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Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

A Trulia software engineer reflects on what she learned at Grace Hopper 2016

The rate of women pursuing computer science degrees has been on the decline since the 1980s. And, of the women who get jobs as software engineers, about 45 percent of them will move out of technical roles within the first five years. These are alarming statistics that need to be addressed and taken seriously, which is why organizations like the Anita Borg Institute hold conferences that are entirely dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of female computer scientists, as well as promoting gender diversity in academia and industry.

After years of wanting and waiting, I was finally able to attend this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing. It was a bustling few days, full of excitement, sharing and learning, and to say the experience was fascinating and inspiring would be an understatement. I was blown away by every speech I heard and person I met. For those who haven’t attended, I strongly recommend you do – there’s nothing quite like it. Until then, I wanted to share a few things I learned from this year’s conference:

Failure is an inevitable part of career growth
Ginni Rometty, the CEO, president and chairman of IBM, said something during her keynote speech that really struck me: “Comfort and growth never coexist.” Believe it or not, discomfort means you’re growing and if you can become comfortable with failure, you’ll be better off as you navigate your way to success; though it’s definitely easier said than done. Each of us have to go through years of academia, where we do everything in our power NOT to fail, so it can be quite challenging to switch gears and think of failure in a positive way as you enter your career. It’s something I’ll have to continue to keep in mind, and is something I noticed throughout the event.

For example, Astro Teller, the captain of moonshots at Google X, talked about Project Foghorn, an experiment where a team of researchers at X decided to take seawater and convert it into carbon-neutral methanol as an alternative source of fuel for cars. Though the researcher was able to successfully make the man-made methanol out of seawater, the experiment failed because the cost of one gallon of methanol was too expensive and wouldn’t scale. Although the experiment ended in a failure, X celebrated the project and the many successes that happened along the way.

Diversity is not just a woman’s issue
Studies indicate that companies with more diversity show higher sales revenue and profit than less-diverse companies. I heard a few speakers state that teams made up of diverse people yield better results because there are more varying viewpoints that can be brought to the forefront to help refine products and workflows. The benefits that come from a diverse workforce appeal to all people, not just women. And this is an important point to think about and address.

The future really is bright
When it comes to topics like feminism and gender equality, I don’t usually read optimistic articles, and the statistics that I come across tend to leave me with a negative feeling. I recently read the Women in the Workplace report released by McKinsey and and came to one conclusion: we have a lot of work to do, and it’ll take many years to reach absolute gender equality in the workplace. Not a great feeling to be left with. Contrasting this feeling though was the moment I sat in my chair, waiting for the GHC keynotes to start. The convention center was filled with (what seemed like) an endless sea of people, all there to celebrate women, and to talk about constructive, productive and realistic ways we can make incremental changes in our workplace. Being able to hear the various talks and sessions and meet some of the greatest people in our industry left me feeling very optimistic. It’s imperative we continue to have conversations with our colleagues and peers about equality and diversity at work, and as we do that, I know the future will be bright.


The crowd at Grace Hopper

Attending GHC exceeded all my expectations. Not only did I learn so many new things about fields of technology that I’m not regularly involved in, including data science and machine learning, but I also got to build relationships with people who live across the world. I’m looking forward to attending the conference again next year and bringing these insights into everything we do at Trulia.