Villanovans Take On the Grace Hopper Celebration

Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), women in tech, gender gap – these buzz-terms floated around my AP Computer Science classroom when I was a sophomore in high school. Freshmen year of high school, my math teacher told my parents that I should take AP Computer Science. I thought, “Computer Science? What is that?” I didn’t know much about the subject at all. I heard it had something to do with languages, coding, and puzzles, and I had always loved puzzles and challenges, so I decided to give it a shot. I had no idea Computer Science would become my passion and so influential in my life.

Fast forward 4 years. Today, I am a sophomore Computer Science major at Villanova. This past summer I received an invitation from the school to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration. I immediately texted one of my friends who had gone on the trip before. She highly recommended attending the event. I signed up immediately and a few months later found myself on a plane with a group of Villanova women studying and working in the Computer Science field. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening! Upon landing, I sent a picture of our group to my high school Computer Science teacher. The women from that group are now spread across the country studying Computer Science. Connecting with these strong women made my GHC experience even better! I realize I am very lucky that I have a national network of women in Computer Science who I can rely on.

After attending the opening keynotes, a talk given by Stanford Professor Fei-Fei on artificial intelligence and ethics in tech, and a speech given by Melinda Gates about the importance of failure, I was ready to take on GHC. People who had already attended the event advised that I put a lot of effort in. Past participants had earned interviews or internships at the event! The event is composed of keynote speeches, a career fair, and sessions that investigate topics of your choice. The sessions ranged from Hillary Clinton’s tech crew’s experience to what is the difference between academia and industry. My favorite session I went to was how machine learning is being used by the United Nations to spot humanitarian crises as quickly as possible. The career fair itself was one of the most overwhelming and exhilarating experiences of the day. In total, I handed out over 20 resumes and talked to at least 25 different companies. By the end of the conference I had become an extremely confident networker. I was lucky enough to make connections with nationally-acclaimed labs, top-tier technology companies, and smaller entrepreneurial firms. I left the career fair with more stickers and swag than I planned on packing to take back home.

My favorite connection I made was with an Apple developer who I met at a National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Apple networking lunch. She works on accessibility at Apple. Accessibility and how technology can be can be utilized by people on a spectrum of ability interests me. We have stayed in touch since that lunch and we also got lunch on the last day of the conference, one on one! Grace Hopper gave me many more connections and resources than I had imagined possible. I was able to network and I already have leads on internships for next summer. I completed my first technical interview with Facebook last week!

GHC not only gave me female role models in the industry itself, but within Villanova too. There are many upperclassmen who I never would have met otherwise if I hadn’t gone to GHC. I noticed a demographic shift in my Computer Science mentors — I now have more women mentors than men mentors. These Villanova Computer Science women are incredible and I cannot wait to see how far they go in the industry. Maybe one day we’ll work in the same company or city! Having other students who I consider close friends and role models who understand my passion for Computer Science is an amazing thing.

GHC reminded me that even though I am a minority in the classroom, I am not alone and it reminded me that technology is my passion. It is the field I want to continue to pursue no matter what. If GHC taught me one thing it is that, while women are still the minority in tech, women are without a doubt making a huge impact by making the world a better place through technology. The glass ceiling is cracking.