An echo from GHC/1 London

Tech is also a women’s world!

I was lucky to win a scholarship ticket to attend the GHC/1  (Grace Hopper Celebration) of Women in Computing, hoste by ABI (Anita Borg Institute) Local London, on 23 June 2016. This initiative was inspired by the very big and successful GHC  in the US last year, that had attracted 12,000 attendees. GHC is known as the largest gathering of women technologist in the world to acknowledge women’s achievements in tech.

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.  Yesterday event in London has brought together around 350 women in technology to connect, to inspire, and to learn from each other. The night before (21 June 2016), we also had a reception party at Google London office.

As I joined the event, I felt a bit weird. Normally, we would see many men in tech conference, but now it was the other way around, I could hardly see men in that event. Of course, this event is open for all  but having so many women, who work and live from computing – in a tech event, was so awesome!

GHC/1 London was opened by Rosario Robinson, the Director of ABI communities that proudly explained about the ABI mission and stated, “This is GHC/1 is the first GHC held outside the US. We are also expecting to have 15.000 women gather in GHC Houston, US, this year.”

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The programme includes keynote speakers, panel discussions, and different themed tracks with inspirational speakers. The first keynote was Sarah Wilkinson, CTO, UK Home Office. As a senior professional, she proposed three tips for women reaching career in this area, “One, believe in yourself. Women tend to have lower ambition and less confidence in pursuing career than men. Hence, when a door opens, walk through!”

Sarah, who is also one of the 50 most influential women in UK IT 2015, gave the second tips, “Don’t be afraid of failure. If you haven’t failed then you have not lived.”. For the last tip, a women that had transformed the efficiency in UK government digital access, said, “Work for people who believe in you! When you meet a new boss, give them 3 months, if they don’t impress you, move on!”. Indeed, we need to inspire girls and more women into computing for this digital movement. And if we are already in this tech area, we should help each other to advance career.

Then, the sessions break down into three tracks: technical, entrepreneurial, and leadership sessions. Speakers from women tech-leaders gave many inspirations and their tech-insight. For example, leadership tips from Microsoft, Pam Greene’s experience on developing an established technology (Google Chrome) in Google, learning from Fernanda Weiden’s (Facebook) success and failure stories, or supporting female pipeline (and erasing the unconscious bias towards women in tech) from WES (Women Engineering Society).

Not only those amazing speakers, there was also code session for coders in heels. CodeCon, sponsored by Bloomberg , is a programming contest on a browser based problem-solving platform. Of course, here we could see beautiful ladies, solving the codes on their laptop and winning the awesome prices.

Moreover, a career fair was held during the day with top companies in tech (and we can get many cool company swags), such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Bloomberg, ThoughWorks, JP Morgan, King, Palantir, Accenture, etc. This shows that these industry leaders try to support diversity and to bring more women with excellent technical skills as their employees.

For the last keynote, Katharine Zaleski, Co-Founder and President, PowerToFly – hit all the key issues of empowering women in tech. She said, “A team’s collective intelligence rises with more women in the team.”. Interestingly, she also mentioned an idea about a virtual hiring (like a VR in hiring), which is a hiring process to avoid gender-bias, by anonymous resume or an avatar interview, for example.

“Let’s educate girls and give opportunities to women,”she added.  Rather than investing on expensive fancy chairs in the office, why not investing on retaining the high-talented women in the company, giving them more maternity time. Zaleski also addressed the problem of women-friendly office, “If you have space for ping-pong tables but no breastfeeding room, review your priorities and biasses.”

No wonder she really knows all of the problems in women tech job market, because her company, PowerToFly is a service that finds work-from-home jobs for female tech talent. Indeed, as a mom, we want to work now, but we do not want to leave our children. Thus, IT is the most possible job that women can do remotely and we can find highly talented women in technology out there.

As a closing keynote for GHC/1 London, she also remarked that, “By embracing problems that women face, you can empower women to build stronger companies.”

The GHC/1 London makes me reflect, we need to get more girls interested in tech, to open broad opportunity for women in tech, and to take the leadership positions. We know that technology is not only a man’s world. I believe, tech world is a place where everyone can build great teams in diversity and create successful businesses.

Perhaps, in the near future, we can also bring GHC  in Asia. As the echo from GHC in the US and UK, we can spread many inspiration for recognizing women in computing, especially in Asia.  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? Tell us what you think!