On October 13-17, the atmosphere at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas was electric with 12,000 women in tech from all around the world attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), the world's largest gathering for women in computing. GHC is presented by the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) for Women and Technology, which was founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994 to bring together research and career interests of women in computing and encourage the participation of women in computing. The incredible progress of GHC went from 500 women in technology at 1994 to 12,000 women this year.
I was humbled to receive a scholarship from the ABI to attend GHC 2015. I also was thrilled twice before to attend the GHC 2013 in Minnesota and GHC 2014 in Phoenix. This year, I represented the Computer Science department at Old Dominion University, the ArabWIC organization, as a member of the leadership committee and as a mentor in the academic mentoring sessions, and the ABI organization, in which I volunteered for blogging and taking notes from GHC. You can visit the Grace Hopper Celebration 2015 wiki page for reading more about the sessions note updates.
The conference was filled with exciting lineup of inspiring speakers, panels, sessions and workshops. There were multiple technical tracks: career, emerging tech, general sessions, open source, organizational transformation, and technology (e.g., data science, artificial intelligence, HCI, security, software engineering). Conference presenters represented many different fields, such as academia, industry, and government. The non-profit organization "Computing Research Association Committee on Women in Computing (CRA-W)", also offered sessions targeted towards academics and business. I had a chance to attend Graduate Cohort Workshop in 2013, which was held in Boston, MA, and created a blog post about it.
Susan Wojcicki (the CEO of YouTube), Megan Smith (the first female CTO of the United States), and Sheryl Sandberg (the CEO of Facebook), Manuela M. Veloso (Professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University), Clara Shih (CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social), Hilary Mason (the Founder of Fast Forward Labs). At the end, Whitney introduced Alex Wolf, the President of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and a professor in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, UK, for opening remarks.
As the day progressed, the Open Source Day sessions and presentations were talking place. Open Source Day: Code-a-thon for Humanity gives women from around the world the chance to learn how to contribute to the open source community, regardless of their skill or experience level through developing a variety of humanitarian projects. The Open Source Day 2015 page contains more details about the projects.
Foursquare, an app from New York city company collect data and based on this data, the app provides recommendations of the places to go around a user's current location and Dark Sky app, which predicts when it will rain or snow. Dark Sky app was built on the top of government weather data. It may be not interesting for a Californian, but it is interesting for the rest of people :-).
At the second part of the talk, she talked about her company, Fast Forward labs, which started in 2014, to introduce a new method for applied research. They focus on innovation opportunities through data and algorithms. FF sits in the middle of three communities: established companies, startups, and academic research. What makes a machine intelligence technology interesting?
- A theoretical breakthrough
- A change of economics
- A capability becomes a commodity (ex: Hadoop)
- a) Wikipedia: new data is available b) data is made useful
Mason ended her talk with thanking everyone who helped her, then she gave the audience a piece of advice: "If you are at the beginning of your career and you are thinking of where you might end up, you need to know that my first GHC was in 2002, and I was a shy quiet student who mostly sit in the back in every talk and shy to ask a question. But it is amazing to be in this room today with so many people who have affected my career".
At the end of the keynote, the 2015 Technical Leadership ABIE Award was given to Lydia E. Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and professor of Bioengineering at Rice University.
|The panel of Global Women Technical Leaders Program|
|A panel by directors from Apple in the scholars lunch|
- Be around as much as you can, the more you get around the more opportunities you will find.
- Find you passion, so you can solve problems.
- Go out and solve problems that freaks you out.
After lunch I had to work on some stuff for the ABI blogging and social media activities. I also communicated with many amazing women during the conference.
The Wednesday Afternoon Plenary: We had three TED style talks on "Transforming the Culture of Tech" by Clara Shih, the CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social, Blake Irving, the CEO and Board Director of GoDaddy, and the amazing Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the United States of America.
|The afternoon plenary speakers|
Blake Irving talked about how he closed the gender gap at the company since he took over as CEO two years ago and mentioned the solid progress in the ratio of women in GoDaddy. Since last year's GHC, GoDaddy has more than doubled the number of women interns and graduate hires. Blake talked about payment equality and showed many graphs based on data of GoDaddy. "If you are a leader of tech company, be vulnerable again and again. Do not hide your problems. Go public with your diversity statistics, publish your salary. Seek change from the top and bottom. Do the research, find your issues. Surround yourself with people that will challenge you," Blake said, "bad things live in the dark, bad things die in the light."
|Megan Smith with the President tech team showing|
the Declaration of Sentiments
|GHC archive that was found in the previous Thanksgiving|
At the end, Smith talked about Declaration of Sentiments, a document signed by 103 of people in 1848 (68 women and 32 men) at the first women's rights convention to be organized by women in Seneca Falls, New York. The document is missing and they are looking for it with many archivist using the #FindTheSentiments.
