Grace Hopper convention encourages women in computer science

The annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing convention was held recently, from October 14th to October 16th, in Houston, Texas at the George R. Brown Convention Center. With roughly 12,000 attendees, the convention was a large gathering primarily organized for women who work in or have an interest in working in technological fields, along with their supporters. Several Trinity students had the opportunity to attend the conference, allowing them to engage in workshops, attend lectures, meet potential employers, and learn more about the roles women have in technological fields.

The convention provided attendees with the opportunity to hear from distinguished speakers about a variety of topics.

“In the mornings and after lunch, keynote speakers such as Sheryl Sandberg, Megan Smith and Moira Forbes would speak on topics such as the paths they’ve taken with their careers and the importance of diversity in the workplace,” said junior Julia Kennedy, a computer science and economics student.

By providing attendees with the chance to interact with distinguished leaders in their field of interests, Trinity students were able to connect with innovators they admired.

“The most memorable part of Grace Hopper was the night I met the woman I wanted to grow up to be. She was standing at a booth at the career fair, and I walked over and struck up a conversation about the company she worked for. Ten minutes later, we were speaking excitedly to one another about the interests we shared and exchanging information to stay in touch after the convention,” Kennedy said.

Although the convention provided opportunities for attendees to make connections with potential employers, speakers touched on personal notes as well.

“A big takeaway was when Sheryl Sandberg talked about being confident in yourself and thinking of three things you did well that day and that really kept her motivated,” said Kylie Moden, a senior computer science student.

Sandberg’s speech reminded listeners that, while working with technology is important, it’s also critical to focus on making sure we have a positive outlook.

“It was about thinking of the positives you’ve done each day and focusing on those. She spoke too about being ambitious and just “˜going for it’,” Moden said.

The speakers at the conference also provided insight on what it’s like working in a male-dominated field, and why it’s important not to limit or undermine any gender in the field.

“In order to make any meaningful change for women in computing, men need to beware of it as well. Sheryl Sandberg talked about this as well,” Moden said. “Having men support women in computing is not necessary just for it to be “fair” but if there are higher standards for things like maternity leave, then there are higher standards for paternity leave as well; it’s just better for everyone because there are stereotypes that hurt men too.”

Gender prejudice and stereotyping has affected technological careers previously, but as time progresses, these issues, while still existing, have become less noticeable.

“Given that we’re in a slump of women not engaging in computing, we especially need women,” said Paul Myers, a computer science professor. “Over time, these problems are fading away. Computer science is a difficult field, there’s no question of it. We’re thinking of making the curriculum more inclusive, but until we do, the rewards of just getting through the first courses of computer science are amazing.”

Trinity faculty members, inspired by the efforts of their own students, have considered altering the curriculum so that it may have as strong of an appeal to female students as it currently does to males.

“Being one of two women in a class of twenty men will always be noticeable, and we’re still in an era where that’s still the case. There’s evidence that women respond better to a curriculum that is oriented to things that are meaningful to them. We’re trying to think of ways to maybe revise the material to be a little more inclusive of women.” Myers said.

In the meantime, potential students shouldn’t be discouraged or intimidated by waning difficulties in the field.

“I’ve said that to both men and women who get discouraged, if you can get through those first few courses, the reward is great, no matter what the topic. Even in subjects like math, calculus is like the cost of admission, but once you get through it, you get an amazing array of things you can study.” Myers said.