Grace Hopper reflection #4 - 2A CFM student

2016 was the first year that I attended GHC, but I certainly hope that it will not be my last.

I reconnected with old friends and bonded with new people who possessed refreshingly unique backgrounds but shared my passion for empowering women through technology. 

I became especially close with Jean, a girl I met at the airport who was also travelling with the UW group. Jean was working in Toronto as a high school computer science teacher so naturally she was interested in going into teaching full-time. We got to know each other excruciatingly well over the 4 days at the conference.

At the hotel we met a lady named Anne from Johns Hopkins on two separate occasions. She didn’t know how to use the waffle maker so I made her a waffle one day and coincidentally enough, Jean made her a waffle the next day. Out of gratitude and perhaps interest in hiring us, Anne invited us both to a private networking session for aspiring interns for the Advanced Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins. That was only one of several private mixers various companies were hosting, but many of them were already full and we decided to use the most of our time instead of staying idle on a waitlist. Not only did we participate in the exact same events, we also introduced each other to the recruiters at the Career Expo.

By the time we spoke to the 5th recruiter, we had already nailed our elevator pitch by heart…

“Her name is Jean. She’s a third year Math student hoping to become a CS professor but with a conflicting interest in working in the cyber-security industry.”

“And her name is Amy. She’s in second year Computing & Financial Management. In the short term she wants to develop her programming skills but her end goal is in fintech.”

Oh, the Expo. This is where you would trade in a few minutes of your time at booths of your liking for more information about the company and a potential interview.

Many companies at GHC only hire students and graduates holding American passports, but even if you don’t go home with a job or internship, a bag full of swag isn’t a poor substitute.

Honestly, by the time it was closing time on the last day, booth owners were stuffing their branded hair-ties, stickers, magnets and buttons into our hands. We were doing them a favour, since they didn’t want to bring them back home, e.g. 4000 banana bags back to Survey Monkey’s Ottawa office.

Survey Monkey had so many banana bags left over that Jean and I volunteered to help pack the rest and give them away (after keeping a few bunches for ourselves). There, we met a girl who recognized our colourful lanyards and turned out to be a recent alumna of Waterloo! She wasn’t the only one who was familiar with our home institution. Large companies such as Square, Qualcomm and Yelp frequently hire from Waterloo. As I was surrounded by the energy of UW-student-hungry recruiters, envious undergrads as well as prospective grad students from other schools and supportive Waterloo peers, I was finally convinced of the popular truth: if you’re reading this, you go to a tech education powerhouse. Curiously, GHC was where I felt the strongest sense of school spirit and belonging.

Among the sessions that I attended, I learned the most from “Effective Teaching Tactics” and “Beyond Passwords: Challenges and Opportunities in Strong Authentication for the Web”. Actually, I only went to two sessions because there was so much to do at the rest of the conference!

In “Effective Teaching Tactics”, my childhood interest for a career in academia was piqued once again. The session was hosted by two charismatic professors at two universities bipolar in location, size, and culture. The two professors shared their personal teaching tactics at effectively teaching toward class sizes of 30 to 300, respectively. Although I could not apply these tactics to my everyday life yet, the talk disclosed some of the secrets that my own teachers and professors have been using on me, such as how to pacify a class of 300, how to detect when students are using distracting electronics in class, and how to request feedback from the class to improve future instruction.

In “Beyond Passwords: Challenges and Opportunities in Strong Authentication for the Web”, we learned about ways to reduce the chances of our passwords being hacked. Counterintuitively, frequently changing passwords is not effective considering that if a hacker were able to crack your first password, he/she will not be far from the second. Other methods for stronger authentication on the web include implementing two-factor authentication and avoiding anti-virus.

At the end of GHC, I went home with one lifelong friend, a handful of interviews, and about 30 t-shirts.

Indeed, Jean and I got ourselves in a whole fiasco of pilfering a cardboard box and shipping it at the airport since our suitcases were too small for our souvenirs. But don’t go to GHC for the swag or the hotel or the venue. Go there to learn—about inspirational women, opportunities in STEM and advancements in tech. Come back to inspire—your family and friends, co-workers and the world.

-Amy Liu, 2A CFM Student