With 2,147 attendees from over 29 countries, making it the largest gathering of technical women in the world, the 10th Grace Hopper Conference in Atlanta, GA was a resounding success. According to Deanna Kosaraju, vice president of programs at the Anita Borg Institute for Woman and Technology, the growth of the conference is tied to the continuous innovation that happens at the conference.
The Open Source Track is a direct result of that innovation.
Held for the first time in 2010 and consisting of a committee of volunteers from the open source community to plan it, the track was sponsored by the NSA. It consisted of five sessions, culminating in a Codeathon for Humanity, which included 200 coders.
The panels consisted of introducing people to open-source software, career and economic opportunities in FOSS (free and open source software), humanitarian FOSS efforts, and getting started in FOSS. There was also a lunchtime, hands-on session on Google's App Inventor for Android (AIA).
The panels comprised industry leaders working with FOSS, leaders who advocate for FOSS, engineers, and professors. At each of the panels, there were a multitude of questions on "How do I get involved?" and "How can I get others involved?" At the end of the panels, attendees would rush up to the podium in hopes of asking panelists one last question.
It was exciting to see the eagerness from the students and industry folks about open-source software. I could feel the energy in the room and I know a lot of people left the room inspired to contribute to FOSS. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to collaborate with such amazing people.
The day ended with the Codeathon for Humanity, where we worked on the code-base for Sahana Eden. Most of the participants had already downloaded the framework and were ready to get cracking.
Armed with a set of projects and a bug list, the Sahana folks introduced the participants to the codebase and walked them through creating their own module. By the end of the night, with help from some wine, bug fixes were actually committed back into Sahana. No better feeling! We're hoping that some of the participants will continue to contribute to Sahana after GHC.
This was my first conference where the attendees were mostly women — I would guess over 95%. I've been to a few tech conferences where it is mostly men, and this felt so different. I was really surprised because I've worked in the computer industry for over 13 years, and I'm used to hanging around and working with men.
I was surprised at how much more confident and relaxed I was at the conference. There was none of the nervousness I usually feel when presenting or speaking up. I could just do it. And it was amazingly empowering.
And when I walked out of the learning center at 2 am on Wednesday night after preparing for the next day's sessions and saw women scattered all across the hall, the nerd in me felt right at home. :-)
I think all technical women should give themselves the opportunity to be in this kind of environment at some point in time. I left the conference feeling stronger about myself and my abilities. Amazing what one conference can do.