THE BLOG
10/08/2013 03:06 pm ET | Updated Dec 08, 2013

Grace Hopper Conference 2013: Think Big, Drive Forward

At last, after a year-long wait, the conference has arrived! Over a 4-day period (Oct. 2-5), more than 4,600 people -- representing 54 countries including 1,938 students, 350 companies, and 402 universities -- flocked to Minneapolis, Minn., for the 2013 Grace Hopper Conference (#GHC13). "Think big, drive forward" was declared the theme this year in celebrating women in computing.

In the last few months, we have formed a small thought leaders committee in organizing the GenConnext effort. I was one of the co-chairs within GHC Genconnext where we selected 40 high school girls to be a part of a unique experience for high school women in technology, for hackathon week. The experience is comprised of a 3-day effort in building the girls' career networks, listening to sessions from experts, and a day-long program workshop where they could choose one of the many tracks in coding: gaming, web applications and others. The girls were getting settled in the first night, having time to get to know each other. The end of this conference results in a hacktahon/gaming workshop on Saturday. I got to chat with 2 participants who are really enthusiastic about the program. One told me, "I've never been to this type of awesome conference where we are so inspired and overwhelmed at the same time...the possibilities are endless!"

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This is definitely true -- after all, this conference is about leading the next generation of women leaders. These are the girls who have powerful passion but need some encouragement and a runway to open up their future worlds. We are super excited to see the girls in action on Saturday at the open source hackathon day.

Sheryl Sandberg kicked off day one with an exclusive invite-only Q&A breakfast with roughly 70+ senior tech women. I was there and heard about why she started her book, Lean In, nonprofit organization, and more recently, the lean-in circle movement. Sheryl Sandberg is an outspoken but equally personable person. She credited the creation of her book to her daughter, and how being a mom drove her to wonder why there were few to none top-level women leaders.

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Every year, the Anita Borg Institute hosts a conference for technical women, specifically geared toward college professionals, on women in computing. There were over 402 universities that participated this year. The University of Minnesota brought in the most attendance, followed by Harvey Mudd, Purdue, Stanford, Georgia Tech and others.

Sheryl Sandberg in conversation with Telle Whitney, ABI president, and Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd, were the keynote speakers. Their discussion was on why we need more women to pursue computing and engineering careers. Harvey Mudd had done a great job increasing the number of women attendees to the college from 15 to 35 percent in the last few years. They've had a great program in making the curriculum more relatable, interactive and collaborative. As Maria said, the top 3 preconceived notions that high school girls have of computing are: 1) That it's boring, 2) I'm not good at it, and 3) too geeky of a social circle.

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Megan Smith, VP of Google and keynote speaker on Tuesday shared her passion by sharing her life experiences and how she got where she is today. Also, Smith noted that the 21st century is about collaborative technologies.

Additionally, I hosted an Entrepreneurship Career Lab track session. Over 90 college student professionals (undergraduate, graduate and PhD) comprising 70 worldwide universities including Harvard, Purdue, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Skidmore, University of Minnesota, Wheaton, Indian Institute of Tech Kanpur, Michigan State University and others, attended the session. I opened by sharing, "Yes, I am a geeky girl by heart: I am a mom, a wife, an entrepreneur, run my own company, and volunteer. I do eat and sleep, and YES you could do it all -- with prioritization" (past article). Within this session, we dove in deeper on what it takes to start up your own company and launch your products or services. You need a vision. You must put your idea on paper and implement it. From coming up with business plans and getting funding, to launching products, these students got a taste of "the day in the life" of someone in the entrepreneurship world (plus handling work-life balance). It was a great group--no one was afraid to seek counsel and raise their hands with more questions to be answered. I am so inspired, excited and encouraged by all of the future leaders who I've hosted this year! From social entrepreneurship to building their own web software applications, these ladies were so curious, passionate and eager to kick-start their careers.

As the exhibitor's hall opened up for a career fair, attendees rushed to meet their future employers. Facebook, Google, Thomson Reuters, Salesforce, Twitter and others are this year's #GHC13 sponsors. Fun and interactive booths captivated the demographics -- with chances to get caricature illustrations done, test out Google glass, get manicures, and even travel time photobooth... they had it all!

For me, it's about changing lives, inspiring these girls to see the possibilities in the world from the perspective of #STEM technology careers! we should support both genders to achieving the greater good from choosing STEM careers. We just want more representation and participation from women because we know they have the power to make change. After all, they are the future leaders of our next STEM generation.

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Myself, Barb Gee, Anna Greco and Russell(L-R)

SHOUTOUTS: SPECIAL THANKS

Genconnext committees Seema Gururaj and Rose of Anita Borg Institute; Ruthe Farmers of NCWIT; Russell, Fraenkel of Advance IT Minnesota-Metropolitan State University; Anna Grecco of Thomson Reuters; Logain/Alex Ryan/Bobbilee/Kate/Emma of Girls in Tech Minneapolis; and Black girls Code for working on making sure these girls have the best time of their lives.

Student opportunity labs:
All of the attendees, Benedicte and Seema from ABI

GHC program chair: Barb Gee, Seema Gururaj, Patty Lopez and all of the staff

Global Girls in tech/Girls in tech mentorship (GITM)

Last but not least, 24Notion, whose focus on CSR/philanthropic efforts made it possible for me to spend time with these amazing people in the last couple of days

Photos credit: Ivo Lukas, 24Notion