An Echo from the Grace Hopper Celebration

Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) that just been held 3 weeks ago in Houston, US spread many inspiration for recognizing women in computing. GHC is known as the largest gathering of women technologist in the world to acknowledge women’s achievements in tech. This year, the celebration attracted 12,000 attendees. Fantastic, could you imagine surrounded by more than 10,000 tech-women in one place?

GHC was presented by Anita Borg Institute (ABI) and ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). But, who is Grace Hopper? and who is Anita Borg? These two ladies were the catalysts for women doing computing. Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992) was not only the US navy rear-admiral, but she was also one of the first female programmers.  She developed COBOL programming and popularized the term ‘debugging’ in codes. This ‘Amazing Grace’ (her nickname) has inspired Anita Borg to co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 1994.

Dr. Anita Borg (1949 – 2003) has changed many women lives in computing field. She motivated women to embrace technology and break the ‘silicon ceiling’. Her brilliant research career for some of the industry’s commercial giants making was part of the women technological revolution. Even, long before the on line community becoming mainstream, she has initiated the Systers online community in 1987. The Anita Borg Institute (ABI) for Women and Technology which she founded in 1997, is also very famous for supporting programs, events, and initiatives – including scholarship for women in technology.

Without the roles of those two amazing women, it seems impossible to gather the world’s leading women in tech in one place for GHC. In this year GHC,  Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook), Susan Wojcicki (CEO Youtube),  Hilary Mason (Founder of Fast Forward) also attended as influential guest speakers. Susan Wojcicki talked about the stereotype of women in computing. Major perception that lead to that situation – where women earn fewer than 28% of computer science degrees, is because they think it is boring, they wouldn’t be good at it and it is insular/anti-social. To busted that stereotype, this mother of 5 children suggested to pursue girls to come to events (like GHC) that show that women can also be great engineers. Also, YouTube will be showing in advance (from 1-5 Nov), Code Girl, (http://www.codegirlmovie.com/) a documentary to encourage young girls to get involve in things they love, which were made with code. Better watch it before sets-off.

Still from GHC, the inspiring author of ‘Lean In’, Sheryl Sandberg came with three important messages for the women audiences: Be more ambitious, seek out peer support, and stay in tech field.

Yes, women in tech should be more ambitious in tech, put more effort than before. “Confidence and leadership are muscle“, she said again – you must learn to use them and find opportunity to lead.  Peer support is a unique case for women, who naturally need other women to share with. There are many communities for women in tech, if you want to be involved, such as Syster (http://anitaborg.org/get-involved/systers/), ABI.Local (http://local.anitaborg.org/), ACM-W (http://women.acm.org/), Girls in tech, etc. (even, nowadays, some tech-companies started to host female Hackatons events). Such local communities hopefully can increase the number of women in computer science, to realize that we are not ‘alone’ and isolated in this boys club. Local initiatives also established in some countries in Asia, such as Girls in Tech Indonesia (http://girlsintechindonesia.com) and Female Founder (https://www.techinasia.com/female-founders-tech-gender-equality-asia/).

Sherly also pushed women to stay in tech-field business because it is well-paid, high-impact, and flexible. Definitely, I agree. Family-work life balance is such an unfinished issue for women. But, will you be proud later if your son says that, ‘I wanna be like mom because my mom is super cool.’? Well, it is a choice. But tech-world offers something that is more flexible for mums: you can work anywhere as long as you have access to computer.

This year’s fact, only 7 women made onto the FORBES list of the 100 richest in tech (http://ceoworld.biz/2015/08/10/top-7-richest-women-in-technology-female-tech-billionaires-list-2015). Another fact is that half of all gamers are women but only 4 percent code them. Added that 30% women leaving their job in tech company (https://www.techinasia.com/talk/238-faster-growth-women-tech-industry-men-infographic/). Those facts should not hold us back. Instead, we should put it as a trigger to go further into the male-dominated tech world.

As a resonance of the GHC in US, similar events also been held in Europe, such as WomENcourage (http://womencourage.acm.org), ABI.Local for GHC, and ACM-W Inspire. Having attended two of those events made me realize that being minority does not mean that we are alone. The situation is difference if you go to a ‘normal’ computing conference or workshop where the atmosphere is more serious (more men, they don’t like to smile in formal setting). In women events, you can see lots of smiling faces and lots of sharing. We can learn not only about the technical sides and their tech-career achievement, but the story (struggling between with family, kids, work, stereotypes,etc) behind that.

Indeed, women are closer to children. Therefore, in some of the women-tech events they also organize children-tech workshops. It is always good to educate women, then…

Perhaps, in the near future, we can have a ‘Grace Hopper Celebration-like’ in Asia or Tech in Asia Conference – Women forum? As we know that we have generous number of tech-savvy women and women tech-preneurs in Asia. Wouldn’t it be very lovely to bring the computing women from academics and industry in a local event to inspire others and encourage more women from next generation into tech.