Saturday, October 27, 2012

Are We There Yet? Grace Hopper Conference 2012

I recently attended the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. What an amazing experience! GHC offers a breadth of technical talks, career development, networking, and role models for technical women. This year over 3500 attendees converged onto the Baltimore Convention Center: about half were undergraduate and graduate students in computer science; the rest were tech women from industry and academia.

Are We There Yet? The keynote speaker, Nora Denzel, a tech executive formerly of Intuit, HP, and IBM, delivered an entertaining speech on the conference theme, "Are we there yet?" Her definitive answer was "no": in fact, the fraction of tech jobs held by women has declined to 25%, down from 30% a decade ago. This is a concern because research has shown that more gender diverse teams make better decisions.

Not Your Normal Tech Conference. Unlike many tech conferences, GHC included talks and panels on a breadth of technical topics. Within a three-day period, I attended interesting discussions about data intensive computingagile developmenthackathons, and enterprise social networking. The goal was to share cutting-edge academic research and the latest best practices from industry.

Career Development. Another unique aspect were the panels on career development. Catalyst research firm led a session on "Sponsors or mentors: which will get you there?" The takeaway was that mentoring is essential, but sponsorship is needed for advancement. There were ample opportunities for informal networking; over lunch I learned about Codechix, a community of women developers in the Bay Area who get together for hacking sessions.

Making a Difference. Can one woman or organization make a difference on diversity? The resounding answer at GHC was "yes!" Take for example Harvey Mudd College, a small 750-student engineering college, which this year ranked #1 among schools in GHC attendance, with 58 attending. After intensive efforts in recruiting and retaining female CS majors, Harvey Mudd's fraction of female CS grads jumped from 10% in 2005, to 40% this year.

Don't Just Take my Word. Check out this Storify overview of GHC: (click on "Next Page" to load each day's summary.)

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