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Replacing a Camera with a Computer: Computational Imaging with Professor Laura Walker

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How can we capture the world based on how light interacts? On November 1st, Professor Laura Walker spoke at Femtech Talk about how computational imaging does this. Computational imaging is a multidisciplinary field that blurs the lines of electrical engineering, computer science, and biology. It focuses on the physics of how light propagates, and the algorithms that can be developed for optimization.

The Computer as a Lens

But what exactly is computational imaging? What kind of problems can be solved in the field? Walker describes computational imaging as hardware and software working together. Optics, Walker says, is trying to design lenses in a camera so that they take better pictures. But computational imaging is “rethinking how we make this camera in the first place”! Traditional imaging systems are boring. “Can computers do the job of lenses?”, she proposes to her audience.

More specifically, computational imaging focuses on how to design the image system, given sensors and an object. The design process is like art, Walker explains. The design must be practical, cheap, and efficient, so computational imagers must consider how to redesign hardware for easy computation. They also must be familiar both with optics and signal processing to accomplish this.

Applying Computational Imaging to the Real World

The applications of computational imaging are numerous and varied. Walker introduces the Light Field camera, one such application. This camera collects data in a different way than a normal camera, so that you can change the focus of a picture from the background to the foreground after you’ve taken it! Walker explains that the rays hitting the sensor can be computationally back traced to accomplish the digital refocusing.

Another application is Computational phase imaging, an application of computational imaging that essentially gets a map of surface shape and the density of cells. It helps scientists see which cells are transparent, and is therefore useful for disease diagnosis. In malaria, for example, it allows us to look for an infected cell among tens of thousands of red blood cells!

Getting into Research as an Undergrad

And how might someone get involved in computational imaging? Walker mentions she got involved in optics quite randomly; she emailed a bunch of CS professors and happened to get a position in optics! She also says that she did a lot of work in signal processing as an undergrad. Most importantly, the Berkeley Center of Computational Imaging is expanding! She greatly encourages undergrads to get involved in research; in computational imaging, there are both building and coding projects for undergrads to work on.

Walker also emphasizes the importance of having diversity in technology, and of always checking your biases. She encourages her audience: “Be bold. Be resilient. This is wonderful place to work in, sometimes not the best culture and environment, but you can get around that and be happy.”

Written by Michelle Verghese

Ashwin Vijayakumar talks working with startups at Intel

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Ashwin Vijayakumar is the Lead applications architect at Intel Corporation, and works to directly with startups during their development to get them to market faster. On Tuesday October 25th, he talked to Femtech about his latest projects and his advice for prospective entrepreneurs.

At Intel, Vijayakumar aims to help startups attain a faster path to production. He does this by working to create technology that will help startups through the design process, so that they can get to market as quickly as possible. An example of one such project is Intel ® Real Sense™. This product features three cameras – a 1080p HD camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector. Together, it can serve a variety of uses for a startup working on product design because it enables the user to actually scan objects in 3D!

“What is perception? How do we perceive our environment?” Vijayakumar asks his audience at FemTech Talk last Tuesday. He revealed that the idea of perception was key in the design of sensors in the revolutionary technology behind Intel ® Real Sense™. The technology, Vijayakumar explained, is much like the human eye. Perceptual computing is implemented – which is how we give machines the sensors and intelligence to perceive its environment like we can. Doing this is complex: we must be able to give the robot instructions via some kind of software so that it is capable of object recognition.

The sensors themselves are very advanced. The product actually features two types of depth infrared sensors, one for time of flight and the other for structured flight. Time of flight sends the beam of light to the object and estimates how long it takes for the beam to come back. Structured light on the other hand casts a beam of light and creates a set of features. Together, these depth sensors allow continuous movement to accompanied by continuous depth perception by the machine.  Ultimately, the processor can sense depth and track motion, allowing the machine to sense objects in three dimensions!

Vijayakumar first became interested in the topics he would later work on at Intel back in college, when he wrote his master thesis on automotive electronics. Talking about the ideas with professors and fellow students helped grow his understanding and interest in the field.

