"Think Big, Drive Forward" - Grace Hopper Conference Recap

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By Lichun Zhan, Yahoo engineer

On Oct. 2-6, more than 4600 women from 42 countries gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center to join the 13th celebration of women in computing at the Grace Hopper Conference. The theme of this year was “Think Big, Drive Forward.” With more than 5 days technical sessions, hands-on labs, keynotes, and birds-of-a-feature sessions to choose from, the conference brought women in computing to the forefront, providing students, professionals in industry or academia with many chances to learn, network and connect around inspirational opportunities. I was very fortunate to join the celebration.

Technological Developments Changing the World

Thinking big and driving forward requires an innovation outlook. To see how technological developments are changing how we see the world, I followed the Mobile track during the second and third days of the conference.

  • The first two very impressive presentations were given by two PhD. candidates. Both of them were related to Mobile communications. The first talk was about an Eyes-free text entry method for mobile device called Perkinput. Users could enter characters by tapping the screen with three fingers at a time in patterns based on braille. Everyone in the room was impressed by the speed and the accuracy it can reach. The second talk was aimed at helping people using sign language. It provided a model to evaluate video intelligibility.
  • "Inferring likely Mappings Between APIs" was another interesting talk. The speaker presented her interesting idea and tool to automatically map APIs of Android(Java), IOS(Objective C) and Windows 8(C#). With this mapping, a developer who needs to port applications written for one platform to another can easily replace methods from the source platform API with corresponding methods from the target platform API.
  • There was a light talk about several good coding practices. Even though those suggestions sound very familiar, the talk provided a very good chance to refresh everyone’s mind through an experienced engineer’s working examples. Here are some highlights: writing for the reader, writing for extensibility, provide unit testing, refactoring periodically. Sustainable code should be easy to read, easy to modify and extend, resistant to bugs, it should have intention-revealing names, short, single-use functions, and comments as augmentation.
  • I also joined many lightning talks about mobile device web browsing security, performance, testing. Many of them were very general, but they all provided good knowledge around the hot topics on mobile application development.
  • My focus on technical sessions ended with a panel session about native app vs. web app. Each panelist shared their view and experience on the differences of web app and native app and which one their companies picked at beginning and why. At then end, some good suggestions were given on switching from desktop to mobile, developing cross platform applications, and using the third party tools on testing.

At the end of the conference, I joined the Yahoo networking event on Friday night. During the event, I had chance to show the open sourced project I am working on — Mojito. I showed people how to install Mojito, how to use a few basic commands to create first web application, and how people can participate to the project. Many people asked good questions, wrote down the commands and src links.

Move Your Career Forward

I attended many sessions at the Grace Hopper Conference and learned many valuable insights about how to move your career forward:

  • The conference started with keynotes given by Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO), Maria Klawe(President of Harvey Mudd College), and Telle Whitney (president and CEO of Anita Borg Institute).  The career building sessions, workshops, career fairs showed people how to find where they want to go in their career along with techniques on how to get there.
  • "How To Adapt to Changes While Meeting Organization Goals" provided suggestions on what to do to stay current, involved and participating in your organization’s goals and aligning them to your personal career objectives.
  • The speaker of “The Perfect Store for Women leaders,” Rebecca Shambaugh shared her business cases for integrated leadership. She encouraged women to embrace change, be brave, and leap forward before you are ready. Also, spend two hours per month to think and reflect on the future you want. 
  • I was eager to listen to “Joining Your First Public Company Board” by Nora Denzel, who sits on the board of Ericsson. She shared her observations, experiences and path towards becoming a board member. Her experience showed me how important is “Think Big”. I liked her last suggestion to everyone: “It is not about who you know or what you know… it is about who knows what you know.”
  • Another very informative and encouraging session about career building was “Developing ScrumMaster Excellence”by Alida Cheung. As the Agile process is getting adopted by more and more companies, this session provided a clear picture of what is the role and responsibilities of a scrum master and how to become a good scrum master to lead teams and projects efficiently in the right direction.

This is the second time I joined the Grace Hopper Conference, I saw more women and men in the computing area join the conference. I also heard that Grace Hopper had successfully run in India. I believe that people who joined the conference will bring ideas, inspirations, knowledge back to their schools, companies, countries and make a difference in the world.