Grace Hopper Celebration was a fantastic experience. I learned so much and met so many fascinating people, and when you get in that conference groove mindset you really connect! There’s something about a female-centric space that’s so special and supportive in its energy–it’s something I realize now that I didn’t fully appreciate while I was attending Bryn Mawr for my undergraduate. But I get it now. (And it’s what we work to provide in App Camp for Girls.)
The highlight of the conference was probably the networking. Not because I felt the need to go out of my way and meet people, but because the person-to-person discussions I ended up having were often more profound and relevant than even the most helpful sessions. There’s something about connecting with people in a more intimate number (introvert alert!) that’s far more satisfying than a killer 1:many lecture.
I also have to laugh at how many times someone proclaimed that I was “PMing” something throughout the trip. Sometimes it was chaos in a busy bathroom with no toilet paper in one stall* or a clear meal plan during the lunch rush**. It reminds me why I really am a great hire for the role I’m in, and why I’m always a natural MC even if it exhausts me internally. I can just turn on the “get shit done” mode and, well, get shit done, even in a large group that’s a challenge to wrangle. A young new PM hire at Microsoft told me she aspires to PM things as effectively as I did at one lunch break, which I consider a great compliment!
On that note, It’s been gratifying to move into an era of my career when I can start to mentor other women in tech. I’m not sure when that transition happened, exactly, but I suddenly (?) feel like I’ve got this fountain of guidance that a) other, mostly younger women seek, and b) actually provides them real value. I don’t mean to devalue my own worth by seeming so surprised, but I guess I’ve felt for so many years that I myself was seeking answers, that it’s gratifying to notice when I now seem to be experienced enough to provide them in this context. Hooray for aging!
Ooh, that reminds me: let’s have some props!
- Props to the gal who pushed back on a panelist who had claimed she was “dating herself” by saying how many years she’d been in an industry. The attendee at the Q&A mic said “please don’t feel like that’s something you ever need to apologize for; we’re all here because of your wisdom and experience!” Hell yes.
- Props to the stamina of everyone who worked booth duty on that expo floor. That shit is exhausting.
- Props to all the event staff, janitorial–that was a LOT y’all were dealing with.
- Props to the men who were graceful about many of their bathrooms becoming gender-neutral bathrooms this week. That can be a jarring transition and I appreciate that you didn’t make a fuss. (We all know it’s rare for you to feel that particular type of marginalization, but I still have empathy for ya because again, we 15k women are a lot to deal with when you’re accustomed to being the most represented group!)
- Props to the gal who knew I was craving one of those free ice cream bars and went and got me (and several others) one once we had secured our seats at a busy session! So thoughtful and sweet (har har not like that).
- Props to all the interesting note-takers! I loved seeing how people visually and verbally represented the info we were drinking up all week.
- Props to the bartenders. I hope enough people tipped really well to make it worth your massive efforts.
- Props to Peggy for letting me store my luggage in her hotel room <3
- Props to everyone who rolled with it when I roped them into impromptu networking, conversations, drinks, meals, Ubers, etc. Some great connections happened from my forced situational extroversion, but I know it can catch you off guard when a tall blonde lady yells at you to come fill this four-top or whatever. Thanks for rolling with the punches; I hope it enriched your conference experience as that was always the intention; I know it enriched mine.
- Props again to Microsoft for sending me, as well as 800+ other women, and for sponsoring so many activities within the conference. I’m continually impressed, thrilled, and grateful to work for this kind of employer. (And this is my personal blog so I’m ignoring your style guide handling of the Oxford comma, haha. Take that!)
- Props to the oxford comma ;)
A few non-props:
- To the gal who mistook me for pregnant on the very first day: we both know that was kind of shitty. But I’ve put my foot in my mouth that very same way with other women, and it sucked and I felt terrible about it like forever. You probably still feel terrible about it, or did for a while. In case you have been carrying it around, it’s OK. I’m over it now. You have my permission to let it go, as long as you try to remember not to do it again, and I will too. :)
- To the event staff we were all pushy and frustrated with at the Toyota Center: I’m sorry some of us were rude (myself included) in our moments of frustration. It’s not a fair excuse, but we were a horde of logic-driven beings being confronted by illogical constraints, which I realize you had no authority to escape. We shouldn’t have been rude even though it’s OK for us to be pushy/ask for what we need/question things that seem like they need questioning. There’s a line in how this sort of thing is done, and a lot of nuance around gendered behavior, but some of us were snappier than we probably needed to be and I felt and still feel bad. I know you were just doing your job. I’m sorry.
- To the staff at so many hotels, restaurants, and bars near the conference: I got the feeling y’all weren’t quite prepared for the volume and intensity of GHC attendees this year. I really hope that changes in future years; it’s a killer opportunity to really bring it and show what the hospitality and service industries can do even in times of chaos, especially when you’re charging premium rates and doing great business. I strongly encourage you to bring on more staff during this conference if it’s held in Houston again so you aren’t stretched noticeably thin by the sudden influx of guests with needs and appetites. We’ll appreciate it, and we’ll all tip well especially when our generous employers are footing the bill.
- To Donald Trump, you’re a terrible human and I get physical anxiety every time I see your face or hear you begin to talk because I’ve been conditioned to expect the fucking worst which you consistently deliver. The only way I was able to stomach your hateful bullshit during that last debate was to surround myself with powerful women and drink and eat candy and deride your constant misogyny and malevolence together. I look forward to your impending self-immolation. You are one of the rare humans who makes me truly wish harm upon another human because it’s clear you’ll eagerly cause harm to so many more if you’re given even a drop of power.
A closing note:
Are you wondering how you can capture this energy and be part of the wonder that is Grace Hopper? Here are some actionable steps!
- If you’re a manager, support women who want to go to GHC, and work to get them sponsored to attend by your company. If that’s not possible, at least support them attending on their own and/or streaming the talks, and be supportive of their other commitments taking a backseat while they soak up the learning and empowerment.
- If someone on your team comes back from GHC and surprises you with bolder questions or pushy seeming negotiations, roll with it. Don’t punish them or poke fun at them. Let them try out their newly learned skills, and respect them for it, and listen to what they have to say!
- Consider attending yourself. We had over one thousand male allies in this year’s audience. It can be humbling and intimidating to suddenly become a minority if you’re a man in tech, but it’s a great firsthand experience at empathy and your eyes will be opened to a whole world you didn’t know about regarding the challenges women face in the workplace, the sheer number of amazing talented female technologists, and the many permutations of what an engineer (or PM, or designer, etc.) actually looks like. Or talks like. Or thinks like. You should totally come.
- Get involved! Volunteer at a local nonprofit that helps get women into tech! Ask your local community what you can do to help more actively! Sponsor programs and students that are tied to diversity initiatives! Make connections with programs that can feed diverse talent into your organization! Make a commitment to working harder at improving your company’s diversity! Read other blog posts with other opinions about what you can do to help! The ideas and suggestions are out there if you make it a priority to find them.
Thanks for reading! <3
* Take the countertop Kleenex box and stick it in the stall that’s missing toilet paper.
** Scan OpenTable for nearby locations and your desired reservation time, accounting for travel time including conference congestion. Book a reservation (4-6 is the largest that will usually still allow you to find quick options) so you don’t end up slammed during the lunch rush with no food options for an hour. Claim your space using technology!