Empowering Women in Tech – CCIS Students Attend the 2018 Grace Hopper Conference

October 30, 2018

By Madelaine Millar

What if kicking around a soccer ball could generate power for households in third world countries? That would be an amazing piece of technology, but it wouldn’t do much to help the families with daughters who can’t go outside to run and play. In her opening speech, Jessica O. Matthews, one of this year’s keynote speakers at the Grace Hopper Conference, demonstrated her accessible solution: a jump rope that did the same thing.

“She was on stage jumping rope in heels, and then she plugged it in and showed us how it worked and the entire room went crazy,” recalled Ifteda Ahmed-Syed, a second year combined Computer Science and Business major who attended the conference. “The entire room was just screaming and applauding her, and that’s a moment that’s going to stick with me forever because that was 20,000 women in a room, celebrating this one woman. That’s a feeling I live for.”

Ahmed-Syed was one of 25 students from Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science who attended the Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) at the end of September on a scholarship from the college. This year’s conference, hosted in Houston, attracted roughly 20,000 women from all around the world, at all points in their careers, making it the largest gathering of women in technology in the world. The conference is hosted by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and aims to support and inspire women to further their careers, break boundaries, and transform the world of technology. The Northeastern attendees spoke glowingly of their experience, especially of getting to meet so many women like themselves.

“I’ve never been surrounded in a space of tens of thousands of passionate women in tech, and the whole experience felt empowering and celebratory,” said Celine Yan, a second year Computer Science and Design major. “Once in a lifetime connections happen for so many people in these three days, and it is these experiences that will enable women to support one another to tackle the gender gap in tech.”

The event was broken down into two main parts; a set of speakers and workshops, and a career fair. Second year Computer Science major Isabel Bolger scored an interview with the company Square through the career fair, however if she returns to the conference she plans on spending more time listening to the speakers and attending workshops.

“I think the speaking events are really important to attend, just because that’s something you can carry with you for the rest of your life.” she explained

Whether they focused their efforts at the career fair or mainly attended speaking events, Northeastern’s student attendees felt they gained valuable knowledge and experiences that they could come back and apply to their work at CCIS. Ahmed-Syed, for instance, wanted to apply the real-world strategies she learned to improve accessibility.

“I attended a lot of sessions that had to do with accessibility and inclusion, so there was a lot of emphasis on who’s using your apps, or who’s using this program,” she said. “I think it’s ingrained in me, this constant consciousness of accessibility…now it’s like okay, this is how I can make this more accessible, this is how I can make this more inclusive, by including this this and this feature.” She hopes to apply her newfound knowledge to her work in class, but also to keep accessibility at the forefront in her career in general.

Bolger, meanwhile, believed attending the conference would help her overcome imposter syndrome excel in her classes.

“I think I struggle with that in my field, imposter syndrome is something that like hits me a lot, so I think going to the conference really will allow me to believe that I can be successful in the field.” she said. Even though many CCIS classes make a point of addressing imposter syndrome, there is nothing like seeing 20,000 women succeeding to make you believe that there is space for you in tech.

Meanwhile, had spent her time learning from potential employers and was coming back to campus with new focus, energy, and strategy to jump start her career.

“Through my interviews at GHC, all of the employers were looking for a team player and collaborative quality, and it was a plus if you had a clear idea of what your career goals are,” she explained. “At Northeastern, I plan to stay an engaged leader in the female empowerment in STEM initiative, and be mindful on collaborative group work. My experience at GHC will help tremendously in future interviews, as well as reinforce how much I care and value the projects I am working on with others.”

All three students hope to attend the conference again in the future and encourage others to as well.

“It’s just a really great opportunity,” said Bolger. “It will make you understand what it means to be a woman in STEM. I had heard stereotypes and stuff like that, but going and understanding what it really means, and how really proud you should be, is something that I learned.”