I’ll never forget my first Grace Hopper Celebration
I am a QA Engineer at Clearcover. I am also a woman in tech: a black woman in tech.
I have always wanted to go to the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) produced by Anitab.org in partnership with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). I didn’t start in tech. I have a bachelor’s degree in music with a focus on audio engineering, but a company took a chance on me many years ago. I have made QA into a wonderful career (not without some struggles) and now, I get to work remotely from Haslett, MI.
I didn’t know this was the year I would finally get to go to GHC though.
Earlier in the summer, one of my Slack groups posted a link to the call for Grace Hopper Celebration Women of Color in Technology application submissions. The winner receives complimentary registration to the conference which is no small amount considering it’s usually around $1100.
On July 11, 2019, I received an email that changed my entire year. After opening it, my mouth dropped and my eyes became saucers. I was in the middle of a Zoom video call with my teammates and everyone asked if something was wrong. It was anything but.
Over 7,000 women applied for their many scholarships and they chose me for one of their scholarships. It was so hard to focus that day. I immediately started telling my friends and family.
After taking two planes (Lansing to Detroit to Orlando) to the conference, I landed with a full heart ready to meet other like-minded women. As I deboarded the plane, I saw two young black women in the row ahead of me. I got the courage to ask them if they were attending GHC and they started smiling nodding. They looked at each other and realized they sat next to each other the whole flight and hadn’t made the connection. We all started sharing stories excitedly.
That moment was a foreshadowing of the entire 4-day conference.
My favorite part of the celebration was looking around and seeing so many women of different ages, backgrounds, and stages of their career together: international women, some wearing hijabs, some queer, some black, some just starting their career, some near the end of their career, some doctors of their craft like Dr. Fei Fei Li, Dr. Vivienne Ming, and Dr. Natalya Bailey. We were no longer outnumbered by men at a tech conference.
I found myself sitting with women I didn’t know at the various meals throughout the conference but it never mattered. We would immediately start talking, asking about each others’ hometowns and professions. There was an immediate sisterhood even though we all came from different walks of life.
During the opening keynote, everyone filled the room as Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” played. I was floored to see how many of us there actually was. The energy was amazing. It was inspiring to see us in such large numbers where usually on a regular basis we are outnumbered.
Brenda Darden Wilkerson, the president and CEO of Anita B, came out and I noticed she looked like me. She was black and had locs. After Wilkerson spoke, woman after woman came on the stage to share their stories, what made them believe in themselves and how to keep going despite life’s hurdles. I left the keynote feeling excited and fired up.
From there, the days passed in a blur of session attendance, note taking and bonding with strangers. Every session was amazing with a few stand-out talks from:
Been Called Emotional or Aggressive: Take It As A Compliment! By Amy Kalokerinos
The men that did attend (and there were quite a few) were supportive about helping with the diversity efforts of their organization. All these different types of people were talking to each other and learning so much. It seemed like we were all bonded by the same goal - maybe we could help someone to avoid going through whatever challenge we had to.
That’s a really special feeling. A smile was on my face the entire conference as I walked around seeing:
Younger versions of myself
Older versions of myself
International versions of myself
Versions of other strong women I used to work with.
As I walked by all these versions of people I knew or worked with...it made me realize there’s more and more of us in the technology industry.
I got so much from this conference, I still need more time to reflect. Every day passing brings another revelation but I do know my most important takeaway. The future looks bright with all these intelligent women having goals for themselves and what they bring to society.