Friday, September 18, 2009

Last year's Grace Hopper Conference caused a chain reaction in my life

After finishing my master's in engineering at Carleton University a few weeks ago, I have begun to reminisce about my life, and more specifically, what I want to share with you in this blog. I thought about my experiences at last year's Grace Hopper conference, about my experiences as co-founder and external affairs executive of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering), and about my experiences as a teaching assistant. I finally figured out what I'd like to share with you in this blog. I'd like to tell you how going to last year's Grace Hopper conference has changed my life.

The 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was the very first conference I attended. I went with three of my fellow executive members of WISE. We were passionate women in the preliminary stages of rebuilding this group and this conference was the perfect way to start us off. This is what I personally got from it:

I got to know my team members on a more personal level. Ultimately, I think this discouraged any development of misunderstandings between us and made me realize that we need each other's support. I remember we arrived early and spent an entire day just exploring Keystone resort. I remember we talked all night about boys.

I realized just how many awesome women there are in technical fields around the world and that we really are very valuable. I realized that it's normal that I sometimes feel like a fraud in my field and that I am not the only one who worries about balancing family life with work life. I think this was the most important thing I needed to know if I was going to rebuild WISE.

I learned that to get what you want you need to ask, ask, and ask again. And if you don't hear 'no' enough then you're not asking for enough. This is a huge reason why our group ended up getting a lot of help and funding. I remember how shocked our faculty adviser was when she heard that the dean of engineering accepted our budget proposal. Even she thought we were asking for too much.

I remember the climax of the trip. It was the last day of the conference and all the women were sitting in one big room. We were asked to talk about what we've learned. By this time my head was spinning and I felt like a nobody compared to these women. I felt even more helpless when one woman stood up and said that she learned that you can't have everything. Then an older woman stood up and said something that I will never forget. She said that you can have everything, just not all at the same time. To this day I truly believe that this woman's advice is what keeps me going. I wish I remembered who said that as I would love to thank her for sharing her wisdom.

Attending this conference convinced me that networking is extremely important if you want to get ahead. One problem though, I am an introvert. I realized this so I decided to take on the role as external affairs executive of WISE. I am very thankful I did. After much practice, I can now play the role of an extrovert, but I still need my alone time to recharge my batteries.

I learned about mentoring. I almost didn't go to that session because I thought to myself: what good could I possibly be as a mentor? But thank goodness I did because I ended up doing a lot of mentoring through WISE. I sure didn't realize I was signing up for that job, but thankfully I love mentoring and I've also gotten some pretty good feedback about it too.

A panel discussion about women in leadership taught me that you won't get anywhere if you don't take risks. There is also an African Proverb that states that smooth seas do not make a skillful sailor.

It was also made clear to me that perfectionism has two faces. Many times it's worth it to take the time to get the extra quality, but there are cases when it's not worth it. Perfectionism is still a big issue for me as I like to do everything to the best of my abilities, but I'm only human.

My Hopper position showed me that the best way to meet new people at a conference, especially if you are an introvert, is to volunteer to help out. I met more people in an hour of working as a Hopper than an hour of walking around at the conference.

And last but not least, I learned that if there are many outreach programs in your local community, it is probably more beneficial to join forces with them than to start a new one. And personally, I'm tired of all the clutter in the world. It's discouraging when you're searching for something specific and you end up with a bunch of useless information. Clutter is something I've thought about a lot.

I'd love to hear how last year's conference changed your life. Please feel free to comment on this post with some points of your own. And if this will be your first time at the conference, let us know what you think will benefit you the most and what you are looking forward to. See you all at the conference!

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