The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is said to be `World’s largest gathering of women technologists` and indeed that was! It was overwhelming to see 12k women together whereas I have ended up being at conferences/meetups where I was the only women or only 10% women may be. The conference was grand in it’s own way starting from the Convention center to keynotes, luncheons, career fair, plenary sessions and after conference party. This was the most awaited conference for the year and I got an opportunity to attend the conference and mentor at OSD. #GHC15 was held October 14-16 in Houston. It was a great place to know the leading faces in technology.
About the journey:
I knew that was going to be a long journey and truly that was.. with my first flight of 10:30 hrs, lay over at Paris for 2 Hrs and then a journey of another 9:30 hrs. After 22 hours of flight mode, I landed in Houston. The greetings ‘Welcome to United States!’ made me feel happier 😉 There was a long immigration queue up there but everything went smooth with immigration officer telling me “you are too young to be a software engineer” 😛 😀 *still wondering if I looked like a school kid to him* . Apparently Air France could manage to bring me to Houston but left my luggage in Paris, another hour being in queue and filling up forms . The total hours of my journey counting right from leaving my place in Pune to reaching the hotel in Houston were close to 30. That was fairly a long and tiring journey.
An evening before Grace Hopper(Grace Hopper Eve):
There were supposed to be 12k attendees at the conference and it wasn’t a good idea at all to collect your badge on the morning of Day 1. So, I headed to the venue an evening before and was thrilled to see the number of people at the convention center. Everyone was super excited for the conference and so was I. There were self registration kiosks which made the entire process super easy, super fast. I had my badge printed in less than 10 minutes. Everyone was busy looking at the swags in the welcome kit and planning out their three days. I was doing the same and then I happened to meet Gina(@lintqueen) who was sitting right next to me but didn’t know until I happened to read her name on the badge. Here is the first face unveiled behind the name(faces with names thing)! Some more networking and then I headed my way back to the hotel.
The first day at the conference was overflowing with girls! The day started with a keynote followed by a bunch of talks scattered all over the venue. The venue was huge and kind of big enough to fit 12k attendees. It took almost 10 minutes to reach from one place to another. One of the main events of Day 1 was Open Source Day which was a hands on session with a bunch of projects to contribute to with respective organizations and selected mentors/attendees. The call for participation for OSD opened days back for the attendees as well as the mentors whereas the organizations were pre-selected. I spent the entire day mentoring with Open Hatch where we introduced beginners to hands-on github, irc, etc. Separate rooms were allocated to each organization for collaborating the entire day and at the end of the day was showcasing the projects. There were a bunch of things going in and around at different places like the #facesintech booths, you can see some of the pictures here and while I was on the wall too(see below) 😛 .Thereafter there was the most awaited event ‘Career fair’ for most of the attendees present at the conference. Career fair was huge with tonnes of booths giving away tonnes of swags and of course the job opportunities. That was the first time I ever saw the madness in people wrt jobs. Red Hat had a booth too and it was fun talking to people who stopped by our booth and giving away the best possible answers to their questions from my end. Being at the booth with other colleagues was fun indeed and altogether a different experience. Day 1 was too busy to be the first day at conference, being at Open Source Day from morning to evening and then the booth at Career fair. After all the work on Day 1, it comes to an end at 10 pm and I was super tired by then! I simply took the shuttle and went back to get some rest so as to start afresh the next morning.
Day 2 again started with a keynote followed by the day packed with sessions. Our fellow Red Hatter Gina (@lintqueen) gave a talk on ‘Moving from Proprietary to Open Source’ where she talked about her past experiences and that she loves the open culture at Red Hat. I attended a bunch of talks throughout the day including ‘intelligent mistakes in test automation’, some from the internet of things track and can’t remember the rest. There were a couple of sponsored lunches arranged in the ballrooms of Hilton Americas open to everyone. I along with few other females walked to the women of color lunch. There were appetizers arranged beautifully at all round tables for the beautiful ladies to join in followed by the course of food. It was good to meet young ladies belonging to different parts of the world. After the lunch, again a bunch of sessions here and there and spent some time at our Red Hat booth with fellow Red Hatters. And it’s time for the most awaited event of GHC which is the plenary keynote by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook! Until then I watched her on my laptop screen only but this was live. All the attendees at GHC were honoured to have her there and talk about her experiences. Some of the words I still remember from that keynote looked like.. if a female is aggressive, she is called bossy but if a guy is aggressive he is said to have leadership skills #banBossy . She motivated all the women to stay in technology and not quit! The keynote was more of a question answer thing where Sheryl answered few of the selected questions from audience as well. When asked what kind of a guy a girl should date, she answered guys who come to such conferences 😛 n they were just a handful. 😀 😀 It was truly an incredible experience to listen to her live. We all need to work together to improve the ratio of women in technology. After that, there were a couple of parties which you could attend only if you had an invitation to one of those. I had one for ‘Women TechMakers'(@WomenTechmakers) party by Google, which was indeed a great party. There was food, drinks, live food counters, games like Jenga, etc., techie stuff like graffiti paint wall(below) and fun people around. It was great to meet new people including Natalie who runs the Women Techmakers(she asked me to drop an email and I still haven’t done that 😛 #lazy) 😉 The party ended at 10 pm and off to the hotel now. The hotel was almost booked for GHC attendees and there as well you could continue the fun if you still had the energy.
Sadly, the last day of the conference had arrived and last day at Houston too. Day started with the keynote followed by sessions here and there, probably the last day to grow your network at GHC15. I attended one of the sessions on ‘Lean In Circles’ which was pretty interactive and some women almost started their first #leanin circle right away in that room. There were a lot of Indian women around but mostly either studying or working in United States but at Systers luncheon, I met another female who traveled all the way from India for the conference. The Career Fair was there on all three days after it started on Day 1 evening but it was time to wrap up the booths by 1430 hrs and then you could just relax or do some more networking or attend talks. Then comes the closing keynote where Telle Whitney(@TelleWhitney) comes up on the stage with a lot of enthusiasm and energizes each one of us. Followed were the words by Isis Anchalee(@isisAnchalee) and others focused on the importance of diversity in technology. There was a special performance from iLuminate, and the closing keynote was no less than a celebration. And here comes the end of the conference but the celebration still goes on! It was a great opportunity to get introduced to ladies associated with different organizations. Later was the party at Minute Maid park, incredible fun that was! Google, Expedia and Microsoft were the main sponsors for the party and they gave away awesome prizes to some whose raffle ticket got lucky(mine wasn’t 😐 ). Inside there were enormous number of glow lights, glow tubes to wrap around yourself, photo booths, games like shuttle board, pool, and even the Jumping castles, bull ride and all the possible crazy stuff. I do not even remember when did I last go on a Jumping castle but at the party all the girls were in there and to admit, I was a party to it too 😛 . Everyone was super crazy on the dance floor, in and around. At a given point of time I was dancing next to Telle Whitney too and I was amazed to see her energy and enthusiasm on the floor, simply loved it! It felt like the only place where girls could dance safely without bothering who else was around 😀 . We continued to be on the floor until our lady DJ stopped the music but we still could manage to convince the security to let her play ‘the last song’ again! And here comes the end of the party and all of us took the shuttle back to our hotels.
The next morning, I departed from Houston! Was missing GHC and all the girls 😦 . My journey in United States still doesn’t end here but the first leg of my trip did.
To be honest, #GHC15 was simply AWESOME and full of great experiences, and not to forget the best after conference party I have ever been to. Thank you!