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Grace Hopper Celebration of Women 2016

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Last week I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) where over 15,000 women engineers from all over the world gathered to learn from and network with each other. In case you didn’t know, Admiral Grace Hopper is the woman who invented the first compiler and pioneered the creation of high-level programming languages. This weekend is spent celebrating not only her accomplishments, but all of the accomplishments of women in this male-dominated field – focusing on bringing the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront of the industry. Here are some of the really awesome things I took away from the conference.

Take a stance on failure

A theme throughout several of the sessions which I attended was how our reactions to failure can define the environment we work in. Features sometimes get cut, risks don’t always pan out – and we must have a course of action in mind to respond when it happens. At Google X, there is such an emphasis on failing efficiently that designs are put through a “pre-mortem” where everyone involved sits down and talks about all the things that will be hard (or impossible) to implement. They also put as much value on sharing learnings from failures as they do to learnings from successes, all in the name of progress. I thought this was an incredible message, and really made me want to work for Astro Teller.

Break communication barriers

A lot of the communication disconnects which were discussed were related to weak communication channels between different roles (UX/PM/Eng). At my workplace, we have already integrated team rooms to include the full feature triad – which I will always say is the right thing to do. Separately, to continue breaking down barriers, Julie Iskow from Medidate Solutions put it simply: never stop asking everyone “hey, want are you working on?” The more interest we take in the success of each other, the better positioned we will be to contribute to the success of the product/company.

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Inspiring women from left to right: Melissa Borza (VP Product Management at CA Technologies), Kim Huffman (VP Enterprise Apps at WageWorks), Julie Iskow (CTO at Medidata Solutions), Pamela Rice (Senior VP of Tech at OnDeck), Linda Wastach (IT Executive Director at Verizon)

Prototype, prototype, prototype

In each of the design sessions which I attended, there was an emphasis on how important design prototypes are in the process. Aga Madurska, a software engineer at Google, talked about how prototypes bridged the gap between engineering and design on many teams she had worked on. My reaction to this was only enforced by how instrumental In.Vision prototypes, for my features at work, have been in getting feedback from customers and communicating interactions.

Network, and you might just find some good friends

I found that, for me, Grace Hopper was an incredible place to create relationships with other employees of my own company. Microsoft sent 800 wonderful women to the Grace Hopper Conference – who knew it would take flying all the way to Houston to meet most of them? On the plane, I sat between two senior developers on Windows who I had never met and chatted with them about their work. Throughout the week, I connected with my co-workers who were also there along with this great group of women who became my #softiesquad for the week. From all over the company and country, we bonded over food and conversations on what we want Microsoft to look like tomorrow. That to me made heading all the way to Houston totally worth it – having people to share this experience with and take back to the same place with similar change mindsets for the company we all love.

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