From Oct 7th to Oct 10th 15 of us, SAP’s technical women, came together to Phoenix to attend this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC). The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing is the World’s Largest Gathering of Women Technologists. It was named after Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992), American computer scientist. Grace Murray Hopper not only invented the first compiler for a computer programming language but she was the first woman US Navy admiral.
This year’s event was the 14th GHC. This was also the largest GHC with more than 8,000 attendees with ~97% being women (GHC 2013 had about 4,000 attendees!). GHC is produced every year by the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) and presented in partnership with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
All of us who attended got energized by the sessions, technical or not, the speakers and the other people we connected with. We thought that we’d share our stories with you.
So what is GHC, really?
Since 2001, the Grace Hopper Celebration takes place once a year in the US but this year’s in Phoenix was my first. The main focus of the event has always been to bring the career and research interests of women to the forefront. Over the years it has also increased public awareness about gender diversity issues in computing technology, but also exchanges of best practices among all attendees across industry and academia. Students go to GHC to get educated or recruited; companies go to hire top EECS students and learn about best practices to recruit, develop and retain technical women; technical women go to network and get inspired by others. Last and not least all attendees go to celebrate their achievements, that of others and have fun. It is rightly called “celebration”.
SAP became partner of the Anita Borg Institute in 2008. SAP had at least one presenter every year since then (either in panels or sessions) and they’ve participated in various GHC committees and boards since then. This year we had two presenters, Jane Chiao and Anne Hardy. We also had a booth to promote SAP and recruit candidates. Ingrid Bernaudin was part of GHC 2014’s Industry Advisory Board and Anne Hardy is on the Board of Trustees of ABI.
GHC is always a great opportunity to hear great speakers (this year the keynotes speakers included Shafi Goldwasser, Megan Smith, Satya Nadella) and get a sense of “hot” technology topics across industries. With the many undergraduates/graduates/PhD students/Post Docs/Professors of various universities attending, GHC offers great insights about the latest research on those hot topics. The event also offers numerous talks or discussions on softer topics, like how to move up the ladder, how to ask for a promotion, etc.
What was so special about GHC 2014?
This year GHC gathered more than 8.000 attendees (more than double from last year). Altogether the attendees came from 67 countries and 930 organizations.
59% of attendees were from industry or non-government. The rest, 41%, were from academia, faculty or students.
Google brought 541 employees, Microsoft 450, Amazon 381, Apple 235, VMware 88 and SAP 15 (Thanks to P&I HR for sponsoring us!). 70% of the attendees were under 34 years old. 258 of the attendees were brave men, although mostly executives. 🙂
What did we, SAP attendees, do and learn?
Here is what a few of us – Jane, Jana, Sangeetha, Kathrin, Sigrid, Sindhu, Gretta, Anne and I – wanted to share with you about what we did and learned:
After GHC 2014 I feel more inspired to motivate and encourage women to go into technology and make an impact.
The largest attendance thus far, and the large participation from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. are indicative of the trend that (some) companies are paying attention to the issues and working on recruiting more women into tech.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Satya’s mistake when he said that “women should not ask for raises… it is good karma”, and comments from the male allies plenary panel… it is great to see that we are talking about them candidly… I see a force and progress.
I was on the panel for the agile track. It was a great experience and I would love to do it again (maybe on the Cloud track next time? 🙂 )
The conference offers a great mixture of technical sessions on state-of-the-art topics and career development sessions. In addition networking with other women in technology (although I personally have to admit that this would be even more helpful in Europe to establish a network there).
Here are several inspiring thoughts and quotes that I wrote down during the career development tracks that I attended:
- “Today, every company is a technology company” at the moment approx. 20 % of the students graduating in computer science are women. However, usually approx. 50 % of the customer base of most companies are women, so who should relate better to those customers than women themselves? Having women in computing increases the likelihood that you build solutions suitable for this large customer segment.
- Work-life-balance: instead of optimizing your time management, you can be more effective and more content through personal energy management, i.e. do what you consider as important, providing value and where you can influence
- If you want to be a leader, you need to be confident about what you are pushing. But be willing to be vulnerable and to fail as well.
- “It does not matter where you sit in the organization, but if you have strong leadership skills – this will make up your career.”
- “We truly believe technology is a team sport – key skills are to be able to work in teams and to influence”
- If you want to join a team – know your sweet spots and what missing parts / gaps you would fill. What makes you unique?
