The Grace Hopper Conference had some amazing keynote speakers and I think it reminded me of the importance of having role models to look up to. I watched a keynote made by Dr.Latanya Sweeney, she talked about the importance of data privacy, the impact it has on society and our societal responsibility to be aware of our work and the real life repressions it carries. I am aware what data privacy is, but she touched upon on how skewing the results of data can support biases towards a different demographics, and our own moral obligations towards people. This career is about more than just building an app for people; it directly influences lives and that is a power we have to be conscious about. What hit home about her keynote was how she went about solving these issues, she saw an issue and she tackled it, it felt like we were all capable of making a change.
I think the biggest impact GHC has on students is how subconsciously throughout the conference, as you meet different women and see amazing women talk, you start picturing yourself as them.
Without even realising it, you start thinking you might be capable of their accomplishments. When you meet someone who looks like you, or has interests and personality traits similar to yours, preconceived notions and barriers on what you are capable of tend to tumble. This impact can be lasting, as it changes the mindset of women and how they approach school and work and hopefully then pushes them along to eventually become role models for other.
When Waterloo sends 40 students to Grace Hopper, they are actively telling the technology industry and other schools that they are joining and having a conversation. A conversation about the admission rates of women in CS, a conversation about the co-op students they send out into the workplace, a conversation regarding the students, faculty and staff of the University.
One of the sessions I attended proposed how to utilize open source technology to build products to individuals across the world. The talk was centered around what tools were publicly available and how instead of just creating a personal project or an app you could create something that could have an impact on other people’s lives. I found that most of these sessions and particularly keynotes touched on technologies I have never been exposed to and really emphasized the importance and impact a small action can make. Grace Hopper was about lifting every individual up and showing them what they’re capable of and coming together as a group to lift each other up, I think this is an important sign of solidarity that students and other women in technology need to see in order to understand their full potential. This boost of confidence can then resonate in all aspects of their lives and motivate them to get more involved in school or work and explore the technology industry. There is no question of whether or not women are capable, the real challenge is instilling that belief in themselves.
-Geirthana Sivagnanalingam, 3B CS Student