Women in Technology: The Grace Hopper Celebration Experience

October 24, 2018

In late September, Workiva sent nine team members to join more than 20,000 people at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, billed as the largest gathering of women technologists.

The organizers of the Grace Hopper Celebration envision a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build it, said Hilary Mason, General Manager of Machine Learning at Cloudera.

Early-to-late-career attendees could learn about topics including roles and careers in technology, knowing your worth, managing job transitions and how to negotiate after receiving a job offer. The gathering also offered mentoring circles, plus opportunities to meet and join tech communities.

This was the third year Workiva sent women to the event. "Workiva values diversity and inclusion as an important source of intellectual thought, varied perspective, and innovation. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce affords us the ability to make better decisions, hire, and retain great talent, and increase innovation and collaboration from team members with different experiences, perspectives, and approaches," said Jeana Gingery, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Workiva.

Studies show teams with different viewpoints build high-quality products that better reflect how customers are likely to view those products and the companies that build them, according to Workiva Senior Vice President of Product Development Dave Tucker. Dave attended the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration.

"I still remember the feeling walking in that convention center and being the small minority in the room. It was pretty eye-opening. It helps you build a greater appreciation for what those around you are feeling," Dave said.

Leaders at Workiva are more conscious about the overall makeup of teams, and Workiva is taking steps to expand recruiting, such as diversifying interviewing teams. But leaders understand they need to keep going.

We asked women from Workiva who attended the 2018 celebration to share what stood out about the event.

Smai Fullerton, Software Engineer, Missoula Office

Jessica Matthews, entrepreneur and technologist extraordinaire, said on the first morning that she strives to be "the love child of Beyoncé and Bill Nye the Science Guy." During my time at Grace Hopper Celebration, I strongly felt this blend of empowerment and excitement about being a woman in tech.

The magnitude of 20,000+ women in attendance, plus the workshops, keynote speakers, open source code-a-thon, research papers, speed mentoring, career fair, and conversations with random people provided two crystal clear messages: "It's possible for you" and "Being a good person and a valuable employee means embracing others for who they are." Though it may sound simple and cliché, these powerful takeaways lit up every part of the celebration, coupled with a backdrop of interesting tech developments and product stories.

I look forward to witnessing how the strong sense of belonging will reverberate in awesome ways with the women in R&D at our organization who attended.

Lauren Hilton, User Experience Design Intern and Iowa State University Student, Ames Office

Attending Grace Hopper allowed me to expand my outlook on user experience (UX) design and the technology field as a whole. I was able to network with women in many different stages of their careers. I returned home with new skills, inspiration, and a suitcase full of free swag.

The conference had a session track specifically focused on human computer interaction, which is right up my alley. Being able to attend these sessions allowed me to connect with women who share the same passion for UX design as I do. Since Iowa State does not have a major specifically focused around UX design, I get overly excited when I get to talk to people who are interested in the field. I was also able to attend workshops related to virtual reality and augmented reality, which allowed me to get hands-on experience in areas that I don't normally specialize in.

My biggest takeaway from Grace Hopper is that it’s never too late to start anything. If you have an idea, start working on it now. Your idea could turn into something that inspires 20,000 women technologists. Your idea could be the thing that people remember you for. I also learned to not be afraid to try new things and keep learning new skills. You can always do more. You are not alone in your journey, and there are many people who share the same passions and struggles as you do.

Teresa Revious, Senior Release Engineer, Bozeman Office

It was nice to be able to network and make connections with other women who are in similar positions as I am. In addition to meeting so many people at GHC, I also met 20 students from Montana State University at the airport and was able to visit with several of them to learn what their interests are in the tech field and what drove them to choose that area. 

One of the biggest things I got out of GHC was how working with a mentor could help me continue to grow my career and overcome obstacles I may face in the future. I am looking forward to using information and takeaways I learned in the workshops and sessions (Becoming a Person of Influence, Building Confidence, and Mentoring Circles) to develop skills in my professional career. 

GHC is a great way to learn new things, network, and meet people. There are so many different opportunities and sessions to choose from. You can easily find something that is of interest to you and that will benefit you in many ways

Maggie Iglesias Pena, User Experience Designer, Ames Office

We all have a story to tell. We all come from these different backgrounds, but when you map it all out on a piece of paper, a lot of us share those overlaps, and we’ve walked the same path. Those are the opportunities to empathize and sympathize with other people. Look for those opportunities, not only in your personal life but in your career. When you start talking to people and building a community, that’s where those connections happen.

There’s a huge community out there. You’re not alone. There are so many resources and people willing to help you out. You just feel empowered to do stuff afterwards. You’re just like, “OK, I’m done with this conference. I need to start doing things NOW.”

I just feel inspired. You’re surrounded by all these amazing women who are far in their career or who are just starting. I just want to keep leveling up in whatever I do.

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