Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

A Guide to Navigating Grace Hopper

Written from the perspective of a student

This October, thousands of women from around the world will convene in Houston for the largest-ever Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I had the pleasure of attending last year. Here are a series of tips I would have found useful before my first GHC.

Disclaimer: I was a student when I attended. This guide will skew towards that perspective, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t apply to other demographics as well.

Satya Nadella and Maria Klawe at GHC 2014. | Photo courtesy of the Anita Borg Institute.

Pre-Conference

Congrats! You’ve secured a ticket to GHC 2015, which sold out in a record two weeks’ time. What now?

  • Submit your resume to the Grace Hopper resume bank. (See the Recruiting section below.)
  • Plan out your calendar. RSVP to private company events (which you’ll be invited to by submitting your resume to the resume bank). Schedule interviews and informal chats with recruiters that reach out to you. Note the talks that seem most interesting to you.
  • If you are looking for a full time job or a summer internship, print twice as many resumes as you think you’ll need. I recommend nice resume paper, to help you stand out from the other resumes in the pile. Last year, I printed 35 before the event, thinking it would be more than enough. It wasn’t.
  • Print some business cards. I didn’t, but I wish I had. I could have avoided frantically jotting down contact information for people throughout the event! Quantity wise, I’d say bring at least as many cards as resumes.
  • Make sure your suitcase is half empty when you arrive. You’ll be receiving tons of #swag at the event, including (but not limited to) women’s sized t-shirts, zip-up hoodies, portable phone banks, and tote bags. Last year, I had to leave a sad little pile of stuff that I couldn’t bring home in my hotel room.
  • Pack for a casual to business casual environment. I brought a few biz caz dresses because I was interviewing onsite. Casual tops, blazers, and dress pants were prevalent. But I also saw plenty of women in t-shirts, jeans, cardigans, and hoodies. Check out the weather at the conference location to weatherproof yourself when you’re outside. Keep in mind that conference centers tend to be very air-conditioned, so bring layers!

Recruiting*

*If you’re looking for a job.

Many companies recruit very heavily from Grace Hopper. Whether this means having their engineers casually speak to attendees, conducting formal interviews onsite, or collecting resumes in exchange for #swag at their booths, GHC is full of career opportunities. Last year, I interviewed with eight companies onsite. I ended up interning at Google for Summer 2015 as a result of the interviews I completed at Grace Hopper.

If you’re a student seeking a summer internship or full-time employment, chances are you’ll be spending a lot of your time in the career fair. This is an enormous room where all 200+ companies that sponsored GHC will be gathered. Each company will have a booth manned by their recruiters and engineers. This is also where all the #swag is!

Some general notes on navigating the career fair:

  • Approach all the companies you’re interested in, and then some. Not only will you get better at talking about your accomplishments, you may also discover an amazing company you would have otherwise passed over.
  • Plan out your interviews reasonably ahead of time. The room containing the interview booths will be massive, so leave at least half an hour of buffer time in between interviews with different companies. This gives you enough time to clear your head, take a drink of water, and most importantly, find the next interview booth.
  • It tends to get pretty hectic and exhausting, especially after several hours of networking and chatting. Take a break every so often!
  • I prefer going for breadth instead of depth when it comes to talking to companies. In general, I limit the time I spend at any company’s booth to ~5 minutes so that I can reach out to many companies (with exceptions, like if I’m in the middle of a great conversation). That’s enough time to get a contact email, learn briefly about their recruiting process, and drop off your resume. You should follow up with anyone you’re interested in after the conference.

I found interviewing with eight companies at the conference manageable. I know some people who completed more, and some who completed fewer. Most of the interviews were first round interviews, so they involved a mix of behavioural and technical questions. Companies followed up with me after the conference if they wanted to continue the process.

Keep in mind that interviewing and chatting to companies at their booths will eat up a lot of your time and energy at the conference. By the second half of the conference, I was barely going to any talks, and spending all of my time in the career fair.

This year, I’m going to actively limit my time at the career fair so that I can check out the other cool aspects of Grace Hopper.

Relationship Building

Grace Hopper always brings together an incredible community of women, so you should take advantage of it! If you’re travelling with people you’re familiar with, be sure to break apart for at least part of the event. I was lucky in that I was mostly alone during my time there. This forced me to meet new people and hang out with them.

I started meeting people at the Charlotte, North Carolina airport, where I transferred flights to the conference. I saw groups of women at my gate, and guessed that they were all en route to GHC. On arrival, I ended up splitting a cab from the airport to the conference venue with someone I’d just met to pick up our badges. We hit it off, got dinner, and continued to hang out throughout the conference.

Be open to meeting new people, in any situation, throughout the week! I may or may not have knocked on my hotel neighbour’s door one morning, asking to use her shower in lieu of my broken one. She turned out to be a professor at a college in the Midwest, and we ended up chatting about her work in advocating for women in CS, her research, and how Grace Hopper has evolved throughout the years.

Talks

Try to attend a variety of talks — technical and nontechnical. Definitely try to catch all of the keynotes, as those are really memorable and feature highly influential speakers. If two or more talks you’re interested in conflict with one another, try having a friend attend one and you attend another. You’ll be able to compare notes afterwards.

I made the mistake of discounting the non-tech talks last year. I told myself I was going to focus on attending the juicy data science panels, the delicious wearables workshops, and the heavy software engineering talks. Then, on the last day, I serendipitously dropped in on a career talk. It was an awesome, eye-opening decision.

Up until that talk, career-focused talks didn’t seem too relevant to me. I had never worked in the tech industry before, and the troubles that women faced in industry (both self-imposed and exterior) were a very theoretical concept for me.

There, I was presented with hard statistics about women being less likely to advocate for themselves, women being taken less seriously as coworkers, and women being discounted as job candidates by people of both genders. I learned about how an employee who wants to be influential in the workplace often needs to act like a man. I began to see why support for women in tech was so very necessary.

Private Events

Many companies/organizations will host private events during Grace Hopper. Some will be onsite, and some will be a few blocks from the conference venue. Try to attend as many of these as possible! You’ll get invited by recruiters who notice your resume in the resume bank. Or you can troll around on Eventbrite and Facebook Events for open events to drop in on.

Partying partying yeah! | Photo courtesy of the Anita Borg Institute.

These events are really valuable. They vastly increase the network of people you meet, as they’re often purely social in nature. Off the top of my head:

  • Dropbox, Facebook, and Two Sigma had recruiting breakfasts onsite
  • Square, Pinterest, and Ladies Storm Hackathons had evening parties held in nearby local restaurants/bars
  • Google had a rooftop party, complete with hula dancers
  • Yahoo had an onsite evening party where they demoed some of their technologies

If you do the math, this equates to more events at the same time of day than there are days in the conference. Which means that you’ll need to be selective regarding what you attend. Or party hop.

Post-Conference

After cramming all your #swag into your overstuffed suitcase and taking that flight back home, it’s time to follow up with people that you met at the conference. I like to send a few Facebook messages, LinkedIn requests, and emails on the Monday immediately following GHC. In particular:

  • Email the recruiters at companies where you’re interested in pursuing an opportunity.
  • Email/tweet at the awesome people you briefly exchanged business cards with. Even if it’s a brief “Great to meet you” note. I ended up asking a Microsoft engineer I’d clicked with for a mock interview, which she kindly accepted!

By keeping in touch, you ensure that Grace Hopper is so much more than that one-time experience. It becomes your entry point into the women in tech community. And it’s an amazing community!

Let’s Hang Out

If you’re going to be at Grace Hopper this year and want to hang out, tweet @shirlmeow and let’s get talking.