Women are a distinct minority in computer science classes at many universities, including CSULB. That wasn’t the case at the recent Grace Hopper Celebration, where more than 6,000 female technologists gathered for keynotes, workshops, networking, and job interviews.
“There were girls everywhere,” said Victoria Hong, a computer science major and president of the ACM chapter, one of four CSULB students who received scholarships to attend GHC. “When people ask me if it was as good as I thought, I say ‘No, it was way better.’”
Computer science major Alejandra Gonzalez had that same sense of amazement at being surrounded by so many successful women in technology, such as Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Professor and Director of Stanford University’s AI Lab and Chief Scientist at Google Cloud AI/ML, and Melinda Gates, a former Microsoft product developer who is now co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “I couldn’t believe there are that many women interested in technology,” she said.
Gonzalez was also pleased to see a strong Latina contingent at the Oct. 4-6 conference in Orlando, including at a Latina networking event organized by GHC. Evening events included a Google-sponsored outing to the Disneyworld. “There was so much going on,” she said.
But GHC, which is sponsored by ACM and AnitaB.org, wasn’t all about fun. Criticized for not paying enough attention to diversity, large tech companies are under pressure to increase the number of women in their ranks. Consequently, a big part of GHC is its career fair and interview hall.
“It was massive—there were so many companies there—big ones and small ones,” said Gonzalez, who had several job interviews with Accenture. Hong, meanwhile, was in the final stages of finalizing a summer internship with Raytheon.
The CSULB students who went to GHC this year were encouraged by Eunice Chinchilla, the only CSULB student to attend last year. “I had a really good experience, so when I came back I told all the girls I knew to apply for the scholarship and gave them tips on the application.”
Chinchilla already had an internship with Target when she attended GHC, but feels she benefitted tremendously from attending the workshops, panels, and social events. “It’s not just students—it’s people from industry. You get to talk to people who are ahead of you and you can ask them about their experiences,” she said.
Chinchilla, Gonzalez, and Hong say they’ve gotten used to being among only two or three girls in a class. Chinchilla said going to GHC gave her a sense of belonging. “It’s nice to see that you’re not alone,” she said.
Hong’s father is a computer scientist at Intuit. But until recently, she wasn’t sure she was going to follow in his footsteps. Now she appreciates that she and her father have computer science in common.
Hong is intent on encouraging more female CSULB students to apply for a GHC scholarship, and would like to see campus organizations or departments fund scholarships. “Going there and seeing all those women, I feel like I stumbled into this revolution. It’s definitely a struggle making technology more diverse. Hopefully we’ll get more girls to go.”
Now that she’s been to GHC, Hong said she’s confident about her future in technology. “Wherever it takes me, I’m going to be very happy with my life,” she said.
Gonzalez shared a similar sentiment. “I actually have more hope for the future now.”
The other two CSULB GHC scholarship recipients were computer science major Tera Lim and computer science minor Bianette Soriano.