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Grace Hopper Celebration spotlights women technologists

Brittany Archibeque

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I recently had the opportunity to attend my first Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994 and inspired by the legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, the event focuses on the research and career interests of women in computing. The experience was truly inspiring. Being surrounded by 25,000 women technologists was incredibly empowering and motivating, and for once, I felt as though I wasn’t in the minority!

Over the course of the 3-day conference, I attended workshops, keynotes, panel discussions, and a career fair. Two keynote sessions book-ended the celebration, serving as the kickoff and closing of the conference. I felt the energy as soon as I walked into the hall. The vibe was so uplifting with music, dancing, and cheering. Women were also shouting #We will statements, like:

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#We will challenge our own goals

#We will challenge the status quo

#We will increase the visibility of women in tech

#We will make Katherine Johnson as well-known as Neil Armstrong

#We will celebrate diversity

The first keynote featured numerous speakers and started off with Brenda Darden Wilkerson, the CEO of AnitaB.org, the organization producing this event. As an advocate for diversity, Brenda emphasized, “It is my mission to achieve 50/50 tech equity by 2025.”

Another speaker, Ana Roca Castro, spoke about igniting the genius in children. Ana started Genius Plaza to insure every child received the best education possible, no matter where that child was born or raised. Genius Plaza provides access to personalized learning content for children in arts, math, and science. Ana added to our #we will statements by exclaiming “#We will ignite the genius in every child!”

Another inspiring woman at the conference was Dr. Fei-Fei Li. She is the inventor of ImageNet, a large visual database designed for visual object recognition software research. “ImageNet is an image database organized according to the WordNet hierarchy in which each node of the hierarchy is depicted by hundreds and thousands of images.”

When Dr. Li helped design ImageNet in 2006, some of her colleagues tried to dissuade her by telling her the project was foolish. Yet, now the database consists of over 14 million images. The process used to create ImageNet is considered to be the foundation on which machine learning was based. One thing Dr. Li said really stuck with me. She said, “It’s okay to feel small sometimes. But together, we can be big enough to accomplish anything.”

These were just a couple of the inspiring talks during the welcoming keynote. I would encourage everyone to listen to the recording of this session.

With over 400 sessions held during the conference, it was very difficult to choose which ones to attend. Each one I attended was very good. Some that I found the most interesting included:

Building a (better) Open Source Community

Led by Lisa Tagliaferri – Manager of Developer Education at DigitalOcean

This session provided insights on how people could maintain their open source projects.

  • Lisa covered gender and diversity as it pertained to major technology companies, as well as how it plays out in open source projects.
  • She also offered tips and resources for users on open source projects, including tutorials on how to get started and troubleshooting guides.
  • She explored how open source projects could do more to promote inclusivity and diversity.
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Branching Out: GitHub and Core skills for Contributions to Open Source

Led by Lily Sturmann, Parul Singh – Software Engineers at Red Hat, Inc.

This session went into details about forking, cloning and other basics around contributing code.

  • In this workshop, Lily and Parul walked users through creating a Pull request on an open source project. (Lucky for me, I do this almost every day, so I was able to assist the person next to me.)
  • This session provided a great way to network with the people working at the same table.

How to develop Creativity and Need-driven Production? Using Tech-Fashion as an Example

Led by Kitty Yeung – Creative Technologist at Microsoft

This session focused on incorporating technology into fashion.

  • Kitty explained how she was able to create a flower that could be worn by a mother and her daughter. If the daughter started to wander off too far, the flower would vibrate and let the mother know her daughter is out range. She went into a little bit of detail explaining how she incorporated circuits into this flower.
  • Kitty gave a similar talk at Hackaday Supercon, which you can view here

Virtual Reality for Brain Surgeries: Enhancing Visuality & Improving Patient Outcomes

Led by Prachi Shah – Software Engineer, Verily Life Sciences, Google

This session centered on an amazing surgical situation which helped transform how we look at MRI’s and CT scans, going from 2D to something that we can print in 3D and then use that to create a virtual reality that can be used to prepare surgeons.

  • Prachi explained that doctors currently use 2D images to plan 3D surgeries, and that so much more could be done using technology.
  • She explained how technologists are now trying to use 3D modeling pulled from CT and MRI scans and print3D models of the brain. These can be used for physical planning as well as patient education. Taking it a step further, she described the opportunity to provide visualizations in VR for neurosurgeons to use to visualize operating on a patient’s brain.
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Empowering Women to Improve Women’s Health through Tech, Education & Engagement

Led by Nimmi Ramanujam, Engineering & Director of Center for Global Women’s Health Tech Duke University

The goal of this session was to promote the development of technology that can profoundly impact women’s health.

  • Nimmi is passionate about empowering women to know their own health and discussed how she wanted to develop a low-cost technology that could help women and doctors detect and help prevent cervical cancer.
  • I really recommend watching her Social Impact Abie Award Winner Video.

Edge AI with Raspberry

Led by Penny Anderson, Director of Engineering, MathWorks

In this workshop, we developed a deep-learning application which detects objects in an image. We then deployed and ran the application on a Raspberry Pi board.

  • During the workshop, we divided into groups and explored the process of how the code detects objects and determines the age of a person in a specific image.
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Empower the Next Generation: Supporting K-12 Education as an Industry Professional

Led by Amy Liu, Crystal Hsieh Software Engineer, LinkedIn

This session explored the lack of computer science teachers in schools today and proposed potential solutions to the problem. The speakers provided resources, like LinkedIn’s High School Trainee Program, which is a great open source tool that helps you get started by providing program materials.

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During my time at the conference, I also learned some statistics about women in the technology workforce, including the fact that only 2% of the computing workforce was made up of Hispanic women. I felt honored to be able to represent that segment and attend the Celebrating Latinas in Technical Roles Reception which was held at the event.

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After three days of enjoying the incredibly inspiring stories about different women’s journeys in technology, I could think of no better way to end the conference than the closing keynote, which featured more Abie-award speakers, including Dr. Vivienne Ming, co-founder of Socos Labs, and Nonny De la Peña, the founder and CEO of Emblematic Group.

Dr. Vivienne Ming explained how she enjoyed using AI to think in ways no one else has ever done before. She also explained that courage is something that you practice and share with others. Explore more of her talks here. Nonny De la Peña, a tele-immersive journalist, discussed how she got involved in this new industry. She started recording audio in a food bank when a man ended up going into a diabetic coma. The recording showed the real power of this type of journalism. Nonny continues to create videos in which people can use virtual reality to put themselves inside a story and feel what it is like to be somewhere without actually being physically present. Some of her talks can be found in these Ted Talks. This final keynote was truly inspiring and you can view it here.

HPE Women

Finally, I benefitted from the chance to meet and get to know some of the other inspiring women who also work at HPE. I loved hearing stories from women around the world about their journey and path into the tech industry. I was overwhelmed by the fact that women I had just met reached out to let me know they were proud of me. Each of our stories and journeys was remarkable and the conference provided such a great opportunity to share them with one another.

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