15,000 attendees packed Houston’s Toyota Center for the opening of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.Tessa Ann Taylor/The New York Times
Members of The New York Times Developers recently made their first group trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration. At 15,000 attendees, GHC is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing. We chose it because nowhere else could we find so many women software engineers coming together to talk about what we do with technology, and what it’s like to work as a woman in technology.
The conference was overwhelming and…dare we say it…awesome. Not only did we meet hundreds of women from all sorts of backgrounds, industries and levels of experience, we ourselves got the opportunity to let people know the breadth and depth of our work. Those things alone made the experience worth it.
It is rare to see so many women technologists all at once, and the experience made us reflective in a way that felt important to share. So below, some thoughts from some of the team that attended.
I came to the Grace Hopper Celebration representing The New York Times with the hope that my presence and interactions as an underrepresented woman of color could encourage women of all shades and labels to continue exploring roles in technology. What I got in return was that plus so much more. Not only did the conference re-energize my love for all things code, it solidified the importance of being a role model for engineers who are also women of color. It was gratifying to have young women come up to me and tell me how reassuring it was to see a face that looks a lot like theirs talking to them about what it is like being an engineer at The New York Times. The conference also ignited a firestorm of ideas for exploration in solving civic and social problems using data and diversity considerations in natural user interactions for emerging technologies.
I learned that I am capable of a lot more than I may give myself credit for and that I can use my vast experience as both an engineer and an artist to become a person of influence. More importantly, I discovered there is still so much work to do to advance women in technology, so many open questions that need to be answered, and many conversations that need to be had. Looking ahead I want to continue searching for gaps in diversity that have yet to be bridged and help the The New York Times diversity initiative stay dynamic and progressive, while continuing to raise the bar with innovative thinking.
—Corina Aoi, Software Engineer, Home team
I left Grace Hopper thinking about what it means to be an ethical programmer. As software engineers we are continuously making architectural decisions, like how to store and interpret sensitive user data. These choices carry weight, and have real, sometimes unforeseen, consequences.
This year’s first keynote speaker was Dr. Latanya Sweeney, who is the director of Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab, focusing on data privacy and the societal impact of technology. Her keynote speech covered her most famous research findings that proved algorithm-based ad delivery can perpetuate racial discrimination. She first became aware that this was even possible when a search of her name surfaced an ad falsely suggesting she’d been arrested. Her research proved this was a systemic problem, with far-reaching implications.
We know that there is a diversity problem, but we don’t know how that lack of diversity costs us. The rise of the internet has had a meaningful impact on all our daily lives; women and other underrepresented groups need to be given a voice in shaping what our online reality looks like. I’m bringing back from Grace Hopper an increased sense of responsibility to advocate for diverse perspectives at The Times.
—Nicole Baram, Associate Engineer, Subscriber Experience Group
Just being in a space where the minority becomes the majority was disorienting and exhilarating. The presence of the students — so many highly qualified young women at the very beginning of their careers — was energizing and provided a glimpse into a future when technology teams will be more diverse. In the workshops, I discovered just how much we are not alone in the challenges we face in recruiting, retaining and advancing women in technology. I learned that important factors in retaining and developing women include dealing with a lack of role models and the feeling of isolation, and lack of support of a robust women’s community. One aspect of my experience that may end up being the most significant takeaway over the long run, was making contact and building a network of powerful women who are effecting organizational transformation in their companies throughout the industry. I’m hoping to continue to mine their insight and experience as I contribute to the planning and execution of Women’s Network initiatives here at The Times.
—Rachel Goldstein, Director, Advertising Layout & Production Systems
My intention at the Grace Hopper Celebration was to learn from other companies about retention and advancement. My experience was quite moving in an unexpected way. For the first time, I was surrounded by 15,000 people who support women in computing. It was quite the contrast from the tech environments I have been in in the past. I was in a majority group: straight white female — among other subgroups such as women of different racial backgrounds who code, lesbians who code, etc. I was able to relate to the straight white male in a way — learning that subgroups have challenges dissimilar to my own, wanting to help, curious and nervous of how much I belong, but unsure how to contribute. I will bring this learning back to The New York Times, to embrace inclusion as we expand the scope of our programs from women in digital to diversity in digital. As we broaden our diversity initiative, I will dedicate myself to digging deeper into the unique challenges of subgroups, bi-racial, moms, LGBTQ-A, and others. I will encourage an open, welcoming environment to be able to ask questions at the risk of using wrong language for the sake of learning.
