by Anne Silbaugh, SWSG CMU Chapter Director
In September 2018, thanks to a prestigious internship, CMU Chapter Director Anne Silbaugh attended the 2018 Grace Hopper Conference. The GHC is, according to their website, the largest celebration of women technologists in the world. Held in Houstin, Texas, the conference featured dozens of outstanding women in tech, each of whom inspired Anne to continue her path to strong womanhood and fiercely pursue a career in technology. Read on to hear about her experience.

My name is Anne Silbaugh, and I am a junior at Carnegie Mellon University, studying Discrete Math and Logic. I’m one of the co-Chapter Directors at the CMU chapter of Strong Women, Strong Girls, and have been part of the organization for three semesters prior to Fall 2018. I absolutely love SWSG and the opportunities it gives me to connect with girls outside of my university bubble, helping me to feel more connected to Pittsburgh as a larger community while also inspiring and celebrating young women doing awesome things in the process.
I recently was lucky enough to attend an event that also focused on the celebration of women doing awesome things — particularly awesome things in technology. The Grace Hopper Conference, which took place from Sept. 25 to Sept. 28, 2018, is a conference for 20,000-plus women in technology that serves to recognize the female presence in tech fields, to network with one another, and to inspire one another to keep doing what we love. I was given the opportunity to attend the 2018 GHC by way of my summer internship at GoDaddy, a world-wide web hosting company. GoDaddy sponsored all of its female software engineering interns to attend the conference, providing hotels, flights, food, and more.

2018 Grace Hopper Conference – Houston, Texas

Before GoDaddy extended the offer to attend the conference, I had heard lots of amazing things about it. Many young women from CMU attend every year — either through internships, the way I did, or with a CMU sponsorship, or simply of their own initiative. I’d heard many of my peers gush about the conference: how they’d found their dream job there, or how inspired they’d been by the people they got to meet, and how fun it was to be surrounded by so many like-minded people. But the one thing no one prepared me for was the absolute HUGE scale of it all.

The mantra for the week was “We are here,” i.e., women are present in tech, and if anyone had doubted it before, they’d only need to see the turnout at the Grace Hopper conference to know otherwise.

The conference offered outstanding lectures every day, covering a wide range of topics. There were presentations on personal branding, panel discussions about filling the void of women in technology, talks on the future of artificial intelligence, and more. A majority of the sessions were led by successful women in the tech industry, and being able to hear them speak and learn about their journey to where they are now was so interesting. One of my favorite speakers was Jessica Matthews, the CEO and founder of Uncharted Power, a company focused on coming up with innovative ways to make energy convenient and accessible to all. She was funny, smart, inspiring, and just so brave and strong. She commented on how her success was possible partly because no one took her seriously at the start of her career, so she was able to get away with making radical moves since no one was closely monitoring her. As women, we may not be given as much initial credibility or responsibility as our male counterparts — but hey, use that to your advantage! Be brave while no one is watching, and show what you are capable of.
For all three days of the conference, the main attraction was the career expo in the main hall. Each of the more than 400 companies attending the conference had a booth in this hall, each decked out with decorations, swag, and swarms of recruiters preparing to take resumes and schedule interviews. From the first minute we stepped into the conference center, lines began to form around the more popular booths, and didn’t die down until the very end of the last day. Here’s my only negative take on the conference: While I think it’s great that companies are giving young women the opportunity to directly network with them and learn about their options in the tech industry, the intense focus on finding jobs made it hard for the conference to feel like a celebration. The high stress emulating from the expo and interview halls combined made the conference more draining, rather than uplifting as I had hoped.
The last piece of the conference that really left an impact on me were the personal connections I was able to make. I did end up scheduling lots of interviews during my three days at Grace Hopper, and each conversation with each interviewer was actually a highlight of the trip. Most of my interviewers were women, which I hadn’t experienced before, and the difference between working with them over a male interviewer was stunning — I felt proud to share with them my solutions to technical questions, not worrying nearly as much about proving myself worthy of the interview in the first place. I was also able to gain a lot from just waiting outside the interview hall waiting for my interviews, chatting with some of the other conference attendees. It was fun to swap experiences of the conference so far, chat about companies in attendance, and share our goals and dreams for the future that had gotten us to GHC in the first place. These more personal conversations actually made me feel more connected to the overall community at the conference than any of the speakers or expos had.
Overall, my experience at the Grace Hopper conference this year was mixed. I was so lucky to attend — not only for the networking opportunities for future jobs, but also to see in person what 20,000 women in technology looks like. The mantra for the week was “We are here,” i.e., women are present in tech, and if anyone had doubted it before, they’d only need to see the turnout at the Grace Hopper conference to know otherwise. That being said, I hope that future Grace Hopper conferences will work to bring down the intensity of the career fair aspect, and focus on discussion and celebration of women in tech. I would love to see all of the women leave the conference feeling only stronger and well-supported, without any pangs of anxiety or criticism as they wait for the results of their evaluations. But even with this anxiety, these women are still strong and talented, and I can’t wait to see how the tech industry will change as they graduate and join the workforce — as I’m sure it will!