“If we can connect the world, organize its information, build rocket ships and plan our treks to Mars, then we can hire more women and pay them fairly.”
- Emily Chang
This year’s Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston gathered 22,000 women and allies in tech to learn, share resources, collaborate, and nurture our community. Being the director of an all women’s coding bootcamp (aptly named the Grace Hopper Program), I’m used to being surrounded by incredible women technologists—but the sheer scale of this conference made it a surreal experience for me.
Come experience the conference as I did—for the first time ever, day by day—and then visualize the amazing time you’re going to have next year:
Grace Hopper Celebration - Day 1
Just like on the first day of school, the energy levels are high. You can almost feel a buzz in the air. Everywhere I turn, I meet accomplished women who are either working hard as techies or increasing women’s access to technology education and employment.
A few of the standout women I encounter on my first morning:
- Rosa Carson of Wayfair Labs, who is hiring bootcamp graduates and delivering additional professional development opportunities to ensure they succeed
- Cassie Stover at Insight Data Science (YC), who leads admissions at a free post-doctoral training fellowship that serves as a bridge to new careers in data science
- Whitney Bosch of Google, who is working hard to increase diversity and inclusion there
The Career Expo & Job Fair features booths from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Intuit, Spotify, Groupon, Slack, and more. The companies I’m most excited about are the ones who embrace coding bootcamp graduates—a list that also includes Wayfair, Nordstrom, The Federal Reserve, and Hubspot.
(P.S. Job search hack! Current job seekers can still submit resumes to the Grace Hopper Celebration’s Resume Database for review.)
I’m excited to moderate the noon panel, "Male Allies: Join the movement in local AnitaB.org communities,” organized by Natasha Green, the Global Community Manager for AnitaB.org. The panel brings together Evin Robinson of New York on Tech (where I got my start in tech!), Matt Wallaert of Clover Health, Haile Owusu of Mashable, and Wayne Barlow of Bloomberg.
We talk about what it means to be a male ally, the gender pay and equity gap, and how gatekeepers like hiring managers, recruiters, and founders can better support women. The panelists’ strongest advice to men is below:
“Slow down on interviewing. If you are rushing it, you will fall back into the biases that make discriminatory decisions easier. Structure and planning can help break biases.”
“Making sure women aren’t the only ones asserting their rights is something you can do as an ally. If a hiring manager asks you (a male) for your previous salary history, refuse to share that. It is illegal*, and women shouldn’t be the only ones speaking up about this.”
*Note: This is determined at the state level. In New York, it is illegal for a company representative to ask an applicant for their salary history during the application process. Research the laws in your state to determine your rights as an applicant.
Grace Hopper Celebration - Day 2
I wake up excited for the second day of the conference: a full day of learning about the innovative projects women are working on in tech around the world.
All-women’s coding bootcamps with no upfront tuition costs (like Grace Hopper Program) are very rare, so it is a distinct pleasure to meet Mariana Costa Checa, a fellow South American and the co-founder of Laboratoria, another an all-women’s coding bootcamp with campuses in Peru, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil.
At her talk, “Building a Movement of Women Technologists in Latin America,” Mariana shares a couple of encouraging stats: In just four years, Laboratoria has trained 1,000 women whose income has increased threefold. The bootcamp is now well on its way to becoming the leading source of female talent in Latin America.
To learn more about women’s coding bootcamps around the world, check out the World Bank report, featuring both Laboratoria and The Grace Hopper Program.
The most creative and urgent speech comes from the brilliant Joy Buolamwini, a Fulbright, Rhodes, and MIT Media Lab scholar. Buolamwini is known for her research into the “coded gaze,” the algorithmic bias leading to exclusionary experiences and discriminatory practices—especially against women and women of color. I highly recommend watching her Ted Talk, How I’m Fighting Bias in Algorithms and reading her poem AI, AInt I a Woman.
Another inspiring resource I discover is the book Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, a powerful exposé in which Bloomberg TV journalist Emily Chang reveals how Silicon Valley got so sexist despite its utopian ideals. Emily covers why bro culture endures even in the historical face of companies claiming the moral high ground, and how women are finally starting to speak out and fight back.
Chang’s panel on this subject is incredibly illuminating and reminds me that the tech industry has never shied away from difficult technical problems—so why should women’s rights and inclusion be any different?
One of the best parts of attending conferences across the country is meeting up with alumnae. I have the pleasure of connecting with Fullstack Chicago grad JT Wang, who currently works at Nova Credit as a front end developer. She shares some great insights with me as to what coding bootcamps can do for their alumnae as they transition into second and third jobs and work their way toward top leadership positions.
….And a quick shout-out to my Grace Hopper Program family back in NYC, who gathered to watch the conference keynote via livestream at Google :)
Grace Hopper Celebration - Day 3
In what the moderator calls a “tragic irony of history,” Dr. Anita Hill delivers the closing speech for the Grace Hopper Celebration just one day after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies on her assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
As you may recall, in 1991 Dr. Hill testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. The trial was widely publicized, with Dr. Hill being put through the wringer for coming forward with sexual harassment allegations. Nevertheless, Thomas was ultimately confirmed and currently serves on the Supreme Court.
The indomitable Dr. Hill reminds us that despite our frustrations with the state of women’s rights and protection, we have made deep cultural advances. She points to the facts: The coverage of Dr. Ford’s case is very different than what she experienced. Media outlets are more sensitive now. People are more aware of women’s issues. Dr. Ford’s claims were not outright dismissed, as Dr. Hill’s were.
The comparison of these two events should prompt listeners to ask other important questions: How might treatment of Dr. Hill have been different, for example, if she was not a woman of color? And where can we, as a community of women in tech, find opportunities to make progress in terms of racial equity?
Dr. Hill’s calm demeanor and clear vision in the face of this somber event absolutely inspires us to continue working towards a world of equal rights for all. As I head back to NYC, I am reaffirmed in my commitment to shepherding more women of diverse backgrounds into tech and helping them build strong career paths.
We have a long way to go to ensure inclusive educational and work spaces for women in tech, but gatherings like this make a difference by inspiring and connecting those women and allies who are dedicated to bringing about those changes.
I'm already packing my bags for next year’s Grace Hopper Celebration (Oct 2-4, 2019) in Orlando, Florida! Hope to see you there!
PS - Some Swag For You!
The best freebie I got had to be "You Got This" by Palantir, featuring words of wisdom from the Grace Hopper Celebration community and quotes from history’s most innovative female changemakers. I wanted to share it with all of you, too—click on the link for your free download!