There was a short discussion at the end with the three speakers about why changing is hard and what strategies are working for them.Hey, @MissedinHistory - we're on a mission to #FindTheSentiments. Want to help? https://t.co/NJ58avv3le pic.twitter.com/Yr56mEDPXb— Megan Smith (@USCTO) October 15, 2015
Thomson Reuters, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, etc., were there for hiring talented woman in tech as much as they can, and the community fair, which is a dedicated with in the Expo for attendees to interact with GHC communities, such as the BlackWIC and ArabWIC. The ABI booth was at the center of the Community Fair, where I met the amazing Telle Whitney and talked to her many times. The career fair was the place for anyone who wants to apply for job opportunities at all levels across industry and academia. Each company in the career fair has many representatives to discuss the different opportunities they have for women. A few men also attended the conference. The companies were very creative in advertising themselves.
|Megan Smith at ArabWIC booth in the community fair|
The amazing Megan Smith passed by ABI community booths and stopped by the ArabWIC booth. We had a great chance to talk to her personally and take a look at the Declaration of Sentiments closely. She left us with encouragement and inspiration for leading communities and attract more women in tech!
At the end of the first day, I attended the ArabWIC reception, which was sponsored by the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI). We had many new Arab ladies in computing and non-Arab women as well. We exchanged our bios and how each one of us is contributing to serve the women in technology.
Our amazing community of inspiring, beautiful, hard working & leading women #ArabWIC #GHC15 #OurTimeToLead pic.twitter.com/8FeDX5eWlz— Arab Women in CS (@ArabWIC) October 15, 2015
|The Hour of Code|
Maria Celeste Medina from Kenya and Mai Abualkas Temraz from Palestine were announced. The Award winners gave short inspiring talks about their journey to lead women in technology and how they started.
teaser of the Codegirl movie, directed by Lesley Chilcott, the Oscar winning film producer.
She talked about balance between family and work. She had her baby 5 months after she joined Google. The constraints of family (for example, how it is tough for kids to be the last one who are picked up from day care) enabled her to develop a work style that focus on efficiency, productivity, prioritization, and to do that at the office hours. She mentioned a Harvard study that shows that employees who take breaks from work have higher level of focus compared to those who do not. Furthermore, employees who feel encouragement by their bosses to take breaks are 100% more loyal to their employers.
Susan Wojcicki is the first one to take maternity leave in Google, and she the only person to take five maternity leaves at Google. Interestingly, each leave enriched her life and left her with peace of mind and gave her a chance to reflect on her career. A generous maternity leave increases retention. When women are given short maternity leave and they are under the pressure of having a call, they quit. When Google increased its paid family leave from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which mothers quit fell by 50%. 88% of women in USA are not given family leave. Susan said, "men don't get asked how they balance it all". Susan's daughter now loves computer science. She enrolled her in a computer camp that are for girls, afterward she sketched a computer watch that has her friends contacts and info, before Samsung and Apple came up with their watches.
At the end, Susan insisted that we have to make it our personal responsibility to show the next generation of girls that they belong to the world of computer science.
Advice from Susan:
- We need to give everyone a chance to understand computer science.
- Make computer science available to everyone in the USA by making it mandatory.
- Focus on working smart. Work smart, work hard. Do a great job, but then GO home.
- Keep asking, look out for yourself, be an advocate and do not feel guilty about it!
- For tech companies, you need to help employees to find balance between work and family.
- Tech companies need to pay generous maternity leave.
- A step back helps sometime.
- If you work for a company and you feel you can not work a balanced day and the maternity leave is bad, I recommend that you leave and search for a supportive company and by the way, we are hiring!
