My Adventures at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Grace HopperA few weeks ago, I attended the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. For those of you who haven’t heard of Grace Hopper, she could easily be considered the mother of the information age. Grace not only devised the first compiler, she also brought industry and business interests to the world of computing. Her contributions to the field are vast and she paved the way for many women to enter the field

Over 3,600 attendees came for this year’s conference at the Baltimore Convention Center, making it the largest such event yet. The theme was “Are we there yet?” And while the answer, unfortunately, is still “no” I was excited to see that GHC had over 162 corporate sponsors, and attendees from the academic side and major players (Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, etc.).

Before I went, I thought I would be high-fiving every person I saw, engaging in heady technical and non-technical people of my ilk, and making new friends for life. That didn’t really happen. But, despite the gap between my experiences and my lofty expectations, I came away inspired.

Here are a few reasons why:

Nora Denzel, the Senior VP of Big Data, Social and Marketing at Intuit, gave the keynote on the second day of the conference. Her talk was filled with humorous anecdotes about how to navigate and flourish in an industry dominated by men. Nora was an amazing and insightful speaker, and I left her session with a big smile on my face.

Hilary MasonI also enjoyed Hilary Mason’s talk entitled Short URLs, Big Data: Learning About the World in Realtime. Hilary is the Chief Scientist at bitly. She talked about the company’s modest start as a URL shortener, and how it has evolved into a content sharing and analytics tool. In the session, Hilary spoke about how bitly is using Hadoop, Python and Go as their primary stack, and how her team shaped their hypotheses using scientific — though not necessarily academic – methodologies. This was one of many Big Data sessions I attended and was probably the most interesting one.

The session Six Reasons Male Influences Advocate for Technical Women was a panel discussion on findings from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). It focused on how and why some men have become supporters for a more diverse workforce. These include being part of a minority or outside group, having a strong mother or female influence in their lives, and being friends with women in the industry. While it didn’t have a huge ‘wow’ factor, it had a lot of good ideas for men and women interested in promoting workplace diversity.

My experience at the GHC felt like a call to action. While I was excited to be surrounded by other women in tech, the attendees were mostly from larger organizations. I’d really like to see something similar for women who work at startups and other small, faster growing companies. This is something I can help make happen.

Even though the event was not exactly what I expected, it was incredibly inspirational and valuable.  I look forward to going to GHC 2013 in Minneapolis.'

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