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Women in Technology/Girl Geeks

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Hi-tech mortgage aid breaks down barriers

Click on thumbnail to view imagePublished Date: 30 October 2010
WHAT do mortgages and the Tom Cruise film Minority Report have in common?

The answer, thanks to an Edinburgh University student, is futuristic touch-screen technology, which in the case of mortgages will allow home buyers and their advisers to play about with complex information to help them find the right deal.

Just as Cruise used giant touch-screens to access information in the 2002 science fiction film, the software written by Kate Ho’s Interface3 company allows borrowers to move graphs and figures around the screen.
The interactive software lets customers compare different types of mortgage – from fixed-rates and trackers through to interest-only products – all on the one screen. Borrowers can easily change the variables, such as the length of the loan or monthly repayments, to compare the prices they would pay.

Ho, who was born in Hong Kong and moved to Scotland when she was six, won Royal Bank of Scotland’s Touch Finance competition with the software.

The interactive mortgage calculator will be on show on 11 November at an open day in Edinburgh, hosted by consultancy firm User Visions as part of “world userability day”.

Ho told The Scotsman: “I sat down with my friends and talked about what the most complicated financial services products were and how I could simplify the process.

“The mortgage calculator means that customers and advisors can gather around a table to talk about loans. It removes the barrier of the desk and computer sitting between them and gives the customer more control over all the mortgage options.”

Away from work, Ho is heavily involved in Geek Girls, a group for women interested in technology, and plays prop for Watsonians rugby club.

Stephen Denning, senior user experience consultant at User Vision – which tests everything from websites to packaging to make sure they can be easily used by customers – said it was important that new products like Ho’s mortgage calculator were being developed.

He said: “It’s essential that products like mortgages are made as simply to understand as possible. With a lot of purchases, customers have an excited emotional reaction.

“But when it comes to financial services products – especially big purchases like mortgages – then customers can often be frightened or nervous.

“Anything that can removed that fear has got to be a good thing.”

Ho’s software was aslo used to create an interactive terminal at the Edinburgh International Science Festival and, last month, her company won a contract with Bristol-based theatre Sandbox.

Interface3 is one of the final companies to be born out of the Edinburgh Pre-incubator Scheme (Epis), which has helped to launch businesses including Pufferfish, which makes 3D screens used at Coldplay concerts, and waste water treatment firm H2Ology.

“Now Sister Geeks are doing it for themselves”, Daily Record

KATE is managing director of Interface3, a firm who specialise in smart multitouch interfaces. They develop cutting-edge softwear which wouldn’t be out of place in The Minority Report.

She also plays rugby in her spare time.

On the face of it, the company boss and sportswoman, who also has a PHD under her belt, doesn’t look like someone who would be deterred by anything.

She went to one of the early Girl Geek Dinners in London and found it a breath of fresh air. She quickly became involved in organising the Edinburgh version.

She said: “You get a lot more relaxed atmosphere and a lot more shared experiences. Often you go to events where there’s only one or two girls so it just makes it a refreshing change to be in a room where you can talk about how to deal with those issues.

“A lot of it is about confidence. Men come over as a lot more authoritative but it doesn’t necessarily mean they know more. It’s just sometimes some women need a lot of encouragement.”

Kate explained that she and the other organisers were able to get funding to pay for a speaker series for the Scottish Girl Geek Dinners.

This enabled the women to entice real leaders of industry to Scotland from Silicon Valley in California and elsewhere.

Kate said: “The theme of the speaker series is creativity computing and entrepreneurship.

“But the speakers aren’t just here to speak.

“They’re here to inspire the girls and to network as well.”

The Girl Geeks Dinners in Scotland’s cities all have a different feel.

In Dundee, it’s artistic digital In Dundee, it’s artistic digital artists and designers. It’s the natural slant in that city.

But in Edinburgh, there are more small business bosses and people involved in social media with quite a heavy dose of academics. In Aberdeen, it’s dominated by the energy sector.

