Grace Hopper Conference 2018

Sara Hanson
Dec 1, 2018 · 6 min read

A reflection on attending the 2018 Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, TX!

My second year at USC as a Computer Science Games major.

Despite my academic drive, I always felt behind the curve career-wise. When I entered the University of Southern California’s Computer Science department as a freshman, I was a tech novice. I had never coded before, no one in my family was in tech, and I was intimidated by my seemingly more advanced peers. The intimidation and fear were paralyzing; during my freshman year, I never attended a career fair and did not apply to any internship positions. This lack of action is striking, considering my proactive nature and drive for a summer internship. At the end of the school year, when I saw my peers begin incredible internships I made a personal goal to dominate the internship scene sophomore year.

Over the summer, concurrent with an amazing research experience, I taught myself web development, read Cracking the Coding Interview, researched different companies and applications, crafted a resume, and built my personal website. In the middle of this summer career-prep frenzy, I received a Facebook message from my friend, Radhika, telling me to apply to a Grace Hopper Conference Scholarship through USC’s chapter of Girls in Tech. I jumped on the opportunity.

Attending GHC was extremely important to me. I was aware of my lack of career confidence, and I knew GHC would be an incredibly impactful experience — one that could change my perspective on my career and catapult me into a productive, empowered space. I immediately applied, and a few weeks later I interviewed with the USC GIT President, Avni.

The interview only increased my motivation to make it to GHC. Avni described the experience as life-changing and empowering. Avni also emphasized the importance of preparation, motivating me to continue my career prep. When Avni let me know I got the scholarship, along with Radhika, I was ecstatic; I knew this experience would truly be life-changing.

With dominating GHC as a new goal in mind, I continued my internship preparation. As summer bled into the school year, I continued to practice Cracking the Coding Interview, weaving an hour of studying into my daily routine. I finalized my resume, cover letter, and elevator pitch. I communicated with professors and preemptively completed assignments, carving a cushion so the GHC week would be all about my career, not my schoolwork. I attended Girls in Tech’s preparation session, where Avni gave a rundown of the conference, imparting game-changing advice. As GHC inched closer, I no longer felt like a total career newbie. As I learned from those around me and myself, I slowly felt more confident in my ability to rock the conference.

Even before GHC, I was able to test this confidence. GHC provides a resume database for all women in tech. I submitted my resume and hoped for the best. And, in the months leading up to the conference, I was contacted by companies, setting up interviews for before, during, and after the conference. I conducted my first phone interviews… ever, and set up my first technical interviews… ever. Furthermore, I applied to many of the companies at GHC, getting in their systems as early as possible. Slowly but surely, I was gaining exposure to the full internship pipeline.

Suddenly, after chaotic months of preparation, it was the week of GHC. I took a midterm early, wrapped up group projects, preemptively turned in homework, and printed 60 resumes. Then, on Tuesday, September 25th, I headed from UCS to LAX with three equally prepared girls in tech. In a few hours, we were in Houston, settling in before three days of tiring, empowering, and inspiring growth.

GHC 2018

The first day of GHC was the most transformative day for me. The conference opened with keynote speakers, including Jessica Mathews; her message linked to my own questions: how did I get here? More importantly, do I deserve to be here? Her answer was honest and refreshing: she did not know how she got to such a successful point in life, but she did know her success stemmed from herself, her authentic, diverse, and intelligent self. This message motivated me to let go of my own fears and take the conference by storm.

After the keynote, we were released to the career fair. Avni, our fearless GIT leader, had prepped Radhika and me for this moment. We had game plans! We had goals! We were going to get! those! internships! We knew we had to secure interviews in the first few moments of the career fair. Still feeling a bit like an imposter, I decided to ignore my favorite companies, the ones I feared rejection from the most, and bolt towards other booths. Yet, upon walking into the career fair, which was basically an empty warehouse filled with insane booths from every tech company on Earth, my plans flew out of the window; I walked up to one of the companies I feared the most, Facebook. I could not help it! Being in the presence of so many amazing companies and amazing women motivated me to tackle my greatest fear. And, voila! In ten minutes, I had secured an interview with an “intimidating” company.

Thus began GHC. Over the next few days, I had my first technical interviews (whiteboards are not that scary). I talked to countless companies (each with their own swag). I met intelligent, independent women in the line to talk to these companies, at sponsored events, and in the halls of GHC. I ate pancakes with diverse engineers across the globe. I had coffee with accomplished innovators. I admired beautiful tech installations.

Throughout all of these instances, I felt welcomed and supported. To me, this was the key. In most tech situations, I feel like I am on the outside. Maybe because I am a latecomer, maybe because I am a woman, maybe because I am bi. Whatever the reason, this sense of “outside” consciously and subconsciously infiltrates my experiences with tech. Yet, at GHC, I finally felt like my position in the tech space was valued. And, because of this, I was able to go into my first tech interview and feel like I deserved to be in the room.

This overwhelming acceptance was the beauty of Grace Hopper and the aspect I valued the most. In a more tangible sense, I had great experiences at GHC events, including the Dropbox pancake breakfast, Oculus breakfast, and Google on the Green tent. In particular, the Oculus breakfast was an exciting experience. As a VR geek, I was psyched to have coffee and chat about VR with the engineers who made the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. Talking face to face with these individuals in a small gathering was an insane opportunity for me. Unfortunately for the Oculus engineers, my incessant questioning probably ruined their plans to actually eat their breakfast. And, my freaking out about getting a pin with a girl wearing an Oculus Rift was probably a more extreme reaction than they expected.

Overall, GHC was one of the most stressful, tiring, challenging, and gratifying experiences I have ever had (and I am a very stressed person, so that is saying a lot). For anyone going to Grace Hopper in the future, I would give a few pieces of advice:

  1. Look up events on Eventbrite before the conference! Who know there would be special company events with RSVPs exclusively on Eventbrite.
  2. Practice EARLY!! Crack the coding interview! You can do it.
  3. Enjoy it, even when you really just want to go to bed. Be sure to recognize GHC as an incredible opportunity, and do your best to attend the career fair for as long as possible, see as many sessions as possible, and meet as many people as possible.

I can confidently say the GHC changed my outlook on Computer Science. Will I still be confronted with sexism in the tech world? Absolutely. Will it hurt any less? No. But, now I have a foundation to fall back on; every time I am confronted with a microaggression, imposter syndrome, or an uncomfortable culture, I will remember walking into my first technical interview and knowing I deserved to be there. I will remember parlaying this interview into a second interview. I will remember the exciting moment I received an offer from Facebook for a Summer 2019 SWE internship. I will remember my pride, knowing I can hold my own in a technical interview. Most importantly, I am no longer intimidated by the computer science field!

Huge shout out to Avni and Girls in Tech for organizing this scholarship!!

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