Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back from Grace Hopper 2011!

This year was my third year! I skipped last year because it was far away and I felt like it was targeted too much at undergrads trying to get jobs. I mainly went this year because it was really close and I had fond memories of previous years. I'll say now that it's definitely NOT too ugrad-focused; still lots of recruiting going on, but the conference is HUGE now and there seriously is something for everyone.

Like dancing!
IMG_3719.jpg

Speaking of huge, the conference apparently had almost 3,000 attendees and this was its first year at an official conference center (as opposed to a hotel). It felt very official and I was proud of #ghc11 for having 'grown up' a bit. Obviously this is a very valuable conference and the more people who get to attend, the better.

2908 attendees!

Valuable how? For me, I just think it's nice to be around so many other smart, nerdy women. I had role models like my mom who fit the bill (and who came to Grace Hopper!) but not too many peers or friends who programmed and studied math and were also female. It wasn't bad, necessarily, to be one of a few girls in my CS classes, or to have awesome lady friends outside of class who were nerdy in other ways. But it somehow feels *better* to have more technical women around, as evidence by how I feel about attending UW with its 25% female grad population and about coming to Grace Hopper.

There are stereotypes floating through other people's heads about computer scientists (that possibly turn women and others off of CS) and even stereotypes about women that make me critical of other women. But at this conference, there are So Many Women that it's impossible to form coherent negative stereotypes that fit us all. Positive stereotypes might be okay, though: Optimistic and energized and excited about the conference! Relief at finally coming into the company of so many other technical women. Inspired to keep pursing tech careers and activities, and to somehow bring additional women to the field.

How can we attract more women to computer science and related technical fields? The suggestions that came up during the conference that resonated the most with me are:
  1. tell someone who's good at math and logical thinking that she should consider computer science
  2. get more women to take AP computer science in high school, so they can try it before they make it to college where overwhelming and inflexible major requirements can get in the way
  3. undo the stereotype of "software developer" as unwashed white male on computer in basement
  4. projects and organizations and outreach things that get young women exposed to technical fields

I'd also like to add:
  1. supply young women with project ideas and hints about how to get started
    (my faves below:)
    • processing
    • actionscript, flashbuilder, flashdevelop to make games to share on places like kongregate
    • a game engine for actionscript like flixel or flashpunk
    • lilypad arduino
    • gamemaker
    • geocities*
  2. supply young women with ample resources to learn on their own (like her own web hosting, a terminal, and a bunch of examples)

*that's what my mom did for me... made me a geocities account and handed me an HTML book

Some of the highlights of the conference for me included:
  1. meeting new awesome people
  2. getting to know already-sort-of-known awesome people better (like the other people from my school and friends from other schools)
  3. my mom being there, too
  4. the epic dance party, as usual
  5. getting to be on a panel (more on that soon)
  6. and sheryl sandberg's inspiring and empowering keynote
After the conference, some fellow grad students and I did touristy things around Portland and Jinna got this fortune cookie :) (138) grace hopper fortune cookie