Thirty undergraduate women interested in computer science attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) to learn more about career opportunities in a variety of technical fields. The large number of Rice CS participants was possible because GHC returned to Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center for a second year and CSters (the student club created as a network for individuals interested in Computer Science) recruited many sponsors to underwrite the students’ attendance costs.
The conference opened with a talk about privacy technology by Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT. Google’s Vice President for Engineering, Anna Patterson, received an award for demonstrating leadership through her contributions to technology and achievements in increasing the impact of women on technology, and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty shared life lessons learned from her own career.
Several CSters offered examples of their GHC experience to encourage other CS students to register for a future conference.
Xueqing (Shirley) Jiang has served as both treasurer and secretary of CSters, the student club created to provide support and mentoring for women in computing at Rice. For her, an important aspect of the conference was the ability to connect with other women in technical careers. She said, “This is my third GHC and I am still impressed with the networking opportunities that it offers. Over the years, I have met new friends at GHC and seen my old friends from school and my internship. It’s like an “extended” version of CSters.”
Jiang also used the conference to gather long-term career advice since already knows where she will work after graduation. “I’m impressed with the talks that GHC offers,” she said. Thanks to GHC, I can hear other female engineers talk about how to deal with maternity leave, how to negotiate for promotion or salary raises, and how to climb up the corporate ladder. Their experiences are truly inspiring and with their shared knowledge, I can plan ahead for my own career path.”
Senior Maha Aziz (right) was interested in both the recruiting aspects and the networking. She said, “I thought Grace Hopper was an amazing experience for women in tech, especially minority women. There were plenty of opportunities for women to network with each other and learn about new innovations in technology, as well as gain confidence in ourselves as we pursued the companies that we wanted to work for at the career fair. I enjoyed my experience 100% and am sad that it was my last year attending as a student. I encourage any woman who has any interest in technology to try to go to GHC at least once!”
Although she’s completed two internships, Caroline Adams is still considering her career options. “I’m graduating and need a job, so I primarily went for recruiting,” she said. “In addition to the massive career fair, all the talks that I went to were honestly chosen at random and (with the exception of one) were extremely interesting.”
Allison Gardella said, “I completely agree with Maha and Caroline. Although I focused more on the career fair and networking this year, I attended a lot of the talks last year – both technical and non-technical – and found them incredibly interesting. With the size of the conference increasing every year, I think everyone is able to find some combination of talks and networking events to suit them. GHC is definitely a one-of-a-kind opportunity, and I encourage all women in CS to attend before graduation!”
Junior Vi Nguyen welcomed the opportunity to talk with new recruiters. She said, “There were many companies recruiting at GHC that never really come to Rice, so it was great being able to talk to them.” Unlike a traditional career fair, the recruiters and engineers at GHC were also there to attend sessions. “That allowed me to interact with them while waiting in line and sitting in the talks,” said Nguyen. “It was great to connect with them as people, rather than as people who are sizing me up for a job.”
The 12,000 attendees also impressed her. “I was able to interact with literally thousands of women in computing that I would not have otherwise met. I was absolutely blown away by their passion and how willing people were to just strike up conversations and talk about their experiences.”
Junior Xinpei (Cindy) Liu (left) also expected to learn a lot about opportunities for women in technical careers. She said, “The Grace Hopper Celebration is such a unique opportunity to learn about the working environment for women in different companies. It allows me to understand what I should expect as a woman in the technology field. GHC is also a great place to learn about and experience all kinds of cutting-edge technologies, from 3D animation to augmented reality. I saw so the impact of so many women in different fields that I was motivated to keep moving forward in the technology industry.”
Yingchen (Scarlett) Xu found herself easily slipping into comfortable discussions with women engineers. Xu said, “It was my second time attending GHC and I felt like I was home again. I met many professionals at the conference –some were even in the leadership positions of their companies. All of them, from junior engineers to those who had worked in industry for decades, were so enthusiastic about their work and roles as women in tech, and were always more than happy to share advice and insights with college students like me.”
Talking with other students also helped Xu recovered a sense of security about her own future. “As a junior CS major, I started wondering what area in CS I want to work on in the future,” said Xu. “I felt lost and even stressed sometimes. But at GHC I realized that I was not alone. There were so many girls who were just like me, passionate about everything and were still exploring. And GHC provided lots of great opportunities in both industry and academia for us.”
Senior Alitha Partono said, “Grace Hopper Celebration means a lot to me because that’s where I got my internship last year, so I was very excited to attend again this year. The best thing about it is that at one point or another, you get to be in a concert venue full of women engineers. It’s unfortunately extremely rare to find that many women working in the tech industry in one place, and it’s great to be able to network and talk to them at the conference.”
Melinda Crane, a junior CS major, split her conference time between recruiters and panels of guest speakers, and tried out an Occulus demo. She said, “There’s a huge variety of panels, even for tracks schools sometimes don’t mention. You go to these panels and realize, ‘Wow, someone really is succeeding in that thing I want to do,’ and it just feels much more personal.”
Anna Chi visited her summer employers’ booth. “I worked at Salesforce during the summer and I have had a really good time there,” she said. Chi encourages other students to apply for Salesforce internships and jobs because she appreciates both the company’s employee-focused culture and the opportunity to explore employment opportunities and also work on interesting artificial intelligence technologies such as Salesforce Einstein, SalesforceIQ.
For six more GHC 2016 stories, see the CS.rice.edu website.