What Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration Taught Me

skyscrapers in Houston

I had no idea the Grace Hopper Celebration existed until I saw Abigail talk about it last year on her blog. And I had no idea the scope of it until I showed up to the keynote at the Toyota Center in Houston and they said there were over 20,000 attendees.

Since I am in tech, and I didn’t know what GHC is, I’ll break it down a bit just in case you aren’t sure what it is either!

What is Grace Hopper?

Grace Hopper is a yearly conference put on by AnitaB.org to celebrate women in technology and provide them with more resources to succeed and get careers. Over the course of three days, thousands of women, and men, attend sessions, hear inspiring people speak about their stories in tech, explore the massive company expo, and go to events sponsored by large companies like Google, Twitter, and Snapchat.

I thought it was just a career expo and sessions, so I was pleasantly surprised and empowered to see how scaled up the conference was.

The only reason I was able to attend GHC was because I got a scholarship through AnitaB. I applied back in January and found out in May that I was awarded one! The scholarship paid for my flights, hotel, food, and transportation which was legit. If you want to attend GHC, but don’t have the means to, please apply for a scholarship! I didn’t think I would get one, and neither did a lot of the other scholars I talked to, so you never know!

Day 1

I heard Google was having a breakfast event before the keynote so I walked down to Discovery Green where Google on the Green was happening. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes I finally had two breakfast burritos some fruit and an iced latte. For free. Totally worth the long wait and missing the first half hour of the keynote. Plus, the fact I could say that I attended an event sponsored by Google? How legit is that?

Google on the green free iced latte

I finally headed over to the Toyota Center for the Keynote and got there in time to hear Jessica O. Matthews talk. She was by far the most inspirational person I heard speak, besides Anita Hill, but more on that later. And she jumped rope in heels. And said she aims to be the love child of Beyonce and Bill Nye. And a fun fact about me: I LOVE Bill Nye. And another fun fact: my high school Spanish teacher dated Bill Nye in college and it ended badly.

Wednesday morning, I had actually started my period, and during the keynote, my cramps and nausea got so bad that I left early and skipped every session I signed up to attend that day. I ended up going back to my hotel and drawing the coldest bath ever, holding a cold water bottle on my stomach and watching Shane Dawson’s first part to The Mind of Jake Paul.

Once my cramps subsided a bit, I did some homework and then headed back to the George R. Brown convention center to explore the expo hall. Which was so cool and overwhelming and scary. I was nervous at first to walk up and talk to companies, but after talking to a girl at Squarespace, my confidence boosted and I walked around and talked to two or three other employers on my list and got some cool swag.

downtown Houston mural

The amount of free swag you can get at GHC is insane. I kept it to a minimum because I wasn’t comfortable just taking stuff without talking to people and didn’t know how to talk to most people since my work experience is more front-end web development and most companies were there for software engineering.

Out of place

Speaking of most people looking for software engineers, I definitely felt out of place a lot while I was there. Girls were sharing apps and software they designed and created and all I had was websites I had designed and built. Which I know is an amazing feat in itself, but it just wasn’t what the main focus there was.

So I was battling imposter syndrome my whole time there. I will say I definitely felt better after I met some girls who were also just minoring in computer science and majoring in theater or Japanese or other fields.

Houston skyline from Buffalo Bayou Park

Day 2

I didn’t have any sessions I wanted to attend on Thursday until after 11, so I got up early and went running down to Buffalo Bayou Park and back. Then I threw on an outfit I had not planned to wear, but had to because it was way hotter in Houston than I expected, and headed to the convention center.

On Thursday I went to three of the four sessions I signed up for. Much better than the zero of three from the day before. The sessions I attended were: Tech: More than Coding, Bringing the Personal Back to Branding and Web Accessibility.

The first session was a panel of women in non-traditional tech jobs (non-developers) sharing what they do in tech and how they got there. I highkey related to one of the speakers who said she had no idea what she was doing when she started and still has no idea and is always teaching herself how to run the company she started.

The branding session was just a short little lecture about why you should throw out elevator pitches and instead focus on getting personal with people you want to “network” with. Which I found as nice advice, but hard for me to implement, because you can’t just start a conversation with someone by saying you blog and love reading and why you want to be a developer now can you?

discovery Green

The accessibility session was presented by three women from Google. They all actually looked like recent grads, so seeing such young faces hired at Google, and trusted to run a session at GHC gave me hope for getting somewhere big. Not that I want to work at Google necessarily, just that it’d be pretty dang cool to say so, am I right?

It was in that session thought that I realized I do belong at Grace Hopper

We were instructed to work in groups on fixing accessibility problems on a test site and I was basically leading my whole group and teaching and showing them how things worked and I was so proud. My capstone is actually going to be about creating aesthetically pleasing and accessible websites! My blog is going to be the test subject soooo new things coming soon you guys!!

That night there were a bunch of company-sponsored events as well! The Google and Snapchat events were already over RSVPed, so I made my way over to the one sponsored by Twitter! I got free chips and guac, free hydrogen cherry ice cream, free cocktails, and a free chrome Twitter mug! I was living my best life. But I ended up leaving super early because the dance floor was picking up, and while your girl loves to dance, she felt old and out of place so she dipped and went home to slept.

Day 3

On the last day, I woke up super early, around 6 am, so I could get up and down to the convention center to get a good seat to see Anita Hill speak. Luckily, I had already reserved my seat so I had on guaranteed, but I wanted to make sure I was going to get one close to the stage. I ended up waiting in line from 7:30 to 8:30 and the session didn’t even start until 9 am. Dedication.

Anita Hill at GHC #MeToo

I wanted to attend this session not only because the current Ford and Kavanaugh thing going, but also because the same thing basically happened to Anita decades ago. The name of the session was The Past, Present, and Future of #MeToo. Not only was it empowering to hear her talk, but it felt so cool to be a part of a huge topic taking the country by storm. There were even a few news stations outside the session waiting for us to come out.

I had one last session after that, which was just a short intro for web accessibility. The presenter made me think about accessibility in a different way. One of my favorite things she said was along the lines of you don’t have a disability, the thing you’re trying to access just isn’t accessible. I really liked that new perspective.

After that session, I walked around the expo for a little longer and then went to the Aerie pop-up right outside and skipped the closing Keynote because of that. Lol oops.

So, that was my experience at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration! It was certainly overwhelming at times, but it was really eye-opening to the huge world of women in tech. I left feeling inspired and even more ready for graduate and get a job in the tech field!

Have you ever been to Grace Hopper?

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