Looking Back on the Grace Hopper Celebration

This fall, 25 Squares attended The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC). The event may have concluded in October, but the learnings from GHC continue to impact Squares. Gloria Kimbawala and Rodion Steshenko took time to reflect on their personal experiences at GHC. Read on for more details.

The WomEng Evangelist: Gloria Kimbawala

Many candidates shared that this was the first time they’d interviewed with a woman engineer.

I was extremely excited to be part of the team that represented Square during GHC. The first time I heard about GHC was from the other women at Code Camp (Square’s immersion program aimed at inspiring high school and college women to pursue careers in computer science) a couple of years ago, when they mentioned there was a conference with 8,000 women interested in computer science. Fast forward a couple of years, and the Grace Hopper Celebration now represents the gathering of nearly 17,000 women.

This year, 20 people from Square’s WomEng community attended, as well as five members of the Talent team. I spent a lot of time working in Square’s booth, and boy, was it busy — we ended up passing out 5,000 pieces of swag! It was great to see people all around the convention center walking around toting a Square logo.

But the event is far more than passing out swag, and several memories stand out in particular. We received so much positive feedback about our WomEng program. Many people would come up to tell me that someone they knew had a terrific experience attending our Hear + Now Events in New York and San Francisco. Others would talk about how helpful they found Square’s open-sourced WomEng Handbook, and how the Handbook led them to consider creating a WomEng community in their place of business. It quickly became very apparent that the events happening in Square’s WomEng community have a ripple effect on the larger Women in Tech community as a whole.

I was also blown away by the number of women who were already familiar with Square’s campus programs. The was a constant flow of women visiting the booth because they had applied for Code Camp, attended a campus event, or knew a friend that was an intern and had a positive experience. It was great to hear and see firsthand the positive image Square has garnered within the collegiate engineering scene.

The last piece, which was most representative of the impact that we can have on women in tech community, was listening to the feedback from interviewees. Many candidates shared that this was the first time they’d interviewed with a woman engineer, and were impressed and appreciative that Square took the time to ensure each candidate would be able to do so. While I’m so proud of Square for leading the charge here, it’s something that needs to change — quickly — across the industry.

It’s nice to know that while swag is always appreciated, what’s most meaningful to GHC attendees–and the broader world of women in engineering — is Square’s strong community of engineers; our programs; and our impact on and ongoing work to empower the greater tech community. I’m already looking forward to next year, where we hope to have even more WomEng members participate on panels, train as interviewers, engage with candidates, and most importantly, learn something new. In the end, celebrating women in computing, both within Square walls and beyond, is what’s most important, and I’m happy to have played a part.

The Ally: Rodion Steshenko

Don’t look for others to draw conclusions for you; expand your experiences and draw your own.

Earlier this year, I was asked if I’d like to attend GHC. I knew why; it would be nice to have someone attend who had embedded software experience, and I had shown interest the year before. I don’t recall, however, why I originally expressed interest in the first place. I wouldn’t say that one-and-a-half years ago, improving diversity in tech (or any workforce for that matter) was very high on my list of concerns as an employee or as a person. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t see that there was a problem, but knowing that a problem exists and actually wanting to do something about it are two very different things.

At the time, I thought that GHC stood for Grace Hopper Convention. Conventions I knew; as the proud owner of many baseball cards and comic books from the 90s, I’d attended a lot of conventions. I was a convention-attending pro, I said to myself. I woke up early on the first day, got a coffee and my badge, and went straight for the opening keynote. I wasn’t a fool; I’d arrive early and get a nice seat in front where I wouldn’t have to look at the back of someone’s head and could stretch my feet out. I was ready for the convention.

The first speaker was Latanya Sweeney, who discussed the ethics of computer science and how she discovered that different Google ads were being served to those based on the perceived-ethnicity of the name. She also talked about the Journal of Technology Science and how she was able to put researchers in front of regulators to help educate decision-makers about the rapidly changing world of technology so that our government could keep up.

Another was Alyssia Jovellanos, winner of the bigly named 2016 Women Of Vision ABIE Award Winner for Student of Vision. She talked about her journey into the field of computer science, which she thanked her brother’s girlfriend for introducing her to. She has co-founded a hackathon and instructed middle schoolers on the field of Computer Science, amongst many other achievements.

