So, you’re heading to Houston to attend The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC)! There’s nothing quite like this annual gathering of women in computer science. It’s the largest conference of its kind, and it attracts leaders in the field from all over the world.
You might be wondering how you can make the most out of it while you’re there. Well, I’ve been incredibly lucky and have had the chance to attend the last few Grace Hopper Celebrations, first as a student and now as an employee. I’ve learned a few things over the years, so I’ve got some suggestions on how you can make the most of every minute at GHC.
1. Submit your resume to the resume database
For students and job seekers, uploading your resume to the GHC database should be a no-brainer. The earlier, the better! Companies who sponsor GHC, like Salesforce, are given access to the resume database before the conference and use that time to pour through resumes and find promising candidates. You might be encouraged to apply to certain positions, and if you do, they could schedule a pre-conference phone screen with you, followed by in-person interviews at the conference.
Uploading a current resume to the GHC database is a great way to get your name out there.
2. Bring your resume and business cards
The career fair at GHC can be overwhelming. You’re hoping to land an amazing job, so walking into a sea of booths manned by people who work for the companies you’ve always dreamed of working for can be intimidating. Business cards are a must for any attendee, even if you aren’t job hunting. They’re excellent for exchanging information with the huge number of wonderful people you’ll meet while at the conference.
Typically, when you walk up to a booth and engage with one of the staff to ask them about jobs or internships, they’ll ask you for your resume. It’s a good idea to print out several copies of it and bring them with you. This is particularly relevant if you submitted your resume to the database late, or didn’t have a chance to submit it at all. My first year, I went with very few resumes, and I ended up spending too much brain power trying to ration my resumes between the companies I wanted to apply to. Save your energy for other things (like collecting all the amazing free swag) and bring a stack.
The career fair is the in-person, LIVE version of that great big virtual database of resumes. Instead of just reading a piece of paper with your life’s accomplishments on it, they have the opportunity to talk to you in person. So, with your stellar resume and winning presence, how can they say no?
3. Pack right and get your tech prepped
Like most large conferences, there are two things that can be guaranteed: you’re going to end up with a lot of random swag, and you’re going to be walking a lot. Make sure that you don’t pack your suitcase to the brim on the way there and that you bring comfortable shoes. You’re going to want to be able to bring all your cool swag home, and you’re not going to want to be in pain every day. If you nail those two things, you’ll be off to a great start!
As far as what to wear goes… at Grace Hopper, the dress code varies pretty widely from business casual to just plain casual. You won’t be out of place if you dress comfortably. (And bring a sweater, especially if you tend to get cold easily. Conference centers are often over air-conditioned, and that was definitely the case in Houston last year.)
There’s no shame in carrying around the fancier pieces of your outfit in your bag and changing into them for your interviews, or when you’re mingling with prospective employers in the career fair or attending a networking happy hour.
Each day, you’ll need to decide what to bring to the convention center. Should you tote around your laptop, iPad, and phone? Probably not, but if you can’t stand to be parted from your laptop, you won’t be the only one! No matter your choice, make sure to keep your phone charged (but on silent during presentations, of course). This is especially critical if you’re in the process of interviewing with companies at the conference. They may reach out to you to schedule a follow-up interview or to extend an offer on the spot, so make sure you’re paying attention to any method of communication you’ve given them to get in touch with you. An external battery never hurts, and it’ll be much easier to use than the few coveted wall sockets available in the conference center.
4. Plan, at least a little bit
A great deal of information is released before the conference on the GHC website and the conference’s app about what sessions are happening, where, and when. It’s always a good idea to figure out what your must-see sessions are and plan to arrive early. But don’t bother planning your entire conference experience — it’s good to leave room for some spontaneity, especially when the sessions you were hoping to attend end up full.
If you’re a student, you’re also likely to get invited to networking events hosted by various tech companies. Pay attention to your email leading up to the conference — sometimes you’ll have to RSVP in order to attend. Plan out what you’ll do in the evenings, and remember that Friday night is already reserved for the end-of-conference party!
5. Make friends!
Grace Hopper is a truly amazing opportunity to connect with other women in tech. Before the conference, start engaging with other attendees on social media. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook, and even email chains, like Systers.
When you’re finally there, remember that it’s about more than just sitting in a seat and listening to others talk. In the downtime before a session begins, talk with the people around you. If you came with a group, make sure to meet new people outside that group. The friends and coworkers who came with you will still be there when you return to your company or college, but the amazing attendees who come from all around the world to attend GHC won’t!
Part of what can make working in tech so difficult for women is the isolation: being the only technical woman in the room, on the team, or even in the company. GHC is an incredibly large room filled with 15,000 amazing technical women, so it’s easy to see that you’re not alone, and you never have been, even when it’s felt that way. Take advantage of that, and make sure to engage with the other attendees to really get the most out of your experience.
6. Bring it home and pay it forward
If your experience this year is anything like mine in years past, you’ll leave GHC inspired to make your mark on the world and achieve your dreams. (Sounds corny, but it’s true!) It’s important to take back all you learned and share it. Ask your professor or your boss about opportunities to share what you learned at Grace Hopper. You can also engage with the Women in Tech community around you to share your experience, whether that be a local MeetUp, a gathering of PyLadies or Women Who Code, a LeanIn circle, or another group.
If you received a scholarship to attend GHC or had your attendance supported by your company, school, or some other group, it’s important to remember to pay it forward. You can show your gratitude by sharing your experience, but also by spreading the word and, for the next conference, volunteering. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from GHC my first time attending, and this year I was able to pay back at least some of that generosity by volunteering to review scholarship applications. There’s so many ways to get involved, all of which are detailed on the conference’s website in the months leading up to the next big conference.
If you’re hoping to attend again, consider putting together a speaking application for the following year, or working on a poster to present if you’re a student. Attending is wonderful, but being part of the program can be even more rewarding.
Sam O’Dell is a technical writer at Salesforce. This year marks her fifth time attending GHC and her first time presenting.