I simply can’t put into words the excitement generated by the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC). Every year, I leave this conference recharged and inspired by the amazing women who participate.
I had the honor of participating in and speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2010 (GHC10), which is the largest “Women in Technology” conference in the world. This year’s conference was held from Sept 28-Oct 2, 2010, in Atlanta, GA.
The audience is a mixture of university students, professors in academia, and industry professionals. The majority are female, although there were some men present too. This year, attendance broke the 2000 mark with 2147 attendees, 960 students, 280 schools, and 29 countries represented!
- Phenomenal keynotes (as always). In the advice for newcomers to the conference, they emphasize not to miss the keynotes, and I completely agree. Each keynote was different, bringing something unique to the table. The first keynoter was Duy-Loan Le (Senior Fellow at Texas Instruments), who shared her inspiring journey immigrating to the United States and building an amazing career from nothing. The second keynoter was Carol Bartz (CEO of Yahoo!) who delivered an entertaining and spunky talk on being a strong woman. Finally, the last keynoter was Barbara Liskov (professor at MIT and Turing Award winner…yes, of the Liskov substitution principle), who delivered a fascinating technical talk on the history and evolution of programming practices.
- Speaking. Only about 26% of the presentations submitted were selected, so I was honored to speak at GHC10. I delivered a session called “Using Your Facebook Addiction for Good: How Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can help you find a job, improve your business, and collaborate across boundaries”. My fabulous co-panelists were Randi Zuckerberg (Consumer Marketing Executive at Facebook) and BJ Wishinsky (Communities Program Manager at the Anita Borg Institute). The objective of the session was to show students how they can use social media for more than just connecting with their friends. Our slide deck will be posted to the Anita Borg Institute Wiki. Many of the ladies who approached me afterwards were interested in one of two programs that came up: GiveCamp and Imagine Cup. Here is some quick information on these programs, but if you are interested in either, please let me know and I can help you get started:
- GiveCamp: weekend of coding for charity - http://givecamp.org. For more information on the National Day of GiveCamp (where Microsoft helps secure a free venue and fund the food/drinks, see http://bit.ly/bfEUtl and http://bit.ly/97KbTI.
- Imagine Cup: student programming competition with different sub-competitions, similar to the Olympics - http://imaginecup.com. Cash prizes and awesome differentiator to have on your resume.
- Speaker Appreciation Breakfast. Speakers at the conference were invited to a special breakfast along with a leadership-coaching session led by Jo Miller. One point that really made me think: many women are successful until about midway through their career, and then stall or flounder, having difficulty breaking through to the executive level. One possible reason for this is that working really hard is a strategy for success that many women employ, and that strategy works very well at the beginning of your career. But at the more senior levels, working hard becomes less important, and things like confidence, risk-taking, visibility, etc. become more important.
- Getting my picture taken with Fran Allen, the first female Turing award winner. Yes, I am a dork, but I was so excited to meet her.
- Connecting with some of the amazing women (Gloria Townsend, Fatma Mili, Rachelle Kristof Hippler, Laurie Dillon, and Brenda Wilson) who run the regional “Celebrations of Women in Computing” conferences, which are mini-Grace Hopper events brought locally to one state. I have attended the Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky events in the past, and they truly brought the spirit of the GHC to ladies who otherwise may not have been able to attend the national event.
- Attending some amazing sessions. I was able to hit the open source session with Sara Ford, the cloud computing session, and the Imagine Cup panel/workshop led by Lindsay Lindstrom. I also enjoyed the Tech Executive panel moderated by Rebecca Norlander. There were also many more compelling sessions that I couldn’t attend due to other meetings.
- Microsoft/Google party at the aquarium. Microsoft and Google co-sponsored an attendee party on Friday night at the Georgia Aquarium. It was held inside the Oceans Ballroom (a banquet hall adjourning the Aquarium); the hall features two 10x28-foot windows into the exhibits housing the whale sharks and beluga whales. The huge viewing walls of glass around the banquet room were amazing; whale sharks and belugas kept swimming through the party. :) Here’s the incredible Microsoft team at the event.
- Networking. This is last but certainly not least! I was able to spend time with some amazing women who inspire me. I really enjoy spending time with students who are just getting started on their career journey, swapping career advice with my peers, as well as interacting with the great leading ladies of our day.
As you can see, the Grace Hopper Celebration has tremendous value to me as a professional in industry. If you’re an industry professional and unsure whether there are benefits in attending the Grace Hopper Celebration, here is some of the value that I got out of it:
- Recruit – the obvious value of the GHC to large companies is recruiting. We all want more amazing technical women at our companies, and the pool to choose from is smaller than we’d like. (SIDE NOTE: I’m not a recruiter at Microsoft. I truly love working at Microsoft and I sing Microsoft’s praises whenever I can – it truly is a fabulous company that delivers innovative software and takes great care of us with the best health benefits I’ve ever heard of. But at the end of the day, I really just want more great women in technology, and I don’t care which company they work at.)
- Retain – I’m fairly senior at Microsoft. As one would expect, the number of women who are senior to me that I can use as role models has drastically shrunk as I moved up the career ladder, and there aren’t that many women period that I get to interact with day-to-day. Therefore, it is incredible to bring together such luminaries in the industry to inspire us. Getting to interact with women such as Fran Allen, Barbara Liskov, Duy-Loan Le, Carol Bartz, Rebecca Norlander, and Jane Prey was extremely motivating. I’m recharged to follow in their footsteps. The GHC is a great way to energize and retain mid-level female employees.
- Inspiring the next generation – of course, you have to pay it forward! I really enjoy hanging out with students and talking about how much fun technology can be. I had some wonderful folks (both men and women) who guided me on my path to computing, and I want to do my part to guide the next generation.
- Doing my job – believe it or not, but the GHC actually helps me do my job! Part of my role is to connect with developers, drive buzz around Microsoft products, and deliver technical talks. I can do all of these things at GHC, and every time I’ve participated in the conference, I make connections that result in follow-up visits, to deliver tech talks at universities and such.
Finally, I’d like to thank Dalene King, Gwen Houston, Sarah Abbott, and the Microsoft SMSG Women in Technology group for their sponsorship. They funded my registration and travel expenses for this trip, and I am extremely grateful for their support.