Edinburgh Blog to Publish a Newspaper (Guardian Edinburgh blog, 9th June 2010) After a year of breaking news about the activities of Edinburgh’s startup businesses, the Startup Cafe is going old school and launching a newspaper to mark its first birthday. A 12 page full colour print run will be rolling off the presses next month to showcase the best of the blog’s featured activity. Using the Newspaper Club, itself a recent startup, the StartupCafe Chronicle will be made up of 500 numbered collectable copies. But it’s not just about marking the anniversary as Kate Ho told me, it will be an opportunity to introduce their work to an offline audience.

“We wanted something in hard copy form to commemorate but also that we can distribute. “We want to be The Metro of entrepreneur news, people can pick it up and find a fun way to start seeing these stories. It’s about creating news stories that they will then come back to discover more about”.

StartupCafe was born out of a frustration felt by the bloggers that Edinburgh’s entrepreneurs weren’t getting the attention they deserve.

“We were always hearing from people in Silicon Valley saying we didn’t need to be Silicon Valley based to succeed but there’s such a lot of hype around everything happens there, in part because there’s such a lot of bloggers writing about everything they do.”

And the blog has certainly had it’s share of tech community scoops – with the myPolice saga being the most remarkable as an Edinburgh group battled to keep it’s name after the HMIC launched a service under the same name – a story which was also featured on The Guardian’s technology pages. [read the rest on the blog post itself]

Interface3 on Shell Awards List (Business7 Magazine, 26th Feb 2010) A fledgling business to create communication solutions for the retail finance sector has been shortlisted for a Shell Livewire Grand Ideas award. Kate Ho founded Interface3 to take advantage of multitouch technologies. She founded the business after submitting her PhD in computer science at Edinburgh University four months ago. Ho is applying her expertise to developing software specifically for financial advisors to easily explain complex investment products to clients. She said: “Being shortlisted means so much since we’re such a young company and fingers crossed that it’s good news when the winners are announced.”

University Entrepreneur has a Grand Idea to Replace Keyboard and Mouse (Scotland IS, 26th Feb 2010) An Edinburgh University graduate has been shortlisted for Shell LiveWIRE’s Grand Ideas award for her business,Interface3. Kate Ho, aged 28, impressed the judges with her idea to create engaging customer facing software for the retail finance sector using the latest multitouch technologies. Ho started her business after submitted her PhD in Computer Science at Edinburgh University four months ago. She explains, “Interface3 uses the expertise I gained over my studies over the past years. I saw a perfect opportunity to develop software for multitouch interfaces especially with the up-coming release of the iPad and Windows 7 tablets.” This cutting-edge technology enables users to replace the traditional keyboard and mouse by directly touching the computer screen with both their hands. Ho is applying her expertise to developing software specifically for Financial Advisors to easily explain complex investment products to their clients. She added “Being shortlisted means so much since we’re such a young company and fingers crossed that it’s good news when the winners are announced” Ho’s idea, submitted through Shell LiveWIRE’s website, was shortlisted by a panel of judges in the Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award which brings £1,000 funding. The Shell LiveWIRE Grand Idea awards are designed to give aspiring young entrepreneurs a no-strings-attached financial boost of £1,000 to help them get their business ideas off the ground. The awards are held monthly and entrepreneurs from all over the UK can submit their entries through the LiveWIRE website.

Great female technology entrepreneurs (Computer Weekly, 10th Feb 2010) Kate Ho recently started a business called Interface3 which specialises in designing and developing software for multitouch devices. She says of the company, “Despite the increasing volumes of multitouch enabled devices (including mobile phones, iPads, laptops and desktops), software developers have still not embraced the advantages of multitouch and gestural based interfaces.” Kate did a computer science degree at Edinburgh University, followed by a PhD in Requirements Engineering. She says a TV show first got her interested in IT. She says there should “undoubtedly” be more efforts to get women into tech and encourages women to use support networks like the Girl Geek Dinners. “Any industry with a strong pull towards one demographic is not healthy, and for an industry as prevalent as IT, it is of paramount importance to manage the significant gender imbalance.”

