It was late June and I was snuggled up under a blanket, watching a 90’s sitcom and eating some Cheetos. In between my lazy haze, I got a new email notification on my laptop. Being used to not receiving many emails over summer, I was surprised to see one from the UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences (C.I.C.S.) with the subject “Grace Hopper Travel Award.” The email included a hearty congratulations and travel details for selected applicants to the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration (G.H.C.) in Orlando, Florida. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to a conference dedicated to promoting diversity, inclusion, and belonging-ness in the technology community. However, as a rising sophomore, I felt unprepared. I felt like I didn’t deserve the chance to attend. I felt like I didn’t belong.
About a couple of weeks after the conference, I now know that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Below are a list of 4 words that describe my experience at the world’s largest gathering of women in computing:
When I met the 9 other grant awardees that I’d be traveling with, I knew that I was in for an amazing trip. I was younger than all of them and each one of them acted as a mentor throughout the conference with their supportive words and guidance. Before the conference, I printed out about 30 resumes, so I was excited to say the least. It was refreshing to see that everyone else was as excited as me too. Although we weren’t enthusiastically bouncing off our seats on the plane to Orlando (most of us were passed out), we all had a certain energy about us, an energy that stemmed from a mix of enthusiasm, gratitude, and fear.
Personally, I was afraid of what to expect. What if the opportunity would be wasted on me?
I was right about one thing: I definitely didn’t know what to expect. G.H.C. had about 25,000 people attend this year. I think that massive numbers didn’t hit me until I saw the registration lines that’d take hours to get through or the auditoriums that were at maximum capacity. It was surreal to be among so many brilliant people, but it was also intimidating to be around so much talent. Adding to the stress, I had several interviews spread out across the 3 days of the conference. While I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to connect with amazing companies, I was also intimidated by the interview process as I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to receive any offers. Towards the end of the conference, I’d realize I was wrong once I received follow-up emails and offers from a few of my dream companies I’d love to work for. Before I got those acceptance emails, however, I sought inspiration from some of the most inspiring people that I had the pleasure of meeting.
Throughout the conference, various seminars and talks were held by Women in Tech across the fields of data science, software engineering, computer networks, and many more. One notable talk was held by Laura Haas, the dean of the UMass Amherst C.I.C.S. Dean Haas presented the CICS Computing for the Common Good mission. I felt grateful to have her as my dean and I felt proud to be a part of a school that strives so strongly for equality. Additionally, I was amazed by how many inspirational women I would randomly bump into at lunch or in a queue. I remember talking to a kind representative from Microsoft, who helped me settle down my nerves and shared her own experience being in the tech industry. It motivated me to see so many women, who were once in my shoes, to rise above their struggles and become sources of inspiration for thousands of young women.
In a good sense, everything felt overwhelming: the kindness, the appreciation, and even the talent. What once intimidated me, now empowered me. It made me proud that there were so many talented people from underrepresented communities in the tech industry. The G.H.C. only felt like a sample of something so much bigger than all of us. That something, dare I say, will someday lead to an industry that leads with equal representation. The experience opened my eyes to the greatness of perseverance and showed me that dreams do come true. I will always be grateful to Erika Dawson Head, Emma Anderson, Brian Krussel, Dean Laura Haas and all of C.I.C.S. for giving me this incredible opportunity.
I can’t wait to go back next year with newly-found confidence and a rejuvenated spirit!