And what’s it really like working for Intel? “Intel is home. It gives me the freedom to do what I want to do…Intel has a diverse culture and helps people grow from a social perspective as well”, Vijayakumar describes. The company, he notes, is quite large but still feels like a startup because of the smaller groups it is broken up into. Intel is also very committed to fostering a diverse workforce, Vijayakumar says. From his experience, a gender balanced team is extremely beneficial because it brings diversified thought: “Men solve things differently than women…Gender brings different points of view”. And these ideas align well with Intel’s, he adds.

Finally, Vijayakumar was able to offer some valuable advice to future entrepreneurs – or anyone interested in creating a startup. He reveals that hands down the most important thing is to work hard. Secondly, don’t worry too much about whether someone else will sue or steal your idea – simply “solve a problem that’s existing”. There are so many ideas being patented, he says, but not being executed. Execute on the idea!

 Written by Michelle Verghese

Intern Insider: UX/UI design At Tesla

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Being a design intern at Tesla isn’t what you might think.

“I wasn’t working on the car,” said Michelle Chan, a Summer User Interface and User Experience design intern at the Palo Alto-based company. “I think that’s what a lot of people think when they think of Tesla, but there are a lot of things beyond the car that people can work on.”

Instead, Michelle worked on internal and enterprise tools, including a wire harness for car seats. (Details on projects were kept hush-hush.)

A Cognitive Science major at UC Berkeley, Michelle is a self-taught UX/UI designer with full stack coding capabilities. As she continues her internship into the Fall semester, Michelle muses on work-life balance, having fun on the job and self-driving cars.

What’s it like interning at Tesla? What’s the culture like?

I actually love working for Tesla. It was the first time in my life that I was actually excited to wake up in the morning to go to work. At first, I had a hard time adjusting to the pace, because they do move really quickly, and they do work long hours. But after immersing myself in the work and really loving what I was doing the long hours didn’t seem long after all. Also, the vibe in the company, everyone is extremely motivated to do what they do. That also inspires and encourages me to keep moving forward with the work.

What did you learn?

My design skills shot up exponentially just being around amazing designers. I also learned how to better balance work and life. A lot of people, especially in Silicon Valley, all they do is work work work. I actually felt pretty horrible in the beginning when I didn’t have a good balance. But after realizing that, I was significantly happier.

How did your CogSci major help you in the internship?

It didn’t really help, to be honest. Unless you’re going to a design school, it’s difficult to learn what design is without doing it. There was one other design intern, and she went to school strictly for art or design related things. As someone who wasn’t, there’s more of a learning curve since you don’t have a teacher. You’re not learning from a particular someone, you’re learning it with yourself.

How did your coding experience help you?

It definitely helped me after I was done designing something. I actually got to work with a developer. It definitely helped sort of knowing a language, it helped to communicate to [the developer] about how to bring the idea to life. I could speak more technically with him.

What do you recommend for someone trying to intern?

Besides actually learning to do design, I think one of the most important things is socializing with other people, networking. I think meeting new people will go a long way for you. I think that’s how most people land jobs. Socializing organically, not necessarily assertively networking.

Have fun, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask questions while you’re interning. A lot of people when they’re first-time interning […] they may be afraid to ask questions and think that [their mentor or manager] is so busy, but in reality their humans as well, they really don’t mind if you ask a question. That would probably help work a lot faster.

Finally, what’s your opinion on self-driving cars?

I think it’s the future. Either the future is in the long run completely [but] at least in the short run it’ll be a hybrid of self-driving.

FEM Tech wins Oski Award for Best Event

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FEM Tech is the latest recipient of the award for Best Program/Event of the Year at the Oski Awards, held at Pauley Ballroom on May 4. The event is hosted by Berkeley’s LEAD Center, an organization providing support to student leadership on campus.

FEM Tech was nominated after hosting a Girls in Tech event in April which explored roles in the industry with speakers from companies like Github and LinkedIn. The event was sponsored by Google.

Yahoo! search engine leader and job wizard Mai Le talks non-technical jobs

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by Alberto Lozano

Yahoo! search engine leader and recruiter Mai Le has had a lot of jobs. A LOT.

Le talked to FEM Tech about her career, as well as the keys to landing a job in tech – technical or not. Below, we ask the Six Sigma Black Belt via email how to enter the industry if you’re not an engineer.

What kinds of technical skills do you expect from an employee who is not in a primarily technical role?

