My Grace Hopper Experience as a UX Designer

This October I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando, Florida. This article captures my experience.

First off, huge shout out to Purdue’s Computer Graphics Technology department for funding me for this event. You made a dream of mine possible and you taught me that there’s truth behind the phrase “you don’t get what you don’t ask for”, so thank you.

Opening Keynote

To kick of the conference, we heard incredible speeches from successful women in tech such Fei Fei Li (Chief Scientist of AI/ML at Google Cloud), and Melinda Gates (former Microsoft employee and advocate for women in tech). We heard their journey into tech and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.

Hearing these women speak gave me hope that I too can become a successful woman in tech one day. Each of these women spoke about barriers they’ve faced in their careers. Susan Black, the Founder and CEO of TechMums, spoke about being in an abusive relationship before going into tech. Fei Fei Li spoke about coming to America as a child and barely knowing English. Melinda Gates spoke about her failure with Microsoft Bob. But all of these women picked themselves up after their setbacks and kept going.

Melinda Gates gave a powerful speech about her hopes for aspiring women technologists. She told us about the shocking statistics of women in tech— that women only make up a quarter of the tech workforce, and that the numbers are only getting worse.

Melinda touched on some great points that I see present in the narrative around tech today. Too many times have I heard that tech is “too nerdy” and “too difficult”. I’ve heard people tell me that they “just don’t get computers”. This narrative is formed when women don’t see people like them in tech. To solve this issue, we need to create more opportunities for women to break into the tech world. As Melinda puts it “For anyone and everyone who has talent and interest, there should be a way into tech. Not just one pipeline. Many pathways.”

Career Fair

My view of the career fair from the entrance

After the opening keynote, my friends and I made our way to the career fair hall. Over 100 company sponsors were present at the fair, each with their own elaborate and over-the-top booth display. To be in a room filled with thousands of driven women technologists was energizing to say the least.

Here are a few of the beautiful booth displays:

Airbnb’s booth was a cabin!
Apple’s booth was set up just like an Apple store

I had the opportunity to talk to countless companies about my interest in User Experience Design in hopes of landing an internship for the coming summer. The companies at the conference were hiring for a variety of roles from Software Engineering to UX to Data Science.

I learned the importance of interpersonal skills and how to have meaningful conversations with recruiters. Within the first hour of being at the career fair, I had already figured out how to navigate it successfully. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Display yourself with confidence and poise, it goes a long way.
  2. Plan what to say to each company, prepare to talk about your previous work experience.
  3. Ask open ended questions to recruiters to keep the conversation flowing.
  4. Be resilient. Don’t get let down by one negative experience, there’s plenty of companies to talk to.
  5. Be persistent. Ask the recruiters for their contact information to follow up with them later.

Sessions

During the conference, we also had the opportunity to attend a variety of sessions, which were talks held by female technologists. These sessions covered topics from Virtual Reality to Human Computer Interaction.

I went to a session called “Designing with Color: A Collaborative Curiosity”, hosted by two employees at IBM. I learned about designing for people with visual impairments, and how to make sure your design is accessible to them. We learned about the ideal contrast ratios for accessibility, and we tried on glasses that simulated the vision of someone with visual impairments. It was interesting to see how my coursework at Purdue played out in the real world.

Networking events

Every night after the career fair and sessions, companies hosted networking events. On the first day, Twitter hosted “Twitter’s Night Out” which was a networking event with free food and dancing. Ebay had a networking event one night which was a huge dance party. It was a great way to let off some steam and mingle with other Grace Hopper attendees.

Takeaways

Overall, this conference was an incredible learning experience. My hope is that Purdue continues to send more UX Design students to this amazing conference. It will be a huge step in the furtherance of women in tech, and hopefully it will inspire women at Purdue to pursue their careers in technology.