bakery. It was a fun activity and made the conference more engaging.

4. Audience of People there


The audience of people there was refreshing. Due to the small size of the workshop there was plenty of time to mix and mingle with other researchers and ask them in depth questions about their work. The attendees had a strong background in the area but were seeking feedback from others on how to tackle and emerging project. With that being said, everyone there had an open mind which really helped during the brainstorming session where we came up with confirmed theories from the research that should be reflected in the Distributed Collection of Eye Movement Data in Programming found online.

5. Location


Having the conference in Finland at the University was a good choice. There were many attendees who don’t often travel to conferences in the U.S. that I was able to network with. The amount of relevant eye tracking projects that adapt to the programming environment is amazing. This year’s workshop intentionally followed the ACM 15th Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education Research held in Koli, Finland.  In the future I may however recommend having the conference be collocated with another Computing Community, perhaps ICPC (International Conference on Program Comprehension). There may be a different audience, perhaps more familiar with programming theories and how novice and experts actually code that provide grounded theories on what the eye movements reflect.

Overall Reflection

Overall, it was a great experience. This was also only my second formal presentation so I’m still fairly new to the community. On top of that my advisor was not there so I was a little nervous at first but the organizers did a great job of making everyone feel welcomed.  The feedback I received from the workshop was very helpful and the comments that I received after supported that this project is a problem worth investing in.

I recently was tweeted from CoderPad and Netflix developers in support of this work.

So we will see where this project goes but I’m definitely excited to have people support that my research problem is ACTUALLY a problem!

If you’re interested in learning more about the work and other projects you can check out my official research blog; I recently posted an piece about this work, “The FUTURE of Technical Phone Interviews”. The Presentation is now available on slideshare and the final version of the paper will be available on the EMIP workshop website ideally by February 2016.


<b>🐝</b> : tales of #GHC15

Finally! I was able attended Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference(GHC) for the third time this year. My first year I went as a Facebook Grace Hopper Scholar in 2012 and the second year I went with my university in 2013. I skipped last year’s but heard I missed out on a lot so I made it my mission to go this year. This conference is about the CELEBRATION of Women in Computing whether you identify as a woman or not. With that being said, male allies often attend the conference as well, however of the ~12,000 attendees about 99% of them were females.

Be Bold.

This blog is named after one of my favorite t-shirts I received from GHC in the past. The shirt was from Rackspace so I made it my mission to go past their booth at the career fair to see familiar faces and find out what type of opportunities they were offering this year. The career fair is where it all goes down. Not only are you passing out the 50+ resumes & business cards that you printed out, but your are receiving swag to reward you for your superb navigation of the massive fair. Many companies will have raffles for attendees to win cool tech. While speaking to companies at the career fair you often get invited to private events, which were great to make the large conference seem intimate.

#GHC15 BWiCs Capital One Lunch
#GHC15 BWiCs Capital One Lunch

A couple events I went to were the CODE2040&Pandora Evening Mixer, Facebook Research Brunch, and the Qualcomm Yoga. It was good to have casual conversation with people especially since I wasn’t actually looking for a job. As with all conferences, this one is about networking and stepping outside your comfort zone to meet new people. These smaller intimate events make it easier for that to happen and it feels so much more natural. I think I met the most amazing people at these events and formed stronger bonds at these events.

My favorite part of the conference was attending the BWICs events. BWICS stands for Black Women in Computer Science. I am on their systers mailing lists in their facebook group, but aside from that I have not have the opportunity to meet the people on the list. GHC was a great venue for that. It allowed other black females in computing to be able to identify with other females in computing who are going down similar paths.

The next conference of this type that I will attend will most likely be the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Many attendees at the BWiCS event mentioned that it’s an amazing conference and coincidentally has been on my radar for some months now.

As much fun as I had this time at Grace Hopper this year, it will probably be last time going for a while. The conference has grown to be about 12000 attendees and for me that is not as intimate as I would like. It was actually a real challenge for me to navigate the sessions and attend the sessions that would really benefit me as a researcher. Honestly, that was one of the most discouraging parts.  Honestly, I would claim the size of Grace Hopper to be a good problem to have. It shows that the field and support system is growing for women in technology, but doesn’t give them all the opportunities to meet each other.

The next time I will probably attend the conference is when I am actively seeking full time employment in about 2-3 years.


Want to see what all the commotion was about? Feel free to go back and review my live tweets during the conference @DenaeFord. The tweets should be tagged with#GHC15.


So it has officially happened. I received my first paper rejection. It actually did not burn as bad as I thought it would. It did however take me a whole month since the rejection to start writing this blog (and after the next submission to post it), but that is not the point. Actually, all in all, it was a beautiful experience. The beauty in this process came from the confidence of writing the 1st paper to begin with and then moving foward to write the next version of the paper. This was my first full paper, 10 pages, that I have written, therefore I’m not too hurt to find that I still have a lot of work to do.

I am very thankful for my supportive team of authors. The follow up to the paper was also a good example of teamwork and hope for the research. The comments from my team of authors was encouraging. My team of authors was very active throughout the paper writing, rejection, and reworking of the paper. Everyone was excited to shift the paper for another venue and we have successfully completed that now.

