Blog ♥ Reflections on Grace Hopper Celebration 2017

I've just returned from Orlando, where I attended this year's Grace Hopper Celebration. GHC is a conference for women in technology, attended in large part by young women seeking a career in the tech industry. The conference offers technical and career-oriented talks and workshops, a large recruiting expo, and opportunities to network.

I had the opportunity to attend this year as a mentor for Open Source Day, a day-long hackathon at GHC focused on humanitarian causes. Here are a few of my thoughts and experiences as a first-time attendee of this year's Grace Hopper Celebration.

Making the visible invisible

With around 18,000 attendees this year, GHC is an enormous conference. And the vast majority (95%+) of participants—attendees, speakers, and recruiters alike—are women. In terms of gender balance, Grace Hopper is not your average tech conference.

That said, I didn't spend the conference thinking to myself, "Wow, there sure are a lot of women here!" or "This is soooo weird...! Where are the men?" In fact, for the majority of the time I was at Grace Hopper, the gender imbalance barely registered. I simply didn't notice it.

That feeling of not noticing actually gave me pause once I acknowledged it. It was a good reminder of how easy it is to not think about wildly unbalanced demographics when you happen to be a part of the wildly unbalanced majority. I think one part of fostering awesome, diverse tech communities is cultivating that constant "Be aware!" inner voice.

Humanitarian causes and open-source software take center stage

The thing that stood out most to me about Grace Hopper was the focus on code that works to solve big, complex, humanitarian problems. I sat in on the technical talks given by my colleagues at Microsoft, and they were all right on point with this approach. Jennifer Marsman spoke about using drone imagery and connected sensors to monitor farm output. And Sara Spalding spoke about how sentiment analysis of social media can be used to help quickly address humantarian crises around the world.

In addition to technical sessions like these, there was GHC Open Source Day, a day-long hackathon devoted to using open-source datasets and tools to visualize and address real-world problems. Participant projects touched on topics ranging from global food prices to domestic violence to pollution.

It's exciting to see so many young people get passionate about coding because of its potential for addressing important global issues. (And not just for making piles of money.)

Postscript: I went to Disney World

It was muggy and rainy in Orlando, but goshdarnit I wanted to ride the teacups and eat cotton candy for dinner, so...

Posted October 5 at 9:10 PM