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Presenting at Grace Hopper 2016

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to reach one of my recent life goals: presenting at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. For those of you who don’t know, this is the largest women in technology conference in the world. Grace Hopper was an inspiring woman. She was a US Navy Rear Admiral, and she invented the first compiler for computer programming. Perhaps this is part of the reason why I hold the conference in such high regard. As a passionate woman in technology, I have wanted to present at Grace Hopper from the time I first learned about it. I applied last year, and received some excellent critical feedback. I took that to heart when I applied again this year, and was both excited and terrified to learn that my abstract had been accepted for a 20-minute presentation! Excited because, holy wow, I was going to conquer my dream. Terrified, because I hadn’t previously attended the conference, and I had no idea what the expectations were for a talk like mine. As a result, I was left with the high pedestal upon which I held the conference, combined with the impostor syndrome that myself, along with many women, often feel in times of uncertainty. I want to share my experience preparing for the conference because most people at Grace Hopper only saw the final product, my presentation on stage. I want those people to know the feelings, emotions, and process that I went through to get there.

Grace Hopper 2016 happened at a time in my life when I was fairly over-committed. When I told friends and coworkers that I was stressed about my presentation, they all assumed it was because I was nervous to speak publicly in front of a large crowd. On the contrary, I really enjoy public speaking. My stress came from the high regard in which I held the conference, and doubt as to whether I could live up to the standard it deserved. I was feeling impostor syndrome. I had only officially been in product for 1.5 years, and here I was, supposedly an expert in product management, teaching a crowd of industry professionals about everything I know. I wasn’t sure if I deserved to be there, and I was worried everyone would see through my presentation to the impostor I really was.

It’s common that women, especially high-achieving ones, are their own greatest self critics. We usually gain our validation extrinsically, rather than having it come intrinsically. I am ever grateful to have an incredible fiancé who supports me when I start thinking ridiculous thoughts like the ones I have written above. I am also working on squashing them faster on my own, and replacing them with positive thoughts. I am sharing these thoughts with you because I’m sure many of you have had them yourself at one time or another; we simply don’t talk about it very often. I will also share the thoughts that should have been going through my ahead, and eventually did, as I gained the confidence I should have had from the start:

Even if I have only been a product manager for 1.5 years, I have many more years of industry experience leading up to this role. Those years taught me skills that are equally applicable to product management, allowing me to be successful in a new role and industry very quickly. Second, the conference judges accepted my talk. They decided that my topic was worthy, and I should have faith in that judgment. Finally, the experience I have gained in the past 1.5 years is incredibly valuable, and is not something that many people have had exposure to. This experience is worth sharing, so others can learn from my mistakes and the best practices I have developed over the months. I am truly grateful to Twitch, for giving me the opportunity to work in such a rapidly growing environment and witness the fascinating conversion of a startup transforming into a large-scale company. Most companies are not undergoing this surge of growth, and therefore don’t have this kind of insight. I should pay it forward and share what we have learned with others, so they don’t have to thrash until they learn the lessons we did.

The hardest part about preparing my talk for Grace Hopper was the content. There were two main points that I kept refining:

  1. Making sure the talk was technical and had valuable takeaways for the audience to learn from
  2. Framing the talk in a clear way for someone who wasn’t already very familiar with the topic
Meeting some awesome women!

In the end, through my fear of being under-qualified, I almost certainly over-prepared for my talk, but I have no regrets. Based on some of the conversations I had afterward, it seems I was able to clearly deliver my takeaway messages, and the audience gained relevant and useful knowledge. To be honest, the talk felt great. I was beaming for the rest of the day. After the presentation, I was able to connect with many women who had some excellent follow-up questions. We ended up conversing for over an hour, and I even had someone ask me to mentor them, a relationship I can’t wait to begin!

They say the first time is always the hardest, because you don’t know what to expect. That was certainly the case for me. The challenge of overcoming my internal turmoil was far greater than the actual hard work and achievements that went into being qualified to give this talk. The emotions I felt afterward and the new connections I have formed as a result are what I will remember in the long run. I will continue to apply to speak next year, to Grace Hopper and other conferences as well. And I will be grateful for any further opportunities to help others overcome the same challenges that I have. I hope this post inspires YOU to apply to your dream conference! If you have any hesitations, please reach out; I am happy to help run through ideas or provide support!

Until next time, Grace Hopper!

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