Reflections on Grace Hopper Celebration

October 14, 2019 — Written by Opendoor

At Opendoor, we live by our values. We act every day with our customers in mind. We’re bold. We take ownership. We build openness. And most importantly, we empower each other.

Empowerment, inspiration and celebration were all key themes of last week’s Grace Hopper Celebration (#GHC19), the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Ten women from Opendoor spent the week at Grace Hopper, making connections, sharing experiences, and sparking action toward more diverse and inclusive workplaces for all.

We share their passion for creating a workplace where every individual is empowered. We’ve seen firsthand how diversity and inclusivity enable us to unleash the greatness within our teams and create better products for our customers.

We got to chat with two of our engineers who attended Grace Hopper this year. Below they share some of the insights they brought home with them.

Tell us about yourself.

Flora: I joined Opendoor over six months ago, and am a full stack engineer on the Seller Experience Conversion team. This was my first time attending the conference. I’m grateful to have represented Opendoor and met other women in tech.

Sumedha: I’m a full-stack engineer on the Trade-Ins team at Opendoor. This was my 4th time attending Grace Hopper. I’ve usually split my time between talks and the career fair. This year, I focused all my time at the career fair trying to meet the talented women in tech in attendance!

Tell us about your experience at GHC.

Flora: It was an eye-opening experience. I have never been surrounded by so many highly qualified and motivated women in all different parts of technology — from policy researchers to writers to engineers. The breadth of experience and level of passion was also impressive. It was inspiring to see female leaders working on diverse, impactful problems, from self-driving cars to cutting edge artificial intelligence. What I learned was that the advancement of equality is driven by people who proactively push for organizational change through dialogue and support programs at their companies. I am excited to be a part of this growing community, and want to bring back all my learnings to Opendoor.

Sumedha: Over the four years that I’ve attended the Grace Hopper Celebration, I’ve seen the attendance grow from 12,000 people in 2015 to over 25,000 this year! It has always been an overwhelming experience. I still remember that feeling of walking into my first keynote and being blown away by the immense number of women all in one room. The palpable energy is something I will never forget. This year, getting to meet hundreds of people from such diverse backgrounds just blew me away.

What are your learnings and takeaways?

Flora: The technical deep-dives from industry experts and the unique exposure to experienced tech leaders were certainly fascinating, but arguably the most meaningful takeaway for me was the stories of vulnerability behind those inspiring successes.

The best example that comes to mind was Dr. Natalya Bailey’s keynote. For context, Natalya won the GHC Emerging Technologist Award this year for her invention of a new form of small satellite propulsion engine. Yet during her thank you speech, she shared a story of how she was once told her voice was too high and squeaky for a CEO of a company. It was a powerful realization to see that even such accomplished women still face mental challenges about themselves and their abilities. Natalya eventually overcame this by working with a speaking coach to help build confidence, but most crucially, she stayed true to herself and didn’t try to make her voice lower to conform to expectations.

Having only worked as an engineer for two years, I certainly have moments of self-doubt about my own place in this industry. Like Natalya, I want to reframe these challenges, and I feel lucky to have been present at GHC to hear all these inspiring stories about overcoming mental hurdles. These seemingly small, internal struggles have so much power when they are shared. As a whole, my experience was much more than attending technical sessions or networking but also feeling truly empowered by learning from other women.

Sumedha: I’m personally horrible at public speaking so attending career fairs as a student was pretty much my own personal anxiety-filled nightmare. However, when I began recruiting at career fairs for my job, I realized that I’m still anxious talking to strangers. This has dramatically changed my approach to career fair recruiting. I try and make sure that the recruit I am talking to feels as comfortable as possible. I’ve tried to be a lot more cognizant of some people who are maybe too uncomfortable approaching a booth but may be interested.

I also run a women in tech book club internally at Opendoor. Meeting so many people from different parts of the industry, allowed me to get some awesome book recommendations to help our engineers learn and grow! For example, some recommendations we were given were “Can we all be Feminists?” by June Eric-Udorie, “Power your Tribe” by Christine Comaford, and “Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder” by Reshma Saujani.

We are aware that there is a representation problem in tech. I’ve heard all the classic lines about why that’s the case over my time as a software engineer: it’s a pipeline problem, etc. Attending this conference has always strengthened my belief that the representation problem our industry faces is a process problem and not so much a pipeline problem. As an industry, we can do better to serve the pool of diverse engineering candidates out there. This conference gives me hope that we can change as an industry. As Grace Hopper herself once stated, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

Do you have any advice for future attendees?

Flora: The dizzying long lines and crowded spaces at GHC can be overwhelming at first, but use them to your advantage! Some of the most enlightening conversations and discussions I had were from meeting new people on the same lunch table or while waiting in line to enter. GHC is a four-day marathon, so don’t forget to pace yourself and also take breaks between sessions or networking.

Sumedha: Spend some time before the conference pre-registering for sessions and planning your schedule. It’ll help you focus your time and energy and make the best of your 3 days.

The career fair can be extremely overwhelming. It can be intimidating to stand in line and pitch yourself to a stranger. We’ve all been in your shoes, so don’t be afraid! Try and have your resume and your elevator pitch about yourself ready. Don’t be afraid to just directly ask, “What does X company do?”.

The Grace Hopper experience also doesn’t end at 5:30 pm when the career fair closes. Various companies host a variety of networking events which are great opportunities to learn from other attendees in a very casual format. I highly recommend taking advantage of such events, it’s always great to meet and learn from other badass women doing badass things.

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