Grace Hopper Celebration: A Celebration of Women in CS

Right now in the United States, only 20% of positions in tech are filled by women and female-identifying individuals. Even at a small school like Williams, where the computer science department is supportive and makes efforts to be inclusive, it’s a rare experience to be surrounded by other women. A friend in the major mentioned to me the disappointment she feels every year as she watches women drop out of CS classes, widening the gap further.

    This week, the department paid for me and 9 other female majors to travel to Orlando to attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. Grace Murray Hopper (yes! we share a name!) is a computer scientist who lived 1906 to 1992. She is considered to be one of the most impactful computer scientists of her era, a time when seeing women in computing roles was even less common than it is today.

    Upwards of 25,000 women flooded to the conference center from Tuesday to Friday in order to interview with tech companies, network with like-minded people, and learn about cutting edge research and advancements in the field. I spent much of my time there walking through the job fair, an unfathomably gigantic room full of company representatives handing out free stickers and water bottles. I started my experience by walking up to the Adobe booth and waiting in line for 20 minutes to talk to a representative. When I finally reached her, I struggled to act poised, confident, and employable. And failed. 

    “I love the creative ethos of your company, and I’m so glad I have the opportunity to talk to you!” I bubbled. She looked at me skeptically. She replied, “So, you just came up here because you like the company?” Shoot. Bad start. I tried to right myself. “Uh. No, no. I’m really interested in working for your company. Here’s my resume. Do you have entry level positions open for the coming year?” She stared at me for a beat before replying, “If you want to know what positions we have open, you know where to find our website.” Right. A swing and a miss. I thanked her for her time and walked away, slightly defeated. What were the other women saying to these representative to keep them engaged? I was clearly missing something.

    Not all companies were like Adobe. Smaller companies who couldn’t afford to have lounges built into their booths or hand out sweatshirts were excited when I came over to chat, and I’m leaving the conference feeling optimistic about hearing back from some of them. The representative from NPR showed me photos on her phone, cracked jokes, and encouraged me to apply because, “[they] need more women in the office.” The bigger companies, like Adobe, StubHub, and Nike, who can afford to turn people away left and right, were clearly looking for women who don’t crack under pressure, who can answer coding questions on the spot without missing a beat, and who can advocate for themselves even in the face of a skeptical and harsh company rep. The way I see it, companies were at the conference for two reasons: 1) To encourage women to enter the tech field, empower them to apply, and make connections. 2) To weed out the weaker programmers and secure the strongest talent for their team. By the end of the conference, I’d learned how to recognize companies in each of these categories on sight, (and also realized which sort of company I want to work at). Both reasons for attending the conference are perfectly legitimate, and both, in their way, empower certain women. Regardless of the challenges that I faced in this situation, I’m leaving the conference feeling like women have a place in tech, and I know I’ll bring that with me as I further my career.