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GHC15: A Whole New Box!

At my company, we have a metaphor: life is a series of boxes. You start off in a box, right at the bottom. As you learn and grow, your box fills with your knowledge and accomplishments and pushes you up until you’re at the top of your box. Then…you climb out of your now full box. Straight into another box. Right at the bottom. And the process begins again.

This year will be my third going to the Grace Hopper Celebration. Each year, I have gone in a different capacity and this one is no different! Every year, GHC helps me expand my knowledge, grow, and push myself into a new box.

The first year I attended, I was just starting my Masters in Computer Science. A (somewhat) young student, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was so excited as I had never attended any conference aimed at women in computing, let alone one of this magnitude! I remember arriving and being absolutely flabbergasted that so many people could fit in one conference centre—and 90% of them were women! What an empowering moment!

I scheduled everything. I went to panels aimed at new grad students—my newest box—attempting to prepare us for the completely new world of grant applications, research, publishing, and conference talks that awaited us. I learned tips and tricks that later helped me both in my classes and my research (although no conference talks yet!). I also indulged in several of the security-related talks, my main area of interest.

I attended the conference with several other students from my school. It was a really inspiring and diverse group of girls. This experience alone was completely disjoint from any other conference I had been to. We were able to laugh, bond, and inspire each other with talks from the smallest things (like as how haggard we felt and looked after travelling) to deep conversations (such as illnesses in our family and the forces that had driven our passions to STEM). This group of girls really made the GHC experience for me. They, along with so many of the speakers I listened to and new connections I made, inspired me in a way no other conference ever had and had me raring to go back the next year!

For my second year, I was lucky enough to attend with my current company, Shopify. I had just finished all my classes and had signed a full-time contract with Shopify so I could work whilst I finished my thesis. I went this year, not as a student, but as a representative of my company. It was a complete contrast to my previous experience at GHC.

I attended few panels, but the ones I did check out were aimed at women just starting out in their careers. The panels covered a range of topics including how to discuss difficult topics at work, how to ask for/negotiate contracts and raises, and how to really get the most out of your experiences at your company without being overlooked.

While all the talks were inspiring to me, they couldn’t come close to my experience taking part in the career fair. For those of you who haven’t previously attended GHC, let me tell you that this career fair is on an entirely different level. It is the single largest job fair I have ever seen, and the fair itself is bigger than some of the Comic-Cons I have attended! It was a very humbling experience to see how small both my company and I are in relation to the vastness of the technology field as a whole.

I stood at Shopify’s booth for three days talking to potential candidates ranging in age and experience, from young undergrads to women who had been working in tech for over 20 years and were looking for a change. Each of these women had a story to tell and something to teach. Being able to talk one-on-one with so many inspirational women was phenomenal. Hearing their about their struggles and triumphs and the lessons they had learned really showed me how I could become a better employee, programmer, and person. On top of that, I got to get to know some of the women from my company so much better through this trip, which was truly wonderful. Though this was with a different group, the bonding, laughter, and memories were of the same kind as I got to experience last year. This, as well, was an entirely different box for me. I had always been shy and kept to myself, never being the one to start a conversation. But this pushed me to my limits until I was smiling and chatting with anyone and everyone in sight, and I couldn’t have been happier.

And now, for my third year, I am actually able to help organize this amazing conference. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be doing something like this, but I’m so happy to be able to help make this conference a reality for another year in the hopes that it will inspire other women as it has me. Already, just being able to work with the rest of the members of the Grace Hopper Communities Committee has been wonderful. They are such a diverse, intelligent, and kind group of women that have already driven me to new heights, and once again into a new box.

What I wanted to highlight most in this blog post is the sheer diversity of GHC. It really is suited for everyone at any point in their career, whether they are in academia or industry. The conference was completely different for me each time I attended, as my role had changed. As I have grown, so have my GHC experiences grown with me. GHC allows itself to be a deeply personalized experience for everyone, letting each attendee choose what they want to attend and focus on, so that we can all grow, develop, and learn as much as possible.

I know that this year will be no different in that regard, though I know that it will be a complete 180 in terms of what I do and learn once again.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store! See you all there!