Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, 2016

My expectations for and takeaways from the conference.

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I am so grateful to the Anita Borg Institute for sponsoring my attendance at this amazing event. This year, Grace Hopper took place in downtown Houston, Texas.

Before the conference, I spent time researching what I could expect from the conference. Taking into account recommendations by previous attendees and by the hosts of the conference itself, I created a list of goals for myself, for the event. Here are a few of the main things I decided I wanted to accomplish during the three day conference.

  1. Learn how to speak with employers. Throughout the conference, there is an enormous career fair with sponsors and recruiters. In a room right next to this hall, there are booths for employers to interview potential hires. This seemed like a great opportunity for me to practice my communication skills.
  2. Meet individuals passionate about technology. As I search to narrow down my subject of focus as I emerge into the first part of my career, I wanted to speak to more experienced individuals who have surpassed the earlier stages of their own careers, who could perhaps offer me advice based on their experiences and on my interests.
  3. Make new friends! I already had one thing in common with every conference attendee — a projected career path in technology. I was incredibly excited to speak to individuals with different backgrounds and experiences than me and to learn new things from everyone.
  4. Attend workshops and talks. In addition to meeting new people and receiving advice, I wanted to attend workshops that would introduce me to different technical skills that I had not been exposed to. I made a list of the various workshops I really wanted to attend based on the topics I wanted to learn about. I decided not to follow a track (a set of related workshops) because I wanted to explore different topics.
  5. Attend keynotes. This is perhaps what I was most excited about. I had seen Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote from last year’s conference, and I was thrilled when I learned that Marc Benioff and Meghan Smith would both be speaking at the event this year.

My experience at Grace Hopper was similar and different than my expectations in many ways.

The career fair (expo) at Grace Hopper was larger and more interactive than I thought it would be. I got the opportunity to speak with a lot of employers. At the expo, I learned to create a dynamic conversation with the recruiters I spoke to. By asking more questions and creating a more personable introduction to the individuals at each booth, I was able to learn about the recruiter (and the company) in addition to sharing information about myself. Speaking to different recruiters helped me drift away from the habit of relaying a rehearsed elevator pitch to having a real conversation.

On the plane ride to Houston, I sat next to two women who were coincidentally also headed to Grace Hopper. They were both Google employees. Through the duration of the flight, they spoke to me extensively about their experiences and gave me great advice both for the conference and for my own career. I was surprised that they initiated this conversation with me and were so willing offer me guidance. This experience preceding Grace Hopper really set a tone for the next three days. Mostly everyone I met at the conference shared this open and kind personality, however I learned that it was imperative for me to ask questions and reach out to others if I wanted answers. Following the conference, whenever I contact any of the women I met that week, I receive very thorough and clear responses.

Attending workshops and lectures was often challenging, due to unexpected logistical barriers. Most of the events I was planning to go to filled up really quickly. One of the reasons I ended up spending so much time at the expo was because I was often unable to attend sessions I had allotted time for. In addition, I did not always account time for myself to get from one place to another, making it difficult to make it to all the seminars I had planned for. It is worth noting that in addition to finding the location, you must arrive a while in advance to secure a spot. Still, the workshops I did go to were great learning experiences and enjoyable. In addition to participating in more seminars, one thing I wish I had done more of is looking at the posters. Next year, I hope to spend more time learning about the research and projects that were displayed in the poster session.

The keynotes were amazing. I brought along a book Marc Benioff had written in hopes to get it signed by him. Though I did not get that signature (this time) both Megan Smith and Marc Benioff were great speakers and extremely insightful in their own ways. At the closing ceremony, we also viewed a previously unseen preview of Hidden Figures and heard from the women behind its mission.

In addition, I had the chance to explore downtown Houston. I really enjoyed seeing a new city and I liked that the conference was in the heart of downtown. Houston is beautiful and the weather was great.

As I mentioned, before the conference, I was curious to know what to expect, and researched what previous conference attendees had to say, and what advice they had to offer. I read all about Grace Hopper as an enriching experience in terms of receiving job opportunities and in learning more about diverse and specific topics in various fields. But most importantly, I read about this feeling that you get by seeing thousands of women just like you. A feeling of motivation, and a boost of self worth. Attending Grace Hopper placed my entire academic life in perspective. Though I didn’t quite know how to express this in my goals for these three days, it was something I was looking forward to and was perhaps one of the most impactful takeaways from the event.

In essence, I was looking for a community of women in technology, and attending this conference helped me find one. Next year, Grace Hopper will be from October 4–6 in Orlando, Florida. Registration sells out quickly, and this year Anita Borg Institute is expecting 18,000 attendees. Registration opens in mid-July so make sure you keep an eye out.

If you are unable to attend, you can access the keynotes and other talks online through their website, and even submit your resume to the online database to be considered for plenty of great opportunities.

I feel that attending Grace Hopper is incredibly worth it for all individuals with an interest in cultivating a career in technology. Thank you for reading!