Monday, 7 October 2013

Grace Hopper Celebration 2013: It's For Men Too

So, this past weekend I was up in Minneapolis, MN attending my very first professional conference: The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2013. Yes, yes, I know I'm not a woman. It's the celebration of women in computing, not for women in computing. It's totally ok for men to attend.

Nevertheless, I was definitely in the minority. Being a tall, blond haired, blue eyed, Caucasian male made me stand out from the crowd, that's for sure. And you know what? That's not a bad thing. It made me memorable to everyone else attending. I met several people over the course of the conference that recognized me later and came over to say hello, which was very nice because I didn't know anyone there. I came up from school by myself to present at the poster session as part of a group that had never met before, so I felt a little lonely. Not knowing anyone in a crowd of 4,807 can kind of get you down. So whenever someone that I had met previously saw me again and said hi, it picked my spirits up.

A strange modern art picture of a person with various technical icons around.
The poster for this year. Modern, no?
How did I end up at this conference designed for women? Actually, I won a... contest? I guess it was more of a competition. During my research over the summer, a link was sent out to all of the groups to submit our research projects to this conference. I figured, why not?, and wrote up a proposal. It was selected, and I ended up winning an all-expenses-payed trip to Minneapolis. Or at least reimbursed. Anyhow, in exchange for getting to go to the conference for free, I had to bring my research poster explaining the results of my summer research project and attend the poster session from 6:30-9:30pm on Wednesday night, where I would stand by my poster for 3 hours and answer any questions that people might have.

I left school on Tuesday night, and got into Minneapolis late that night. My sister (who lives in town) came and picked me up and took me to my hotel so I could go to bed right away. I had a 7:30 breakfast meeting the next morning so I didn't really get very much sleep that night. Or any of the other nights, really. The breakfast meeting was for all 12 of us students whose research posters were selected, and it was held at the Hilton. It was pretty swanky, if I do say so myself. If I had been on top of things a little more, I could have booked my stay at that hotel, but it was full by the time that I noticed, so, instead, I stayed at a hotel ~5 miles away from the convention center. I was worried about getting there every day, but apparently there were a lot of other people from the conference at the same hotel, so they actually offered a shuttle to and from the convention center every day, which was really nice.

The conference ran from Wednesday to Friday, and I was there for the full day every day. Well, the full day minus the evenings of Thursday and Friday. They were party/dancing events, and I was not really in the mood, so instead I got my sister to pick me up and we had dinner together. It was very nice getting to see her, and seeing her new place was pretty cool too.

But during the days, I was at the convention center, attending every session that I could. There were so many sessions! They had  sessions for mobile development, sessions for the entertainment industry (read: video games), sessions for software engineering practices, sessions for cloud computing... the list goes on and on. There were pretty much 6 hour-long sessions every day, and there was always something interesting being talked about. You usually had to choose between one of eight different sessions that were running simultaneously.

Actually, the conference felt quite a bit more familiar than I was expecting. I may never have been to a professional conference before, but as you may know, I attended RTX this year, and they were shockingly similar to each other. Not just the fact that there were thousands of people milling around, going from session to session or hanging out on the main floor, but the actual feel of the sessions themselves were similar. They had a very informal feel to them, with a couple of people who are passionate about their topic giving the presentation, making jokes, and then having an open mic question time afterwards. Most of the panels at Grace Hopper were more technical than the ones at RTX, but RTX did have one thing up on Grace Hopper: people didn't leave in the middle of the presentation. Now, people did have excuses (like having a job interview), but I still feel like it was really rude to go to the talk, and then just get up and walk out before it's over. The lines to get into the talks was definitely not as long as at RTX though. As in, there were no lines.

They also had a whole bunch of keynote speakers, such as Sheryl Sandberg (the COO of Facebook), Brenda Chapman (the director of Brave), and Maria Klawe (the president of Harvey Mudd College). They were supposed to have Arati Prabhakar (the director of DARPA), but because of the government shutdown she couldn't travel, so they had to scramble last minute to find a replacement for her. They got someone from Texas A&M, who talked about diversity in the workplace.

There was also a career fair running the whole time that I was totally unprepared for. I had no idea that it existed, so I didn't have any copies of my resume or any business cards with me. It's too bad, but I did still wander around and talk to people. Google definitely had the coolest booth. Why is that? It's simple, really. On Wednesday they had a bunch of people out with several pairs of Google Glass for people to try on. If you don't know Google Glass, it's the pair of glasses frames with a computer attached and a tiny screen in front of your eye. And I got to use one. It's so cool! I mean, super awesome! It didn't really feel too unnatural to have a computer sitting on my head (and it felt good to be wearing glasses frames again), but having to almost go cross-eyed to see the screen was a little tiring. I had a bit of a headache when I was done, but it was totally worth it!

A black framed version of Google Glass, with the camera and screen visible.
This is what Google Glass looks like, by the way.
The other thing that Google had was something that they gave out to the people who came to talk to them: a little Lego set of the Android mascot! It's probably my new favourite thing. I put it together last night, and every time that I look over at it standing on my desk, I smile. It's just... fantastic!

The awesome Lego Android mascot posing for the camera with a silly spider watching.
Isn't it so cute! The Android, not the spider, obviously.
Anyhow, that was the highlights of the conference. Some other mundane things happened, but I'm already using way too many words as it is. If I was to rate this conference, I would put it at the "Would Go Again For Free" level. It may have been targeted at women, but that didn't really matter, because all of the talks were just as useful for me as they were for any women attending. I definitely enjoyed myself, although for the next professional conference that I go to, I'll make sure to bring a friend along.

If you want to check the Grace Hopper Celebration out, information can be found here. The Grace Hopper Celebration is run by the Anita Borg Foundation, who you can find out more about here.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog post. It was very useful to learn from your experience since I also want to attend to GHC to learn more about IT and challenges women face in the industry.