Kate Ho – Girl geek, entrepreneur and computer science student (GetSETWomen Blog) I still remember that career defining moment. When I was 11, I was watching a TV show where the main character was a video games programmer. I thought that was the coolest job you could ever have so I studied Computer Science at Edinburgh. There, I became fascinated about how people could use computers to work more effective and efficiently. It kick-started a life-long quest in working out what makes software intuitive to use, and how we could use technology to improve our daily lives. My pursuit has led me to my PhD topic: “Investigating Requirements Engineering in E-Science Projects”. I’m examining requirements and design issues which developers of next-generation computer-based scientific tools face. The hope is to help developers understand how to supporting faster, better and more collaborative science. I co-founded and help run Edinburgh University Hoppers – a support group for female informatics students and also Edinburgh Girl Geeks Dinner alongside Morna, Bonnie, Allison, Sarah, Jenny and Caroline. There was a joke between the boys about whether it’s possible to get 40 girl geeks in a room (there aren’t many of us in Scotland); not only did we achieve it, we sold out in two weeks! For women working in programming, there are still some major issues to be resolved. In the last six months, there have been two separate incidents where inappropriate images of women have being used in conferences. The percentage of female CompSci students are still low – typically 10-15%. And I hate it when people see a girl and assume they know nothing about computers. Appropriate behavior, recruitment and perception are three major themes the computing community still has to address. I love twitter! I tweet about interesting links I’ve found, and places or events that I’m going to. My favorite twitter story was when I was leaving to go to W-Tech in Feb and a freak snow-storm hit London. I tweeted to ask whether I should go and got replies from strangers telling me how bad it was and not to bother. That’s the beauty of twitter: ask a question and you get human responses back. Be warned: it is a time-sink. You have to invest to get value back. The future? I am launching a software design consultancy for multi-touch devices in the next few months. From iPhones to Microsoft Surface, natural user interfaces are going to become the norm in the next decade. I strongly believe that building multi-touch applications will require new ways of thinking about how we interact with computers. Being deeply unsatisfied that developers still think in the “single touch” paradigm, I want to ask – What else can we do with this technology? How will the next generation of users interact with computers? Kate Ho is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. In her spare time, she blogs about social media, women in technology and entrepreneurship. She has a BSc Computer Science (Edinburgh) and MSc Technology Management (Manchester). She is involved with She is a member of BCS Women, and helps to organize Edinburgh Girl Geeks Dinner and Hoppers. In her spare time she blogs about social media, women in technology and entrepreneurship. She is one of four people running the Edinburgh StartupCafe – ‘a fun and humorous place to go to for local startup news’.

IT Girls in networking revolution (Scotsman, 26th July 2009)

KATE Ho is a 27-year-old graduate of Edinburgh University, and is about to launch her own software company in the city. She is a self-confessed “girl geek”. Ho, who is originally from Hong Kong but has spent most of her life in Scotland, studied computer sciences as an undergraduate and is now in the final stages of her PhD. She attended the first Girl Geeks Scotland dinner earlier this year, and has since been involved in building up the network across the country. She said she was drawn to Girl Geeks because she was sick of being the only woman at programming and developing events. “If I went to meetings in pubs, there would be ten guys and perhaps one other woman. I would be pleased there was a woman there. But 90 per cent of the time it turned out to be based on false hope as she would be there because she was someone’s girlfriend. “Through Girl Geeks I can meet like-minded women. A girl geek, for me, is anyone that enjoys being involved in technology and is interested in it.” Explaining why it is so difficult to meet other women in technology, she said: “Of the 70 or 80 graduates from my computing sciences course at one of the best universities in the UK, there were only five females.”