Grace Hopper can be a bit jolting as a first-time attendee. I first attended Grace Hopper as a senior in Computer Science and Engineering at Ohio State University. I attended with two women I barely knew – Bettina Bair, a diversity leader at Ohio State, and Rebecca Fiebrink, a double major in music and computer science. For me, this was the first time I had EVER been in a room with this many women and I was a bit shell-shocked. Here’s a few steps in case you find yourself by a wall wondering if attending was a good decision.
Step 1: Breathe
You’ve probably spent the last 1-4 years taking classes and working with mostly men. If you’re lucky, you’ve met those few women in your department that you love to team with and will stay in touch with forever. Now, you’re stuck navigating your way through this conference.
In my experience, few women go into technology primarily because they are great small-talkers and want to spend 72 hours with other women. However, you might be surprised by these women because they have a lot in common with you. They like to solve problems and work together, they are analytical. They like to have fun and crack techie jokes. Most importantly, they are ALSO worried about how to introduce themselves to you and will be thrilled for you to break the ice.
Take a few deep breaths and jump right in. Make sure to introduce yourself to the people on your left and right during sessions and lunch. Think of a little fact to use when you introduce yourself so that these people will remember you.
Step 2: Have Fun
Bottom line, you’re here to have fun! Whether fun for you is attending sessions, creating a video blog or talking with other women about a difficulty you’re facing. Don’t let the pace of the conference overwhelm you, you don’t have to attend EVERY session. There is a lot of value in sitting a session out to get to know some other women (more formally know as networking :)).
Step 3: Learn 3 things
Find a few key takeaways from the conference. I still recall my takeaways from my first conference:
- There are more than 10 women in Computer Science and I can talk to them online
- Identify your strengths and don’t exaggerate your short-comings
- If you want a job and you can’t seem to find it, consider creating the role yourself. (and … it is easier to do this at a company you already work for but always a challenge)
- Speak up
Step 4: Find 2 people to keep in touch with
This is a great opportunity to connect with other technical women. I was honestly surprised at how often I run into these women again later in life. Take the opportunity now to find a couple people to keep in touch with, you never know when you’ll need advice on grad school, first jobs, or new jobs later on. If you came with a group of women, now’s your chance to reach outside that circle.
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