I just returned from the 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Sold out with over 1600 attendees (nearly half students), Grace Hopper is becoming the conference to attend for women in CS.
Just as with other conferences, the more years you attend, the more people
you know and the more enjoyable the conference becomes. This year I was
happy to spend time catching up with friends from CRA-W (and many others
who have volunteered at CRA-W events), students I have mentored (past and
present), and old friends from grad school!
Some notable highlights:
- The keynote by Google's Megan Smith illuminated several ways in which
Google is innovating for social good (e.g., increasing internet
availability in Africa, or tracking health trends based on people searching
for flu symptoms). I am impressed at how Google leverages its core
strength (search) to deliver insights and innovations in previously
unrelated markets. Who would have imagined that you could predict
epidemics by looking at users' search behavior? Yet like many good ideas,
this one only seems obvious in hindsight.
- Ruzena Bajcsy, during her acceptance speech for the Anita Borg
Technical Leadership Award, commented on how education is suffering in
California due to the shortsightedness of the "me generation". She
received a standing ovation for closing with advice to the younger
generation: go home and tell your parents not to be so selfish.
- Fran Allen hosted an award luncheon in honor of the recipient of the
Fran Allen PhD Fellowship (Aruna Balakrishnan, who is interning at Almaden
this summer!). Reflecting how the Grace Hopper conference sold out this
year, she pointed out that conferences that focus on building a community
are growing despite the economic downturn, while more "traditional"
conferences are seeing their participation fall off.
- The conference swag at GHC is always interesting. The clear winners
this year: small backpacking-sized tube of sunscreen from Yahoo!,
fold-up grocery bag from Intuit, multicolored USB hub from some company I
can't remember. Things I gave back: bright red nail polish from State
Farm, a tabletop purse hook from NetApp, multiple tins of breath mints.
- I've seen the level of Twitter usage vary widely across different
conferences. As usual, women lead the way in social media. Twitterers
liveblogged most of the high points of the conference: check out the #ghc09 hashtag.
- The discussion during the ResearcHers lunch for women in
industry/government labs raised several interesting issues specific to
women in research labs. Getting travel support to attend the conference
for women in these labs can be extremely challenging. One point was made
that the conference needs to be very careful about how it describes itself:
the emphasis on networking and career development may give the impression
that women are attending primarily to "network" with other institutions and
find a better job elsewhere. The benefit to the students of having more
representatives from industry/government research labs is obvious: they get
role models of women who have succeeded in these labs. But in tough
economic times, labs cut back on travel funding, and the government grants
that fund student travel can't typically be used to support professional
women. How can we help more research lab women join the community of women
in CS and attend future Hopper conferences?
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