Conferences Secure Women’s Place in Technology

October 30, 2018

Amanda Nagy

Group of computer science students
Computer science majors attend the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering for women in technology.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Cynthia Taylor

For women planning to enter computing—a field that’s 85 percent occupied by men—being at a conference with more than 20,000 women in technology is a powerful experience that reaffirms their sense of belonging.

For the past several years, Oberlin’s computer science department has taken a group of students to the annual Grace Hopper Celebration the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. This year’s conference, held September 26-28 in Houston, Texas, featured more than a dozen influential keynote speakers, including Priscilla Chan, Anita Hill, and Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX.

Oberlin assistant professors Cynthia Taylor and Roberto Hoyle accompanied 11 students to the conference, which has significant value as a recruiting event. Taylor says many of the students had job interviews at the conference, with some receiving job offers on the spot or shortly afterward.

“It’s very exciting to see the interest that tech companies have in our students and to see students take the next steps in their careers,” Taylor says.

With a packed schedule of talks, panels, and sessions, Taylor says there is something at the conference for every interest. “For me, one of the highlights was getting to see some of our alumnae who were also attending and catching up with what they’re doing now.”

Immediately after attending the Grace Hopper Celebration, third-year computer science and mathematics major Jane Hsieh traveled to the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing in Lisbon, Portugal, where she presented work on human-computer interaction.

Portrait of Jane Hsieh
Jane Hsieh presents at a conference for human-centric computing in Lisbon, Portugal.

“I gave a five-minute presentation describing parts of my research this past summer at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University,” says Hsieh, of McKinney, Texas. “I talked about an analysis of Stack Overflow questions—a question and answer site for programmers—and how its results support the cognitive model that was developed in the larger scope of our project.”

On top of getting to see the spectacular coast of Portugal, Hsieh honed her presentation skills and learned much of the specialized vocabulary that is particular to the field of human-computer interaction and human-centered computing.

Taylor points to work at other institutions which shows that sending women to conferences like Grace Hopper makes them more likely to stay in computer science. “We certainly hope it makes our students feel more comfortable and confident as computer scientists.”  

The department also regularly sends students to the Ohio Celebration of Women in Computing, a statewide conference that happens every other year, and to the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing.  

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