—Jessica Kosturko, Development Manager, Article Experience team
I had a non-traditional path through the study of computer science — I began my studies at an all-girls high school (Annie Wright School in Tacoma, Wash.) and received my degree from a women’s college (Smith College in Northampton, Mass.). Attending these institutions meant that I spent my time as a female computer science student as the rule rather than the exception. That is the power of Grace Hopper — the next group of female engineers (as well as current engineers) get to spend a few days as the rule. We’re surrounded by people who look like us, and we can seek inspiration, find solace, and learn from each other. I particularly enjoyed the LGBTQ-A lunch — I’ve never seen that many queer techies in one room. Who knew there were so many of us?
Though Grace Hopper is a nice respite, the lack of female and minority representation in computer science is very real. I focused my time at Grace Hopper on ally-ship — what it means to find and nurture allies and what it means to be an ally. I first attended Sharon Mason’s talk about empowering and engaging male allies, “Advocates and Allies: Engaging More Men in Institutional Transformation.” She pointed out that women are often stretched thin acting as gender equality advocates, unconscious bias educators, etc., in addition to our regular responsibilities. To redistribute this workload, Sharon suggested empowering male allies to share responsibility for this extra work by training other allies and taking on equal responsibility for promoting gender equality. To learn how to be a better ally myself, I also attended Hazel Havard’s talk, “Trans Issues in Tech.” She brought up issues that’d I’d never considered, like the discomfort of having to select a gender on HR onboarding forms, and the struggle to choose a gendered bathroom or find a gender-neutral bathroom.
In an ideal world, conferences like Grace Hopper wouldn’t need to exist because “women in computing” would be synonymous with “people in computing.” I will keep pushing for that day, and until then, I look forward to next year’s Grace Hopper Conference.
—Tessa Ann Taylor, Senior Software Engineer, Content Management Systems (CMS)
Going to Grace Hopper was something I pushed for at The Times, and I was fortunate to have the support of upper management to make it happen. We wanted to meet other women in the profession. We, as women technologists at The Times, wanted to be more visible in the community. And each of us defined personally important aspects of diversity in a way that could make our collective outcome more inclusive.
I am one of the approximately 6 percent of Americans who identify as Asian. As someone whose personal, racial and ethnic history in the U.S. contains explicit acts of exclusion, inclusion broadly defined has always been my personal and professional motive.
It was neat to be able to talk with women who look like me and represent the broad spectrum of what it is to be Asian in America and around the world. The attendees we met made a point to tell us how excited they were to talk us, the technologists who make it possible for New York Times journalism to reach the public. It was a good reminder that our engineering work matters — and that our perspectives as a team of diverse women matter too. Our input shapes the company’s technical output and its culture, and our presence shows others that it is possible to couple the desire to work in technology with the desire to do work that means something to others.
The “old-school Chinese” part of me can’t bring myself to talk about pride, but gratitude is universal. I’m grateful to the people outside The Times who, thanks to GHC, are including us in their efforts to create vibrant networks of local women technologists. I’m grateful to have had the chance to work alongside my colleagues — each of whom work on different teams within The Times — to bring our best game to the conference. And I am looking forward to the changes that will come because of what we are bringing back to The Times.
—Chrys Wu, Developer Advocate, Technology
Members of The New York Times Developers at the final day of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.Marcella Park
Jessica Cotrina tells us about her experience applying for the Grace Hopper Conference Scholarship Grant. She has wont his year and will have the opportunity to go to Phoenix and attend this international conference. Here it goes an invited blog post.
Hello everyone. I currently study Systems Engineering at Universidad Privada del Norte-Cajamarca. A few months ago; to be precise, in January; some information was published about a very important event: the Grace Hopper Conference. Grace Hopper Conference is the biggest celebration in the world for women in computing. It is produced by the Anita Borg Institute and presented in association with ACM.
I did not hesitate and applied for the grant. The one that applies to students. It needs some personal information, but the most important part is writing an essay.
The essay should contain expectations about why you want to go; but the important part is to be able to describe what you are currently doing. If it is a project, the impact that it has over your city or the environment it is being developed on. Then you have to upload recommendation letters from people that know you in person.
The other part was the presentation of a poster, where I added that I am working on a project called TECHMIN (Technology and Mining). I commented on the development of the project and the impact it has.
The contest held to evaluate the presentation of the poster and the application for students was evaluated internally by people from all around the world.
Now I have the opportunity to receive a Scholarship grant and go to the Grace Hopper. This covers the conference registration, a prepaid card for meals and lodging, all courtesy of the Anita Borg Institute, on top of travel expenses.
The important thing of participating on this is that the only thing you are risking is being said NO. What you can get is some friends and experience. Thanks to applying for this grant I was able to get to know very friendly people that told me their stories about how they managed to go to the Grace Hopper Conference and contacted them so that they could give me some advice.
I am very happy for being able to go and learn a lot, sharing the knowledge and, above all, grow both as a person and as a professional.