- “Your passion with technology – love what you are doing at work, and let that shine through” (Satya Nadella)
Here are highlights of technical sessions I joined:
- Internet-of-Things: a lot of exciting and interesting scenarios arising here, with a lot of opportunities now and looking forward – e.g. smart cities (especially optimizing energy management and facility maintenance as integrated systems), smart railroads (example from Union Pacific Railroads), home automation (with PiDoorbell – manage contractors coming to your house when you are away), secure and privacy aware wearable technologies in healthcare (interconnected for personal management and usage at doctors / hospitals)
- Cloud Computing: very different perspectives on what belongs to the space of cloud computing, i.e. hardware abstraction to automate large scale data center provisioning, testing in production for SaaS solutions (Microsoft Office 365), optimizing the development process by streaming, standardizing and abstracting it
- Trends and new directions in software architecture: architecture-centric engineering that focuses on quality, “the quality and longevity of a software-reliant system is largely determined by its architecture”
My key take away from the conference was to remain always ‘curious’ in my career. Also I felt inspired to hear about the social engagements and open source humanitarian projects and I made it a point to spend some of my time to devote to such activities. I feel I would personally also benefit from doing so.
The keynotes were also pretty interesting.
- The first day keynote was by Shafi Goldwasser who is a Turing Award winner and a Mathematics professor at MIT. She spoke about Cryptography. She presented the concepts in an easy and understandable way. Next day, there was a surprise guest. She was “Megan Smith” – CTO to the US President. She spoke briefly about bringing technology into every American’s life so that the average income of American people could improve.
- The second day keynote was an interview of Satya Nadalla (CEO of Microsoft) by Maria Klawe (Dean of Harvey Mudd College) – This was like a question-answer session. Many questions were pretty interesting and he answered them in an interesting way relating to his own experiences. He said that we should not talk about work-life balance but rather work-life harmony. Though one of his answers on women’s salary negotiation brought up huge controversy, I didn’t expect that the next day, media would blow it such big. I also liked when I got to know that he returned to the conference and met the Technology Executives. He also gave an honest reply back to his employees. I hope he now keeps this in mind and tries to resolve the pay disparities between male and female colleagues in his company. Maria Klawe (who is on Microsoft’s Board of Directors) confronted him very nicely, gave her views and also maintained an entertaining and funny conversation.
- The third day keynote was by Arati Prabhakar (DARPA Head) – She spoke about different advancements in Robotics projects where she showed how robotic arms could be used for soldiers and could be controlled by their brains to move the artificial robotic hands.
Here are the highlights of the Career track sessions that I attended:
- Dynamics of Hyper-effective teams: This session gave me an overview of different types of people in a team like Dominators, Nay Sayers, Champions, Silent secret members, etc. It pointed out ways to bring the best out of everybody and also said it is important to make everyone involved to have an effective team.
- I attended a mentoring session where I could talk and ask about part time, managing kids and work life balance. I could understand that it is a problem for every workingwoman with kids. The mentor gave some ways to improve and handle this better.
- Stay curious career track – Here are typical phases in a career: Learning, Performing, Repeating, And Suffering. I got ideas on how to stay curious, accept being uncomfortable and making mistakes. Everyone should make a high level plan and goals and have to find many mentors, Seek and learn through Internship (Fellowship), Learn new things through Job Shadow, Develop the network and get in touch with other women.
Here are the highlights of the Technical track sessions that I attended:
- OpenStack Code-a-thon: OpenStack is an open IaaS for the cloud. This hands-on workshop gave participants an overview of the cloud, OpenStack (the open source IaaS for the cloud), and how it can be used to deploy highly scalable humanitarian applications.
- Big Data: Got an overview of how big and heterogeneous the data could be. The session also spoke about a business model – Data Infrastructure and Data Culture to give public access to the data.
I tried to attend a variety of sessions. My first one was “Playing the game of office politics”, and I was excited that there was no complaining at all about how disadvantaged women might be. Rather the speaker provided the audience with very useful tips to leverage their career by finding out w
hom the key persons in the company are, and with which means these could be approached. In general, my perception was that the encouragement and mentoring aspect of the conference was much stronger than any “complaint” aspect – in fact, the presence of so many successful women was encouragement and inspiration in itself.
