BloomReach at Grace Hopper Conference

This is a post by Padmini Jaikumar, engineer from the Organic Search Team at BloomReach. 

BloomReach was a Silver Sponsor at Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) 2015. Alyssa Clang, Magda Mukhatar and I attended the conference on behalf of BloomReach and had such a fantastic time! This is a blog about our experiences.

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Tech Talks

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was a wonderful opportunity to listen to pioneers and leaders in tech. The conference featured a wide variety of tech talks spanning multiple disciplines such as data science, big data computing, information security and distributed systems, among others. The conference saw representation from women at various stages of their careers — right from women pursuing their undergraduate degrees to working professionals with more than 20 years of experience! The conference drew a record 12,000 attendees and most of the sessions were packed!

From the hallway

From the hallway

Main auditorium

Main auditorium

 The keynote sessions at the conference, which is  named for the pioneering computer scientist, were all top-notch and touched on different aspects relevant to women in computing.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, had an excellent Q&A session with Nora Denzel, a director at AMD, Ericsson and Outerwall, where she talked about the focus and motivation being in a Lean In Circle can give you. She talked about how a small lean-in circle of four to five friends kept each other motivated and each succeeded in getting their dream job within six to eight months. She also spoke about how positive reaffirmation can help you when things get tough or your confidence is low. Writing down three things that you do well every day, for instance, can really help you stay strong, she said. Sandberg encouraged women to be aware of the gender issues in the industry, but suggested that instead of being daunted by them, women should choose to tackle them head on.

It is the sort of leaning in that Hopper herself did before the term was fashionable.  A U.S. Navy rear admiral, Hopper invented the first compiler for a programming language. She also famously came up with the term “debugging” – when she removed a moth from a computer.

Sheryl Sandberg with Nora Denzel

Sheryl Sandberg with Nora Denzel

Megan Smith, the  U.S. chief technology officer, gave an excellent plenary talk on the work her office is doing to bring technology to the government.

Megan Smith with her team

Megan Smith with her team

Her team is working on numerous touch points where people interact with the government. She gave a demo, in which her team took a daunting multi-page immigration form and made it an interactive Web questionnaire. Similar work has been done for veterans to access their health care and for other folks to easily understand and access their insurance options, among other improvements. It was really nice to see individual members of her team present the far-reaching and impactful work they are doing. The projects have clearly left them energized and motivated.

Smith also presented the quote below. Reading it, I think,  disappointed many women, including me. At the same time, however, I think there is a real opportunity for us to make a difference now!

Quote presented during Megan Smith’s talk

Quote presented during Megan Smith’s talk

The other keynote and plenary sessions were also very interesting. Clara Shih, the CEO of Hearsay Social, spoke about the importance of embracing your uniqueness and cultivating the habit of listening carefully. Blake Irving, the CEO of GoDaddy, has taken meaningful steps at his organization to reduce differences in pay and positions based on gender. It was really great to see that GoDaddy is making their numbers public to increase transparency and accountability.

Besides the keynote and plenary sessions there were numerous tech panels on various streams in tech. Among those I attended was one presentation in which folks from Box, Pinterest and Databricks talked about lessons they had learned while deploying Spark in production. I also attended a talk on using HBase for high-availability and high-frequency trading at Bloomberg and a session on forecasting the price of car rentals.

The sessions were quite diverse and gave a great window into the top technologies being used today and the  interesting problems people are working on.

Career Fair and Booth

Beyond the fascinating talks, the Grace Hopper Conference also has a vibrant career fair. It’s an ideal opportunity for tech companies to recruit female technical talent to diversify their workforces. This Mercury News story talks about how increasing diversity fosters innovation and spurs the overall economy.

Being the largest conference for women in computing, the event is packed with talented, passionate women who are looking to make an impact! It was therefore not surprising to see that almost all top tech companies had a booth there. BloomReach had a booth at the conference career fair, which has already led to a great hire  —  and more are in the pipeline.

Magda, Alyssa and I at BloomReach booth at GHC. Magda and I are wearing BloomReach headgear/scarves that we were giving away as schwag.

Magda, Alyssa and I at BloomReach booth at GHC. Magda and I are wearing BloomReach headgear/scarves that we were giving away as schwag.

Alyssa in action speaking to a potential candidate at our booth

Alyssa in action speaking to a potential candidate at our booth

The Grace Hopper Celebration was a great opportunity to meet and understand issues facing women in tech. The keynote and plenary talks were very inspirational and motivational and the session technical talks gave a great exposure to interesting problems and trends in technology. I personally met with many women in academia and industry, in different stages of their careers, and working on different problems. The energy and passion these women have for working on core technical challenges and to meaningfully impact society was really infectious! I returned from the conference motivated and full of energy! Thank you to all the speakers and volunteers that made GHC such a fantastic experience.

See you next year!

Images in this blog post are from: http://gracehopper.anitaborg.org/galleries/gallery-2015/