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2018 Grace Hopper Celebration: Reflections and Tips

This year, 7 women from Course Hero attended GHC18. Here, our top takeaways, plus our tips for making the most of future Grace Hopper Celebrations.

As many women in technology know, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, presented in partnership by the AnitaB.org and the Association for Computing Machinery, is an inspirational, exciting event. More than 20,000 women gather in one place to talk about everything from new technology to career development to social impact.

This year, I was excited to bring a team of 6 colleagues from Course Hero to the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration, held in Houston, Texas.

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Why the Grace Hopper Celebration

To recognize outstanding Course Hero women
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Course Hero team members at the Expo

The Course Hero women who attended this year’s event were each nominated by their department head, in recognition of their contribution to the company and also as an opportunity for them to learn and grow in their careers. This is a core element of our corporate culture—here at Course Hero, we recognize value-driven behaviors and actively help team members chart a path to career success.

And the team reported that they did find tons of inspiration—sitting in on sessions with speakers including Justine Cassell of Carnegie Mellon, Jessica O. Matthews of Uncharted Power, Padmasree Warrior of NIO U.S., Professor Anita Hill, Apparna Ramadoss of Intuit, Alice Wu of Amazon, and many more. As Course Hero’s Senior Data Engineer Priya Wagh put it, the conference was “positive, energetic, and stimulating.”

As for me, I loved getting to know my own colleagues better. Whether it was standing in line at the food trucks between sessions, traveling to and from the events each day, or even going out for a muggy morning jog, there were many opportunities to talk about all kinds of topics. We shared life stories, asked for and shared advice, and brainstormed new ideas to help us build an ever-stronger corporate culture and accomplish our company’s mission.

To celebrate student scholars and pioneering educators
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Course Hero brought super-popular STEM-themed swag to share with students and educators at the scholars’ reception

Course Hero was pleased to be a sponsor for this year’s reception for women who received scholarships to attend Grace Hopper Celebration. Each year, AnitaB.org finds sponsors to award scholarships to students and educators who apply to attend the Celebration. On the second evening of the Celebration, all the scholarship recipients gather together to meet each other and enjoy a meal and networking opportunity. By sponsoring this reception, our team had the opportunity to meet these amazing academics, and to connect with those who use Course Hero. It was exciting to be able to share our story with these women; and it was also tremendously exciting to hear the common refrain, “Course Hero saved my life during midterms!”

To learn—about all kinds of things!
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One session taught attendees how to build an Alexa Skill

Some of us attended technical sessions to learn new code and concepts, others attended career-development tracks, and others attended the track for academics in technology. Here were some of the highlights:

  • One of my favorite panels was the session “Can Hiring Be Identity-Blind?” I loved the diversity of the panelists and their thinking—each woman had a unique perspective and point of view on this topic. After the session, I connected with several of the panelists to learn more about their business initiatives and additional views on diversity, inclusion, and belonging. I’m excited to implement some of these new ideas at Course Hero.
  • Course Hero Senior Product Manager Supriya Balachander heard Netflix’s Stephanie Cheng discuss the power of game mechanics. Cheng explained how she used storytelling, consistent feedback and rewards, and “delightful surprises” in her work to engage volunteers on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016.
  • Course Hero Group Educator Community Manager Deeksha Talwar and Course Hero Director of Content Marketing Katie Boyd are both deeply interested in the topic of active learning and student engagement, so they were excited to attend a session about the Connected Learner Project. University of North Carolina’s Mary Lou Maher explained how this project has been an effective way to help retain women and students of color in computer science programs.
  • Course Hero Senior Software Engineer Saraswathi Thanu enjoyed the technical sessions where she learned to build an Alexa Skill and a Google Assistant Action. “They are easier than I thought they would be,” she said. “Also, it sparked a new interest in me, because I hadn’t explored voice-interactive interfaces much before. If you know JavaScript, you can get started making a Skill or Action.”
  • Perhaps one of the most inspiring sessions for the whole group was the talk on Impostor Syndrome. Course Hero Senior Software Engineer Shannon Nachreiner took away the realization that “literally everyone experiences Impostor Syndrome. Carnegie Mellon professor Dena Haritos Tsamitis began by asking us to raise our hands if we ever felt like we didn’t belong or were just lucky to get as far as we’ve gotten. The entire audience of hundreds of women raised their hands.” Similarly, Priya reported, “I realized—it’s not just me. We can and should talk about it and deal with it together. The thing that stuck with me was that even women who have accomplished a lot in their lives, like the speaker, could still deal with Impostor Syndrome.” Shannon said the talk concluded with Tsamitis “giving strategies for overcoming this feeling, like reminding ourselves of our accomplishments regularly and checking in with our support systems to get a more realistic view of how we are doing than what our internal self-critic is telling us.”
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Image credit: AnitaB.org

4 tips to make the most from a Grace Hopper Celebration

For those planning to attend a future Grace Hopper Celebration, we compiled some insider tips to help you soak up the inspiration and not let the logistics weigh you down:

1. Plan in advance

A little bit of advance planning goes a long way in making the most of your time at the Celebration. Download the app and take a look at the sessions ahead of time. Also, orient yourself with all the locations beforehand—sessions are in different buildings, so you’ll be able to plan your time better if you know how to get where you’re going. If you preregistered, get to the session at least 15 minutes early to ensure that you get your seat. If you didn’t preregister, arrive 20–30 minutes early. There seemed to be plenty of seats when we were there, but preregistering is a better bet because (a) you will be less stressed about getting in, and (b) you won’t have to stand in the longer line of people who didn’t preregister.

2. Network

GHC is an amazing opportunity to meet, be inspired by, and network with contemporaries across the field of technology. Be ready to strike up a conversation by coming up with a question or two that you can ask while in line. (You’ll be in line a lot.) “How’s your conference so far?” is an easy one. Ask it often! Also, offer to share your Uber/Lyft with other women who are staying in your hotel—if someone has the same badge, then you’re going the same way, and you’ll naturally be able to strike up a conversation if you share a ride. Once we shared with a woman for only two blocks because of a downpour—but it was fun to meet her and she was glad to get to her destination dry!

3. Livestream the larger events together as a group

Consider livestreaming more popular events—like the opening and closing keynote—with your colleagues in a hotel room or other quiet location. While livestreaming may not be as exciting as being in the room with a speaker, creating the shared experience of viewing with colleagues facilitates engagement and discussion in a way that staring at a small phone screen while wearing headphones does not. (We tried livestreaming the closing keynote on our phones over a shared lunch outside, and we all gave up because it was too hard to see, hear, focus, and talk to each other—we found that viewing from the hotel room was much better.)

4. Bring a big bag

Bring snacks and water with you in the event that you want to go to sessions that are scheduled back-to-back over mealtimes, or in case you don’t pass a station with food. (Offering to share your snacks is another easy networking icebreaker.) As you deplete your rations throughout the day, you’ll have more space in your bag for swag! In addition to Course Hero’s own goodies, like t-shirts, pins, pouches, and computer privacy covers, we picked up a beautiful poster of women computing pioneers from Google, fun socks, and enough swag to bring back to the office and share with team members who were unable to attend the Celebration with us.

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