Topic wise, I attended sessions about data science, Internet of things, security, and more. Also the session about “hacking the Linux kernel” was encouraging, though I had hoped to see more real code in it. However, the description on what are the steps etc. was providing interesting insight – and taking aware much of the quite tough reputation this area might have. Very impressive was the presentation of Bonnie Ross who presented the development on Halo. Well, quite some marketing, but also interesting insights on what the development of computer games focuses on and how it evolved during the last ten years. Probably one of the most interesting podium discussions was the one of the award winners of the Change Agent ABIE awards Barbara Birungi from Uganda and Durdana Habib from Pakistan who were joined on stage by 2011 award winner Judith Owigar from Kenya who talked about their experiences in countries where technical possibilities might be challenging.
In addition, I spent some time in the poster area. Here a huge variety of different topics and research areas were presented. It was almost impossible to read all of them, but just by spending some time, I could get some insight into very many interesting topics.
One key take away for me was something completely different. I was amazed on how diverse the community at the conference was. There were considerably many women with Asian and Indian looks, and also the Latinas and colored women had a strong presence, plus the women practicing Islam. I did not have the feeling at all that there was a problem of discrimination of any of these during the conference. The overall atmosphere was very open and friendly. In addition throughout the session, every one I met was polite, even during long queues.
I chose sessions from various tracks, but there were four focus areas:
- 1. Keynotes: starting with the highly interesting presentation of Shafi Goldwasser on cryptography and zero knowledge proofs. As I earned my academic merits in number theory this reactivated some old knowledge. The next day the new CTO of the US president and ex Google manager Megan Smith had a short keynote before Satya Nadella had his now widely known interview with Maria Klawe. On Friday the keynote in the morning was by Arati Prabhakar, director of DARPA, reminding us that a lot of the IT technologies of today have their origin in the military (ARPANET the first TCP/IP network developed by ARPA the predecessor of DARPA) and in the afternoon this was contrasted by the ABIE Change Agent Award Winners in an interesting panel discussing the challenges but also opportunities of software projects in third world countries.
- 2. Technical talks: the Linux kernel hacking 101 sounded quite familiar to someone dealing with the ABAP kernel. Other than the title suggests no coding has been produced and not even shown. Interesting was though the discussion about a certain rudeness within these developer communities. The talk about Apples new Swift Playground was very nicely illustrated with live demos and coding examples. The ease of the approach can be used for educational purposes and introduction of kids to programming. The presenter, Michelle Six, recalled her own love affair with computers and programming. Another talk was about the battle with different UI technologies and the challenges posed by web and mobile.
- 3. Current trends: Important topics were of course Big Data and Cloud. But also the Internet of things in health care or the role of biometrics. The perception of the chances or the dangers of these topics often varied greatly and the audience brought critical questions forward. The disparity surely also stemmed from the fact that presenters and panels were from profit-oriented organizations and the audience was more free to think about the possible drawbacks. One exception was a project presented by Chicago based Rayid Ghani to use Data Analysis to help community and NGO projects.
- 4. Career track: it is never too late to think about career or is it? The very well presented talk/training “Winning at the game of Office politics” also gave an opportunity to talk with other women during the exercises and hear of their experiences (newbies just out of college, frustrated “stuck in a rut” women and the happy few with a great team).
Though I admittedly lost track of the various prices and awards, they were definitely inspiring, because very different projects were honored (and maybe these honors had a slightly different focus than on other conferences – I leave this open for debate). Several of these projects concerned people that are not in the focus of mainstream software development and used a lot of creativity to overcome technical or social obstacles, e.g. the projects from Uganda and Kenya. This could also be seen in several poster sessions. The majority of them were highly interesting and some were really fascinating. They really showed the many faces of software, its developers and the problems and questions they could help to solve.
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GHC 2014 was my seventh Grace Hopper Celebration but for the first time I attended as a member of ABI’s Board of Trustees. I was quite honored to be among this select group of people, most of them having had a huge impact on technologies that we use everyday. You can check out whom those amazing people are at: http://anitaborg.org/about-us/dedicated-leadership/abi-board-of-trustees/
The Board of Trustees spent most of Wednesday together discussing and reviewing ABI’s strategy and plans (with a possible expansion to Europe 🙂 that we could significantly help). Shafi Goldwasser’s Math and Cryptography keynote lecture prepared me well for the rest of the day: she had brought us back in time with Shannon and Turing at the source of cryptography and had engaged us in the theory of proof.
