“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
“The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “We’ve always done it this way.”
— Both quotes by Grace Hopper
Whenever I stumble through my elevator pitch, there are a number of descriptions I give regarding the work I do.
I call myself “an activist,” “a writer,” “an editor,” “a social media manager,” “a non-profit leader.”
Never have I ever called myself a “woman in tech.” Ever.
So, when my dear, longtime friend, Kety Esquivel, contacted me and invited me to attend the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando, I felt that overwhelming sense of insecurity and inadequacy you often feel when you’re asked to do something that’s outside of your comfort zone.
WIth my dear friend Kety Esquivel of AnitaB.org, who I’ve been blessed to know for almost a decade!
Thanks to Kety and her colleague, Charlene, I was able to attend Grace Hopper Celebration for the first– but hopefully not the last– time!
With Charlene Gage of Hotwire Communications!
I didn’t know anything about the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), much less that it was taking place in Orlando this year. Of course, like any good Millennial, I immediately took to Google to find out more.
The Grace Hopper Celebration is an annual event, and it is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists with 25,000 women technologists in attendance this year. Now, that alone was enough to intimidate me. Sure, I know the basics of working with WordPress, and I certainly have come a long way in using social media for social good through my work as a volunteer non-profit leader of The Laurita Spina Bifida Project.
Hanging out at #GHC19 with my friend Betty!
But, truth be told, the idea of attending a conference designed for women working in technology scared the crap out of me. Other than searching for and copy-pasting a few pieces of code now and then whenever I needed to troubleshoot a Web site issue, I am not a “coder.” I am not a “programmer.” I am not an “engineer.” I have never built a robot or a machine or a sustainable solution for anything.
I thought, surely girls and women at this event will look down on me for my lack of tech-savvy.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I enjoyed an up-close look at one of the most inspiring and exciting events I’ve attended. I got to meet and mingle with people from all over the planet who are using technology to change our world for the better. Many are working at some of the most coveted workplaces in the tech industry, such as Google and Microsoft. Others are recent graduates looking for their first post-college job in a field they are passionate about.
While I did much more networking and playing in the Career Fair & Expo (yes) than attend the actual sessions, I’d like to share some of the moments from #GHC19 that stood out to me and resonated with my “inner geek.”
- Interactive fun, and inspiring exhibits
- Cigna – Coffee and cookies with your image
Come on, you all know I can’t resist some cookies and cafecito! One of the coolest things at the expo was Cigna’s “Edible Selfie” exhibit. During different times of the day, you could get either a cookie or an iced coffee with your picture on it! Who doesn’t want to devour a cookie with your own likeness on it?
- Google exhibit – Google had the cutest, most Instagrammable exhibit space I’ve seen! I could have played there forever, and I probably did. Also, their #BuildForEveryone slogan is something I could totally get on board with!
- Disney exhibit including images of badass women leaders
One of the biggest challenges facing women technologists is that they often don’t see many fellow women they can look up to in their fields. In that respect, the Disney exhibit space did a fabulous job honoring some of the most iconic and inspiring women in STEM, including Katherine Johnson, and some badass female Disney characters, like Princess Leia, Captain Marvel, Moana, and Princess Jasmine!
- A focus on social good, philanthropy, and using tech for the greater good
- #WeWill hashtag and posts
Attendees were encouraged to post to Twitter using the hashtag #WeWill and completing the phrase.
— Laurita Tellado (@LauritaTellado) October 4, 2019
And the Grace Hopper Celebration official Twitter account responded with the following:
— Grace Hopper (GHC) (@ghc) October 4, 2019
It felt amazing to see that validation via social media of how important representation is in all tech industries.
- Abie Award winners: Some of the most electrifying speeches were given by recipients of the Abie Awards. These awards were given in recognition of women technologists and those who support women in tech, and they included the Technology Entrepreneurship, Emerging Leader, and Change Agent Awards.
- The recipients of the Abie Awards invariably shared stories of oppression from early on in their careers, revealing that had been told “no” many times, that they couldn’t do what they wanted to do. Needless to say, they persevered. Click on their names to read more about these fierce leaders:
Dr. Fei-Fei Li – Technical Leadership Abie Award
Jhillika Kumar – Student of Vision Abie Award
Dr. Natalya Bailey – Emerging Technologist Abie Award
Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam – Social Impact Abie Award
Yamilée Toussaint Beach – Educational Innovation Abie Award
Dr. Fei-Fei Li speaks upon receiving the Technical Leadership Abie Award.
- Emphasis on empowering minority girls and women in tech fields
- Across the board, minority girls and women were represented and featured prominently, including during the keynote speeches.
- One of the highlights of #GHC19 for me was seeing my longtime friend, Keynote Speaker Ana Roca-Castro, and spending some quality time with her!
Ana Roca-Castro addresses attendees during her “Meet the Keynote Speaker” session.
It was wonderful catching up with Ana over lunch!
One of the most refreshing things about the Grace Hopper Celebration involves that all-too-familiar buzzword– diversity. It was one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse events I’ve ever attended!
- Meeting incredible people who are passionate about diversity and inclusion
I met some amazing, compassionate, and über-intelligent women who inspired me with their passion for diversity in tech! Facebook, the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, and Prudential are just some of the entities that sent wonderful people to #GHC19!
- “Silent Disco” installation during the closing party
There’s nothing more polarizing than people’s taste in music! We can agree to disagree on many topics, but when it comes to hitting the dance floor, we’re often divided on our favorite songs to cut loose to. I was beyond amazed at many aspects of the closing party, which was an overload for all the senses with sights, sounds, and tastes that seemed like several parties rolled into one!
But hands-down, my favorite part of the night happened when I entered the “silent disco.” It was an area where you were handed your own headphones and there were three different DJs spinning music. There were three “stations” you could tune into using the headphones, so essentially everyone was dancing to the beat of their own music! The reaction in there was insane, and I’ve never felt a euphoria quite like it. There was something so liberating about putting on those headphones and singing at top volume to a song in my head without knowing if others were listening to it, too, or if I was even on-key. The implications for this technology seem endless to me, but when all was said and done, I felt a great sense of inclusion during that experience.
With Jeanette Plascencia of AnitaB.org at the closing party!
- Dr. Vivienne Ming’s keynote speech
— Catherine Meyers (@ccmeyers324) October 4, 2019
I am choosing to end this recap with one of the biggest highlights for me– hearing Dr. Vivienne Ming’s keynote on the last day. I hadn’t heard of her before, but she is definitely a badass. She’s a theoretical neuroscientist, an expert on artificial intelligence, and has used her expertise to do so many remarkable things, including using AI to create a system that would allow her to monitor her son’s diabetes and using technology to reunite orphaned refugee children with extended family members. She is also an out trans woman and has given a TEDx talk about her struggles with homelessness and coming out:
She is one of the most amazing women I have ever encountered. She even responded immediately to a Tweet and follow-up message I sent her! I may have geeked out. Dr. Ming is incredibly passionate about using technology to find solutions for the world’s most pressing problems. I, for one, cannot wait to see what she does next.
Dr. Ming said in her keynote, “If you want to have a great life, give it to someone else.” I can think of no better way to summarize the abundance of potential and inspiration found at the Grace Hopper Celebration 2019, where so many women in tech from different backgrounds have chosen to use their skills in technology to make a lasting impact on the world– and to give future technologists a platform to build solutions for tomorrow.