5 Impressive Talks About Women in Tech in 2015


One of the many perks of being an engineer at Stylight is the personally allocated educational budget which an engineer is free to use in any way that will develop him or herself. Often this budget goes to books, online courses, workshops, etc., but most of us choose to spend a significant part of budget attending really cool conferences all over the world.


Ever since I began studying computer science in university, I have known about the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and this year, I was finally able to become an attendee. The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), run by the Anita Borg Institute, takes place annually and has the goal to “bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.” GHC is currently the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing. This year, in fact, brought over 12,000 participants from around the world to the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.

Upon arriving at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, you could already feel the energy that was brought to the city for the conference–welcome banners decorated the airport lobby, and it seemed as though all the women arriving at the airport that morning were headed for GHC (which turned out to be really helpful when figuring out the public transportation to downtown Houston!).

The size of the conference meant that there were an incredible amount of tracks and sessions to choose from which again made you wish Hermione Granger’s time turner was a thing (btw, which startup is working on that?!).

Here are some highlights from my favorite sessions:

Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social

Truly the epitome of intellect, grace, and confidence, Clara Shih talked about her decade-long journey in the tech industry, the obstacles she overcame and still faces, the learnings and how she has grown in that time. In short, her five biggest learnings have been: 1. Listen carefully, 2. It’s okay to be different, 3. Cherish relationships above all, 4. There’s no failure, only learning, 5. Who if not us? If not now, when? She included many anecdotes from her experiences including a memorable one of how she gracefully handled being mistaken many times for an attendant rather than attendee at an exclusive conference for CEOs in which she was the lone female attendee.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube

Named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People (and fun fact, owner of the garage in which Google had its beginnings), Susan Wojcicki, spoke about the challenges of motherhood in a tech career as well as the difficulty of changing her daughter’s perception of computer science as being “super lame.” Wojcicki believes that making computer science study mandatory and adopting paid family leave are the keys to reverse the trends of decreasing numbers of women receiving computer science degrees and increasing numbers of women leaving the profession altogether.


Hadi Partovi, CEO and Co-founder of Code.Org

Iranian-born entrepeneur and Co-founder of Code.org Hadi Partovi gave what was for me one of the most inspirational talks of the confernece as he recounted the huge success of “Hour of Code”, an annual event in December that introduces young girls and boys to computer science in a fun and accessible way. One of the big takeaways from Partovi’s talk was that we are in a day and age where we need to be treating computer science in schools with the same emphasis we place on English, mathematics, science and history, arguing, “This is a civil rights issue in our country when 75% of kids don’t have access to learning computer science.”

Megan Smith, CTO of the United States

Did you know there was a CTO of the United States? Because I didn’t, but it has got to be the most badass job title that ever existed, and Megan Smith exemplifies everything you’d expect from such a title. What was also especially cool during her talk was that she brought other women working in the United States Digital Service to the stage to talk about the wide-ranging tech opportunities in government.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook

Everyone (including me!) at the conference was especially looking forward to Sheryl Sandberg’s fireside chat. Sandberg talked about many topics from her popular book Lean In and also about the Lean In circles that have subsequently sprouted around the world. She also opened up about the personal challenges she faced after the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, and how the newfound habit of writing at the end of the day three things down that she did well that day helped her to get back on her feet. Truly leading by example, Sheryl Sandberg is an inspiration for all professional women in and outside of tech!

Overall, I found GHC to be a very well-organized conference which provides an unparalleled opportunity for women to reap the intangible benefits of hearing from successful and inspirational women in the tech industry. Having so many diverse role models for aspiring young women in one place certainly inspires a can-do attitude as well as a positivity and camaraderie shared amongst those in attendance. I’m excited by the prospect of GHC’s future and look forward to returning again in the coming years!

Image credit : https://twitter.com/ghc/status/654787211183788032

Post by Julie Mac Donell. Learn more about Julie: https://www.themuse.com/companies/stylight/people/julie


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