This year I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration for the first time. Because I have been to several academic conferences within my primary areas of interest (AI and data sciences) in the past, and I saw that there were streams within these areas being offered at Grace Hopper, I was expecting my week in Houston to be somewhat similar to my experiences at other conferences. In fact my expectations were very wrong: Grace Hopper did expose me to some new technologies and techniques in my field, but it was so much more that that.
Most importantly, it left me inspired by the achievements of my peers, and with a new found sense of engagement within computer science.
One of the reasons that attending Grace Hopper was so important for me is because I am relatively new to computer science. I received my undergraduate degree in math, and I started my Master’s in computer science a year ago. I don’t come from a coding background, and I have never written software professionally or on a large scale. I can become quite self-conscious about my coding skills, and I have felt a fair bit of impostor syndrome over the past year. The atmosphere at Grace Hopper is so overwhelmingly positive and supportive that it helped me deal with my coding-related nervousness. While I was at Grace Hopper, I could discuss technology with a group of peers without feeling judged and uneasy. Now that I am back at my office, I try to think of those experiences regularly so that I can keep along this constructive mindset.
Another reason that attending Grace Hopper was a positive experience for me is due to the number of companies and recruiters that attend. Meeting with women who are more established in their careers helped give me a better picture of where I might find myself later on. It was also inspiring to hear about all of the cool things that people are doing at different companies, and gave me some new ideas about opportunities that might be available once I graduate.
In the end, my favourite sessions at Grace Hopper ended up being some of the professional development ones. I attended a speed-mentoring event, where I met an engineer who I have been in contact with several times since, and who has provided valuable guidance. I ended up at a talk by a female venture capitalist who founded an international network for women in VC. Though VC is not at all a part of my life, I could associate very deeply with some of her experiences, and her energy left me feeling encouraged.
Overall, my experiences at Grace Hopper were defined not by the technology I learned about, but by the people I met and the optimism and sense of community they gave me.
-Ali Wytsma, CS Master’s Student