On October 18th, I packed my bags, hopped on a plane, and headed to Houston, Texas for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The Grace Hopper Celebrations is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, and thanks to my university, I was lucky enough to be able to attend. I not only wanted to write this post to talk about my amazing experience this past week, but I want to share why it’s important for more women to be a part of the tech field.
I personally love conferences, especially business conferences, because they give me an excuse to wear heels, do my makeup, and look nice. As a college student, it’s rare that I get to wear something other than shorts/jeans and a t-shirt. I’ll take any excuse I can get to do my makeup! This was my first time ever traveling to Texas, and I actually really enjoyed myself. Half the time I just felt like I was still in another part of Columbia because we spent a majority of our days inside. But, from what I saw on our daily bus rides, I really love Houston! And, it’s the only city I’ve ever been too that was hotter and more humid than Columbia, SC.
Before I get into all of the details, I want to say a little blurb about women in tech. I am currently one of maybe four girls in my C++ class of 50-ish. That’s a really depressing statistic. The computing world is so male dominated that a majority of the time it makes me feel like a lesser individual. And that’s why conferences like this are so vital for spreading the word about women in computing fields. If you’re a high school senior about to enter college or maybe you’re a college student with no clue about what you want to do, I urge you to look into some sort of computing field. You’re almost guaranteed a job when you graduate, you’re a sought after individual when companies are looking to fill positions, the pay is very competitive, and your skills are vital to today’s world. I mean look around. Technology is everywhere. And you have the power to be a part of that.
Okay my little blurb is over. Now let’s get into the fun stuff!
The keynote started at 9 AM, and I figured that “oh if I leave the hotel by 8:00, that’ll leave plenty of time to get my badge and be in my seat by the time the keynote starts.” Boy was I wrong. The bus ride took a good hour thanks to the ridiculous Houston traffic. (Cristina, I now totally understand why you’re terrified of driving in Houston. I would be too) Then it took another half hour to get our badges and grab something to eat. A girl’s gotta have her breakfast and coffee before she can function.
We finally arrived to the keynote at 9:45 AM. Being forty-five minutes late pains me, but there was nothing much I could do.
We found seats and got settled in the middle of Latanya Sweeney’s keynote presentation focused mainly on data analytics and how computing is being used to solve real-world issues. Interesting but not quite up my alley. And then IBM CEO Ginni Rometty took the stage, and I was enthralled.
There was something so powerful and natural about the way she spoke, discussing her upbringing and the biggest challenges she’s faced as a woman in tech.
Don’t let others define you. Only you define yourself. That’s how you achieve success.
One story that she told really stuck with me, and I’ll try to do it justice. One day early on in her career, she was approached by her boss and offered a promotion to a new position. She immediately hesitated, thinking that she wasn’t ready and if only she had a few more years, then she would be ready. Ginni told her boss she needed a night to think about it. When she went home and told her husband about the opportunity, her husband looked at her and said, “If you were a man, do you think that you would’ve hesitated. Would you have taken a night to think about it?” The answer was no. She went back to work the next day and took the position.
The most impactful part of that story, for me at least, was women are known for never feeling ready for the next big step. Growth only comes from being uncomfortable and taking risks, and that right there is what I need to do. Overthinking gets you nowhere. Taking action is how to get somewhere.
One problem with a conference of 15,000 people is that there are only so many sessions with so many seats and a lot of times those sessions fill up fast and you don’t get a chance to see them.
I was lucky enough to make it to a few, and here are the ones I wanted to highlight:
Mobile App Development
Can I make an app for this blog?? Because after this panel, I really want to!
This panel consisted of mobile app developers from Facebook, Pinterest, and Intuit. They mainly focus in producing the iOS apps for said companies. Each panelist spent about 10 minutes presenting on what she did to contribute to the apps that we use every day.
My favorite presentation was how the Pinterest app actually functions behind-the-scenes. She went through how they generate pins infinitely while scrolling, all of the different methods they use for calculating and documenting loading times, and how they create an “effortless” app by making all the loading happen behind the scenes unannounced to the user. One thing Pinterest really focuses on is making sure the user doesn’t know they’re waiting on something aka they never want a user to see a loading screen.
I’ve been combing through my brain for the past few days since the session to try and come up with an app I want to develop. If y’all think of anything, let me know because I’m itching to make something!
Coding for Animation
Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. This panel may have changed the direction of where I want to go with my degree. The panel consisted of three creators who work for Pixar, Disney, and Lucas Films and they discussed how they use code and programming to create all the intricate details in a majority of the animated films that are released today.
Brave, Wall-E, Monsters Inc, Star Wars. You name it, and there’s some sort of code involved.
I was amazed. You think that all the animation is pretty simple. But no. For example, when you see the vegetation in Brave, they created scripts to layer different styles of plants on top of each other, pull the leaves of the plants toward the ground to produce a gravity kind of effect, add different dimensions and color variations to the vegetation, and place vegetation in areas that it would naturally be found.
Yeah that gave that session no justice, but trust me, it was out of this world.
Y’all this was like a college fair to the extreme. Hundreds of companies all looking to fill intern and full-time positions all while handing out load and loads of free swag.
It was absolute chaos. Fifteen thousand people wandering around looking for jobs and free stuff. I’ve never seen so many women in on place at one time.
On the first day, a friend and I spend no joke five hours wandering around this expo. Five hours. We came away with at least 15 free t-shirts, pens, portable chargers, notebooks, and hundreds of stickers. I’m writing this on my flight back from Houston and I am pumped to put all those stickers all over my laptop.
I talked to several companies regarding possible internships (exciting!) and even got an interview with one. I have such great feelings about most of the companies I talked to.
This conference was something out of a dream, and I just want to thank the University of South Carolina for sending me. I learned so much about where I want to possibly focus my studies, and I no longer feel so alone in such a male-dominated field.
Grace Hopper, I can’t wait to see you next year in Orlando! But for now, it’s time for me to spend a few days alone in my room to recharge my introvert battery after three long days full of socialization.
Here’s some other images from the conference!
P.S. Let me tell you a story about the one time I rode a bus around the city of Houston for two hours just trying to get from the convention center to my hotel. We boarded the bus at 4:30 pm. I figured it’d take about an hour to get back to the hotel because Houston rush hour traffic is horrendous and we had to stop at a few hotels along the way. Well, our bus driver got lost. An hour into the ride, we pull over at a gas station (with no warning), the bus driver gets out of the bus, walks into the gas station, and proceeds to buy himself food and a drink. He then gets back on the bus, claims his GPS is broken, and says we’re going back to the convention center. Keep in mind there are 8 of us on this bus all at the same hotel. A friend of mine oh so kindly volunteered her GPS and an hour later, we arrived at our hotel.