I highly recommend that folks take [a] beginning/intro course to learn about technology.  You can find these basic courses in the CS major at the lower levels. I also recommend taking 1 programming course in languages that are easier to digest such as Python, Javascript, HTML/CSS. This will give [students a] basic knowledge about programming, testing and design so when they speak to technical people, they have a grasp of basic concepts and terminologies. I expect folks to be able to communicate, understand and grasp basic concepts.

Are there any particular majors that you have found give employees in non-technical fields an advantage?

– For engineering, IT and programming jobs, a person needs to be able to code as there’s no way to get around it.  If they do not want to code in their career then I suggest they take the minor/intro courses in CS or the minor/basic/intro business programming courses in MIS or CIS.  Then they can consider a career in [the] technology field without having to code.  Once they do this, they can then go for:

– Technical Program Management – they should take courses in program/project management and get certified

– Product Management/Marketing – they can get a major in Marketing or get [a] Product Management course and get certified

– Design/UX experience – they can take design courses or major in design

– Operations/Support – take operational. finance, accounting courses/degrees

Are there any particular things that people without technical experience can do to better prepare to enter this environment?

They must take additional classes and/or certifications. They must supplement their non-technical degree with technical courses.  For instance, when I wanted to learn how to build web sites and web site experiences, I went to UC Santa Cruz extension and got a certificate in Multimedia Programming.

What is the interview process like for someone looking to enter into a non-technical role?

It depends on the 4 roles that I called out earlier. They will be specific to that role. In an interview, candidates will be asked their understanding of concepts. When resolving issues and problems what is the situation, what will they do, how did they assess the situation, what will they recommend, and how do they know it will work/resolve issues?  By the way the person speaks through these answers, [interviewers] can get a good grasp of the candidate’s technical understanding and the depth of [their] knowledge.

 

FEM Tech co-hosts Engineering Week kick off

Engineering Week

Engineering Week kicked off last night with a talk by Komal Mangtani, Head of Business Intelligence at Uber, and FEM Tech co-hosted!

Electrical Engineering Professor Tsu-Jae King Liu MC-ed the event. Mangtani, who’s also a Women Who Code board member, talked about high impact work places and encouraged everyone to have an entrepreneurial mindset when undertaking any job or position.

The first 50 people to arrive received a free event t-shirt.

 

 

FEM Tech Share is there for all your coding needs

FEM Tech hosted its first “Share” event earlier tonight, a new self-paced, project based coding workshop. Here, you can get answers to all your coding queries, from Data Science 8 homework to iOS app development to building your own website. Come eat free ice cream (or other unmentionables) and mind meld with women in tech! Scroll below for photos of tonight’s event.

FEM Tech Share meets every Friday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in Jacobs 310.

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Doreen Bloch: consumer plus intelligence equals Poshly

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The gregarious Doreen Bloch, member of Forbes best-of-the-best 30 under 30 list and CEO of consumer intelligence company Poshly, strutted her business savvy last week at FEM Tech.

The Palo Alto native studied at UC Berkeley from 2006-2010, graduated a semester early, and moved to New York City where she worked at finance company Second Market. It was at this time, during a visit to a local drug store, that inspiration for Poshly struck.

“One of my most meaningful inspirations for creating Poshly stemmed from my personal vexation over the cosmetics shopping experience never feeling quite personalized enough — I wanted a more data-driven way to shop,” Bloch said over e-mail. “I figured if I could gather data from a diverse set of individuals, it would be possible to correlate product preferences in a more robust way.”

Shortly after this, Bloch put up a website where people could share data about themselves in exchange for prizes. She had $85 in her bank account when the first investors rolled in. After that she raised $2 million.

“It may not be easy, but creating your own company is possible.”

Poshly is a data mine field, providing consumer information to companies (think Eucerin, Benefit cosmetics, InStyle), which it extracts through entry-question giveaways on its website. Members win all sorts of things, like the gloves Rhianna wore in her Riri perfume ad, jewelrey, and countless beauty products. Users enter these contests by completing a survey about their consumer habits, and can take as many surveys to enter as many times as they want.

Bloch talked about the gender gap in the business, noting the game women have to play with venture capitalists to raise funding. She also talked about the low percentage of female CEO’s, which currently rests at 4.6 percent for Fortune 500 companies.

