On October 4th-6th, 2017, The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) was held at the Orange County Convention Center & Hyatt Plaza International in Orlando, Florida. This was my first time going to a GHC conference, and the first time I’d ever attended a conference of this magnitude and magnificence. There were 18,000 attendees, and out of 600 women attendees from Amazon, 18 were from Audible. Knowing that there were so many women working in the various departments of tech companies was very exciting.

Key Notes

GHC kicked off with a series of keynote speeches by women visionaries who have settled for nothing less than success. They spoke about their stories, their struggles, their failures, and their eventual successes.

What really moved me was that none of these women leaders had aimed to earn more money or titles, but something wiser.

These exceptional women came from varied backgrounds and diverse communities from across the globe. Some of them worked at McDonald’s and laundromats, while others had access to Apple computers during their schooling. However, they all invested their time and energy to gain knowledge and had bigger dreams of making an impact.

Photo of Key Note speech from Grace Hopper Conference

What really moved me was that none of these women leaders had aimed to earn more money or titles, but something wiser. They aimed to make life better by bringing forth change, they stood for their values even if it meant fighting the entire world, and worked toward what they believed was right.

Out of all keynote speeches, the one that struck me the most was the story of Dr. Fei Fei Li, who spent most of her childhood in Beijing and came to the US as a high school student. She not only learned English after coming here, but also supported her education by doing odd jobs like cleaning houses and running a laundromat at a very young age. She overcame many other challenges, each surpassing the other, to become the world’s most respected woman researcher in Artificial Intelligence. The grit and persistence she showed to overcome her disadvantages were quite remarkable.

After the keynote speeches, there were many other sessions that focused on career development and technological advances in the industry.

Photos of Grace Hopper Conference events

Career Development / Panel Discussion

One career-based session that drew attention was “Quit apologizing, justifying, and over-explaining,” conducted by two funny identical twin sisters working in tech. They started by saying that the threshold of offense is much lower for women compared to that of men, which is why women tend to apologize more often than men. One example they shared was that of a woman on the QA team who apologized to the Dev team every time she logged a new bug. The crux of the session was over-apologizing and justifying might come across as lack of confidence.

There were also many panel discussions where both men and women of different career levels discussed various aspects of working in tech. One such panel discussion comprised executive- level leaders who discussed their career paths. While some speakers had detailed five- and ten-year plans, others had never lived by a plan at all, and instead simply stood by their values and were vocal about them. These sessions and panel discussions were quite engaging and inspirational.

Tech Innovations/Improvements

There were also many tech sessions—one given by Beth Anderson, Audible Executive VP—about how customer obsession drove Audible to be what it is right now. It was quite humbling to know that Audible launched the audio player when there were no iPods, and that Audible’s first invention is now at the Smithsonian museum. She mentioned how diligently Audible’s Customer Care takes customer feedback, and how that feedback finds its way into the product lifecycle. It was quite impressive to know all the hard work and planning that goes into listening to customers to help improve the Audible experience.

Beth Anderson's talk Jenn Lee's talk

Another tech session was given by Jenn Lee, Sr. Manager at Audible, about “Surviving a Technical Interview.” In this session, so many cool tips were given about what a student should do and not do before and during a technical interview. A lot of information was shared related to data structures, algorithms, coding sites, blogs, and mock interview sites that one should be aware of. The below information was also shared relating to negative feedback provided by interviewers. This gave valuable insight into interviewer expectations.

Feedback

  • Weak foundation
  • Bad fit for the organization
  • No interest in the organization
  • Talks too much
  • Too quiet or no questions
  • Unable to articulate experience
  • Use ‘we’ vs ‘I’ when describing projects
  • Lack of confidence
  • Overconfident
  • One other tech session was “Improving SEO rank of web pages.” This was a panel discussion among female engineers from eBay, AirBnB, Pinterest, Square, and Facebook. The enthusiasm of these technologists was infectious.

    AirBnB technologists spoke about how they leveraged Google’s AMP on their mobile pages and witnessed spikes in traffic to their pages. Square technologists mentioned that lately, they had been focusing on AppStore optimizations. Some of the interesting research thoughts were that carousels might not be right for mobile pages as users tend to scroll down vertically rather than horizontally, so a few have been looking for an alternative to carousels. Pinterest mentioned SEO ranking has been their biggest challenge as they are heavy on images, and ranking pages based on images still remains an open challenge.

    It was also quite fascinating to learn the different ways each of these companies have been trying to solve some common Web issues.

    Networking and Fun

    Team photo of Audible employees at social event

    Apart from all these enriching and educational sessions, there were lots of socializing events. There was an Amazon Networking Event where Amazon employees from around the world had the opportunity to meet and greet each other. A scholar’s reception event was hosted by Audible to meet and encourage some of the students aspiring to venture into technology. At the end of the day, it was fun hanging out with Audible colleagues exchanging each other’s experiences and opinions regarding the day’s sessions. Some of our colleagues’ GHC experiences can be heard in this video.

    “Bring people up with you, grow together!”

    All of these sessions and conversations provided an opportunity to learn, share, and grow. There was a lot of wisdom one could imbibe from all around. Below, are some of the inspirational quotes from GHC:

  • “The outcome of the meeting does not matter. What matters is whether your ideas and opinions are being valued and are your contributions being appreciated?”
  • “Focus on how your work can better the product. Can you create a process to make it work?”
  • “Don’t give room for self-doubt. Take risk...ask oneself, why not? Why not me?”
  • “Surround yourself with people who support.”
  • “When you are dreaming big you will have spectacular failures.”
  • “Don’t clip your wings to fit into someone else’s mold of you.”
  • “We are defined by two things…Problems that we create and problems that we solve."
  • One piece of advice that struck me profoundly was given by one of our own leaders, Beth Anderson, who said “Bring people up with you, grow together!” Being at GHC has been an enriching experience that would be cherished for a long time. Thanks to Audible for the opportunity!

    Team photo of Audible employees