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Connected, energized, renewed — I came home feeling all that from a networking event with a bunch of other geek girls.

Geek women to be exact, all gathering to hear ultra cool and ultra geek Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at bitly, talk about big data and human behavior. We were also there, in Facebook’s NY offices, to support the Anita Borg Institute kick off the establishment of a community of technical women in New York, and it was nice to see and talk to a lot of tech women in one place.

Lotta tech women

Lotta tech women

Highlights and thoughts from Hilary’s talk

Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at bitly

Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at bitly

Hilary introduced her talk, which she had also given at the Grace Hopper Conference last year, with a quote:

“The purpose of computing is insight not numbers.” — Richard Hamming

She proceeded to discuss the value of data when analyzed not just in its pieces but in the context of an entire system.  She gave examples, such as  how predictive data analytics saved lives and reduced taxpayer dollars.  (Watch the full video of Michael Flowers speak of these and other examples at DataGotham on YouTube.)

She showed other examples in her slide show of how data strategy is key to predicting the weather in the Dark Sky app, the OKCupid online dating blog, and last but not least, how bitly her own company, could detect social patterns in the data being collected from the links people clicked.

It was more than just collecting marketing information on what people “liked” (appropriate given our Facebook setting); there were corollaries drawn between website usage and its drop after a political revolution; there was an anthropological observation that people were simpler and more mundane in what they “liked” in their social media but more deliberate and curatorial in what they “shared.”  There was much more in her discussion which makes me want to follow her on @hmason, but what was interesting was that the networking afterwards WAS the embodiment of data and social behavior.

With Other Sisters of Technology

Fellow polytech pals, Karen Brooks (left) and Jodi Berman (right), BlackRock

Fellow polytech pals, Karen Brooks (left) and Jodi Berman (right), BlackRock

Before and after, there were easy introductions, conversation and laughter.  There really aren’t that many tech women in New York if more than once you run into a playground friend or a colleague you’ve met from previous Women in Tech meetups.  But I must admit, it does feel different to be with other women, to be honest about our own anxieties and talk freely about the work-life conversation so active in the past few months with the public perspectives of Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Erin Callan.  To be honest, I talked about a lot of things I would have at work — cross-platform client applications; user experience; document sharing; innovation incubation.  The difference was in the comfort level; many of my conversation partners were closer to my height; we could laugh self-deferentially without being judged for being “light” or be blunt and not worry about being “likable”.  It was a great exchange of ideas, but it was also a great validation that networking and connectivity need not be a duty; it could be warm and something to look forward to.

The ladies at the Anita Borg Institute wrapped up by asking us to give them our feedback and to join them in participating with LeanIn.org and its online resources. And they encouraged us to signup with their LinkedIn group so that we could start a LeanIn circle of our own.  I did just that, because I remember as I was leaving, looking back, and seeing women, nodding, laughing…

…leaning toward each other.