Conference | DOI: 10.1145/1610252.1610262
This year’s Grace Hopper Celebration focused
on using technology for social good.
OVer the PASt
15 years, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has become one of the in- dustry’s premier forums for
women in computer science. Cofounded
in 1994 by Anita Borg and Telle Whitney
and inspired by the legacy of Grace Murray Hopper, the conference balances a
broad range of technical talks with professional and personal programs. Once
a modest gathering of several hundred
women, it has since grown into a large,
four-day affair—held this past October
in Tucson, AZ—with a tightly packed
schedule and more than 1,600 attendees from 23 countries.
Yet the experience remains both
powerful and intimate. “There’s always a lot of excitement,” says Valerie
Barr, chair of the computer science department at Union College. “There’s
an air of joy and celebration.” Barr
has attended all but one of the previous nine conferences. Like many attendees, Barr cites the friends she has
made as one of the primary reasons
she comes back year after year. These
friendships are actively encouraged
by the conference leadership, who
challenged women to introduce themselves to five new people each day and
harnessed social media like Facebook,
Twitter, and blogs to spread the message. Last year’s innovative CONNECT
program, which enables attendees
to use special scannable bar codes to
automatically exchange contact information with people, was back again to
facilitate further networking.
This year’s theme was “Creating
Technology for Social Good,” and panels, papers, and speeches showcased
diverse examples of collaboration and
accomplishment. Keynote speakers
Megan Smith, vice president of new
business development at Google.org,
and Francine Berman, vice president
for research at Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, spoke about increasing Internet availability in developing countries
From left, clockwise, Carleton university Ph.D. candidate natalia Villanueva-Rosales, aCm
President Dame Wendy hall, and Google.org Vice President megan Smith.
and harnessing data to further projects
in science and engineering. Other technical topics included human-centered
design, communications security and
policy, and wireless ad hoc networks.
“Grace Hopper demonstrates that you
can approach computer science in a
way that’s relevant to people—that addresses hunger, poverty, environmental issues, and so on,” explains Barr.
Because of the breadth of its scope,
Barr says, the conference is also a great
opportunity to learn about breaking research that’s outside her specialty.
One of the year’s best-received new
features was a technical track that was
devoted to robotics. “It spanned four
sessions on a single day and seemed to
work quite well,” says conference chair
Heidi Kvinge, an Intel software engineering manager.
Students comprise nearly half of the
attendees, and much of the non-tech-nical program revolves around professional development. “We always focus
on the pipeline,” says Kvinge. “We want
to build the next generation of lead-
ers.” There were résumé clinics, leadership workshops, and panels on issues
women face in industry and academia.
The Computer Research Association’s
Committee on the Status of Women
sponsored three career-building sessions for undergraduates, grad students, and early-career researchers.
Industry representatives were also
invited to set up booths in an exhibition hall to showcase their companies
and answer questions. “Grace Hopper
is a great place to recruit people,” says
Tessa Lau, a researcher at the IBM Al-maden Research Center. The women
at Grace Hopper, says Lau, are motivated, smart, and enthusiastic about
the field. The conference, meanwhile,
gives them a unique opportunity to talk
to corporate researchers rather than
“I always come back energized and
full of ideas,” says Kvinge. “It broadens
PHO TOGRAPH BY GAiL CARMiCHAeL / HT TP://COMPSCiGAiL.BLOGSPO T. COM
Leah hoffmann is a Brooklyn-based technology writer.