This week, more than 4,500 women from around the globe will descend on Minneapolis, Minn. for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world's largest gathering of women technologists. That's right - thousands of elusive female coders in one place -- combining forces to learn from each other, build community, and address the issue on everyone's mind: How do we get more women here?
If someone had told 16-year-old me that I would end up being a software engineer, I would've laughed. In college, I studied communications with every intention of going into marketing. I liked design, thinking creatively and putting my ideas on paper.
So after graduation, I took a marketing role at a small start-up, but quickly noticed the company didn't have a website. One day, my manager put a book on my desk and said, "Learn HTML." I found that I spent the majority of my time developing the company's website and studying web usability to market their software product through the Internet. Through this process I realized that small changes to a site's usability had a significant effect in enhancing a user's experience, eventually leading to greater sales. This experience led to my own personal excitement for exploring more coding opportunities and seeing how the limitations of technology could be pushed and redefined.
While many individuals clung to stable employment during the remains of economic uncertainty in 2009, I decided to enroll in part-time classes to build a foundation in computer science by learning Java.I was surprised I was pretty good at it, but more importantly--I liked it. At this point I was essentially taking extensions classes to apply for a master's program, and at the time, no one would hire me for an internship because I wasn't enrolled in a traditional undergraduate program.Almost every company I applied to denied me. Then, I received the Grace Hopper Scholarship Award to attend their 2010 conference. When that happened, I was able to put "scholarship recipient" on my resume and doors started opening. Yahoo! saw my marketing background and hired me for an internship in user design.I ended up joining Yahoo full-time and then returning to UCSD for a Master's in Computer Science. Afterwards, even more doors started opening for me.I joined Google and then Facebook as a software engineering intern, and was then offered a trip to Grace Hopper on a Facebook scholarship.
I've been attending Grace Hopper for a few years now and I always get so excited to go back. It is really one of my passions, and I think every girl needs to go, whether they are "thinking" about being in computer science or already in it. It's not just a place for technical women to collaborate and meet each other--it's a place for all kinds of women from all over the world and from different industries/cultures/universities who have a passion for technology. I feel like it reveals a power to women that they never knew they could have. Just a simple hand in technology can do wonders for the world, and women can realize this at Grace Hopper.
Women today represent just 13 percent of all computer science graduates, but in middle school, 74% of girls express interest in STEM. Combine that with the knowledge that at the current graduation rate, the US is only going to fill 30% of the 1.4 million computer science jobs that will be needed in 2020 and we have a serious problem. There aren't enough engineers, and women are losing interest before they get to college. Grace Hopper is so important because it brings women together to think about these issues and solve them as part of a community. We may not be in very many high-ranking industry positions yet, but this SURE is a start.
Even though I wasn't part of the 13% of women who study computer science as undergrads, I found my way into engineering because I wanted to build things that have massive impact. It's never too late to start a career when you're pursuing a passion. It's never too late to become a software engineer. I say this because I run into so many girls who are always scared to switch majors or careers. And honestly, it's just fear. For whatever reason--perhaps the effects of societal pressure of having families and children--girls always seem to think about time and how they don't have enough of it. But I believe it's just NEVER too late to become what you have a passion for, especially when your passion is for making a dent in the world.
I'm now the first full-time female engineer on Instagram, which touches over 150 million people. By continuing to support and expand the visibility of initiatives like Grace Hopper, I hope we can get more women to become engineers--whether they're in high school, college, or in other industry roles. It's never too early or too late to switch majors or careers, especially if it's what you're meant to do.