GHC15: First Timer Questions

I heard about the Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) in 2006 from my former mentee, Dr. Cyntrica Eaton. Didn’t think much about it, again, until 2015. This year, my inner desire to learn coding languages has come back. I want to know what’s out there, what is trending, what training is needed, what new technologies are out there, etc. So, I registered for this year’s GHC in Houston, after having attended the ABI.New York Presents GHC/1: A One-day GHC Conference this year (which sent my curiosity about GHC over the edge).

So, having NEVER attended a GHC before, what should I expect? I mean, I hear 12,000 people are expected at this conference (the largest ever), but how do I navigate an all female tech conference of that size and magnitude? Have you seen the schedule: Seriously, there are very important questions that I need answered like, when should I arrive, what sessions do I attend, if I am an introvert, how to “extrovert”, how do I truly get the best experience from the GHC 2015? I don’t want to be “lost in the sauce” of 12,000 amazing and incredibly smart female engineers.

Well, I compiled a list of questions and former attendees and was able to garner some pretty nifty and helpful answers! Let’s take a look below.

When should we arrive and what do we need to do when we first get to Houston?

  • Gail: Depends on the day you arrive. If you get there before the conference starts, you can go to your hotel, settle in, and sight see! If you get there day-of, you may still want to check into the hotel if possible to at least drop off your luggage. If you can’t get to the hotel, use the coat check at the conference and use cab/shuttle to get to the hotel during a break.
  • Charna: I agree with Gail, even if you get there day of, and you can’t get to your room yet as check in is in the afternoon most hotels have bag check, this is easier than lugging them on the shuttles later. Then before any sessions you need to get your badge and bag before going to sessions
  • Valerie: Check in your hotel and make some new friends! Other attendees tend to stand out of the crowd: generally very excited, often wearing a geek t-shirt, and found in large clusters of other women at the airport, hotel, bars and restaurants. Or for the introverts – take a few moments to find a quiet place in your hotel and near the convention center. You’ll need it to keep your batteries recharged throughout the conference.
  • Zaza: I agree with everyone here. I do like to explore the area a bit though too, that way when Saturday comes I have a better idea of what I can do to pass the time before I have to go back to the airport.

Are there going to be long lines? If so, is there a strategy to avoid having to stand in long lines?

  • Gail: In some years, the registration lines were veeeeery long. If this happens, not much you can do. Watch for early registration opportunities if you arrive in time to make use of that. Most likely things will run smoothly this year, though.
  • Charna: There can be long lunch lines, try to go places that aren’t where the primary flow of traffic is, there are also long coffee lines at the hotels in the morning so be sure to have a strategy for that. Bathroom lines can be long to so I’d make sure you know where multiple locations are soon after you arrive.
  • Valerie: Some sessions fill up, and they will have a line. If a session is really important to you, make sure you go straight there. Save your networking for the next break!
  • Zaza: Planning! It&#82#8217;s all in the planning (well it helps anyway).

What day/time of day should we arrive in Houston? What day/time of day should we depart?

  • Valerie: If at all possible, arrive the day before the conference begins. This helps you to avoid some of the lines at hotels and airports, and get yourself organized for the event. Leave Saturday or Sunday – you do NOT want to miss the big event Friday night! If you fly out on Sunday, you can do some sightseeing (and often save money on your flight).

How early do we need be at the convention center? Do we need to stay for the full day?

  • Gail: You can stay the entire length of the conference day, but you may find yourself getting really tired. Don’t be afraid (or feel at all guilty) to sleep in one day or skip some sessions to recharge.
  • Valerie: Arrive early for the first day, if you can, to register so you don’t miss the first sessions. Set prioritize those, and know where you won’t mind missing a session or two. There’s always something interesting and exciting going on, but make sure you take care of yourself, too!

If I am not within walking distance, how often do the shuttles run to/from the hotel and conference center?

  • Valerie: Fortunately, there are free shuttles! Schedules are not posted, yet, but in previous years they run more often in the AM and end of the day – less so in the middle of the day. Pro tip: Since the shuttles do run less often mid-day, plan your day in advance and have all the extra things you need like charging cables, backup phone and laptop batteries (outlets are ALWAYS hard to find), chapstick, headache medicine, water bottle, etc.

Are they crowded?

    • Valerie: They can be, but I’ve never seen anyone turned away.

Is there a “strategy” for boarding times?

    • Valerie: Try to get there a bit earlier than the time, as that’s the time the bus leaves.

Which sessions should we try to attend and why:

  • Valerie: I always love the New Investigators forums – new research, no matter what field, is very exciting. The keynotes are always informative and inspirational, and the plenary is interesting, too. Also, don’t miss the Award winners – always amazing technical women!
  • Zaza: I try not to think about what track to attend, but focus more on the content of each session. Because of that I tend to jump around the various tracks. This is definitely a personal decision, so spend the time to research the different sessions and see what interests you.

What is the attire for each day and sessions?

