As I was waiting to board my flight to Houston, I looked around and noticed a lot of women waiting to board the same flight. Evidenced by their company shirts or the terminal window on their laptop screens, I determined that most of them, like me, were heading to the Grace Hopper Celebration. I knew this was a sure sign that the next few days would be exciting, challenging, and filled with tech talks, career conversations, and professional development workshops.
What’s the Grace Hopper Celebration?
For those who don’t know, the Grace Hopper Celebration - named for computer scientist Grace Hopper - is produced by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (AnitaB.org) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). And it’s the largest gathering of female technologists bringing together research and career interests of women in computing. The first conference was held in 1994, with 500 attendees, and over the past 24 years, the number of conference attendees has exploded with over 22,00 attending this year! And, fun fact, because this is a conference designed by and held for women, free childcare is available for all attendees as well as an on-site nursing mothers’ room. How cool is that?
When I heard of the Grace Hopper Celebration a few years ago and its focus on supporting female technologists, I knew I wanted to attend. That’s why I was excited to learn this year that Danielle Pavliv, SAS’s Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager, was sponsoring a video contest to send employees to the conference. All we had to do was answer one important question: What would be your message to women in technology
My message was simply this: No matter what obstacles come your way, know that your opinion is valued, important, and deserves to be heard. The only limitations we have are the ones we set upon ourselves.
Let the Celebration Begin
I was happy to learn that my entry, along with those of Melissa Martinez and Ruqaiya Shipchandler, was chosen and that I would be attending this year’s conference!
The night before the conference began we visited the George R. Brown Convention Center along with other attendees to collect our badges. Excitement abounded, knowing that the next day the conference would kick off, bringing together a vast number of women in technology to discuss all things STEM. Conference tracks included IoT, Analytics, Machine Learning, and other cutting-edge areas of technology.
The first morning of the conference is forever etched in my mind. Entering the convention center, we walked through a sea of eager attendees waiting to get into the sessions or the Expo Hall. You could feel the energy as they discussed what sessions to attend or which booth to visit. I even saw some students catching up on homework to spend more time at the Expo!
When passion, innovation and perseverance collide
I spent the next few days on the demo floor staffing the SAS booth. This gave me the opportunity to chat with many attendees about STEM and all things SAS – whether it was about how we use our curiosity to fuel innovation, sharing how our corporate goals help make a difference in the world, or how to get access to the SAS University Edition, certifications, and more.
But for me, the three things that impacted me the most were the attendees’ passion, interest in innovation, and perseverance.
Passion: I met a college undergraduate student who had traveled all the way from Mauritius (almost two full days travel time) to attend the conference. Her passion for technology was paired with her enthusiasm about Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Many other attendees expressed a hunger to learn about current technologies and how they can be used.
Innovation: After talking with attendees for a day or so I realized that they were interested in working for a company that is doing their part to create a better world. I was happy to share with them how SAS works with GatherIQ, Data for Good, and WildTrack to create solutions for social good, and I saw their faces light up as they made the connection between SAS and our emphasis on innovation.
Perseverance: On the last day of the conference I noticed a woman walking toward the booth, being assisted by a human guide. The woman was Veronica Lewis, a Virginia college student who is passionate about technology and who happens to be visually impaired. I say that purposefully – to her, her visual impairment is just part of who she is, it does not define her (check out her blog, linked above). She had been in contact with Ed Summers (leader of our SAS Accessibility team) and wanted to learn more about SAS’s accessibility efforts. As I was talking with her I was struck by her energy and passion for accessibility support as well as her drive to live life successfully and to help others do so too.
The energy, passion, determination, and spirit of these women re-invigorated me. I returned from the conference exhausted but ready to get moving! I learned a number of things that I can apply immediately, and I’m motivated to learn some new things as well.
I’m amazed by the stories I heard, inspired by people I met while working in the booth, and moved by people who had to overcome obstacles just to get there. It confirmed to me that we really can achieve our goals if we don’t limit ourselves to what we think we can do. Believe you can, don’t give up when faced with obstacles, and know that if you don’t try, you can’t succeed.
Special thanks to Jacqui Kruse for helping with this blog post!