“It is important to me now to show others, especially fellow young women who simply don’t have enough role models, that it can be done,” she said over e-mail. “It may not be easy, but creating your own company is possible.”

Ruzena Bajcsy, Surviving Robotics

Elizabeth Moss
Elizabeth Moss

Ruzena Bajcsy, a longstanding professor at UC Berkeley, as well as the previous director of CITRIS, talked to FEM Tech members about growing up in war-torn Slovakia, being the first woman to get a PhD in Electrical Engineering in the country and eventually her journey to the U.S., where she most recently won the IEEE Robotics and Automation award for her innovation in robotics, among other honors.

Bajcsy is a short, humorous woman with stark white hair. She wears a black and white animal print sweater, a turquoise collared shirt underneath that brings out the sea-blue depths of her eyes. A jocund smile delights her face as she pads around the white screen that flashes the facts of her life.

Born in Bratislava, Slovakia in 1933, Bajcsy would grow into a Nazi regime that would kill 40,000 Jews in her hometown – including her parents.

“In those days girls didn’t play with these robots, or circuits. It was the boys.”

Bajcsy went on to detail how she left behind a family – a son and daughter – to pursue a career in the states. Her years were filled with sexism and inequality, (at one point coworkers tampered with a project, a high gain amplifier, she had been working on to make her look bad) but Bajcsy stuck with her passion.

“In those days girls didn’t play with these robots, or circuits. It was the boys,” she said.

She has worked in a number of engineering roles over the years, as well as professorships at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford before joining Berkeley faculty in 2001. She has taught here ever since and currently takes on seven to eight PhD students.

She offered students a key piece of advice: “you have to find your passion.” She continued, “you want to have a job that every morning you are happy to go to. 

“I’m 83 and I’m happy to work, I’m happy to come here.”

Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of Nommery, talks to FEM Tech

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Melisa Lin, founder and CEO of restaurant meet-up site Nommery, chatted with FEM Tech earlier this month about her journey from Berkeley student to owner of one of the most promising start-ups in the industry. 

Nommery has its roots in SF Foodies, the other meet-up community Lin started years ago, back when she worked at Veritable Vegetable, the country’s oldest organic produce distributor.

“There was a point when I was thinking, should I be trying to advance my career in the food industry and progress further there, or can I build something out of this community that is exploding,” Lin said. The group was holding 100 events a month, and filled entire restaurants on some nights.

But before Veritable and SF Foodies, Lin was a student at Berkeley studying mostly, well, food: besides selling her own, homemade granola, leading organic gardening at People’s Park and basically majoring in food (B.S. In Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Sustainable Food Business), she also helped found the Student Food Collective, the vegan food-haven located on Bancroft.

A veritable violinist (she’s performed on tour in Europe with the Stanford symphony and at the Davis Symphony Hall in San Francisco) Lin says her love of music taught her the discipline needed to get Nommery off the ground.

“As a performer, you learn how to present yourself in front of a large audience, learn how to command, learn how to project your voice.” This skill has invariably helped in talking to big names, like, for instance, the CTO of Coffee Meets Bagel, a user of and mentor to Nommery.

People First, Company Last

Nommery sprouted in a backwards way, launching with a consumer base already established, with little question as to its viability.

“Having a community first, and understanding what they want and building it for them makes it worth it, because you’re saving time, you’re saving money on developing. It just seems like a no brainer to me.”

Lin says there are three things to have established before looking for funding: the minimal viable product (your website), sales and marketing. Sales will prove the viability of your product, which will particularly capture venture capitalists’ interest.

Logging onto Nommery, there are a handful of restaurant meet-ups created by different hosts at different price points. The cheapest meal is a non-inclusive RSVP of $5; the higher priced reservations can climb up to $300, but that includes everything from appetizers to the tip.

She describes the mood at restaurant meet-ups as “warm, open, excited.” The meet-ups have attracted many food business executives from companies like CISCO, Walmart and OpenTable.

“I’m just kind of awestruck, still,” Lin says. “To go to an event and dine with someone, and not have them mention who they are, and then go on LinkedIn later and see that they’re the VP of eCommerce at Walmart, is kind of mindboggling. It’s amazing how down to earth they all are and how humble they all are.”

Nommery has plans to expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles as well as overseas in late 2016.