  • Gail: I have observed a huge range of clothing styles, so in the end, I would just wear what you find comfortable. Many aim for something business-casual. You may want to go back to your hotel and change before the evening parties. Don’t forget to bring layers in case the conference centre a/c is mega cold.
  • Valerie: I second the layers comment! If you are searching for a job, you may want to dress a bit more sharply. Keep in mind, though, you will be doing a TON of walking in sometimes very crowded corridors, so no matter what – be comfortable. Lots of ladies also opt to wear their “geekiest” shirts – lots of computer jokes, like “There’s No Place Like” 🙂

If we can’t get to a speaker/sessions leader, personally, will there be contact information for each speaker?

  • Valerie: Many speakers will include their twitter handles and personal websites in their slides. Be ready to take notes! In general, though, their email addresses will not be available from the conference site.

How do I break the ice with someone (especially if I am an introvert)?

  • Gail: Being a Hopper is actually a great way to meet new people just by doing your duties. Otherwise, try and force yourself to sit with new people at lunch, and just ask where everyone is from. You can also use talk content to have some common ground when striking up a conversation. You also know people attending the same talk have similar interests as you.
  • Valerie: Chat to your seat mate on the shuttle bus, talk to the ladies sitting next to you in a session, comment on their geek wear or laptop/phone, arrive early for sessions, and talk to others in line for the bathroom. We can all gripe about “what are they DOING in there!?” 🙂
  • Charna: Use the ribbons on your name badge, and others, if you dont know what one means or how to get it next year ask! The app is also underutilized, want to learn something about a presenter or connect before meeting in person check them out! Twitter is also great. I’ve followed and chatted with people on twitter first which lets you plan out what you want to say before inviting for coffee in person.

What things should I avoid?

  • Valerie: It’s easy to get over (or under caffeinated) or dehydrated at the conference. Pay attention to what your body is saying, and take breaks when you need to, even if it means missing a session. Don’t stay up too late if you have an important session first thing in the morning. Don’t skip meals – and if you are like me and feel like you’re STARVING if there is too much time (as defined by my body) between meals, bring snacks!
  • Charna: Speaking of meals there are special meals for those who sign up ahead of time. and if you find that the meals that you are getting as part of your special category are making you sick ask for help! I’ve helped people find food many times after I had the experience of one of my friends passing out due to her eating too much processed grains when she was used to a diet of all vegetables.
  • Zaza: Something that Charna taught me at one of our first GHC’s together: Try to avoid wearing your badge when walking to/from your hotel, or anywhere outside the convention center really.

Should we bring copies of paper resumes? If so, how many copies?

  • Valerie: Yes, definitely! Keep them in a folder, though, so they don’t get all wrinkly. Consider making up business cards with a URL to your online copy of your resume. Twenty or thirty copies should be good – think about who you really want to talk to, and bring a few extra. Most importantly: Submit your resume in ADVANCE to the online resume database, then employers can schedule time to chat with you if they are interested.
  • Charna: If you forget to bring them, there are usually print shops but they can be expensive and mess up your formatting. Also though dont stop talking to the recruiters if you run out, make sure your linked in is up to date, whip out your computer or use theirs and pull up your profile. They are going to make you fill out an online application any way so sometimes this is greener in a pinch.

Should we bring business cards? If so, how many copies?

  • Valerie: YES, absolutely!!!! Even if you don’t have a job. Scratch that, ESPECIALLY if you don’t currently have a job and are looking. You want people to be able to find you! You probably want to carry around 20-30 copies, but keep extras in your suitcase at the hotel. You can’t usually get an order of less than 2-300 anyways.
  • Charna: I love, with enough lead time they are not that expensive but great quality and innovative. You can order in smaller batches than 300. Vistaprint is a good cheap avenue with enough lead time if you don’t want to go with moo.

What information should business cards have on them?

  • Valerie: Your name, title (if you have one – if you don’t, what you WANT to be doing/area of technical focus and interest), website, email address, twitter handle (if you want to share), link to your resume or LinkedIn profile and phone number! Ideally, get a NON-glossy card, then people can make notes about you (like which session they met you in, what you have in common, etc) directly on your card.
  • Charna: It depends on what you want to be doing, if you want to be a UX designer, I’d get creative and not put all the traditional info but at a minimum your name and at least one way to contact you. I have two cards one with my cell phone one without. It lets me be personal when i want to be.

If we miss certain sessions, are the sessions recorded?

  • Gail: Most are not, but note-takers and bloggers cover many sessions, and speaker slides are sometimes available.
  • Charna: The ones that are recorded are usually the general session big time speakers and the links will be tweeted and posted on the website when they happen.

Are there capacity issues for certain sessions, luncheons, etc.?

  • Gail: Popular sessions absolutely fill up, so if there’s one you really want to see, show up early to avoid being turned away.
  • Charna: I’ve even left a different session early to be sure I made it to one important to me. Last year there were a few with people sitting on the floor and standing along the walls.

WHEW! Okay. I think I just may be ready to navigate GHC 2015, now. These answers from prior attendees were extremely helpful.

Hope to see you all at GHC 2015! This is #OurTimeToLead !

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