The Thursday Afternoon Plenary: Thursday Afternoon Plenary was a conversation between Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO and and author of best-selling book Lean In and Nora Danzel, Board Director of Ericsson, AMD, and Outerwall (makers of Redbox, Coinstar and ecoATM) about "What it means to be an effective leader and why it is so important to have women at the table to create technology". Sheryl shared her story about being a keynote speaker in GHC. The conversation handled gender diversity in technology and the pay gap. Sandberg asked the audience to negotiate regarding to payment equality. She talked about Lean In book and Lean In circles and how mentoring is important. She advised the audience to join Lean In circles. Sandberg said, "Starting a Lean In circle is a great leadership opportunity". To read more about the conversation, here is a nice article:
Sandberg: Tech offers the best jobs, needs more women voices, and women need to stick with it
I attended the "Change Agent and Social Impact Awards” session by the ABI award winners: Michal Segalov of Mind the Gap, Maria Celeste Medina of Ada IT, Daniel Raijman of Mind the Gap, Mai Abualkas Temraz of Gaza Sky Geeks.
The moderator had a conversation with the ABI award winners to draw out their stories. The winners talked about the turning points in their life and what continues to motivate them to make a difference. The moderator asked the panelists about the challenges they faced, the turning points in life, and what motivates them.
Daniel said they started Mind The Gap 8 years ago to expose many girls to computer science. They have interacted with 10,000 girls. Mind The Gap expanded globally and is now in its 8th year, with more than 10,000 participants to date.
Michal said that they cared the most about making Mind The Gap scalable. Mind The Gap offers the people to choose how to give/volunteer. For example, some people can provide tech classes, some other can give talk, etc. They had about 100 people volunteered and each volunteer only give one hour of their time per month, so that makes it easy for the people and encourage them to volunteer. Michel advice was to be open to changing things, yourself, and your passion.
María mentioned that her mom encouraged her and support her the most. In one year, Maria has worked with the Programá Tu Futuro team and has initiated more than 6,000 people in coding: kids, adults, teenagers and senior citizens (of which 30% are women). She said that there is also of studies to how to empower woman.
Mai from Gaza was talking over Skype because she could not attend for political reasons. Mai was asked for some fun facts, but she said that she is not in a good status because she could not make it the conference, which made it hard to mention fun facts. In 2014, she became a TechWomen Emerging Leader. She also encouraged everyone to help and support them, and also keep inviting them, so may be in one day they will be able to attend. Mai said they face a lot of challenges in Gaza, but she like to call them opportunities to learn and get more powerful in solving problems they face. At the end, Mai said, I’m kept motivated by events like this where I’m exposed to the global women’s tech community. My goal here is to bring back as much of your energy as I can to Gaza. You can come mentor in Gaza. She mentioned many examples for people who went to Gaza before for mentoring: Angie Chang, the founder of Women 2.0, Dave McClure, the Founder of 500 Startups, and many others. "Don’t worry, it’s safe," Mai Said "or you can mentor women in Gaza remotely." Mai is a member of ArabWIC as well.
Thursday speed mentoring sessions took place during the lunch table on Thursday and Friday. I joined mentoring discussions around academic careers. It was useful to hear from many senior women in academia about their career journey and also hear some questions about applying in academia.
At the career fair, I was lucky to meet Sinead Borgersen, a Principal HR Business Partner at CA Technologies and Dr. Michele Weigle's friend. We had a quick discussion about the careers in CA Technologies and how they will fit with my interest. Siena is an amazing lady who is full of enthusiasm.
At the end of the keynote, there were announcements about the Grace Hopper 2016. The GHC 2016 will take place in Houston, Texas. The general program co-chairs for GHC 2016 will be Kaoutar El Maghraoui, from IBM Research and the ArabWIC and Maria Gini from University of Minnesota. I spent most of the time on Friday at the career fair, then I attended the mentoring session on ArabWIC lunch table and met many women in computing from different fields.
The Friday Afternoon Plenary: The day wrapped up with an afternoon plenary session focused on the importance on diversity in technology by Janet George, Chief Data Scientist for Big Data/Data Science and Cognitive Computing at SanDisk, Isis Anchalee, Platform Engineer at OneLogin, Miral Kotb, Director, Producer, Choreographer and Playwright for iLuminate.
I couldn’t attend the afternoon keynote, but I heard from many friends about iLuminate, which is a wearable lighting system that enables novel dance act, performance, in which the audiences were treated with at the end of the conference. For more about the afternoon plenary, here are nice wrap ups for the three talks:
- GHC15: Friday Afternoon Plenary
- Janet George, Isis Anchalee and Miral Kotb Headline Session on Diversity for Technical Innovation at Grace Hopper Celebration 2015
It was fascinating to be in GHC 2015 to hear from the most talented and inspiring women in technology and get advice from them. Furthermore, spending the best time with many awesome ladies and get back with many friends who support each other. I also was glad to be involved in many activities this year for the ABI community and the ArabWIC.