I rolled out of the airplane after it landed in Houston with a bit of hesitance: this was the first time I’d even been in Texas. You hear about the state, about everything it has to offer with its uniquely rich culture, but going there to be enveloped in 30°C humid air, in middle of October (aka midterm season) is another matter! After some bumbling about to find my shuttle check-in, I finally got to sit down and take in my new environment. There I sat watching women of all ages and races streaming out of baggage claim, wearing different T-shirts representing their companies: Twitter, Accenture, Microsoft, WordPress, Google, Snapchat, Twitch, Samsung, Vine, Stanford, Harvard, NASA… It was then and there I knew I was in good company.
This past fall, I was invited to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing (GHC for short) as an undergrad representative alongside two others from the Beedie School of Business. The GHC is a three-day conference designed to be the world’s largest gathering of women technologists for discussion of research and career interests, to introduce opportunities across all levels of industry and academia, and highlight the successes and challenges of women in technology. It is produced by the Anita Borg Institute and presented in partnership with ACM, with sponsorship from the major tech companies. This year, 15,000 attendees (95% women!) arrived from all around the world to Houston, Texas to take part in the conference. I experienced the overwhelming scale of the conference firsthand when I stepped into the Toyota Center to attend the Opening Keynote, including Ginni Rometty, President and CEO of IBM and Latanya Sweeney, Harvard Professor and Founder of the Data Privacy Lab.
Both women passionately introduced the growing roles of data analysis of unstructured data across all industries. Systems that learn and grow with the use of data are bringing innovation to sectors such as healthcare and security. Ginni concluded her personal story by giving three key pieces of advice: Never let someone define who you are, work on challenges bigger than yourself, and growth and comfort don’t co-exist! These words of encouragement and curiosity in the growth of technology are common themes that carried out throughout the conference. After the keynote, I attended the career fair (for the swag and contacts) as well as workshops, informational sessions, and panels that covered topics from emerging trends, innovative proposals, to addressing challenges of women in technology. Presenters ranged from C-suite executives in companies such as Intel, Google and Salesforce to established researchers and employees. Although the contributions of women and other underrepresented groups bring diversity to their companies and drive innovation, there continues to be systematic, cultural, and informal processes in place that detract these groups from gaining greater representation in tech companies: the proportion of women in tech has stubbornly remained at 21 percent for five years running. These are the reasons behind Anita Borg’s Top Companies for Women Technologists program, which utilizes statistical research to recognize companies that create workplaces where women in tech can thrive.
My biggest takeaway is from a panel I attended aptly named “Pursuing a Technical Career without a CS background.” With speakers from Google, Amazon and Facebook, each woman presented how she found her unique value, built upon her education for the job she wanted and learned to be confident in what she could bring to a new team or opportunity. Speaking with one of the presenters after the session, she reassured me that she hadn’t always been so sure of her unique value and being confident in working with others as equals. It was especially inspiring because I saw myself reflected in her struggles, perseverance and joy. I left GHC 2016 feeling invigorated about the future ahead for all women in tech.
This event would not have been possible without the coordination and contributions of the Anita Borg Institute. I’d also like to thank the Beedie School of Business and the Boivie Family Fund for the support I received towards attending this event. Lastly, an especially big thank you to Catherine Boivie, for her generosity in making opportunities like these possible for students in technology.
Margaret Kapitany is a fourth year BBA Honours Candidate concentrating in Management Information Systems and Operations Management, while pursuing both the Business Analytics and Decision Making & Corporate Environment and Social Sustainability certificates. Driven by her enthusiasm and passion for technology, she is currently the President of the SFU Management Information Systems Association, a JDC West competitor on the 2017 Business Technology Team, and a Peer Mentor in the BASS Mentorship Program. Outside of training, meetings, and group projects, Margaret loves listening to podcasts on business & technology and giving back to the Beedie community. Feel free to reach out to her for a coffee chat at firstname.lastname@example.org.