To help with that transition, I developed a timeline for our next venue and we began to task out what needed to be done to make this next paper awesome. Initially, things were moving pretty slow since I was at my internship and had little time outside of the lab to work on the new paper. Drafting out the timeline was a good way to stay focused on the new goal and not dwell on the past rejection. Another way to avoid dwelling on the past rejection was to read the reviewer comments with a grain of salt. My research group uses GitHub to collaborate on paper writing and a member of the team volunteered to turn all the reviewer comments into GitHub Issues. This definitely helped us make the reviewer comments more manageable and not just a big block of “negative” text that no one wanted to read. We assigned these issues to individuals and made new ones to get the paper up to par. As we began to assign and close issues, we got closer to a more complete and acceptable paper.
Throughonward this entire process I want to acknowledge the perspective I had coming into this paper.  I knew this research was interesting, it was just a matter of how I communicated how interesting and valuable it was. I can acknowledge the fact that I am growing as a researcher and writer and that is something that I am okay with. I still have many more rejections to come but it’s about how I handle those rejections that matter. As I await feedback from this submission, I must continue to move forward and enhance my skills. Honestly, there is no where to go but up from here; or as my advisor said to me…



first time’s the charm

As a first year student I had the rare opportunity of having my first paper, Exploring the Causes of Frustration for Software Developers, submitted and get accepted! Writing this first paper was quite intimidating at first. But it definitely helped that I had previously started writing about the work. My advisor and I worked through many revisions before submitting the final product.

#ICSE15 with Dr. Heckman
#ICSE15 with Dr. Heckman

As someone who is still new to technical writing I found it very valuable to have gone through those multiple drafts. In addition to that my advisor recommended writing a blog so that I could be able to talk about my research to the normies(i.e. non researchers). I can honestly say that writing the ‘medium-formal’ research blog and the ‘cool’ buzzfeed post about this work definitely guided my approach for the poster and presentation for the conference.

From the 16th to the 23rd of May I was able to travel to Florence, Italy to attend the conference, #ICSE15, for this work. At the conference I was also selected as the first person at my workshop, #CHASE15, to give a presentation on my paper.

poster presented at conference
Poster presented

Of course, with this being my first presentation I was scared but surprisingly it all went well. It was well received by the audience and I got some pretty nice questions. After my presentation my advisor introduced me to other researchers at the conference. It was amazing because I was finally able to put faces to all the amazing researchers whose work I’ve read.

It was also great to network with other researchers and hear them passionately talk about their research topics. Some being Bogdan Vasilescu’s work on Perceptions of Diversity on GitHub: A User Survey and Maryi Arciniegas-Mendez’s Regulation as an Enabler for Collaborative Software Development. For those who are interested, their slides and papers can be found online.

On top of that, Maryi, a presenter at the workshop, and I randomly set up a trip to go to Rome the next day! This just goes to show you the type of networks that can be formed at these conferences.

at the colosseum
THE Colosseum
Maryi and I
Maryi and I

Going to this conference honestly allowed me to become more comfortable in my skin as a researcher. Getting this paper accepted made me feel like I am personally being accepted as a REAL researcher. Like my work is ACTUALLY impacting the field and other researchers ACTUALLY welcome my contributions. Such an amazing feeling.  

Going to the conference definitely encouraged me to continue my research efforts (Especially since at the conference I was working on another paper 😛). All in all, ending this first year of the PhD program at this conference was truly the icing on the cake. I can’t wait to see what next year has in store!


This weekend I went down to FAMU since 2 of my cousins were graduating. One graduated with a bachelor’s and the other with both a bachelor’s &  master’s. They’re both business majors and I am happy to see them accomplish a great feat of graduating from college. In the midst of all the terrible things happening to black males I can gladly say that I am related to two that are doing great things.

While I was at the graduation I was so surprised to see so many Black women graduating with PhDs in STEM fields. I honestly almost teared up. Being in that environment was so uplifting! No, but seriously.

This feeling was honestly overwhelming. While I was sitting in the bleachers it finally hit me that I actually just finished my first year of this PhD. I actually did the unthinkable, at least for me. I would have never went for this PhD if it wasn’t for my undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Kristy Boyer. Honestly I owe her a lot more than she will ever know. All it takes is a little inspiration from someone who can actually get you started and  believes in you. (I’ll probably make another  posts to talk about her and other motivators 😍 ).

This year has been a bit of a roller coaster but I think that’s what has made it so amazing. It’s the nature of research.  I’ve learned a lot about what I’m capable of doing, how mind blowing  research can be, and understanding things that are truly out my control. This year I learned to step out of my comfort zone. Dr. Parnin, my advisor, has encouraged and challenged me in ways that honestly help me grow. From data crunching to conducting interviews for my latest research. From blogging about my research to practicing my scholarly writing.

But that’s what I think what the PhD program is all about; stepping outside your comfort zone. Really, how can you expect to get better without pushing yourself to that next level.

Who would’ve thought sitting in the auditorium to watch my cousins cross the stage would warrant so much reflection. I guess being around family really brought out the humble beginnings of the journey and the beauty of the finish line.  Being around those encouraging vibes lets me know that this  journey will definitely be one for the books.