Computer Science is stereotypically a male dominated field. However, this was not always the case. Many of the pioneers in the field have been female. One of the biggest names from the field is Grace Hopper, a Navy Rear Admiral who developed the very first compiler for a programming language. She is even the individual credited for coining the term debugging, as it applies to eliminating errors in computer software.
The Anita Borg Institute, a non-profit organization created to promote enrolment and retention of women in technological fields, hosts a yearly conference called the “Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing.” Seven Roanoke College students, organized by Dr. Anil Shende, had the opportunity to attend the 20th conference held in Phoenix, Arizona this year. These seven students represent all levels of our Computer Science major and minor.
The focus of the conference each year is the celebration of Women in the field of Computer Science. The theme for this year’s conference was “Everywhere. Everyone.”, a celebration and discovery about how computer technology is ubiquitous in our every day lives. Our students had a chance to attend talks by the creator of the NEST thermostat system and Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. They also attended a career fair that demonstrated the opportunities not just for women, but any student in the field.
The students attended one of the talks that made international news. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft made headlines due to a comment he made at the conference about women asking for pay raises. Emily Huffman stated that “It was as if all of us that witnessed this interview were a small part of history.”
The students who attended the conference were blown away by their entire experience. They had opportunities to hear about different opportunities that they likely would not have been made aware of before. “I have never (before) heard something or seen something and immediately thought, ‘that is what I want to do with my life’…” said Maya Shende about listening to Arti Prabhakar talk about her work at DARPA. Megan O’Neill was able to talk to representatives from Disney and Yahoo! about internship opportunities, and Elena Stone said “This really opened my eyes to different fields of study as well as what I would like to do in the future.” A few of the students before hand felt that a majority of the conference would be over their heads, but Marisa Patton “…left feeling like I could do anything and everything I wanted to.”, while Melissa Eckert said “it also ended up being more empowering and inspiring than I had expected.” Stephanie LaFever summed up her experience by saying “I hope Roanoke continues to give this opportunity for women here in the Computer Science department in the future.”