Impressions from Grace Hopper

As I’m returning from my 5th time attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, I’m finding that it’s a good time to reflect. The first GHC I attended was the 2012 conference in Baltimore. There were around 3,500 attendees that year compared to the 15,000 this year. A lot has changed over the years but a lot has also stayed the same. Every year the number of attendees has drastically increased over the previous year and the time until the conference passes sell out has decreased. This year the passes sold out in 13 minutes and I knew several people back home who really wanted to attend the conference but who were unable to get a ticket.

This year, like many years, I showed up at the airport to catch the same flight as several of my co-workers. Our flight to Houston was almost entirely women and nearly all of them attending the conference. I couldn’t help but think that anyone not going to the conference would likely be very confused about what was going on. Looking around, it was easy to pick out the eager college students dressed to impress anyone they might meet as well as the many company representatives decked out in t-shirts printed with their company names. Upon deplaning, a co-worker overheard a college student excitedly tell her friend that she had already managed to hand out one of her resumes. With the record number of attendees descending on Houston and over 90% of them women, the excitement was palpable.

Attending the opening keynote with a sports stadium filled with predominantly my fellow women in tech, it’s easy to forget that while we have made a lot of progress on awareness about diversity, the number of women in technical roles continue to fall. We have made a number of key inroads such as an incoming CS class of 48% women at Carnegie Mellon, but 45% of women will leave their tech role within 5 years. We still have a lot of work to do.

This year was filled with bonding with my fellow Box co-workers, meeting up with women across the industry that I know and going to events hosted by other companies where I could have the chance to get to know new people. As our VP of Platform Engineering, Heidi Williams, pointed out, one of the most valuable aspects of GHC is the community of women that we build and the friendships and the support network that we form. These are the people that we will be able to rely on to support us and help us feel less alone. I met a number of interesting people and was both able to gain some insights and advice and I was also able to pass on some of my experiences and lessons.

Like every year, I find myself leaving the conference in awe of many of the amazing women who are in our field. I’m also left with the feeling that we still have a long way to go before tech is truly diverse but that there are a lot of smart and passionate people working on that problem. I also leave knowing that while the number of women in computer science is lower than I would like, I am not alone and the issues I face are not unique. There are other people out there in similar situations who are cheering for me just as I’m cheering for them. At it’s heart Grace Hopper truly is a celebration of the many amazing women in computer science. I hope that others are able to take that inspiration and passion back to their companies just as I know I will.

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