Note: This year we have two interns at Don’t Panic Labs, Maggie Witzenburg and Tara Brookhouser. They recently attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston, TX. We’re honored to have them as part of our team this year and appreciate the time they took to share their experience.

This past week we were blessed to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Located in Houston, TX. The celebration brought together over 15,000 people in the tech industry. We found ourselves surrounded by roughly 95% women, professionals and students alike. The three-day conference consisted of two major keynote talks, smaller breakout sessions, and the career fair of all career fairs.

Highlights

Tara: My favorite session throughout the week was the keynote presentation by the CTO of the United States, Megan Smith. She opened her presentation by speaking on the ongoing struggle for women’s equality, beginning with women’s suffrage. Megan referenced the Silent Sentinels, a group of women who protested for voting rights. Then, she talked about the efforts today of teaching computer science in public schools so that every student can have exposure in the subject. She ended her talk by asking the audience to make efforts locally to open these opportunities for future women. Before closing, Megan called on the audience to “be however we want to be,” to “work on whatever topics we want to work on,” and to “break open the doors.”

Maggie: Choosing a favorite session proved to be extremely difficult for me. Latanya Sweeney – a professor at Harvard – gave a thought-provoking speech on Data Privacy, a panel of professionals examined the Internet of Things: myth or reality, and another panel of women discussed creating social change through technology. Since I couldn’t choose one single session, I decided to bring up a key point from each.

  • Latanya Sweeney is essentially the reason HIPAA was created. While pursuing her graduate degree, she determined that the “anonymous” medical data on Massachusetts state employees could still be tied back to people due to the birthdate and associated ZIP codes. She then had to testify in front of professional bodies all as a grad student.
  • The session about the Internet of Things took place on Thursday morning and proved to be a very timely talk. The panel talked all about the future of IoT and addressed the audience’s questions about privacy and malicious attacks on the devices. By Friday morning, the entire East Coast’s internet was down apparently due to malware installed on devices that are classified as IoT.
  • In the final session, the audience was called to action to help social justice movements by utilizing technology. While I had never thought of this as a viable option, they brought up that it was as simple as contributing to open source projects addressing current issues.

That Career Fair Tho..

Walking into the career fair was one of the most intimidating/exciting/exhilarating experiences of the celebration. When over 250 of the country’s tech giants and top grad schools all convene in one place, it can be extremely overwhelming yet rewarding. Whether you’re networking with professionals or just picking up some cool swag, you could get lost in the expo hall for hours at a time.

Work Hard, Dance Hard

After spending three days talking about career paths and emerging technologies, what better way to rest your tired brain than a DaNcE PaRtY!!!111!!! With Orlando based DJ Roonie G on the turntable, an ice cream float bar, and a silent disco, we got to kick back and dance with students, recruiters, and professionals (we even saw Megan Smith headed in to get her party on).

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For the first hour of the celebration, we could be found directly in front of the stage dancing way harder (and way better… subjectively) than anyone else — frequently being featured on the big screen.

Takeaways

After three full days of speakers and networking, we were bound to learn a few things.

Maggie: My absolute favorite thing about the Grace Hopper Celebration is how encouraging it is. I learned a lot through the sessions and speeches I attended. But at the end of the day, it was the fact that I was surrounded by 14,000 women in tech that resonated the strongest.

Tara: The best way to get women into the field is through academia. A lot of companies throughout the US have special outreach programs to work with local schools on promoting technology for all. Also, retention of women in tech can be harder than it sounds. Creating and keeping a culture where women feel comfortable is very important; the most successful companies in diversity have special programs in place for this reason.

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