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November 24, 2015

The Grace Hopper Experience

4 mins read

Our Time To Lead

In 25 years in the industry, I have attended a lot of technology conferences. In every case I’ve been outnumbered at least 500-1 by the opposite gender – until I had the opportunity to experience the phenomenon that is the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The nationwide focus on solving our technology skills shortage has also placed a spotlight on the industry’s gender imbalance. In only 2 years GHC has almost tripled in size – from 4,700 in 2013 to 12,000 in Houston this October.

One of the many powerful messages shared at Grace Hopper 2015.

I was lucky enough to attend in the company of one of our Extension Center students at Virginia Tech, Allison Collier, and two University of Maryland students, Jyna Maeng and Ella Lee. As we reflect on our experience and the conference theme of “Our Time to Lead”, we realize this was more than just a conference – it was an experience.   Here are our top takeaways from GHC15.

Not a “Pity-Party”

The issues of women in STEM that I have read were just ideas until GHC. The women I met however, were not complaining about their struggles to advance in the industry – it was quite the opposite. These strong women were brainstorming ways to change their environments and the mindsets of their colleagues. They were positive, hopeful and ready to get to work. That strength in the face of adversity inspired me to forge ahead on my path into Computer Science and to make a positive mark in my community.

           – Jyna Maeng, University of Maryland, 2016 grad

Leading Is Everyone’s Job

In a male dominated industry, we’re often feeling as though we’re competing (even with the other women). As Briana Wu relayed her personal story of harassment and threats, I realized the other women in our industry are not our competition, they’re our community, our sisters, our allies. Changing the gender imbalance isn’t the job of just one or a few – it is the job of us all. As leaders we must support, guide, mentor and stand up for those being treated poorly.

          – Allison Collier, Virginia Tech, 2017 grad

It is so important for us to support each other. If there is no support structure in the place you already work, create one. The power of one may be great, but the power of many can change the world.

           – Jyna Maeng, University of Maryland, 2016 grad

We Belong Here

Before the conference, I felt out of place, isolated in my classes – and there were many times I would ask myself, “is studying Computer Science the ‘right’ path for me?” Attending GHC15 showed me there are thousands of women experiencing the same doubts and I am not as alone as I once thought. I was inspired by my conversations with women studying technology from all over the country and listening to successful women speaking at my sessions.

I remember my first Java course in sophomore year and how I never thought I would get this far. I am now confident in my decision to pursue a career technology and am proud of what I study. There is no “right” or “wrong” path. As long as I’m pursuing my interests, challenging myself, and having fun at the same time, I belong in this field.

          – Ella Lee, University of Maryland, 2016 grad

Things Do Get Better With Age

Never before have I attended a tech conference where I made so many connections, had so many conversations, felt so welcome, so accepted, so comfortable being a woman with tech skills and just being myself.

As I attended keynotes, plenaries, workshops and seminars, I heard stories of women in technology today. I reflected on my own career journey where I was most often a lone female in a large technology department. I had experienced all the same doubts and challenges these women were talking about and had persevered. I discovered and was inspired to learn that today there is a community out there and the next generation of women technologists will have plenty of support if they seek it out.

Through professional development, networking opportunities and the community GHC seeks to build, we can attract and keep women in technology roles – because we have the knowledge, the skills and the perspective this industry needs. It is the combination of our technical strengths, our compassion and our community that will eventually balance the gender scales. Get it straight ladies – we are in tech to stay and we have the power to make a difference.

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