So here I was, sitting in the Toyota Center, where attendance had since swelled to near capacity. My father was a programmer when it was a lot less glamorous, and despite living in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with four children, he bought us an Atari ST on which I toyed with animation software, played games, and wrote Transformers fan-fiction. I had it hard, right? I wasn’t from wealth, right? If I could become the “accomplished” engineer that I am today then anyone could, right?

But I looked around the arena at the thousands in attendance, listened to Latanya Sweeney and Alyssia Jovellanos speak, and remembered the stringent criteria by which we sorted resumes leading up to GHC. I was blown away.

“What had I accomplished?” I asked myself figuratively. I was overcome with two emotions: a potent mix of dread and admiration. These speakers had incredible achievements, overcoming incredible obstacles, and were actively working to improve the state of the industry — and what had I done? I was never discouraged from pursuing engineering either implicitly or explicitly, and I had my father as a role model for someone in the industry. My eyes watered a bit, as they are wont to do during moments of introspection, and I concluded: I could be doing so much more. But first, I had to focus on working the booth and interviewing candidates.

The hour-long interviews were different than any other interview I’ve ever taken part in. Typically, I’m interviewing someone who has been in the workforce for some time and is looking for their 2nd, 3rd, or 10th job. I know what that’s like, so I talk about my progression over three-and-a-half years at Square. I’m proud of my time here, and people respond well to the variety of work and the fact that my career hasn’t been stagnant since joining. When I was interviewing students, I didn’t think that would hook them like it would an industry vet, so I asked if they’d rather hear about how I got into computer science in the first place and how I found myself at Square. No one passed up the opportunity.

There isn’t necessarily anything special about my experience— but it didn’t need to be remarkable. I shared my career path in the hopes they could connect with part of it — perhaps there was something about my experience that matched closely with theirs. If they could connect with my story, maybe they could feel a little less nervous, knowing that I wasn’t so different from them. Maybe they could see themselves following a similar path, and finding success in this field. Maybe they could see themselves wanting an internship at Square.

I also spent time at Square’s booth, largely talking to prospective Squares and feeding the frenzied rush for Square tank-tops like we were in a Yeezy pop-up shop. When I’d ask if anyone wanted to discuss internship opportunities at Square, someone would look my way, approach with zeal, and hand me her resume. The conversations were varied: some launched into a brief bio, some asked me what I do for Square, and some asked me what Square does. You might think after three days, it would get boring, repetitive, or annoying, but you’d be wrong. Each conversation was unique. Sure, both she and I had scripts in our heads that we would begin with, but each time, it quickly evolved into a real conversation between two people, both interested in finding an opportunity. For one of us, it was an opportunity to get a first internship or job, which can be harrowing and scary; for me, it was an opportunity to find another highly talented person to join Square.

I talked a lot about myself and my experiences in the field, and a lot of people had similar experiences, such as entering college with one major in mind but changing directions after their first CS class. It was nice to establish these commonalities, because, to be honest, when I first got there, I didn’t think that I belonged —not only was I never discouraged from pursuing my career path, I grew up the son of an engineer. But when I was there, talking to these women, I realized that we had more in common than I previously thought. We wanted to know how things worked, we wanted to make new things, and we wanted to solve puzzles.

I had a list of salient conclusions that I came to because of this trip, but if there were only one worth sharing and beating the reader over the head with, it’s: Don’t look for others to draw conclusions for you; expand your experiences and draw your own.

There are so many other things that I could talk about, but this has to end somewhere. Still, this was a fantastic experience, and as much as I want to go again next year, I know that spots are limited, and I think that different people should go and have the same opportunity I had to take time and really think about something that affects all of us in very obvious ways.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible. Thank you to everyone who attended from Square. Thank you to everyone who took the time to attend our booth, come to our happy hours and lunches, and get interviewed by us.

Oh, and I think I owe you a tl;dr, so here it is:

tl;dr: The ‘C’ in GHC stands for “Celebration” and that’s what it was. A celebration of women in technology, and I’m really happy to have taken part in it.