I just came back from the Grace Hopper Celebration, where I joined another 22,000 women in the world largest gathering of women technologist. This year’s conference was outstanding, and I’m excited to share the standout moments that stayed with me the most. Keep on reading to learn about the most inspiring, surprising, outstanding and best career advice I got from the 2018 event.
I couldn’t believe I was going!
The first time I heard about Grace Hopper – the world’s largest gathering of women technologists produced by AnitaB.org – was a year ago. My VP at the time recommended I attend. Unfortunately, it was way too late to register, but I tuned into the live stream of the keynotes and felt inspired just by watching remotely. I immediately set a reminder on my calendar to register for the 2018 celebration as soon as I could – I was determined to be apart of the largest women’s conference in the world. On the day registration opened, I blocked off my calendar to refresh the site until the magic registration button appeared. When I got my ticket, it was almost surreal!
At this year’s conference, over 22,000 women descended on downtown Houston, TX to take part in celebrating women in tech. There were several learning tracks this year, and the most popular were artificial intelligence (AI), mentorship, and career development. There are five different session types – panel, workshop, presentation, mentoring circles, and poster sessions.
Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Power, gave an inspirational keynote about how she started a company that develops kinetic energy storing products. She immediately connected with the audience when she admitted that she strives to be the perfect love child of Beyonce and Bill Nye the Science Guy. When she spoke about how she got to this point in her career, her message was simple: “Just because it’s not your plan doesn’t mean it’s not your destiny.”
At the age of 19, her career started when she developed the product idea for a college class project. Over her lifetime she visited her family several times a year in Nigeria and noticed a severe infrastructural problem in the community. Villages and even cities would frequently lose power for extended periods of time and their solution during these periods was the required use of kerosene lamps or diesel generators, which poses a significant health hazard from the fumes.
For the class project, she developed a short-term solution. Her idea was to use a soccer ball to store kinetic energy as you play. When she started distribution of her new product, she learned that girls in refugee camps were not allowed to play soccer or play outside past the age of 12. To solve that challenge, she applied the same technology in the soccer ball to a jump rope. To the crowd’s delight, she started to jump rope in heels on stage to demonstrate how her product generated light.
Jessica is building the cities of tomorrow and building them faster, more cost-effectively, and more durable. Without having her background or feminine perspective, none of this would be possible. In fact, her background has enabled her to have a unique perspective, to think about solving problems differently.
Best Career Advice
The session, “From Shattering the Mid-Management Barrier: Moving to an Executive Role,” included a panel of accomplished women in executive-level roles who shared how they made it. My key takeaways were to ‘take a risk’ and get sponsorship. Each one had a unique story to tell, and all of them either moved into a role where they had limited experience or had someone advocating for them to open up key opportunities.
Many women turn down an opportunity to grow because it seems risky or they don’t feel they have all of the qualifications. These experts say, “Go for it.” Start by asking for something small that you would never do. For example, one woman described asking for a discount for a recent purchase and she got the discount! One woman applied for a job she never felt qualified for but was invited for a job interview. In your career, it is about taking the right calculated risk.
Grace Hopper’s career expo was a sight to behold. It is considered the world’s largest career fair and did not disappoint. As you enter into the door, the displays resemble that of an amusement park with large signs, lights, and entertainment. Hundreds of recruiters were happily buzzing around their colorful and interactive booths with freebies ready to talk about their company. You could easily spend your entire week interviewing and take home an entire suitcase full of swag.
As you pass by each booth, you can talk to one of the available recruiters about potential openings as you would at a typical career fair. If there is mutual interest, an interview will be scheduled later the same day. If interviewing is your intention when attending Grace Hopper, you can upload your resume to the Grace Hopper resume database. Potential employers will call or send emails to set up interviews while you’re both onsite. Companies are so eager to find talent; two attendees received job offers on the spot.
Most Valuable Session
At the “How to Have a Successful Grace Hopper Celebration 2019 Talk Submission” session, I learned that only 24% of the average 2400 submissions would get accepted. This rate hit close to home as I submitted a presentation for this year that was not accepted, but after attending this session, I have a new strategy. Here’s a summary of what I learned:
- Follow the Rules. There are strict guidelines for how you do your writeup from word count to page number
- Pick the Right Track. The track is most important! You must choose a track that aligns to the content you want to present. Pro tip: Presentation or panel formats are ideal for first-timers.
- Content that Aligns with Conference Themes. Career, mentorship, and AI stood out as essential themes for this year. Excited to see what will be hot for 2019.
- A Clear Write Up of Your Proposal. You must provide a catchy title, abstract, and detailed information to get your talk accepted. Don’t leave out specific details in fear of revealing too much.
- Target Areas for Low Submissions. The organizers need more submissions for senior and executive women sessions. There is also a need for more advanced technical topics. Submitting in these areas help increase your chance of getting accepted.
Most Outstanding Experience
The best experience was meeting people. I met women from all over the world – DC, the Bay Area, Boston, and even Ireland. I’ll stay in touch with all of them. If either of us is in the same city, we each have an open invitation to meet in person.
While the celebration is over, the inspirational message and excitement remain. I’ll take what I have learned and inspire others at my company and in my community. It is never too early to start planning for next year’s conference on October 2 – 4 in Orlando, Florida. Will I see you there?