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The Grace Hopper Celebration is the the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. This year’s conference was big, 20,000+ big, almost filling Houston’s Toyota Center for the keynotes. The sight of so many women gathered to celebrate and promote participation and leadership in technology underscored this year’s theme: “We are here!”

After my first Grace Hopper Celebration in 2016, I wrote about meeting other like-minded women on the plane, and this year was no different. The fun started as soon as we boarded the flight to Houston — all around me, women were eagerly discussing the conference. A lucky member of the U.S. Coast Guard sat between me and a young college student from Indiana; by the end of the flight, that student had him coding in LightBot! I also met a young woman who’s attending business school at Willam and Mary, my alma mater, and several other women around me were mentoring college students on how to work the recruiting floor.

Leaders, educators, innovators

Crowd at Grace Hopper Celebration

The women who presented the keynotes and sessions were each leaders in their fields, and the stories they told were truly inspirational. Whether talking about professional methods for success or personal challenges that they have overcome, these women made it clear: not only are we here, we’re leading the way.

Day 1: Building the future with smart cars and kinetic energy devices

Padmasree Warrior is the CEO of NIO US, a Chinese automobile manufacturer specializing in safe electric autonomous vehicles. Padmasree spoke about how cars are the next big compute platform: we soon will be connecting our cars in smarter ways to improve transportation and energy consumption. She urged us to take charge of our careers — they need to be self-driving too. We need to not just walk through doors, but to “create the door.” She also talked about the changing role of female leaders, looking to a future where we can be our authentic selves at work and build our community, share experiences, and start movements.

Jessie O. Matthews founded Uncharted Power, a Harlem-based company that develops kinetic energy solutions, when she was just 22 years old. She was first inspired to create the SOCCKET, a kinetic energy soccer ball, when visiting her cousins in Nigeria. She also demonstrated her company’s jump-rope-powered lamps, doing an impressive routine in 4-inch heels! Jessie had the audience laughing as she described herself as the “love-child of Beyonce and Bill Nye the Science Guy.” She went on to talk about the unique perspective that women bring to the technology industry and how they tend to develop more supportive, collaborative technologies. She also pushed us to bring our authentic selves to work — “no code switching here” — and talked about how flying under the radar can be a superpower (“I’m coming for you, Elon!”). I had the pleasure of meeting Jessie later in the conference, and along with the amazing Libby Ingrassia, who runs our IBM Champions program, had the chance to talk to her about IBM’s Call for Code project.

Day 2: Senior Women’s Forum

On the second day of the conference, I was honored to be included in the Senior Women’s Forum, a gathering of female leaders who are at management level and above. The afternoon started with a workshop where we built our own brand statement and learned how a personal brand evolves as you move from individual contributor to management and on to senior leadership. (Incidentally, I started the day with a brand of “I get sh*t done,” but refined it to “I radically change cultures.”) We also heard from many CEOs and entrepreneurs about how to take up space and own the room. I collected some nuggets:

  • Don’t wait for the recognition fairy.
  • Work less — step away from the day-to-day to make your personal brand visible.
  • Speak with authority – prep for meetings and insist on objective criteria for decisions.
  • Meet a diminishing question with a pointed question.
  • Use strategic silence to get your point across. Don’t take it upon yourself to keep up a conversation flow.
  • Be an L3 change agent — help other women, who in turn will help other women.

Day 3: Anita Hill on the past, present, and future of #MeToo

The highlight of day 3 for me was listening to Dr. Anita Hill talk about the #MeToo movement and her reaction to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — talk about timely! I’m so grateful that the Grace Hopper Celebration had the foresight to provide a live stream of her talk. Dr. Hill talked openly about her experience in testifying in 1991 about Clarence Thomas’s nomination for the United States Supreme Court. She felt that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford “came forward when she needed to, when the country needed her.” She also talked about the need to focus on the “human element” in situations of sexual harassment and assault, that we must consider women’s experience over procedural rules. She was struck by “how far we have to go to be able to be our authentic selves when we tell our stories,” both in personal situations and at work. It was her view that as women, we are forced to represent a “tradition that doesn’t reflect who we are.”

Anita Hill at Grace Hopper Celebration

While Dr. Hill fully expected Judge Kavanaugh to be confirmed, she looked to private corporations to pick up the slack where Congress isn’t acting. She urged companies to create safe, inclusive environments where all workers can thrive in their jobs, a value that IBM has always held dear. She also advised feminists to not despair, to “take a pause” when needed but to then come back, because the work of increased inclusion is so important to our products and our communities.

IBM at Grace Hopper

Our IBM presence was felt strongly over the three days of the Grace Hopper Celebration. We had 180 IBM attendees who spent their time leading sessions, recruiting at our booth, talking about Call for Code, and running technology showcases.

Recruiting

This year I had the pleasure of working at the IBM recruitment booth, meeting amazing job candidates and demoing our IBM technology. We connected with women about careers in data science, machine learning, full stack, design, research, and other technologies. After three days of talking with hundreds of young women, I can assure you that the pipeline is strong. If you aren’t hiring women, you aren’t looking hard enough — the talent is there.

And here’s “exhibit A” for that talent: the swag battle at Grace Hopper is fierce! The competition on the show floor was incredible this year, from drawing your picture on cappuccino foam, to having your photo taken with Disney characters, to interacting with virtual reality programs. Here’s a snapshot of my outstanding swag collection:

Photo of conference swag

Technology showcase

I finally got to meet the model of a 50-qubit IBM Q quantum computing system! Isn’t it lovely? (Most of the copper area you see in the photo is actually a cooling system.) IBM is a leader in quantum computing and has several running devices and a simulator available for use through the cloud. IBMers demonstrated how to use Jupyter Notebooks and Qiskit, a Python-based quantum programming framework, to program a real quantum computer live. The interactive demo showed how to run Grover’s Search algorithm on IBM Q.

The author with IBM Q quantum computer

Call for Code

For me, the best part of this year’s conference was talking to so many people about Call for Code, IBM’s global virtual hackathon that just wrapped up for 2018. Eyes would light up when I described the incredible innovations we’re seeing in applications around disaster preparedness and recovery. I had great converstions on Call for Code with young women from Florida International University at Major League Hack’s meetup; I spoke with Megan Smith, the first female United States Chief Technology Officer under President Obama; and as mentioned, I had an excellent discussion with Jessie O. Matthews. In addition, one of our developer advocates, Jody Burks, spoke at the OpenStack lab, which used Call for Code as their theme for their WordPress sites. IBM will announce a new challenge for social good early next year; please join our IBM Coder program to make sure you’re on the inside track for all the exciting new challenges.

Come work with us!

We want you to work with us! Whether you’re looking for an internship, an early professional career, or a “returnship,” we’d love to hear from you. Here’s our team at Grace Hopper — you won’t meet a more talented and welcoming group of professional women anywhere.

Photo of the IBM team at GHC18

Join our exclusive IBM Talent Community to help prepare you for the best start to your career. You will receive information from IBM regarding up-skilling opportunities, interview process tips and tricks, and stories from successful IBMers currently working in your field. We’ll match your skills and interests to roles that are ideal for you, giving you exclusive access to our latest job opportunities.

Finally, if you missed the Grace Hopper Celebration this year … don’t let it happen again! It’s by far the best career fair, technical conference, and networking event that I’ve ever attended. I’m including the closing keynote below — I hope it inspires you as much as it did me. After that, check out the resources at the bottom of the page, embrace and build on your own talents, and make plans to attend the next Grace Hopper Celebration.

I’ll see you in Orlando in 2019!

Resources