College of Engineering News Room
Celebrating Women in Tech at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration
by Russell Nay
According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, only 18.7% of computer science bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women in 2016. This has fallen almost nine percent since 1997, and women continue to represent a fraction of students in computer science and engineering departments around the country.
The Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual event created to support the success of women in computing careers, seeks to turn this trend around. The event has become the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, welcoming more than 20,000 from 78 countries last year and more than 26,000 this year — its biggest turnout yet.
More than 30 women from the USF Computer Science and Engineering Department attended this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration. That’s nearly double the number of students from the department’s first trip in 2017.
“It’s a departmental effort sending students to diversity-focused conferences,” said Jing Wang, Ph.D., who is a USF Computer Science and Engineering instructor and the USF Women in Computer Science and Engineering faculty advisor.
Wang said that the department raised about $13,400 to send students to the event — $9,800 of which came from corporate partners in its Computing Partners Program. Additionally, 11 students won a variety of scholarships from event organizer AnitaB.org and other partnering organizations and companies.
While some students who traveled to the event were members of USF WICSE, some had also simply learned of the trip through the department and wanted to join the cohort it organized.
“We had students from basically every level in our department’s programs going to the conference,” Wang said. “It’s a very good way of students forming peer mentorships and friendships and providing support to each other.”
USF WICSE student president Catherine Giraldo said that seeing her club’s members experience the Grace Hopper Celebration for the first time and make significant progress in their job searches were some of her favorite moments from the event.
“There were interviews on the spot, and a few of them left with job and internship offers,” Giraldo said.
She also hoped to make job search progress during her visit to the event, and she said the conference provides attendees with the rare opportunity to get a first-round interview in person instead of via Skype or over the phone. She spent much of her time between the event’s career fair and its interview hall, filled with more than 300 employers ranging from Intel and Google to Netflix and National Public Radio.
USF computer science senior Victoria Carlos said she was happy to see the variety in corporate sponsors and exhibiting employers because some of her favorite companies don’t recruit at big tech events but still offer many related careers in the industry.
Carlos was also happy to see how many other women computer science and engineering students were attending the event from USF. This was Carlos’ third time going to the event, but it was her first time traveling with a group due to the department cohort.
She was able to spend more time at event panels and activities this year, and Carlos said the event featured a remarkable balance of technical and non-technical sessions. Some represented lesser-covered perspectives like being a mother in the tech industry or getting started in the industry later in life.
“You’ll get a lot of varied sessions you’d never normally hear about at other conferences,” she said.
Information technology senior Taleah Bogle said she could always find an interesting panel at the event and enjoyed sessions on robotics, a panel on women of color in leadership and a session on dealing with rude or dismissive coworkers.
Her first Grace Hopper Celebration, Bogle said she enjoyed meeting women in tech from a variety of positions in companies across the U.S. and that company representatives at the event’s career fair were mostly women in the very positions they were hiring for instead of general recruiters without the same firsthand experience. She left the event with multiple job offers from some of the employers she interviewed with.
“Go with an open mind,” Bogle said. “Try to attend any opportunities you come across because you never know what will happen.”
Several USF Computer Science and Engineering Department faculty members also traveled to this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration to tell attendees about the department’s programs and research. Department instructor and academic advisor Schinnel Small, Ph.D., said she was impressed with the sheer size of the conference and was thrilled to see the number of women in tech who attended.
“There’s something really reaffirming about coming to an event like this and literally seeing thousands of young women interested in this field and having so many wonderful companies reach out to them,” Small said.
Small teaches a section of COP 2510 Programming Concepts specifically for women computer science and engineering students and designed to be more inclusive than its larger counterparts. While its curriculum and course difficulty are the same, its small size and student composition make it easier for students to participate in class discussions and form better relationships with classmates.
“In my traditional COP 2510 section, there were about 80 students, and maybe five to 10 might be female,” she said. “Typically they were quiet and didn’t speak up in class, and I would never have a conversation with them until their midterms, and that’s if they’re not doing well.”
Small said that computer science and engineering faculty can learn about similar innovative education ideas in the field from fellow faculty members presenting their research and best practices at the Grace Hopper Celebration. Many presentations, session and panels are designed to help professors swap ideas and perspectives to ultimately improve how they teach their courses.
For students new to the conference, Carlos recommends keeping a close eye on the event registration and signing up as soon as possible, as she’s found that registration typically stays open for an hour before filling up. Uploading one’s resume to the event site ahead of time and keeping professional info updated and proofed throughout the semester will also give job-seeking students an edge.
“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “It’s super cliché, but make the most out of it. Not everyone can go, and it’s a very limited space even though it’s a big number of attendees. Don’t just look for the job, but really network with other people. The best thing I’ve always gotten out of Grace Hopper besides getting a job from it is that I met a lot of new people, and I’ve really gotten to know a lot of girls in the CSE department at USF.”