Startup Life

3 Important Lessons from the Grace Hopper Conference

In October, 15,000 women from all over the world gathered in Houston, Texas, to celebrate being women in tech. The Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, and has been held annually since 1994. This was my first time attending, and I was absolutely ecstatic! This is an event I heard so much about—it promised to be three eventful days packed with learning, networking, and support for all women in the industry.

Back home in the Bay Area, I’m a member of ThoughtSpot’s Women’s Group. This group was started by women within the company who wanted to create a supportive network. Being a minority in any space can be hard at times, so it’s great to find encouragement from people who can relate to your experience. We meet regularly, offering support and guidance to each other in any way possible. When I showed interest in the GHC, my colleagues in the Women’s Group helped me make a case that ThoughtSpot couldn’t refuse.

Though the GHC is targeted towards women, some of the lessons I took away are valuable for women and men alike. For those who are curious about what it’s like to attend, here are 3 lessons I learned at GHC 2016.

1) When Opportunity Knocks, Answer

The first day started off with a keynote from the CEO of IBM, Ginny Rometty. GHC attendees filled a stadium to hear her speak, everyone was overflowing with awe and inspiration. In her talk, Ginny shared a personal story with us. She told us about how she was once presented with the career opportunity of a lifetime, but hesitated to take it because she thought she wasn’t qualified. When she ask her husband about the opportunity, he told her, “If you were a man, would you have responded the same?” The next day she agreed to take the position.  

This simple but incredibly powerful example resonated with me. I remembered that I had the same fear when an opportunity to intern during my college freshman summer appeared. With an optimistic mind, I accepted the challenge. The internship proved to be my stepping stone into other companies, and the start of a career I’m proud of.

Ginny spoke about a lot of things, but the highlights that stay with me are:

  • Never let someone define who you are - only you define who you are.

  • Growth and comfort never co-exist.

  • No matter where you are in your career, work on something you’re passionate about and bigger than yourself.

2) Take Your Place at the Table

At GHC various companies held happy hours, and these were great opportunities to mingle with other women in attendance. I decided to attend Nutanix’s Panel Session: Where Will You Be in 5 Years?

This was a night of networking with other women and learning from Nutanix employees over some delicious seafood bites and drinks. The panelists included marketing managers and engineers, and they shared anecdotes about their experiences from job hunting, careers beyond coding, day-to-day life as an engineer, and what it’s like to be a woman in an engineering role.

Some lessons that stood out to me had to do with taking pride in the role you play within a larger organization. Everyone you work with is a human who talks like you, walks like you, and eats like you—so there shouldn’t be a barrier to speak up when needed. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard.

Also, as engineers discuss code reviews and bug ownerships with each other, it’s easy to take feedback personally. Remember that you are all here to serve one purpose, to build a great company. So when you hear feedback, know that it’s about making the product—and your company—better. It’s not personal.

3) Go Where You Are Celebrated

I had the privilege of getting a seat at the Women of Color Lunch.  Women leaders such as IEEE fellow Sandra Johnson and Maxine Williams, the Global Director of Diversity at Facebook, were in attendance.

We shared lessons learned and discussed how we could make progress towards change back home in our own communities. Common themes circled around ideas like life is short, it’s important do a job you love, and remember to pamper yourself from time to time to give yourself a break. My favorite quote from the entire event was said at this lunch: “Go where you are celebrated, not just tolerated.”

We also talked about affecting the changes we want to see. This starts with mastering the foundational—be competent, be confident, and be authentic. After accomplishing that, we should then be strategic—write the vision, make it plain, create the plan from the vision. And finally of course have a mentor and a sponsor—network, network, network!

Bringing it Home

Coming home from the GHC, I now have fresh ideas to incorporate into my day-to-day. I want to voice my opinions in meetings, so I can be heard and can help make an impact. In return, I hope this will shine light on my contributions and help other women to rise with me. I think it’s also important to break out from my regular tasks so that I can step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

But more than that, I now see myself in a different light. I want to make sure I take advantage of opportunities big and small, accept my hard earned (and well deserved) place within the organization, and make sure I’m doing what I love and excel at. These are all important lessons for women and men who want to advance their careers.

Going to GHC was exhilarating and revitalizing in so many ways. I’m so thankful I was able to attend, and that ThoughtSpot and our Women’s Group were supportive in getting me there. It’s crucial for women to support each other, but just as important for men to recognize and support us. Together, I believe we can build a great future.

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