Controversial opinion: It’s good that you did not get into Grace Hopper this year. You can stop refreshing Anita Borg’s website. Seriously. There are plenty of other local, national, and global conferences that you can go to that may be better.
But it’s Grace Hopper!
I know, I know. I get the hype. I attended Grace Hopper Celebration in 2015 and enjoyed the feeling of being in a room with 15,000 technical women, the evening events, and the great talks I went to, but truthfully I have been to better conferences. The scale of GHC means the keynotes attract inspiring executives, seeing Susan Wojcicki and Sheryl Sandberg on the mainstage was incredible, but the rest of the conference is long lines for food and the restroom, sifting through large crowds to get to a certain panel, and losing the friends you came with over and over. Networking is harder than it looks, unless you’re really extroverted. There are too many people and you probably won’t run into them again so you can just feel lost in a sea of people most of the time. The career fair is nice, but overwhelming.
I attend 8–10 conferences a year between my tech job and my role as Uplift’s Programs Director, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what I value in a conference. I look for presentation quality, the community of attendees, and proximity to my hometown. I prefer smaller conferences and ones that emphasize diversity (and not just gender diversity). You may have completely different metrics, everyone is different.
Outside of my own experience, GHC has been criticized for not compensating speakers, the prohibitively high cost of attendance for those not sponsored by a company, and the lack of focus on intersectional diversity. The conferences I present below address some of these issues, though there is still progress to be made.
Lesbians Who Tech Summit
New York, September 7–9 Cost: $349. (SF in February)
Lesbians Who Tech is a tech conference for queer women and allies. Topics include: Mobile, Cybersecurity, Big Data, Health Tech, Fin Tech, Software Engineering, Inclusion, Design, Space Tech and Science. Last year, I attended their Social Good Hackathon and made friends I still keep in touch with.
They also have a pretty extensive career fair as well as evening events and afterparties that are less sponsorship sales pitches than the GHC ones. Sunday is meetup day where you can explore NYC with the friends you made at the conference. I’m attending again this year, let’s hang out!
Scholarships are available, don’t let that be the reason you can’t attend.
All over the world. Throughout the year. Pay what you can.
AlterConf is a local, affordable, and intersectional alternative to GHC. They compensate speakers, prioritize accessibility, and cover a broad range of diversity issues, especially those rarely talked about in tech. AlterConfs take place all over the world with upcoming ones in New York, Austin, Portland, and Melbourne.
Upcoming talks include: Navigating the Workplace With an Invisible Disability, Indigenous Flames: Reclaiming Space, Reclaiming Power through Digital Activism, and Tackling the Homogeneity of Open Source Communities.
All over the US. Throughout the year.
“Tech Inclusion focuses on solutions: to jobs and funding, access and opportunity, empathy and allyship, inclusive teams, accessible design, and much more! Come learn what others are doing to drive diversity and inclusion in tech, plus contribute to creating new solutions, take part in startup mentorship, diverse deal flow, career development and personal growth opportunities. Don’t miss this unique, solutions-focused event!”
In addition to the conference, they have an extensive career fair in a variety of cities that attracts the same top companies as GHC.
May 2017 in Tuscon, AZ (2018 not yet announced)
My favorite GHC track is Organizational Transformation with sessions dedicated to changing the makeup of the workplace through data and well-reviewed practices. A lot of this data comes from NCWIT, the National Center for Women in IT. They have wonderful data-driven resources on how managers can support technical women, interrupting bias, and where women go (aka debunking the pipeline problem).
NCWIT actually has their own summit where they bring together educators, industry leaders, and researchers to talk about the data and discuss moving forward.
Women Techmakers Summit
Every March at Google offices and other local areas globally. Price varies.
Google's Women Techmakers program provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology. I first joined Women Techmakers to get early access to Google I/O tickets, but the slack community and their yearly International Women’s Day celebrations have turned out to be much more valuable.
The Women Techmaker Summits bring together community speakers for talks about technology and gender diversity. There is plenty of time for networking and meeting people working in your community. It’s free in many locations and they provide childcare stipends for people who need it some places, but some summits did charge over $100 if it was not hosted at Google.
I haven’t been to these conferences or talked extensively with people who have, but they seem great!
- Harvard’s WeCode Conference | Cambridge, MA
- Wonder Women Tech Conference | Long Beach, CA
- National Society of Black Engineers | Pittsburgh, PA
- Ela Conf | Philadelphia, PA
- Women in Tech Summit | Denver, CO
- Write Speak Code | Portland, OR
- ACT-W Conference | Phoenix, AZ
- Afro Tech | San Francisco, CA
Have conferences to add? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.
I’m still not convinced…
Well, I wish I could tell you I have a secret stash of tickets, but sadly I do not. The mainstage talks from GHC will be recorded so you can watch later and there’s always next year!
Sign up for Systers to get early access to GHC registration as well as the opportunity to be part of a great network of women. Your company may also receive their own batch of tickets if they are a sponsor, so start convincing your management team that you are the one they should send next year.
Whether you attend these conferences, attend GHC, or live vicariously through livestreams, take the lessons you learn and share them in your classrooms, your workplaces, and your communities. Diversity in Tech affects everyone in tech and moving the needle involves all of us.