Commentary & Perspective, News

GHC/1 NYC: Locally Sourced Confidence & Inspiration

After experiencing the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, I was inspired to attend even more technical conferences. When I got home I immediately connected to the Anita Borg Institute’s Facebook page.That’s where I learned about the first ever GHC/1, a one-day conference hosted by ABI.New York, similar to the grander GHC, but only a 25-minute bus ride away in New York City.

On Wednesday, March 18th, I grabbed my backpack, notebook and pen and headed gleefully on the 166T bus from Palisades Park to the Time & Life building in NYC. I got there just in time to pick up my conference badge and hear Colin Bodell welcome all the attendees to the Time & Life building.

Overall, the conference had a lovely set up. The “Technology Innovation in the Big Apple” panel was a chance for students, professors and industry professionals to hear about the different projects and roles throughout New York —from learning what the role of a SquareSpace evangelist was, to plans that would put kiosks around NYC for tourists to interact with. The career fair stationed in the main area provided me and the other attendees with the great opportunity to see the participating companies that are based in NYC.

I think I learned the most from attending the networking panel. The panelists spoke about knowing when it’s appropriate to introduce yourself, add someone on LinkedIn, what to do in meetings, etc. Since then, I’ve been working hard to apply what I learned from that panel to my experience as an intern. During the panel, we were told two hard truths:

  1. If you are the only woman in a meeting and someone asks you to take notes, you should (kindly) say NO. You may think you’re helping out, and you might be in the moment, but by doing so you are allowing yourself to be assigned the role of a secretary instead of the tech role you SHOULD have.
  1. If you are an introvert and struggle to be noticed by your peers, then force yourself to speak up, be confident and don’t be afraid of meeting people. It is OKAY to be introverted, but in order to succeed in a tech career, it’s crucial to step out of your comfort zone.

I am an introvert and this advice has helped me become incredibly self-aware: I’ve started noticing the very slight sexism (from both men and women) that manifests itself both in the workplace and in school. I’ve noticed how hard it is to speak up in a room full of men for fear of suggesting something dumb and being judged. But I’ve also noticed how rewarding it is to step out of my comfort zone, have people accept my ideas respect me when I show confidence in abilities. While I do occasionally get frustrated with my desire to keep to myself, I have gained an abundance of knowledge and experience from listening to the advice I got at ABI.New York’s GHC/1 networking panel.

Thanks to the panels I attended, the people I met and the opportunities I’ve unlocked through GHC/1, I have not only grown as a computer scientist, but also as a person. I’ve also taken the incredible opportunity to get involved in the Latinas in Computing community! People ask me why I like computer science and technology, and in addition to my usual answer that “it’s incredibly creative and challenging,” I now also add that it makes me a better person by challenging me daily to be confident in my abilities, to speak up and suggest new features for projects I’m working on and to try to meet at least one new person a month.

I am incredibly fortunate that all I have to do to access such a supportive community of women in computing is take a bus across the Hudson River. ABI.New York’s GHC/1 event acted like an affinity space for me — we are all tri-state area women techmakers coming together to share our joys and woes of being involved in an industry that is run predominantly by men. I now have the tools and community to help me get through the next two years and prepare myself for a career in technology.  Hopefully three years from now, I’ll be able to attend one of the GHC/1 conferences, not as a student, but as a professional, with the opportunity to share my experiences, give advice and possibly even mentor a young woman who has the same goals that I have now.

— Laura Barreto, rising junior computer science major at Vassar College.

ABI.New York is part of the Anita Borg Institute’s newly launched ABI.Local network of locally organized communities that meet in cities around the world to support and advance women in technical roles. Interested in joining an ABI.Local group near you? Stay tuned for more information soon!