Two weeks ago, we landed in Orlando with excitement and a tinge of anxiety to attend the sixteenth Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the largest annual gathering of women in computing. GHC is organized by AnitaB.org, whose mission is to create “a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for whom they build it.” It was sensory overload in the best way possible! Our journey started with an Audible scavenger hunt that had us running around the airport taking pictures with strangers and even snapping a photo in the cockpit with the airline captain who flew us into Orlando! Each shared picture helped bring our Audible team together.
Harshada works in Audible’s Newark, NJ HQ on the Catalog Management Services team, and Paul works in Audible’s Cambridge, MA office in Kendall Square on Audible’s Alexa team; we had never met before GHC. We were joined by 60+ excited Audible attendees as we reached our hotel and attended a welcome reception including Executives (Anne Erni, Cynthia Chu), Recruiting, HR, Studio, Events, Data, Tech, and members of Audible’s Allies group. We played Get-To-Know-You Bingo with our colleagues and listened to an inspirational talk by Annie Erni, our Chief People Officer, on tips and tricks to make the most of our time at GHC. This was followed by a party for the 1K+ Amazonians attending GHC.
Day 1 of the conference started with an awe-inspiring line-up of keynote speakers. It began with Brenda Darden Wilkenson, AnitaB.org President & CEO, who emphasized the purpose of the celebration and her passion for diversity and inclusion. She urged everyone to live by the motto of “50/50 by 2025” (achieving 50% female participation in all computing fields by 2025); in contrast, the World Economics Forum has estimated that it’ll take 208 years. This was followed by equally inspiring women like Aicha Evans, CEO of Zoox, who told us how her life was not linear and took turns for the best. The key takeaway from her personal journey is to: “Think Big and Be Transformative.” She was followed by ABIE award winners Natalia Bailey, Dr. Fei Fei Li and Jhillika Kumar. Jhillika, winner of the “Student of Vision” award, was an inspiring 21-year-old student. She leveraged her personal life events to start a successful organization called AxisAbility that augments the capabilities of autistic individuals using technology.
Navigating through the 26K+ strong crowd, we attended an array of interesting events over the next three days. Sessions were based on one’s specific career: tracks for fields like data science, AI, Internet of Things, security, and more, to provide a meaningful experience for every technical woman. The tech sessions included talks on migrating from monolithic services to micro-services by Walmart Labs, and achieving zero downtime by the Expedia group, both of which relate to ongoing team priorities. The Career Track provides a platform for attendees to learn, discuss, and support one another and advance their careers. The sessions were focused on addressing concerns vocalized by many of us: staying relevant in this age of fast-paced tech, how to work on impactful projects, and how to receive acknowledgement for your work.
Audible hosted a posh recruiting event on Thursday evening for approximatel 150 people… until the invite went viral and we had 600 RSVPs! Audible’s Agile expertise was on full display as Recruiting pivoted the event to an outside space, acquired lawn games, performers, a slow-motion photo booth experience, MCs, etc. Anne Erni gave a rousing Audible speech and Jenn Lee, Director of Software Engineering on Audible’s Voice Experience team (aka our Alexa team), had a mic-drop moment inspiring the hundreds of attendees to apply to join the coolest company around! Audible’s Activate Caring culture clearly resonated and the atmosphere was electric!
On Friday, many of us explored the career fair to get some good swag ;) and to interact with aspiring students who were curious about Audible, available positions, and how they could join the company. With so much to take in, it was great being on the other side of the table without worrying about performing your best in interviews! Audible interviewed 107 intern candidates and connected with nearly a thousand people who have have all been invited to take our coding challenge. We’re excited for some of these talented engineers to join our mission at Audible!
And though the opening keynote speeches, workshops, and social events were awe-inspiring, GHC’s closing speakers made the deepest impact on us. They focused on the social impact of Women in Tech and highlighted how we could do more for society if we focus on the correct problems. We heard from Nonny de la Peña, who uses virtual and augmented reality for immersive journalism to help people empathize with reality, as well as Vivienne Ming, a theoretical neuroscientist, AI expert, and influential LGBT leader who uses AI for educational and social reforms. Ming recounted a story of a colleague, who despite knowing her lifespan was going to be short, continued her research so she would know she was leaving a better world. She challenged us to be bold: “Purpose is something bigger than you… it will take more than a lifetime to complete….”
This was followed by Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam, who empowers trainees at her university to create solutions to improve the lives of women and girls globally. Next, was Yamilee Toussaint Beach, an ABIE Award winner, who harnesses the power of dance to support young women of color from low-income backgrounds to develop the confidence, skills, and awareness necessary to obtain STEM degrees. “Where do your passions intersect?” was a thought-provoking question she asked the audience to reflect on. Wiping away tears of joy for the journeys of these wonderful women, the message was clear: we must work harder to help girls toward STEM careers.
Friday evening ended with a literal bang at the famous GHC farewell party, full of awkward dance moves to cliché music! GHC helped us network with women from all walks of Tech and strengthen relationships with our fellow Audible-ites. It was an incredible, eye-opening, humbling experience to see what happens when such diverse technical women from 90 countries come together to discuss their contributions to society and future visions. We’re thankful for the opportunity to attend this fantastic event with so many inspiring Women in Tech.
It’s critical to remember that the journey to diversity and equity parity is nascent. There’s tremendous work ahead as we continue to foster inclusivity and diversity. We need to increase STEM education and engagement; recruit under-represented minorities, and double-down on efforts to help them grow their careers; create new innovative programs that challenge our perceptions of pedigree; and so much more. To all current and aspiring Allies: GHC and its mission are for you, too! Your proactive support is necessary to fully promote Women in Tech and achieve gender equity — join or create your company’s Ally group and listen to one of the numerous excellent books on the subject, including Karen Catlin’s Better Allies. Contact Paul if you’re not sure where to start.
We’ve all seen how transformative and impactful we are when uniting around common goals. Besides being a fundamental Activate Caring mission, Diversity & Inclusion are crucial to business success according to the 2019 McKinsey report: “Gender diversity is correlated with both profitability and value creation.” If allofus actively embrace these goals, Audible will continue to grow into the best version of itself, delight millions of new customers, and exemplify what a company can mean to its people and communities.