More Than 20 NU Women Attend 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Recap was written using the accounts of nearly all of the students attending the conference.

NU GHC Attendees

On Wednesday, October 14th through Friday, October 16th, over twenty Northwestern women attended the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) in Houston, Texas, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Unlike many computer science classes, board rooms, and startup teams, GHC is a place where being a woman pursuing a career in technology is not a rarity, but the norm.

This year's celebration was the epitome of #ILookLikeAnEngineer! A staggering 12,000 attendees created a welcoming and inspirational atmosphere of camaraderie. The conference programming included a career fair, a variety of talks and panels, a poster fair and research competition, and additional professional workshops, as well as, company events.

Within the hundreds of sessions and various tracks, most attendees enjoyed the daily keynote talks and plenaries, where industry leaders, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Clara Shih discussed their experiences and how they relate to the ever changing perceptions relating to women in technology. One Northwestern attendee described the keynotes as “motivating and inspiring, as well as technical, allowing me to learn about different aspects of computing and issues facing women in computing.”

Other popular sessions included an Oculus Rift demo, talks on accessibility, machine learning and human computer interaction workshops, various lightning talks on everything from data science to robot autonomy, and a panel on the pipeline problem with Chelsea Clinton, Maxine Williams, and Jack Dorsey. Many attendees found it inspirational to “hear women in leadership positions talk about their experiences and how they got there,” especially when their experiences included overcoming barriers such as harassment and sexism. Speakers such as Brianna Wu, a game developer, addressed industry visibility and representation, calling for the “relentless support of other women.”

Outside of the scheduled sessions, many of the attendees enjoyed company and networking events that “gave more personal time with other recruiters to ask in-depth information about job opportunities and company culture.” With such a large conference, there were also serendipitous opportunities for making connections. One student’s memorable conversation was the result of “an impromptu networking dinner with Terri Oda, an upper level employee at Intel and Carol Willing, a major contributor to the Python language,” where she “realized that success in tech is not only possible, but I'm already on my way. They were incredibly nice and encouraged me in a way I didn't think I needed until I received it.”

For many attendees, the conference furthered their professional and academic development. Students said that the career fair helped them get “better at pitching myself to companies” or “increased my social network.” Many interviewed with companies at the conference, and some walked away with internship and job offers. “By attending GHC, I received a second-to-none opportunity to network with representatives for companies that do not normally come to Northwestern and to figure out what types of tech companies fit me best,” said one attendee. Another individual noted that the range of companies and universities at GHC connected them with “employment opportunities I wasn’t aware of, but that I am now interested in the future.”

GHC was, above all, an eye-opening experience that solidified everyone’s interest in technology. “I was reassured that I made the right choice in my field of study and felt welcomed by such a strong and supportive community of women technologists,” said one student. The opportunity to “hear things in tech I had never really heard much about before” motivated many women to “explore these fields more and take classes,” as well as gave them a “broader perspective on the opportunities available” in both academia and industry. For one woman interested in pursuing a Human Computer Interaction PhD after finishing her undergraduate studies, “hearing about the brilliant work done by the women around me, and being able to receive feedback on my own from this very group” reminded her that “research is what I love, and I couldn't imagine an alternative.”

Being surrounded by and listening to so many awesome women in technology was a hugely inspirational and educational experience.”I met so many people I can now see as female role models I didn’t know before,” said one attendee. “GHC opened my eyes to the amount of discrimination that still plagues us, and how much we need to do to change it.” The range of “intelligent and diverse women technologists” were helpful for people navigating “internships, projects, and career path.” It ultimately empowered us to think more about “the gender gap issues in the tech industry and beyond,” and how our participation and pursuits will address these problems and pay it forward to the next generation of women technologists. As Clara Shih expressed in her keynote, “we have the ability to imagine the future and the privilege to build it.”

Many thanks to the Northwestern Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department and The Wissner-Slivka Foundation for their generous support in making this incredible experience possible.

Computer Science/English student Nicole Zhu contributed to this report.

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