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Why We Return to Grace Hopper Celebration

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Elizabeth Ames

In a few days, more than 12,000 people will arrive in Houston to attend the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. The conference is the world's largest gathering of technical women, and is often the first time many young women are exposed to so many other women technologists who have the same interests and share the same struggles.
The conference is especially impactful for the GHC Scholarship Grant winners, who otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to attend, are chosen each year to come to GHC with all expenses paid by generous industry sponsors, a National Science Foundation Grant and individual donors. The winners, who demonstrate true passion for technology, often find inspiration and encounter a launching pad for their careers at GHC.
As their careers progress, many scholars return to GHC as professionals representing leading companies in the technology space.
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Paulina Ramos, a software engineer at UBER, attended her first Grace Hopper Celebration last year as a computer science student at UC Berkeley (CONFIRM).
"When I first got to GHC, I was blown away by how many women were there," Paulina recalls. "I was thinking, 'Where have you all come from!?' I didn't realize there was such a vibrant and lively community of women in technology. I felt that I belonged and that this was my community."
Since GHC 2014, Paulina graduated and landed her dream job at the rapidly growing ridesharing company and has immersed herself in the women in tech communities at the company.
"I was so hungry to have a community and network that I'd been exposed to at GHC," Paulina says. "I sought out every kind of employee resource group for women engineers and got involved any way I could."
She's been a vocal advocate for UBER's presence at GHC, and this year she will be returning to the conference to recruit potential candidates and conduct on-site interviews on behalf of the company. She will also be participating in a media panel called "The GHC Effect: How to Become a Badass."
"I'm really excited to be on the other side," says Paulina. "Now that I'm not an undergrad and have some industry experience and know what women in tech are experiencing, I'm eager to pass on this knowledge to the incoming group of women. It's important to lend an ear and lend a hand -- it creates a cycle of learning."
For Clara Shih, that cycle of learning is coming full circle this year as she returns to GHC more than a decade after first attending in 2004 as a scholar. Back then, Clara was a graduate in the computer science department at Stanford. Today, she is the founder and CEO of Hearsay Social, a social media marketing management firm.
"I remember feeling a tremendous sense of community, possibility and confidence-building," Clara recalls. "Being the only woman in the room can be lonely at times, and I appreciated the incredible camaraderie and friendship at GHC 2004."
This year, Clara will return to the celebration as a plenary speaker to share her journey to becoming a leader in technology with other women who aspire to leadership roles. Thirty percent of Hearsay Social's engineering staff is female, and Clara has worked hard to promote a diverse and supportive work environment at her company and the industry as a whole.

"It's an honor to return to GHC this year as a speaker and to speak to so many women who are where I was a decade ago," Clara says. "GHC represents exactly the kind of community, mentorship and skill-building that we need to change the numbers for women in tech."
This unprecedented feeling of community is what stands out to Rose-Gaëlle Belinga as well, who attended her first ever GHC in 2010 thanks to a scholarship. Today, she works at Morgan Stanley in New York City.
"The age range and diversity of attendees was really impressive. I finally felt, 'hey, I'm not alone.' There are other people here who have walked in my shoes,"
Rose-Gaëlle says.
Rose-Gaëlle made lasting connections at GHC 2010 -- she remains good friends with her hotel roommate from the conference.
"She and her husband have now hosted me twice in Philadelphia," she says. "They've thrown me a party."
It's these kinds of lasting connections that help women feel more welcome and supported in the tech industry, where many women can feel isolated and frustrated at the lack of visible role models to look up to. This is especially true for Rose-Gaëlle, who is in a technology role in yet another male-dominated field, finance.
Another valuable GHC takeaway for Rose-Gaëlle was the on-site interviews she took part in during the conference. She interacted with recruiters who went above and beyond in giving her feedback on her resume, her interview skills and general job search guidelines.
"It was so great having so many companies there," Rose-Gaëlle says. "Whether they were hiring or not, they were willing to have a mock interview with you and give you feedback. I have been able to take that feedback and use that for our own campus recruiting efforts for Morgan Stanley."
Grace Hopper Celebration 2015 is October 14- 16 in Houston, TX. Follow our community on Twitter @ghc and through the hashtags #OurTimeToLead. Be sure to look out for the link to the lifestream this year, so you can be there with us!

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