2018 Grace Hopper Celebration: Everywhere. Everyone.
This year’s event comes to Phoenix from October 8-10, where 6,000 will network, learn and celebrate
“I can’t even articulate how amazing a place this is to be,” says this year’s director
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
'I don’t know how many people realize that we’re actually creating history,” says Seema Gururaj, director of the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (www.gracehopper.com).
The conference is the signature event of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI, Palo Alto, CA). This year’s event will be held October 8-10 at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, AZ. This is the fourteenth celebration, and the twentieth anniversary of the first Grace Hopper in 1994. Grace Hopper has become the largest gathering of women in computing in the U.S.
“The interest is historic,” Gururaj continues. “I can’t even articulate how amazing a place this is to be.”
Historic indeed. An anticipated 6,000 attendees will represent a more than twenty-five percent increase over attendance at the 2013 conference.
A lofty theme
The celebration’s theme is “Everywhere. Everyone.” “We wanted something that was forward looking and all encompassing,” explains Gururaj. “ABI’s vision is all about movement and how you create the future. We have a lot of different demographics under the umbrella of ‘minority’ and that’s what this theme communicates: that we need everybody to help us be innovative.
“Computing is so pervasive that it does not matter if you’re in Kenya, Africa or in Silicon Valley, California. That’s what we want to showcase. A lot of the conference design was done with an eye on unifying people along the technology axis.”
Planning for the celebration starts early, Gururaj says, with strategic meetings to discuss tracks. “There will be forward-looking tracks,” she promises, “talking about areas like human computer interaction (HCI), the Internet of Things, gaming/ computer graphics/animation (GFX), and cloud computing. There is also a data science track that’s new this year.”
The conference opens on a Wednesday. “We realize that will be a high-impact day. It’s being branded as a leadership day where you can expand your professional skills and build your professional network. It is also Open Source Day with two prongs. First, we’ll have a ‘code-a-thon for humanity.’ Then there will be how-to sessions in skills that women can take back to their workplaces.”
Also on Wednesday, leadership workshops will be headed by Jo Miller, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc, and Career Workshops by CRA-W, focused on graduate students, early professional and mid-career academics. CRA-W (the Computer Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research) is an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women participating in computer science and engineering research and education at all levels. Wednesday evening marks the opening of the career fair. Booths stay in place through Friday afternoon.
Thursday and Friday will continue to focus on technical and career tracks. On Thursday, more than sixty CEOs, CTOs and other influential senior-level technical executives will convene for the Technical Executive Forum, an ABI-exclusive, invitation-only event for ABI partner companies. The forum connects executives, builds awareness and provides a discussion forum to share experiences.
ABI’s goal: to connect, inspire and guide
“We have a very specific goal at the Anita Borg Institute and that is to connect, inspire and guide women in technology,” Gururaj explains. “We do that at various levels at Grace Hopper, but there are two sides to the coin. There are the women themselves, but there are also the organizations for which technological innovation is a strategic imperative.
“We want to educate these organizations to make sure there is a culture that is welcoming of women,” she says. “With this in mind, we have an entire track dedicated to organizational culture and some very concrete things that people can do to support innovation.”
Blue-chip supporters and speakers
The roster of companies sponsoring Grace Hopper grows each year, and ranges from large companies to startups, venture capitalists and academic organizations. Platinum-level sponsors this year include Amazon, Bank of America, Cisco, Dropbox, Google, HP, LinkedIn, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Thomson Reuters.
Grace Hopper brings in speakers who are among the best in industry, academia and government. Wednesday’s keynote speaker is Shafi Goldwasser, RSA professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. For her work on interactive proofs and connections to approximation, Goldwasser was the recipient of the Gödel Prize in 1993 and 2001. Only a few women have won this award. Gururaj calls her “a role model that other women can look up to.”
On Thursday, for the first time at this event, a man will serve as a keynote speaker. Satya Nadella, the new CEO of Microsoft, will be talking with Maria Klawe, Microsoft board member and president of Harvey Mudd College, about Microsoft’s commitment to creating a culture that is welcoming to women. “He accepted our invitation within five minutes,” Gururaj says with a smile.
Additional invited technical speakers are Elizabeth Churchill, director of human computer interaction at eBay Research Labs; Yoky Matsuoka, vice president of technology at Nest Labs (Palo Alto, CA); and Rayid Ghani, research director and senior Fellow at the Computation Institute and the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Ghani, who was the chief scientist for the Obama 2012 election campaign, will talk about data science.
Friday’s keynote speaker is Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, Washington, DC), an organization working for the Department of Defense to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military. Prabhakar was a scheduled speaker in 2013, but could not attend because of the government shutdown.
Invited technical speakers on Friday are Linda Northrop, chief scientist of the Software Solutions Division of Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI, Pittsburgh, PA); Lorrie Faith Cranor, a professor of computer science and of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University; and Bonnie Ross, general manager of 343 Industries, the Microsoft game studio that operates the Halo video game franchise.
ABIE awards honor those making an impact
ABI’s ABIE awards will be given out every morning before the keynotes, says Gururaj. “It is important for us to give these individuals that stage and that recognition.”
ABIE awards include the Denice Denton Emerging Leader award, recognizing a junior faculty member for high-quality research and significant positive impact on diversity; and the A. Richard Newton Educator award, which recognizes an educator who has developed innovative teaching practices or approaches that attract girls and women to computing, engineering and math.
Additionally, three women from outside the U.S., usually from developing countries, will be recognized for creating opportunities for girls and women in technology.
An unforgettable experience
The Grace Hopper Celebration enjoys a reputation as a memorable experience for those who attend. Reflecting on the scope of the celebration, Gururaj says, “Sometimes I have to take a step back to take it all in.”
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