My GHC Experience (in 3 easy steps!)

Only a small portion of the GHC Expo Hall

The first step is knowing you’re not alone.

My GHC (Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing) started before my feet even touched the broiling Houston asphalt. When I arrived at Gate 69 in SFO, I did a double take. Google, PayPal, Facebook, Microsoft, Box, Apple… I couldn’t even count the number of tech company shirts. Laptops lay open everywhere, the multicolored characters on Sublime Text reflecting off glasses that teetered on the edge of several female noses. I joked with my coworkers, Stephanie and Polina: “We’re with our people now.”

In my sophomore year, I had a 30-person discussion class where I was the only woman. At EA, there have never been more than 2 women on my modestly-sized team — which has fluctuated from 6–15 people. Here at GHC, it’s quite the opposite: There are only a few men for every hundred women. The men here experience what we women experience every single day of CS class, and every day of work in the industry. After years of being a minority, it’s a little jarring — but especially validating — to sit back and notice that you are surrounded by people of your own sex.

Astro Teller celebrating failure in front of thousands of GHC attendees

The second step is knowing you can do it.

Grace Hopper provides a breeding ground for ideas and conversations about everything and anything related to computer science. Astro Teller, “Captain of Moonshots” at X (previously Google X), talks reverently about product manager Kathy Cooper and her innovative project to transform sea water to methane — then celebrates her strong ability to acknowledge failure and kill the project when its time is due. Four high-ranking female engineers from Pixar, Disney, ILM, and DreamWorks stimulate a crowded room with their long-lasting dedication (from child to engineering director) to the incredible but demanding fields of entertainment, computer graphics, and animation. 700 other speakers similarly inspire over 15,000 attendees over the course of 3 days.

When people hear about these powerful, intelligent women, they are even further motivated to keep the ball rolling. If these women, who seem like real people, can become successful computer scientists, and come back and talk about celebrating their old (and current) failures… I must be able to succeed, too.

The energy is infectious. The expo room is constantly abuzz with exuberance about the trendiest companies, the latest tech. College freshmen flock to the EA booth, articulating their love for games and programming. Never in my life have I seen so many female engineers in one place.

Polina Gouskova, data scientist at EA, speaks to a full room about applications of machine learning in games

The third step is giving back.

“Cognitive diversity” is a big phrase that’s being thrown around right now. Essentially, it means that people who think differently can get together and solve problems more effectively than people who think the same way. And that’s a huge factor behind the rush for racial and gender diversity in the workplace. Now that we know we are not alone, and that we can succeed in such a homogeneous industry, we can take action in order to help others do the same.

Already, EA is making strides in the gaming and tech worlds by introducing strong female characters. U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan landed the FIFA 16 video game cover. Ronda Rousey is the face of UFC 2, and Faith Connors is the badass in Mirror’s Edge. Even Rose from Plants vs. Zombies is female!

All it takes is that first spark, that first conversation that cascades not only into our games, but into an entire organization of diversity and inclusion within a corporate company like EA. By having that conversation, we’ve integrated so many females into our games — bringing diversity into the minds of our young gamers. By having that conversation, we’ve brought so many talented and creative female engineers into the workforce.

Knowing that high-ranking EA executives like Ken Moss are so aligned with our interests provides an additional sentiment of alliance and affirmation.

Ken Moss speaking at the EA GHC networking mixer
“If we want to have a truly diverse workforce, a truly diverse set of people in all different ways, we’re gonna have to change how we do things… [We should] take advantage of this — get to know each other more, figure out how we can stay connected, how can we do more ever into the future.” — Ken Moss, CTO of Electronic Arts
GHC attendees (wo)manning the EA booth (photo credit: Thuy Nguyen)

The truth is…

If you’re a female engineer living and working in the Bay Area, GHC is not life-changing; you won’t leave having discovered the new meaning of life. But what it will do is infuse you with the sheer energy of its attendees, quiet the voices of dissenters ringing in your ears, and leave you mentally (and physically) hungry to continue the rest of your life and career — the way you want to pursue it.