Grace Hopper 2016

(I may have forgotten to post this immediately after the conference, oops!)

What a week!  I am so emotionally exhausted from this trip, so I’m slowly starting to process everything I learned on the trip.

The Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing starting in 1994 by Anita Borg and Telle Whitney.  Now, the conference is run by the Anita Borg Institute with Telle Whitney as the lead.  This year, there were 15,000 attendees, and the conference sold out pretty fast! 
I’ve been to Grace Hopper three times!  I went in 2012 when I was a graduate student in evolutionary biology.  I thought it was awesome then because I wasn’t in the tech world, but I felt so inspired to be a part of it.

I went again last year thanks to a scholarship from Google Women Techmakers.  They had a dinner before the conference started, and I made a lot of friends from there that I saw this year, too!  I meant to write a blogpost about it last year, but I was a bit overwhelmed at the whole conference.  I’m now the lead of the Women Techmakers group in St. Louis, and it’s in a large part because of interacting with that community so much.

This year, I got another travel grant from Google Women Techmakers to go to Grace Hopper!  I was really pumped to go, and I’m hoping that I can get more women from the St. Louis area to go with me next year.

The highlights:
1. Megan Smith, the CTO of the United States.  *Swoon* She is such a great speaker!  She had impromptu meet and greets at the ABI booth in the career fair and spoke at the LGBTA lunch during the conference.  She also finished out the Friday keynote with an awesome talk on the forgotten history of women in tech.  She talked about the black women who were mathematicians at NASA and played the trailer for Hidden Figures — I basically cried the entire time it was so good.  She also talked about all of the programs that the USDS (United States Digital Service) is working on for promoting diversity in tech and in the United States as a whole.  Every time I hear her speak, I have a renewed confidence in the government.  I’m always inspired to try to make a difference in the world.

2. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Google X.  He talked about the culture of being okay with failing fast at Google and how every company and every person makes a tradeoff between innovation and the chance of failure.  The talk inspired me to really think deep about my life and examine what I shy away from because I think I’ll fail at it.  I saw his Ted talk on failure earlier in the year, and it inspired me to try to do a public conference talk this year (which I accomplished!).  I also really appreciated how Astro Teller talked about how it doesn’t matter so much if you’re brilliant if you can’t work other people and generally stressed the importance of a culture that is trusting enough to let people take chances without holding failures against them.

3. Circuit board nails!  The day before the conference, I painted my nails in a circuit board theme.  I tweeted about them in an attempt to meet other people and share my nail polish.  Who knew that my nail tweet would become my most popular tweet?  I was even more shocked when the final keynote of the conference put my nails on the big screen!!!  After that, I was “nail famous” as people would stop me in the halls and squeal about my nails.

4. New and old friends.  I was super excited that I would get to hang out with Anya the entire conference!  We went to graduate school together, so it is always fun to hang out in person and catch up.  Anya was with me when I went to my first Grace Hopper conference in Baltimore!  I also got to make a bunch of new friends through the travel grant that I got through Google to go to the conference.  I went with a bunch of women to get our badges and dinner the night before the conference, and we ended up hanging out all through the conference.  It was awesome to have a bunch of friendly faces at all of the after-hours events.  I can’t wait to see these ladies again at other conferences throughout the year.

5. Awesome parties. The travel grant sponsored a dinner the first night of the conference so that people could get to know each other. I went to a iOS at GHC dinner the second night of the conference where I got to talk to all sorts of awesome iOS devs from around the world — I got to fangirl at a StitchFix developer, and I got to meet a ton of other devs that I follow on Twitter. The Swift dinner had the best swag of the whole conference — I got some awesome Swift socks, a Swift pin, and a Swift shirt! After the Swift dinner, the Google Women Techmakers group had an outdoor afterparty. We created emojis and then had them printed on lattes! We got to hang out in a self-driving car, too. I loved each of these events because there was awesome food and awesome company.

The lowlights:
1. Bias in the career fair.  I can not tell you the number of recruiters that ask me if I need an H1B visa.  They don’t ask white women that.  Last year, I was really annoyed by it.  This year, I flat out called it out and asked them if they asked every single white person that question (unsurprisingly, they all recognized that they only asked me because I’m brown).  I also look *very* young so many people asked me if I was a student (I would tell them I graduated 5 years ago).  If I told them I had 3.5 years of experience in tech, many recruiters would ask me if I “really programmed” or if I did “complicated UI” or other weird questions like that.  I had one recruiter tell me that iOS development wasn’t “real programming.”  These were all women recruiters for the most part, too!  I had friends who looked young like me have similar experiences. It’s super off-putting to be at a tech conference for women and have women assume you’re not as technical as you say you are.  They should have some bias training for recruiters at the career fair!  [Disclaimer: I went to the career fair because I wanted free stuff and I think it’s generally interesting.  I don’t really want a new job because I love mine]

2. Lack of talks for mid-level folks.  Most of the talks were gears towards students, and some were geared towards entry level people.  The talks that I wanted to go to were super full — if I wasn’t in line really early, I couldn’t get in.  I thought that there were more options last year, but I might be wrong on that.  I didn’t quite see much diversity in the speakers in terms of where they worked — they were all people from big name companies like Facebook and Google.  While I think that’s super awesome, I feel like where I work will be held against me when submitting a talk for next year.

3. T-shirt guns and partying.  Okay, I get it, we want to make women in tech excited!  Look at how fun we are!  Uhhh, why do we need a 20-minute dance party with a DJ during intermission of the opening keynote?  Also, I know we were in a stadium, but why were there t-shirt guns?  The keynote speakers on their own were exciting enough — intellectually super exciting.  I don’t need this extra hoopla of a DJ and free t-shirts being shot at me.  Maybe that’s just me being old and boring?

4. Gender neutral bathrooms.  This wasn’t really a lowlight so much as it was shock that guys would still use the urinals when the bathroom was marked as gender neutral.  I just had never really been exposed to that so I was weirded out when I walked in and there was a guy using the urinal.  Not sure what the solution is though!  For me, it was making sure that I only went to women’s restrooms to avoid that whole thing again.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about the conference this time, but I think it’s a great conference for any person to go to especially if they haven’t been to a Grace Hopper before!  I generally think that the keynotes are spectacular, and I would organize a watch party for the keynotes if I wasn’t going to the conference.  My mixed feelings stemmed from there not being much geared towards midlevel people especially if you don’t need to find a new job in the career fair.  That’s just me though!  I still think it’s great for other people, and I loved all of the energy of the conference in general.


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