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GHC 18, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

In this post, MathWorks GHC 18 team member Penny Anderson shares some thoughts about her experience at GHC in Houston. Penny first attended GHC in 2016 when she gave a talk announcing new Big Data features in MATLAB with Mary Ann Freeman. Sara Nadeau, a technical writer and diversity advocate at MathWorks, is the one asking the questions.

What stood out to you about the Grace Hopper Celebration this year?

For me, the most memorable things were staffing the career booth and attending networking and recruiting events. I’ve been to many conferences in the past and staffed career booths and panels before. These candidates, all women except for one man, were all just really impressive, and there was such an onslaught of interest at the booth, too. It was just waves and waves of really amazing candidates. I would write little notes on their resumes when I handed them in, like, “A+ so excited about this candidate.” Recruiting was our number one business priority for attending the conference, and I just felt like we hit a home run because the candidates were so awesome.

What are some of the things you learned at the Grace Hopper Celebration?

On my first visit to the Grace Hopper Celebration, we hadn’t done any career activities. We gave a Product Announcement talk and tried to attend talks. We had a very different experience this time around when our focus was on recruiting, and it became very apparent that this is what the conference is for. It makes sense. The audience is largely students and early-career, and the booths are staffed by all the serious players in tech intent on recruiting this talent pool.

I attended about a dozen talks and learned something at every one. For example, I learned something new about microservice architecture at an intermediate-level talk. The talks ranged in level: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. It didn’t matter what kind of talk I went to, the speakers were all articulate, excellent speakers, and they had level-appropriate material to present. The talk I enjoyed most was given by an engineer from Hewlett Packard. She talked about how they use data analytics to perform predictive maintenance on printers by analyzing the sounds the printer makes. The talk covered signal processing, machine learning, deploying the solution to a cluster, and it was just so exciting to see our core data analytics persona embodied in this engineer.

I learned how fun it is to travel with a diverse group of female coworkers. We pulled in people from many groups at MathWorks, and it was really fun to meet and get to know people from from marketing, application engineering, business applications, consulting, quality engineering and of course our recruiters and engineering development group hiring managers.

I also learned how to line dance at the after party!

Why did you come back to the Grace Hopper Celebration? Why do you think the conference is important?

MathWorks is a Gold Sponsor of GHC 18. This conference is important for recruiting: having all these talented female graduates in one location, ready to start working at MathWorks. We are committed to diversity and inclusion, and as a female senior manager I feel very strongly about hiring talented women developers and bringing them through our organization the way (MathWorks Employee #1) Loren Shure did when she hired me 23 years ago. It’s just an opportunity we can’t miss.

Also, if the stereotype is that as a woman in tech you can often be the only woman in the room, when you’re at Grace Hopper, it’s the reverse. Almost everyone in the room is a woman and that paradigm shift really gives a special kind of energy to all of the sessions and the overall environment. Until you actually see it in action or participate, you can’t imagine what it’s like. It starts when you get on the airplane and you’re surrounded by women in tech flying to Houston, and you’re all going to the same conference.

At the 2016 conference, I ran into a woman who was at the conference because of the BRAID program, trying to increase the number of female undergraduates in computer science at her institution. She was there with one of the undergraduates in the program. She basically engaged me in this conversation with this young woman as a way to give her exposure to someone who’s been there and done that in computer science. I still think about that conversation two years later and her description of her journey and talking with her about a future with computer science.

How did attendees react to MathWorks’ presence at the conference?

I was pleasantly surprised by how many people had an engineering background and knew about MATLAB and Simulink and by how many people were excited to see us there. I wasn’t expecting it. Many people came up and said they use MATLAB daily, or learned to program in MATLAB, and talked about using MATLAB at school and in their professional life.

Did you get to see the workshop in action? What was it like?

I got to act as a TA for both sessions of the workshop, and it was super fun. The audience was engaged and got into the spirit of it. Some people ended up sharing laptops, which gave a collaborative vibe to the whole room. People were laughing and joking and digging stuff out of their bags to classify with Deep Learning.

The team went to the supermarket and bought a couple hundred dollars’ worth of fruit for participants to classify in the workshop and brought it back in a suitcase. We had lots of jokes about the ‘fruitcase.’ After the second session, the tech crew was cleaning up and they asked for some fruit, so we gave them as much as they could take. At the end, we found a staff member and gave the rest of the fruit away in the break room.

What did you and the MathWorks team gain from attending the Grace Hopper Celebration?

The recruiting effort was extremely successful. The Deep Learning and IoT workshop was great for outreach, and a training opportunity. Also, the networking opportunities we had. There were structured opportunities, like the Senior Women’s Program, and more informal opportunities just everywhere.

One of our team members volunteered as a speed mentor, and got a lot out of it herself, as often happens with volunteering.

To read more about MathWorks’ activities at GHC 18, check out our blog post that covers the workshop! You can learn more about the GHC 18 team on the MathWorks GHC website. Follow the #shelovesmatlab hashtag to keep up with the awesome women in science and engineering who work with our tools.

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