Ah, so this will be a fun one (A girl can hope). A recollection of an amazing and full of unexpected experiences week. I should have written this post sooner as the details have started to get fuzzy in my head and I had already envisioned so many events that I had to include, hopefully this piece does justice to the way I had wished I could convey my journey. The post might seem random and full of highly opinionated musings at places so it might be safer to call a recollection of a journey into self-awareness rather than GHC, for a better recollection and breakdown of the events themselves, please visit the official GHC website.
Let’s begin by getting formalities out of the way, GHC, what is it? Frankly put, it is the largest gathering of women associated with the field of computer science across the globe. When I say big, I mean big. This Big:
So it began, on a shiny happy morning when I received information about my acceptance for the travel grant, from then to a series of legal proceedings later, I was on board a tad long (22) hour flight bound to Houston. In spirit of full disclosure, this was my first foreign trip so had that air associated with it. But that feeling wasn’t long lived because of the welcome and warmth I felt from everyone I met went a long way to eradicate the “foreign” sense of things.
Cut to the first day. Whoa! is all I felt. One advice to fellow conference attendees especially if you are a student travelling almost alone, Make Friends! As many as possible and as soon as possible. Talk to a few people ahead of time, talk to people as you wait for food/badge/entry and especially in the shuttle rides. These people can be older, younger, more experienced or first timers but everyone will be carrying an opinion and outlook on life that will make you appreciate or at least think about the world more. Some might end up being friends you get to meet again and again at various events and even be our all as fellow women in tech as you join the workforce. Some of the people I met on the very first day….well most of them were fellow former Google interns but from across the world, which made the start promising.
And the conference begins! Doors open to the welcome note which is a popping party in itself. I have to say it was an honor hearing about the real struggle the women on the stage had faced and still strove through just because of their passion for computer science, I could not help but feel thankful for the opportunities we have, in many ways due to them. I for one do not believe that today there is any great hurdle for women in to succeed in computer science if they wish to, yes, there is a matter of changing perceptions and an acceptance that is still missing in some parts of our society but I am sure of the fact that it will change soon. After seeing and hearing first-hand how these women never gave up in face of one struggle after the other and knocking on several closed doors, any excuse I might have ever wanted to make for not trying till the very end just vanished.
The Career Fair
The first thing I did was (not so proud of this) visit the career fair. Because come on, that was like Disneyland (Disney Tech itself was there!) for someone about to join the tech industry. And it surely lived up to its expectations! An endless sea of men and women from the most renounced companies in the world just mingling about like it’s every other normal day! If only I could clone myself and visit all of the booths!
While I was not actively looking for a job, my main motive was to be able to talk and gather knowledge about what it is that these companies are looking for when it comes to hiring candidates and what I could improve or inculcate in me to be a better programmer. For me it was about getting to know the community I would be joining a year down the line and see the world from their eyes. The result? Almost everyone I talked to was friendly, helpful and most of all passionate about the work they do. There was no lack of ideas and spirits and they were even open to hearing your opinions on their work. For a 20 something kid, being heard and respected by the top engineers and professors in the industry, that’s an experience you cannot trade for all the money in the world. I know I might be painting a too rosy picture of everything and the disillusionment might come once I am on the other side of the table, but till then I would like to believe that if things are even as half as good as they seem, I’ll be happy.
Oh and yes, in attendance at the conference were all the top universities of US where I got to meet esteemed professors and faculty and wow! Were they even more excited about their courses than the students who came to talk to them! Despite perhaps knowing the fact that graduation courses at these universities are the most coveted ones on this planet, they were genuinely trying to convince the attendees about their benefits and offering help in all possible forms.
Open Source and Systers
For those of you who have worked in Open Source or any remote projects will understand the feeling of working with peers you haven’t seen or even talked to for long periods of times and having formed a kinship with them. For me, that community is Systers, the technical wing of Anita Borg Institute. From giving me my first mentor to first mentorship opportunity, I have come a long way with it. At GHC, I was able to meet my mentors and ideals whom I had been guided by and whom I had assisted in various endeavors.
Volunteering at the GSoC booth for Systers was a moment of honor in itself. (The fact that the Anita Borg Institute booth was perhaps the celebrity pit stop for the conference highly helped matters as I was able to interact with these amazing women who many a times came up to you and started the conversation when you were too shy!).
Now those who know me know that I blabber a lot about Open Source and why everyone should give it a try but this meeting just affirmed my belief that everyone should without the desire of material benefits [I have never been a GSoC student myself] be a part of one or the other community which will not only improve their own skills but provide a medium to help others down the road.
Truly memorable was the Systers lunch, the company was good, the food was amazing the energy in the air is still riveted in my mind. Systers for me now is more than a community, it’s a fabric I am well woven into.
The conference cannot end without mentioning the After-Party. Which was too crazy to be true. Well, when they let their hair down, they take the town with them. All of the students, the organizers, the speakers could be seen shaking a leg together and trying to grab a picture with the who’s who of the tech industry who were quite hard to differentiate in the otherwise rainbow of colors and spirit that the event was. (Yes, being true Indians, we did manage to request the DJ to play a Bollywood song. Who knew Balam Pichkari was quite famous out there?)
A small parting comment on Houston. I found the city blissfully calm and at peace with itself. There seemed to be no rush to anything (quite a change of pace from Delhi) and the people were friendly and welcoming. Had a fun two extra days to explore around with a partner in crime I have known for years. A chance dinner at Hard Rock Café and dancing with the locals was not what we thought was in the books when we were roaming the unfamiliar roads, Houston quite surprisingly shuts down well before night time.
Especially enjoyed visiting the NASA space center, the birthplace of the ominous
“Houston, we have a problem.”
phrase, indicator of galactic proportioned troubles ahead.