Oct 11 2013

Equal opportunity and unending inspiration at the Grace Hopper Conference

I got to attend the Grace Hopper conference last week in Minneapolis. For those of you who don’t know about this conference, let’s talk about it for a bit. The Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing. The conference happens annually with the main goal of bringing the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.

GHC keynote hall

The Anita Borg Institute hosts this conference. Anita Borg was a visionary who had the noble vision of bringing together all the women in computing  and showcasing their talents, so as to draw more women into computing. And when she passed away, her friends took her vision as theirs. It’s mind-blowing to see how dedicated they still are to her mission, and their dedication only grows year after year. It is an inspiring story!

The conference was well organized, and each parallel track had its own series of talks and workshops. One of the tracks was on career development, with talks like “Career Success after Tenure.” The graduate track had amazing sessions such as “Building Your Professional Network” and “Publishing Your Research.” The entrepreneurial track had mind-boggling talks like “Think Big: Start the Next Apple.” In addition to these tracks and a few others, there was also a three-day long poster session that happened in parallel with the career fair.

The energy at this conference was so phenomenal that one would feel that time is the only constraint that needs to managed, in order to imbibe the geekiness of all that was happening. There were so many talks and workshops that I wanted to attend but it was always a tough choice to decide which one to go to.

What would you choose, if you could attend either a panel with Sheryl Sandberg or a keynote from Megan Smith? I know! Tough, isn’t it? That’s exactly what I had to deal with, every single day of the conference. Luckily, those two talks didn’t clash, and I was so happy to attend both. I have to admit that they are my favorite ones.

Equal opportunity

Some of the things that I never considered as problems were being discussed, by the greatest minds in the field of technology. After all, who doesn’t deserve education, career empowerment and professional success? Sure, we all deserve them. Right? But I learned that those simple things like one’s education and career opportunities that we all tend to take for granted and treat them as not-so-big deals aren’t actually easily attainable. It is in fact a dream for many people. That was a hard fact for me to digest when I saw the data charted out in front of me.

And that’s exactly what this conference was trying to achieve. Equal opportunity and unending inspiration for all, by providing a platform that is life-changing and encouraging. During this week, I watched professors meeting potential Ph.D. students, companies finding their potential employees, young entrepreneurs meeting their lifelong mentors. Nobody was shy about sharing their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of others.

To witness Telle Whitney, Maria Klawe and Sheryl Sandberg discuss the importance of technical innovation and its impact on the health of the global economy was amazing. Even if you don’t have time to watch the entire video, I highly recommend that you watch it from 27:00 to 32:00 at least.

These women weren’t talking about theoretical ways of doing some really cool but oh-so-impossible things. Maria Klawe is definitely a hero who has brought the percentage of women’s enrollment in computer science from a very low percentage to a whopping 48 percent, at Harvey Mudd college.

The other thing that I admired was that there were so many scholarship programs that helped students attend GHC. This included many students who otherwise, would never have heard about this event, let alone attend it.

Sowmya-at-GHC

When I was selected as one of the scholarship recipients to attend this conference, I didn’t know what to expect from it. But I am sure about one thing now: the names of Anita Borg and Grace Hopper will continue to act as the source of inspiration for everyone who attended GHC. 

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