The Grace Hopper Conference initiated its trade mark marathon celebration of Women in Technology today at 7AM for many hoppers, namely volunteers, including myself. Grace Hopper is known for being a bedrock of female tech talent, but also for dishing out the tough advice to young women that “working hard and being smart isn’t enough to get you ahead”. Its a lesson that new hoppers must learn quickly and for that reason Day 1 of GHC had no shortage of lessons on the importance of Mentors, Sponsors and Professional Networking. If you want to meet new hoppers to support, inspire or be inspired by, these types of sessions are a goldmine.
I selected which sessions to attend based mostly on WHO was delivering the session, which led me to attend “Building Your Professional Network” presented by Elizabeth Bautista of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Lamia Youseff of University of California, Santa Barbara. Elizabeth inspired me days before during a visit I made to LBNL with Emerging Leaders and fellow Mentors participating in the TechWomen program. I was excited to see what else I could learn from her and was not disappointed by the duo that she and Lamia presented. The lesson included reasons to network, practical tips for better networking, what NOT to do, and something that Allen Iverson knows a lot about, that little thing called “practice”!
This session is in my opinion was one of the most critical for new hoppers because it sets the stage for being able to take full advantage of what GHC has to offer. GHC isnt just a technical conference, it’s one of the most open conferences one can attend to get personal access to industry and academic leaders, in three words, GHC is Social. If you dont get social very quickly you will miss out on the majority of value from the entire conference. Beware, I’m about to make a broad generalization- men who are the majority of other top tech conferences i.e f8, Dreamforce and SXSW etc. know that they didn’t come half way across the country to learn “what” was being talked about (they can read that in the blogs), but to better understand and be able to leverage or collaborate with the “who” that said the “what”.
If hoopers learn one thing this year it should be that GHC is Social and so should you. The hallmark first day of the Grace Hopper Conference is peppered with hints hitting you in the head like a bag of nickles to remind us that the saying “if you work hard and are really really smart, you will get ahead in your career” is a lie. Day 1 hosts a flurry of sessions on mentors, sponsors, and the importance of that scary little thing called networking to reiterate this fact over and over not only for new hoppers, but also for the returning hoppers who have relaxed into the cruise control that says “just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” It is not enough to just swim, you’ve got to swim with the right fish and thats what GHC is here to help you find; not just fish, but dolphins to be exact.
Socializing at GHC is not only safe, it is the perfect place to practice so you can step up your game when you return to the real world where women are the minority, and frat boys are still loud and obnixious well into their 40s. By the end of Bautista and Youseff’s session hoppers both old and new were flexing their social muscles and exchanging their expertise, career aspirations and business cards along with the promise to “follow-up”, “connect again” or “stay in touch”.
This is great, but it’s only just a start. A wise man who inspires me frequently by the name of Harry Belefante once shared a morsel that struck me to my core, he said “Do I know who you are? Do you know who I am? Do we care about each other? Because if we do, we can turn the world around.” The tips and tools to networking are not going to help us change the world if they are not supported by a foundation of genuine interest, appreciation and caring – lets be honest, women are the better sex at building THAT foundation. So don’t just network to network! Find a space where you can be genuine, engage your passion and make an impact with other amazing people while you are at GHC and if you take nothing else, take that back home with you.