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Attending the Grace Hopper Conference as an industry professional: three tips for engaging with the community

At the end of September, Improbable sent me and five colleagues to Houston, TX to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC). For those of you who may not have heard of GHC, it’s the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, named after the computing pioneer Grace Hopper.

The magnitude of the event is almost too challenging to convey in words to accommodate everyone in a single space, the opening keynote had to be hosted in a multipurpose sports stadium with capacity for 22,000 people. The sheer impact of walking into the room! As my colleague Tamar Loach said, “Grace Hopper isn’t like other technical conferences – 20,000 women in one space make quite an impression. If you ever feel like the only woman in the room, it’s worth seeing this scale.”

This is my third time at the Grace Hopper Celebration. I have attended twice as a student but this year was my first time since entering the world of work. A huge number of companies and organizations attend the event purely to recruit, so as a student networking, job hunting and interviewing can really monopolize your time.

Attending on behalf of a company has been a completely different experience for me.  This year, my organisation, Improbable consciously focused on truly celebrating the women at Improbable and woman technologists more broadly. Rather than treating GHC 2018 solely as a recruiting event, we were encouraged to network, learn and just enjoy ourselves!

Our goal for GHC 2018 was to engage with the community through building relationships, learning from women working on diversity and inclusion initiatives, and to understand the technical challenges and solutions relevant to SpatialOS. This approach made the event incredibly enjoyable and relevant.

From our experiences, we distilled three tips for attending Grace Hopper as a professional working in the industry:

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Our Grace Hopper team.

Mentoring relationships are extremely powerful; offer your time as a mentor to others and seek out mentors

One of my favourite events at GHC 2018 was Speed Mentoring, a session featuring several 15-minute rounds, during which attendees were advised by mentors in their field and/or at their career level. My colleague and I were immediately drawn to a table focused on women in technical roles in the games industry. At this table, we met students studying graphics and technical art, hardware engineers working on VR headsets, backend developers at game studios, and women in leadership roles in the gaming operations of tech giants.

The session offered us an incredible opportunity to both give and receive advice on navigating the games industry and to connect with women from a variety of backgrounds and at different levels. It also introduced a beta version of a new AnitaB.org Mentoring Platform!

Engage with speakers and attendees at talks that interest you!

Given the magnitude of the event, there are talks and session on an unimaginable number of topics—there really is something for everyone! Amongst the Improbable attendees, we went to talks ranging from Launching a Women-in-Tech Employee Resource Group, to Imagining the Future of Sensory VR/AR/MR, to Women in Gaming: From Passion to Profession.

We made a point of asking questions at the talks we attended, which gave us an opportunity to learn more about the speakers and their work, and to begin sharing more about Improbable’s technology and how it relates to the areas that speakers have expertise in. Meandering conversations after an interesting talk also give you an opportunity to engage with other attendees that might have similar questions and interests!

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The conference hall.

Be prepared!

My colleague Inge Terwindt had a few handy tips when it came to GHC, “GHC exceeded all my expectations; the magnitude, the range of interesting talks to attend and being surrounded by so many intelligent and successful women in tech. It was a very inspiring experience but there are a few practical tips that might help your experience be even better!

  1. Bring snacks: There are not many food options around, the lines for any place you can get food are long, and sometimes you don’t have much time between sessions to wait.
  2. Bring a bottle of water: Stay hydrated! Even if you bring an empty bottle, there are plenty of free refilling points.
  3. Pack smart: Although it is warm outside, the venue hall can get chilly so bring something warm as well. The dress code is business casual but I saw most people in jeans and a t-shirt.
  4. Comfortable shoes: The venue is big and the sessions are divided over 3 buildings so you are walking a lot. 

Overall, GHC was a great experience for all of us who attended. Tamar quite nicely summed it  up,

“The importance of diverse representation in technology companies was discussed with nuance, rationality and empathy. The critical point was clear – we need diverse thinking to build technology that serves everyone in society. More than ever, I believe we would create more effective, equitable businesses and products if we found innovative ways to include all voices in the building process – the talks at GHC evidence this.”

I for one am very much looking forward to going to GHC again – and look forward to sharing this experience with more of my colleagues at Improbable in years to come.