What an inspiring week! A three-day conference with 18,000 attendees, more than 700 speakers covering technical sessions and professional development workshops, and a large career fair with 300+ companies. Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2017 did not disappoint.
The themes were timely and strong, and the conversations and people even better. As Pouneh Mortazavi, senior engineering lead at Trulia said: “There is this incredible atmosphere at Grace Hopper; a kind of ‘You can do it!’ attitude that I’ve never seen or felt before at a conference. I was blown away by the sheer amount of talented female engineers I met.”
Following the conference, I and some of the women who attended the event for Trulia came together to share key takeaways and highlights:
Bias in Machine Learning Needs to Be Addressed
Removing bias in machine learning was a big theme throughout this year’s conference. The keynotes kicked off with Dr. Fei Fei Li, professor and director of Stanford University’s AI Lab, and chief scientist at Google Cloud AI/ML, who emphasized that there is nothing “artificial” about AI.
Dr. Li made a point that really stuck with me: There is a lack of representation of women and minorities in training models, and it’s a crisis. “Machine values are human values,” Dr. Li explained, and we need diverse developers to create fair algorithms that encompass the people they impact.
“The A.I. of the future shouldn’t just benefit us all. It should reflect us all as well.” – Dr. Fei Fei Li
This reminded me of how first-generation car airbags were designed primarily by men and were therefore calibrated for the height and weight of the average male. This was obviously problematic – and catastrophic – when the airbags were deployed for women and children.
The bottom line? We need to make sure there is equal representation for all, in everything we do, as we move forward.
Let’s Be More Adventurous
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also spoke about women’s struggles in tech. As related to attracting women into the tech industry, she called for creating more pathways to engage.
The traditional approaches aren’t working. As she put it, “people get interested in computing at different times in their lives, in different ways, for different reasons.”
This was particularly relevant to my own career path. More than four years ago, I attended Hackbright Academy, a 10-week coding boot camp for women and landed my job at Trulia shortly after. This fall, I started pursuing my Master’s through Georgia Tech’s Online Masters in Computer Science Program, more than 15 years after receiving my Fine Art’s degree.
If you don’t currently have a computer science background but have a strong desire to become a technologist, the best time to start is now. There are an increasing amount of resources, and as Melinda Gates emphasized, the world is recognizing we need to create alternative avenues to get more women and underrepresented groups into tech, meaning the resources will keep growing.
We Need to Keep Building Each Other Up
Like my colleague Natalie Qabazard, software engineer at Trulia, shared in her reflection post last year, we still have a long road ahead of us. Amongst all the excitement, it was disheartening to hear the percentage of women in tech roles only went up 1.2% since last year, according to the results of the AnitaB.org’s 2017 Top Companies For Women Technologists report.
Despite these dismal numbers, there was a lot of optimism at GHC 2017 that we can and will do better to create an inclusive workspace. In addition to technical sessions, there were several workshops geared toward career development, including how to build confidence, become more influential and how to land your next promotion.
My colleague, Francesca Guiducci, senior big data engineer at Trulia, attended one of the most popular sessions, “Become a Person of Influence,” hosted by Jo Miller, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc. Guiducci said the session reminded her that to be influential, we need to act influential. Remember to sit at the conference table, not at the room’s edges, greet people when they enter the room and do your homework before a meeting. These are helpful reminders for all of us to keep in mind and to share with our colleagues.
Throughout the conference, Trulians who attended agreed that we met many inspired (and inspiring!) and motivated female technologists, students and graduates. The enthusiasm was contagious and we’re committed to doing our part in encouraging more women to get involved in or to stay in tech.