After the Board meeting I explored the exhibit and visited SAP’s booth which was quite busy with students discussing with our recruiters. GHC has always been an opportunity for many companies to recruit CS students on the spot. The students who attend are among the top female EECS students at their universities!
Next day Megan Smith (CTO of the US President) who did the GHC 13 keynote while she was still at Google X came as a surprise and said a few words about her new job and her hopes that our work culture. She also said (nicely) how much our work cultures have a problem with technology. Then we had the famous or infamous interview of Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I really liked what he said besides his mistake that women should no ask for raises but rather trust karma… I feel sorry for him because I think he is a good guy who obviously was too optimistic in front of 8000 (sometimes frustrated) women.
Anyway it got me warmed up for my panel on Innovation. As in any panel there was no deep discussion but rather touching the surface on a few issues. There were many questions about Culture: How do you create a culture of innovation? How can organizations grow and remain innovative? If you want to see my slides contact me.
After my panel I ran to the Technology Executive Forum. I was late but so was Megan Smith. I was glad I was late because it gave me the chance to talk to her 1:1. She is such a humble and energetic woman! I have seen her many times at the various GHC and she’s always spread so much positive energy about technology and hopes for the world!
The Technology Executive Forum is a forum where 40 real executives from ABI’s partners come together to exchange and work on issues and solutions for recruiting, advancing and retaining technical women. All attend by invitation; most are really important people in their companies, e.g. CEOs, CTOs, VPs. Sadly I was the only one from SAP. Satya Nadella came for an hour to continue the discussion started in the morning. It was before his mistake of the morning made him quite unpopular in the world… He also committed to come to GHC for the 5 next years straight. I wish we could convince Bill McDermott to join too (next year?)…
At the end of the day Julia Lakatos, Jana Richter, Gretta Hohl and Xiaohui Xue joined me to come up with a list of our commitments until next year. I’ll disclose them in the next steps.
I ended the day at a workshop on the Dynamics of Highly Performing Teams. I got new ideas to put in practice. It will require my and my team sharpening our listening skills.
As always, GHC has been an energizing, educational and fun event. I regret that this year I did not get much time to join many sessions besides the Board meeting and Technology Executive Forum. Luckily I will go again!
Julia Lakatos (me)
This was my first Grace Hopper Conference and I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how it’s going to be. I was surprised that most of the attendees were students and therefore a lot of companies in the exhibition hall were looking for future interns.
The exhibition hall was really impressive with Google showing their self-driving car, LinkedIn with a photo shoot area where you could get a professional profile picture, Facebook with a huge Lego wall and also Disney had a booth there.
I attended several sessions, some technical ones and some, which focused on career building. For example, there was a session about biometrics and the idea to use ear recognition in the future – a little creepy but cool. Another session was about Google X and a project called loon where they were working on providing Internet connection all over the world via balloons leveraging the weather conditions and traveling around on their own. The career building sessions were mostly about who supports and
sponsors you and what you can do to increase your network and your opportunities like building up your own board of directors or managing your time wisely.
I enjoyed the open discussions in some sessions and the exchange with people from other companies and countries. And at the end of this exciting week we had a Friday Evening Celebration sponsored by Google, Microsoft and GoDaddy with a lot of glow sticks, a live band and a DJ (can you imagine thousands of girls singing and dancing to music from the Spice Girls? 😉 ).
Now you may wonder what we hope and plan to do with all we learned and with all the positive energy we collected.
Here is what a few of us – Anne Hardy, Jana Richter, Xiaohui Xue, Gretta Hohl and I – who came together for the last part of the Technology Executive Forum committed to do until GHC 2015, to help SAP recruit, develop and retain more technical women:
Bring more SAP Executives (possibly C-level and men – maybe even Bill?) to GHC 2015
Increase gender bias awareness using assessment tools
Revive “sponsorship program for technical women”; make sponsors accountable
Leverage existing communication channels to share “women in IT” practices with our ecosystem.
Spread Girls Day initiatives or similar beyond Germany.
Create global community of technical women of SAP
Who wants to help? If you are interested please contact me or any of us.
In any case we hope you’ve enjoyed the reading.