The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the Mecca for women in technology. Taking place in Houston this year, GHC will attract 15,000 attendees for three days jam-packed with hundreds of technical sessions, career talks, company events, and research presentations from technology’s most prominent thought leaders. For many attendees, Grace Hopper is their first conference, and the sheer scale of it can make it hard to navigate. As a two-time attendee and GHC veteran, I’ve curated my top tips for navigating the events so you can maximize your stay and take full advantage of all the amazing opportunities.
Here is Trendy Techie’s Guide to Grace Hopper!
With three days of events, you’ll want to pack at least three outfits so you stay clean and professional throughout. One trick to packing light is to pack 2 outfits worth of separates that all go together so you can make four full outfits out of two tops and two bottoms. Plus, you’ll pick up geeky tees as you go, so you won’t run out of shirts to wear.
Here’s my basic packing list to get you started:
Clothing (check out the What to Wear section below for outfit ideas):
- 2 blouses
- 1 pencil skirt
- 1 pair of jeans or capris
- 1 fancy outfit for the closing night party or any special company events
- 1 pair of flats
- 1 pair of heels
- 1 sweater for the plane (wear on the way there and back)
- 1 pair of yoga pants for the plane (wear on the way there and back)
- 1 swimsuit (optional)
- 1 pair of flip flops for the pool (optional)
- workout gear (optional)
- Passport (and any other travel docs you might need, like visas)
- American cash
- Gadget chargers
- Extra foldable bag (see below)
Heads up – it is highly likely you’ll leave GHC with enough swag to fill an entire carry-on luggage, if only because Grace Hopper is one of the only conferences where all the geeky t-shirts are made to fit women. What I usually do is pack an extra bag in my carry-on suitcase on my way to the conference, and then check the suitcase on my way home and use the extra bag as my carry-on. This opens up enough space to fit all the t-shirts, gadgets, and other techsessories you pick up at the conference.
Plan Your Sessions
The most important piece of advice I can give you for Grace Hopper is to pick your sessions before Day 1. There are hundreds of things to do at GHC – career workshops, demos, labs, research presentations, mentor dating, student sessions, plenaries, and the career fair – and up to a dozen can happen at once. Before Day 1 of the conference, take a good two hours to sit down and browse all the sessions, and carefully pick the ones you want to prioritize.
Tip: go to all the plenaries! They are always incredibly inspiring. Plan to arrive at least half an hour early if you want to get a good seat.
I recommend arriving in Houston a day early to pick up your conference bag (filled with sponsor swag and the ever-important agenda booklet) before the events begin. I usually do this and write all over my agenda booklet, circling and highlighting the sessions I want to attend, and then once I’ve made my final decisions I highlight one session per time slot on the condensed schedule and keep that in my name badge holder for easy reference throughout the conference.
PS – I realize that it’s not possible for everyone to come a day early, and if you can’t, you should use the schedule posted online to organize your session plan.
The Grace Hopper Celebration is huge, and it is easy to get swept up in the excitement of being with thousands of other like-minded individuals. The first year my friend Sarah and I went to GHC the week FLEW by, and before we knew it we were on the plane home. Last year, at our second GHC, we took time to sit down and set some goals for our time at the conference. Looking at these goals each morning kept us focused on what we wanted to get out of the conference, and by the end of the week we were much happier with what we had achieved than we were in the first year.
What to Bring to the Convention Centre
- Something to take notes with, whether it’s a laptop, tablet, or notebook. I recommend creating a OneNote notebook for your GHC trip to organize yourself and take notes of all the things you want to remember.
- Business cards – one of the best things about Grace Hopper is the networking opportunity, and coming prepared with business cards will help you make the most of it. If you’re actively job seeking, you may even want to bring some resumes.
- Water bottle – Houston is hot, hot, hot, and drinks at the conference venue are expensive. There are water stations, but they’re quite crowded and quickly emptied. Coming prepared with your own water bottle saves you time (and keeps you from having heat stroke).
- Healthy snacks to keep you fuelled! GHC staff usually bring out snacks like ice cream or yogurt in breaks between sessions, but between 15,000 attendees those disappear quickly.
What to Wear
As with many tech conferences, dress code at GHC is informal – wear whatever you’re comfortable in! Keep in mind the goals you set for yourself. If those include landing an interview or networking with C-suite professionals, you may want to err on the side of business casual (i.e. a blouse or even a casual suit). Oh, and since GHC 2016 is in Houston, dress for the heat and bring a swimsuit if your hotel has a pool.
Here are some examples of what I’ve worn to Grace Hopper in the past:
How to Network
Networking is key to making the most of your time at GHC. Houston will transform into a hub of women in tech that week, so make sure you connect with people while you’re there!
Here are three easy steps to making a meaningful professional connection with someone:
- Compliment them on their work and offer something interesting that relates to it and ties you to what they do. For example: “I saw your keynote about machine intelligence, and I think your office robots are so cool! I’m researching artificial intelligence, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how AI will transform the workplace.”
- Give them a good reason to give you their contact information. The trick here is to show them what you can do for them, not just what they can do for you. For example: “I’m doing an interview series about women in technology, and I would love to showcase your work! Would you be interested in being featured on our site?” Make sure you get their business card, or at least their email or phone number. Give them your card in return.
- Follow up after an appropriate amount of time. When is the right time? It depends on what you’re hoping for. A general rule of thumb I use is to follow up a day or two after the conference is over. That gives enough time for the whirlwind to settle down, and it’s soon enough that they’ll remember your conversation. When you follow up, remind them of what you talked about in step 1 and initiate what you brought up in step 2. Don’t be vague. For example: “Hi Dr. Jones, it was a pleasure to meet you at Grace Hopper! I really enjoyed hearing your predictions for AI in the workplace, and I am excited to share your insights and showcase your work for my readers. When is the best time this week to book a quick half hour interview?”
Note: connecting on LinkedIn is NOT enough. You need to have a direct line of communication (like an email or phone number) if you want to be able to reach them.
Because the conference is so big, you’ll only be able to talk to a small percentage of the attendees. A great way to open some more doors is by networking with social media – or as I like to call it, “tweetworking.” See my guide on effective tweetworking here.
Sort through your business cards and pamphlets
Don’t just forget about them! It’s easy to pack them away and never follow up, but you likely got those business cards and picked up those pamphlets for a reason. Follow up with them.
Reflect on your experience – did you achieve your goals?
When you set goals, it’s important to go back and reflect on where on the scale you fell in your endeavours to achieve them. Did you make the connections you wanted to? Did you join that new organization? If so, great! How can you build on that going forward? If not, how can you achieve them after GHC? Following up with your goals is even more important than setting them.
Set more goals
After Grace Hopper I always feel mentally and emotionally refreshed. There’s something so inspiring about being in a huge group of like-minded women in tech, especially because we’re the minority in our industry. At GHC you will get new ideas and fresh motivation to make your career the career of your dreams – set goals for yourself so that inspiration doesn’t fade away.
Get excited! Grace Hopper is approaching fast, so get ready, pack your carry-on, and prepare for an incredible three days in Houston.
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