I spent Tuesday through Friday of this past week in Portland, Oregon for the Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing. Almost two months ago, my advisor sent an email with information about the conference and on a whim, I decided to apply. Viterbi awarded me a scholarship to attend but I was still second guessing missing almost a full week of classes and a mid term. But, after reading about the keynote Sheryl Sandberg I was hooked and knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear from a successful woman.
A large group of USC students arrived Tuesday evening, ready to attend the conference early Wednesday morning. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was a very well organized event with a focus on networking and almost three thousand attendees. As soon as we checked in, we were handed what I nicknamed a “swag bag” full of pocket mirrors, nail polish, screen cleaners, koozies, and a lifetime supply of pens litered with company logos. We also received a schedule and map of all the events going on for the four days of the conference.
In one main conference hall, over 150 companies had booths where representatives would answer questions, give information about summer internships or full time jobs, accept resumes and set up interview appointments for later in the week. They would also hand out more company “swag” and I even got to take my picture in a Google photo booth.
In another hall there was a poster exhibit displaying the many projects or research results attendees have worked on. In smaller rooms, there were hundreds of guest speakers leading sessions about their research experience and Master’s Theses. Other sessions were led by individuals from corporations sharing advice on how to build a professional resume, ways to network, how to get involved in research, apply to grad school, and even crash courses in specific areas like web security or iPhone development.
It was overwhelming but an absolutely incredible experience. I loved being in Portland, going to dinner with Kelsey’s parents (my room mate), and getting to go to my favorite coffee shop in the whole wide world, Dutch Bros Coffee, which I had the pleasure of enjoying last summer while I visited Kelsey. Besides exploring Portland’s tax free shopping, having an amazing view from the hotel of the river, and getting dressed up in Sarah’s professional attire, I also perfected my “tell me about yourself” answer. After receiving (much needed) professional critique on my resume, I had my first (second, third and fourth) technical interview where I was asked to write sample code and define specific terms I had learned about in class!
Between interviews and passing out resumes, I heard quite a few impressive speakers talk about what they have been working on and how they have applied their education to the work place. One session I went to was about a new airport security system that uses photo sensors to detect even trace fingerprints of explosives. Who would have guessed that computer science could be applied to airport security?! I truly did not realize just how large the field of computer science is these days and how promising it is career wise.
My favorite part of the conference was getting to hear the keynote speaker on Thursday. The CEO of Facebook, former VP of Online Sales at Google and head of the Department of Treasury under Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, was such an inspiration! She spoke about being a professional woman, balancing a job with raising her now four year old daughter, and went through five key steps to being successful. She encouraged us to focus on growth when looking for a job and to take each and every opportunity we are offered so that when it comes time to start a family, we will have a job we want to return to after having a child. It was interesting hearing how such a renown woman at such an established company like Facebook supported women in computing also raising families.
The whole conference was really an inspiration to stick with my major and take advantage of the opportunities I have at USC. It was amazing getting to meet so many women studying and working in the computer science field. I am so so glad I got to attend the Grace Hopper Conference and I can’t wait to hear back from the companies I interviewed with! 🙂