Largest ever Grace Hopper Celebration brings tech women together "across boundaries"
Networking is the heart of Hopper, and it went on everywhere
Attendees from twenty-nine countries turned out at the end of September for the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), held in Atlanta, GA. GHC is the signature event of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI), which provides resources and programs to help industry, academia and government recruit, retain and develop women leaders in high tech. ABI programs help women in technology come together to create a community and share experiences, and the group provides tools to help them develop their careers. D/C has been an ABI media sponsor for several years.
Total attendance of 2,147 topped any previous Grace Hopper gathering. "We had decided to close at 2,000," says Jerri Barrett, ABI VP and marketing director, "and people were calling up after that and begging us to let them register." One university group, whose funding came through too late to meet the registry deadline, promised not to "eat or drink anything" if they could just attend, Barrett reports. (The group was allowed to register, and they got to eat, too).
This very creditable attendance spike topped the previous year by several hundred. It has led ABI to schedule the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration, slated for Portland, OR, at a convention center rather than the hotels and resorts that have been used up to now.
ABI is a participant in TechWomen, a new initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. ABI's involvement, announced at the conference, underscored this year's theme of "collaborating across boundaries."
TechWomen will involve women in technical fields from the Middle East and North Africa in a professional mentorship and exchange program with Silicon Valley technology companies. The program plans to identify thirty-eight women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-two who are emerging leaders in technical fields in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, then bring them to the U.S. for intensive residencies at companies including Google, Facebook, CA Technologies, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo, Catapult Design, Hewlett-Packard Laboratories and BASIC, the Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium of more than twenty institutions including Lawrence Livermore National Lab, SRI International, Agilent Technologies, Symantec and Sandia National Labs. The Anita Borg Institute will provide scholarships to allow several of the women to attend the 2011 Grace Hopper.
"The Anita Borg Institute is proud to be part of this crucial global initiative," says Jody Mahoney, ABI's VP of corporate partnerships. "We're creating a global exchange of ideas, relationships and technologies through mentoring opportunities with our industry partners."
Panels, discussions and networking
Networking is the core of the GHC experience, and there are plenty of chances to do it over meals and at a variety of social functions. But each GHC also offers a wide range of discussion sessions and panels aimed at students and professionals in the field, addressing everything from advances in bioinformatics and international education to the challenges of being a woman in technology.
A panel on careers in cybersecurity and the defense industry featured executive women from Raytheon, the National Security Agency, Northrop Grumman, MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Lockheed Martin, plus one of the Navy's few female admirals. The discussion ranged from the role of serendipity in the panelists' careers to techniques for finding a mentor.
A later panel brought together top execs from Science Applications International Corp, Thomson Reuters, Computer Associates and IBM India to talk about the skills and talents needed to be a leader who encourages innovation. The varied backgrounds of the participants made for a lively discussion.
Each day featured at least one "plenary" session, which all conference participants were encouraged to attend. Speakers included a recent Turing Award winner, a senior fellow at Texas Instruments, the CEO of Yahoo and more. A panel on the "imposter syndrome" addressed the feelings of inadequacy that seem to plague even the most successful technical women.
Students from high school to post-doc, often working in teams, participated in an evening session highlighting more than 150 different projects, all focused on computer science and its ramifications. Some of the groups were highly technical, others took a more sociological approach. All were expected to summarize their findings in an easy-to-understand poster.
On quick inspection several themes stood out. A number of projects centered on interesting girls and young women in STEM early in their school careers. Some presenters designed games intended to build skills; others planned to involve middle-school and even younger students in hands-on programming.
Other projects centered on CS-based tools designed to make sense of a large amount of data; one interesting example was rescue and recovery response over a large area using multiple rescue teams and dealing with a variety of problems; another was the analysis of tweets for common themes.
Awards and honors
No conference could really be complete without awards. GHC awards recognize both technical and social achievement. This year the Anita Borg social impact award went to Ann Quiroz Gates, a CS professor who is associate VP of research and sponsored projects and past chair of the CS department at U Texas-El Paso, in recognition of her role as the founder of the Computing Alliance for Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI).
The Anita Borg technical leadership award was presented to Laura Hass, an IBM Fellow and director of CS at IBM's Almaden research site. Change Agent awards for women working outside the U.S. honored CS pros from Brazil, India and Haiti. The Denice Denton emerging leader award, for a non-tenured faculty member under forty, went to Beth Pruitt of the ME department at Stanford University.
The 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing will be held at the Oregon Convention Center, Portland, OR, from November 8 to 12.
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