Wendy Powley graduated with an MSC in Computer Science from Queen’s University following her undergraduate work in Psychology (BA) and Education (B.Ed). She currently works as the Research Associate for the Database Systems Laboratory at Queen’s University and is also an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Computing and the Faculty of Education at Queen’s. Prior to her current position (which she has held for 21 years), she spent two years working as the Project Manager for an air traffic control conflict detection research project at the Royal Military College in Kingston, ON. She teaches a first year computing course in the Queen’s School of Computing and recently offered the course on-line. An exciting addition to her duties this year is teaching pre-service secondary teachers at the Faculty of Education at Queen’s. She is the founder of the Women in the School of Computing (WISC) group at Queen’s and led this group to launch the first Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing (ONCWIC) conference in Kingston in 2010. She chairs the ONCWIC steering committee and has taken an active role in each of the subsequent successful annual conferences. She was awarded the inaugural Equity Award at Queen’s University for her efforts to increase awareness of the gender imbalance in the field of technology and for her role in helping the Queen’s School of Computing increase the undergraduate female enrolment to 34%, far above the national average of less than 15%. When she is not researching, teaching, or planning conferences, she enjoys downhill skiing, camping, attending her kids’ sporting events and catching up with friends on Facebook (or even sometimes in person!).
I am a Research Associate and Adjunct Lecturer at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. My main research focus has been on autonomic computing which involves developing control mechanisms to allow computer systems to react to changes in their environment (such as changes in workload or hardware configuration) in much the same way as the human autonomic nervous system – that is, without conscious effort or human intervention. We have applied this concept in different domains including database management systems, web services and cloud computing. I am also the project manager for a multi-university research project on Delivering Ultra-large Scale Services. My teaching load includes courses in both the School of Computing and the Faculty of Education. I teach an introduction to programming course where I have adopted a “hands-on” approach so that students learn in the lab as opposed to the classroom. This course was also offered on-line last summer for the first time. This year I have been given the opportunity to teach pre-service teachers about teaching computer science in secondary schools.
What excites you about the field of tech and your job?
What excites me about the field of IT/tech is the breadth and diversity of the field and the multitude of opportunities that it offers. I am fascinated by the rapid change and advances in the field. Although I have spent the last 21 years in the same job, it is constantly changing and no two days are the same. We regularly pursue new research topics, often exploring technologies before they are in vogue. I interact with lots of people and have the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world. I program, set up new hardware platforms, troubleshoot technical problems, write scientific papers, travel to conferences to share our work, teach, mentor, organize conferences, manage finances and more. The diversity of my tasks keeps me from getting bored and ensures that I am constantly learning. Working in an educational setting also keeps me young at heart!
How did you get into the field?
I took a course in computer science in my undergraduate degree and, although I really enjoyed it, I just didn’t see its practicality at that time. My first job out of university was as a medical researcher on a project involving biofeedback. I was asked to do on-line analysis of streaming data that was output from a medical device. I had to write a program to solve the problem and, in doing so, I was hooked on the power of computing and the satisfaction of programming. Truth be told, I was also determined not to be shut out of the world in which my partner lived. He seemed to know so much about computers and technology which was, at the time, foreign to me.
What advice do you have for young women who hope to pursue a career in your field?
Ignore all stereotypes and media portrayals. You do not have to be a geek, dress down, or spew tech-talk to be successful in this field. You do not have to be brilliant, just willing to learn. The tech field, as I have experienced it, is one of acceptance and tolerance – everyone fits. You will face challenges in any field you choose and the tech industry will be no different. Be ready to be part of the solution.
After a long day, what do you do to relax?
I love connecting with my friends on Facebook. It is such an amazing tool for keeping in touch with people in all aspects of my life. I love to laugh, so I enjoy the humorous posts and interactions. I love the blurring of personal and professional life that Facebook offers – having a glimpse into the personal life of my colleagues often lends a new perspective. When I can manage to tear myself away from the internet, I love to downhill ski, watch sappy movies, hang out with friends and family, and burn cookies.