This past week I had the opportunity to attend one of the coolest, most rewarding conferences in Houston, TX. Grace Hopper is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing, and hosted over 15,000 people this year! Thanks to the Anita Borg Institute, which hosts the celebration, and Kamala Srinivasan, the director of ABI in India, I was able to attend the celebration as a GHC Scholar, which meant getting to meet some incredible women from around the world and not having to worry about the expenses of attending! I have a lot of readers comment or message me questions about my experience in the tech field, so I wanted to share my experience at this celebration along with some thoughts I have on being an engineering major.
For some background, I’m currently a third-year computer engineering major at the University of Texas at Austin, and while I still don’t know the exact role I want to pursue in my career, I know I want to help people live simpler lives through tech and find a job that lets me be creative on a daily basis! My major is slightly different than computer science in that I’m technically both an electrical and computer engineering major. So while I’m taking coding classes, I’m also learning about hardware and circuits and all the things that make a computer work.
As most women in similar majors can relate to, my classes are very male-dominated, which made this conference a huge eye-opener. Most of my engineering classes have about five girls to every 50 guys, so it’s easy to feel like everyone is staring at you when you walk into the engineering labs as if you don’t belong. Conferences like GHC are so important to women in tech fields, because they’re sometimes the only opportunity we get to be surrounded by people like us.
Bouncing off what my friend Abigail talked about on her blog, if you’re in high school or college and struggling to figure out what to major in, I seriously recommend taking a computing class either in school or online. The majority of what I’ve learned in college revolves around problem-solving and thinking quickly, so if you love puzzles or mysteries, computer science or engineering could be the place for you! There are so many opportunities for people in tech, and those opportunities are constantly growing as new technologies emerge. It’s extremely empowering to know I could be working on products that are actually changing the world, and it’s what keeps me going through stressful weeks of labs and tests and never-ending interview prep.
Back to the conference!
So, the day before I flew to Houston, I found out I had strep. It was the worst case scenario I’d been thinking about for months, because I always get sick mid-October. I’d woken up that Sunday feeling horrible, and by Monday I was at the doctor’s office with a swab stick down my throat. I didn’t want to move, let alone hop on a plane, whatsoever, and my voice was basically non-existent. After I got to Houston on Tuesday, I picked up my badge at the conference center and headed to a dinner for GHC Scholars. I ended up leaving early to get some sleep, because I needed to be up at 6:30 the next day to make it to the keynote!
I grabbed floor seats for the keynote, which was the first time I realized how huge this conference was. We filled the Toyota Center, and everywhere you looked was a young professional in their company tee or another student in their best business casual attire. My favorite portion of this keynote was when Latanya Sweeney spoke on her experience in using tech to tackle stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Latanya is a Professor of Government and Technology at Harvard University, and works with the government on issues of data privacy and security. She gave several examples of projects her students have produced that take on these issues, which made me realize how powerful we are even as students at making a difference in the world!
Feeling a little uneasy and weak thanks to the strep, I left the keynote early to grab some food before the career fair started. There was still half an hour before the doors opened, but a huge crowd had already formed outside!
Grace Hopper’s career fair is huge. I don’t even know what to compare it to, but overall it was filled with chaos and energy and passionate people. I spent over four hours talking to the hundreds of companies that attended, with the goal of landing some interviews and exploring companies I hadn’t considered before.
I ended up having three interviews during the conference, which were held in an area basically the same size as the career fair filled with closed off booths. From what I’ve heard from previous attendees, these interviews usually replace first-round interviews that most companies have and can speed up the interview process, so the career fair alone is a great reason to attend GHC!
When I finally finished zig-zagging through all the booths, I had filled the cutest Google canvas bag with tons of t-shirts and random swag like the temporary tattoo Facebook gave out. This conference is known for having the best swag, and I was not disappointed!
Throughout the conference, sessions were constantly being held on everything from the self-driving cars to advancing your career. I focused on attending sessions about the Internet of Things, wearables, and exploring career paths. My favorite session was A Day in the Life Of’: Exploring Different Career Paths in Technology, where I got to learn about what a role in product management, backend development, front end development, and data science looked like. Personally, I’m leaning towards a PM or front end role, but after this talk, I’ve started considering data science as well!
I didn’t realize how exhausting three days of non-stop networking would be, especially when all my body wanted to do was sleep. When you’re constantly surrounded by someone who either wants the job you want, has it, or manages it, it can feel a little intimidating to strike up a conversation with them, but everyone at this conference was so helpful and willing to talk about their story!
Most of my networking happened Thursday night, when I went out with a few friends to some company-sponsored events near the conference center. Our first stop was a small and intimate event hosted by Dropbox, where we got to talk one-on-one with some of their engineering while enjoying some delicious food truck appetizers.
After that, we headed back to the conference center where Google’s Women Techmakers, a program that provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology, was hosting the coolest event of the night. They’d taken over Discovery Green and were serving so much food! There were tables dedicated to foods from around the world, along with a bananas foster bar, a popcorn bar, and a s’mores bar complete with fire pits. The whole party was filled with the great vibes of people who already had full-time jobs at top tech companies, so as a student still looking for an internship, all I could do was imagine how great that feeling must be!
Before calling it a night, we ubered to Snapchat’s event at the House of Dereon. This event had a very startup vibe to it, and was much more relaxed than the Women Techmakers event. I couldn’t get over how well decorated the place was, and even though they were out of food by the time we showed up, I was too full to even care!
To finish off the conference, there was a five hour celebration held at the conference center Friday night. Imagine a high school dance (minus the slow songs), companies getting in their last bit of exposure, and lots of glowsticks, and that’s basically the celebration.
My friend and I were too exhausted to consider dancing, so we walked around taking pictures at all the company-sponsored photo booths and eating from the dessert bar. It took every last bit of energy I had to get through this party, but it was definitely a fun way to end this adventure!
Next year Grace Hopper will be hosted in Orlando, and I’m really hoping to attend again! For now though, I need a long break from any form of networking, because this introvert is still exhausted.
p.s. this is Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States and basically my favorite speaker of the whole event who got me considering a path in tech policy, this is why I can’t figure out what I want to do with my life because there are so many amazing women doing amazing things in tech!!!