GHC17: What I learned From GHC By Ayisha Bashir

It was astounding to see such great representation from the leadership team and 830+ fellow Microsoft employees at Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) 2017. “Connect your passion” shirts were seen everywhere, and I could even hear some attendees exclaiming “Looks like Microsoft has the biggest representation here!”.

Microsoft Group at GHC17

I couldn’t agree more that GHC was AMAZING due to the positive energy all around, the keenness to share, the passion to learn, the spirit to help each other, the support for diversity and inclusion and the enthusiasm to ace it. One of the things that I was stunned to experience was the ease to approach anyone at the conference and talk to them. Another highlight of the conference was meeting GHC Speakers, listening to their contribution to the tech industry and the technical and social revolution it has brought over the years.

I am grateful for the opportunity to attend GHC17 and to have learned so much from it.
Friday Night Celebrations at GHC17

KeyNotes

After approximately 40 minutes of waiting time for keynotes lines, I was delighted to make it to the main hall. Aicha Evans, who shares her first name with me, hosted day 1 keynotes and that made it easy for me to introduce myself to others. All keynotes speakers were truly inspirational and every single one of them had something to say that will always stay with me. Dr Fei Fei Lie’s perspective on how diversity and inclusion is are important for training AI algorithms, Diane Greene’s contribution as a leader and pioneer for industry in virtualization and beyond, Sue Black for her courage to start from scratch and her social work to help non-tech moms through #techmum and Melinda Gates for her true inspiration, motivation and plan for the future. I loved how Melinda emphasized on how anyone, who has talent and interest, can participate and play their parts to ensure:

  1. For girls growing up, creating plenty of paths to explore tech inside and outside of classrooms.
  2. For women in college, making it clear that technology is a tool for solving real-world problems.
  3. For women, already majoring in some other fields, combining computing in some other degrees, like bioinformatics.
  4. Not just four years, creating bridge programs, like UC Davis.

Sessions

After the keynotes there were a bunch of sessions in parallel; literally, there were 20–26 concurrent sessions. Most of the sessions were categorized based on objectives (Connection, Engagement, Guidance, and Inspiration), Audience Level (Student, Mid-Career, Exec etc) and Track (Career, AI, Research, IOT, Data Science etc).

I took some career guidance, motivational sessions as well as some technical sessions. Some of them were very relevant to our teams so I am sharing a few of these sessions and their highlights here:

Session: Women in Tech: Get a Seat @ the Table

Speakers ( Julie Iskow, CTO, Medidata Solutions / Monique Shivanandan, CTO, Aviva / Pamela Rice, Head of Technology Strategy & Innovation Labs Engineering, Capital One / Pragati Mathur, CIO, and Digital Solutions, Staples)

  1. People in front of you are people too, we have fears too.
  2. Imposter syndrome — voices in your head has a medical name too.
  3. Do the things that encourage/scares you the most — push your boundaries.
  4. Importance of diversity and its impact on organizations.

Session: Software Engineering Foundation: Performance

This session had 3 presentations on the following topics; I found the last two to be particularly relevant and very useful, especially for storefronts:

  1. Performance and Efficiency on Hadoop Grid — Haley Thrapp — Yahoo
  2. “Add the topic name” — Angela Zhang — Quora
  3. Sleek and Fast: Weight Management for your Fat Web Client — Sarah Clatterback — LinkedIn.

Session: Demonstrating Value

  1. Managing Up: Managing Your Manager with Compassion, Humor, and Data.
  2. Making Feedback Fair.
  3. Three Steps to Fixing a Broken Organization.
  4. Special Session — Confidence — How do I get more of that

Session: Women Who Build The Product Management Journey

Silicon Valley leaders (VP of Marketplace at Facebook, VP of Product Management at Google, VP of Product at Lyft, Head of Product at Chang Zuckerberg Initiative and VP of Technology Product Management at Workday) shared their journey of success.

Workshops

Workshop: Professional Development Learn to Negotiate And Stop Holding Yourself Back

(Speaker: Karen Catlin, Advocate for Women in Tech, Karen Catlin Consulting \ Poornima Vijayashanker, Founder, Femgineer)

  1. Mandatory training for all kinds of negotiations — totally recommended. It was very well-conducted.
  2. It included concrete examples of different type of negotiations needed at the workplace.
  3. How to negotiate for the right values and how research has supported that.
  4. During the workshop, the attendees performed an exercise for negotiation and how to improve it based on some principles.
Ayisha Bashir at GHC17

Expo Hall

Another highlight of GHC 17 was the huge expo hall and interview halls. Seeing such a vast number of company booths at the expo hall wasn’t only exposure for the students but also networking and learning opportunity for the widespread tech companies amongst themselves. One of my key focuses was to learn about resources from other tech companies to see what technology stack other marketplaces are using as an alternative to what we are using here at Microsoft. To my surprise, not many of our competitors were as agile and unified as we are. Where-as I did see a pattern of most companies using open source frameworks like angular, react and angular amber in web-based front end development.

A pleasant surprise for me was the long line at the Microsoft Booth and hearing students in the hallway saying, “DAMN I couldn’t get to Microsoft booth today because of the long line, I am going to sit in the line first thing in the morning.” This filled me with great joy. I met a college friend (a Ph.D. scholar attendee at GHC) after a decade at GHC and she mentioned she wanted to go through the booth, but just didn’t want to wait for 45 minutes. That’s when I was able to help her get through quickly and walk with her to enjoy the whole “booth experience”.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most was coming out of my comfort zone and to converse with people! To my surprise, it wasn’t that hard. GHC provided a platform to meet people in tech from such diverse, rich and variant backgrounds, to learn about their perspectives, their values, their ethics, their journeys and their passion and then reflect upon why it is really our responsibility to help others, support others and understand others to make our future better in computing.

Ayisha Bashir at GHC17

Useful Reference Links

Keynotes Day 1 details here.

GHC 2017 Complete Schedule here

GHC 2017 Complete Notes here

Women in Tech: Get a Seat @ the Table!

Demonstrating Value

Women Who Build The Product Management Journey

Professional Development Workshop Learn to Negotiate And Stop Holding Yourself Back

About the Author

Ayisha Bashir is a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft. She graduated from NUCES-FAST Islamabad, Pakistan and got hired by Microsoft fresh out of college. She is passionate about helping others, education for all, diversity and inclusion at the workplace and an advocate and big supporter for women empowerment. She inherited hard work, faith, and optimism from her parents. In her own words “My parent made me what I am today, Alhamdulillah”