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Student News Brief

Reflections from the Grace Hopper Celebration

3-day conference a mix of technical lessons and inspiring moments

By Cindy Zhang, A.B. '21, SEAS Correspondent | Press contact
Grace Hopper Celebration

Earlier this month, over 25,000 students, academics, and professionals gathered in Orlando, Fla. to attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, a three-day conference celebrating and bringing together women in computing.

Thanks to the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Computer Science Diversity Committee, I was lucky enough to be one of 30 undergraduates attending the 2019 conference.

Attending Grace Hopper is an experience unlike any other. At a time when only 18 percent undergraduate computer and information science degrees go to women, it’s simply unbelievable to be surrounded by thousands of women who are like you — passionate about technology, computing, and what it means to be a woman in computer science. 

The sheer scale of Grace Hopper is mind-boggling: nothing prepares you for the size, even when you know there are going to be over 25,000 attendees. Even with everyone scattered throughout the convention center, nearly every session I attended was at capacity.

Given the number of attendees, it was so easy to make new friends and meet new people. Some I met at sessions, some while waiting in line (after all, if you’re going to be stuck next to someone for the next two hours, you might as well get a conversation out of it), some on the shuttle bus, others at random points throughout the conference. It’s amazing to be able to connect meaningfully with people who share similar experiences, whether that’s dealing with imposter syndrome and discrimination, or trying to balance recruiting, academics, and extracurriculars.

Allison Lee, a senior studying computer science, explained that for her, Grace Hopper is a place that fosters and celebrates mentorship, something crucial to her own experiences in computer science.

“Mentorship—both being a mentor and mentee—has been instrumental to me as a woman in tech, and conferences like GHC have been wonderful places for it to flourish,” said Lee. “GHC has allowed me to build and maintain meaningful, lasting relationships with people I wouldn't otherwise have met.”

Grace Hopper Celebration 2

In addition to the people you meet—and you meet people from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds, with all kinds of interests—one of my favorite parts of Grace Hopper was the sessions. The hardest part was choosing between sessions, but I ended up going to a mix of sessions that discussed technical concepts, such as how Google’s Smart Compose email feature was retrained to avoid saying “Happy Thanksgiving!” in months like July, as well as those that discussed ethical issues and technology’s role in civics and ethics. Those discussions really helped me better understand what I want my impact to be as a technologist and the responsibilities I have in that role.

Grace Hopper is made up of three busy days, filled with connecting as well as learning. It’s a conference where you walk into a room not knowing what to expect and walk out having learned something incredible from inspirational yet completely down-to-earth speakers.

Michele Wang, a junior studying applied mathematics, said that Grace Hopper gave her the opportunity to learn something new and reflect on her own understanding of technology.

“GHC reminded me of why I love studying computer science, this special community of women, and helped me reflect on the impact I hope to have through my life and career,” said Michele. “It made me realize how much of CS I have yet to learn, and how software can massively improve the quality of someone’s life in thoughtful ways.”

Cindy Zhang, A.B. ’21, is a computer science and English concentrator

Press Contact

Adam Zewe | 617-496-5878 | azewe@seas.harvard.edu