A Latinas Guide to the Grace Hopper Celebration (First-Timer)

Techqueria Networking Mixer at GHC. Huge thanks to Yanessa Lasley for organizing. (Amor Em Pedacos Bakery).

Where do I begin?

I must have asked myself this question hundreds of times as I speed-walked my way down long halls at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration. This year I was lucky to attend GHC as a first-timer and I’m here to share my takeaways so that you (amazing brilliant person you are) can also enjoy GHC — the biggest womxn in tech conference in the world.

First things first, what the heck happens at GHC?

I scoured the internet for a loong, long time searching for an answer but all I found were bits and pieces explaining interview prep, takeaways, schedule overviews, but…where is my mental map? Here:

  • Location: The Grace Hopper Celebration 2020 will take place in Orlando, Florida. The conference all takes place within a 1.5 mile radius— events, sessions, interviews, everything — all typically occurring between the Orange County Convention Center (the big one), the Rosen Centre Hotel (not to be confused with the Rosen Plaza Hotel), and the Hyatt Hotel.

Thriving at GHC as a first-timer really comes down to learning how to balance your time between attending sessions, interviewing or speaking with recruiters in the Expo Hall, making it out to the after-hours networking events, and checking in with yourself (physically, spiritually) at the end of every day.

That balance can look A LOT of different ways on any given day, but making sure to come in with a schedule that you’re 60% committed to, will help a lot. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of time once you’re at the conference to decide what’s most important to you. The three biggest portions of the conference are:

  • Sessions: The conference brings you some of the most stimulating sessions related to AI, HCI, Software Engineering, Data Science, Career Development and more. I recommend making the time to attend at least 15 of the sessions throughout the week…so worth it! Many of the “fun” sessions reach capacity only a few hours after becoming available in your registration portal, so try to reserve your spot EARLY. Look for the interactive sessions, the ones that make you feel excited to be a part of the industry and challenge you to think in new ways. My personal favorites were the Mentoring Circles, HCI and AI Sessions.
  • Career Fair/Expo: This bullet point really deserves a whole book with 60 chapters to guide you through excelling at your interviews all the way to coping with microaggressions. But all I can say today is that the Career Fair/Expo Hall is definitely a sight to behold. Giant companies are all here, at the center of the OCCC, to conduct speed interviews and connect you with their recruiters. There is so much amazing content out there to help you get prepared for landing a job offer and these I absolutely recommend reading. For example, this one or this one or this one. There’s a lot to understand about feeling seen and appreciated in professional spaces as a womxn of color, a topic that I was grateful to explore a few weeks earlier in Minda Hart’s The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table. Must read!
  • Networking: I’m just going to say it. Google throws amazing networking parties, I mean — mixers. But THIS YEAR, Techqueria took the winning spot for me. I absolutely loved meeting and learning from other Latinxs in Tech! I always make mental notes of where I had the best food, where I had the best conversations and I always, always, make sure to talk to as many people as I can. Networking events are your wildcard events, where you never know who you’re going to meet and what they’re going to teach you. Between networking events and the career fair, these are also some of the toughest spaces to navigate as a womxn of color. GO FOR THE FOOD. And then, take away anything else that brings value to your life and career.

At the end of every day, make sure you are taking the time to check in with yourself and ask:

  • What were the peaks and pits of today?
  • What did today teach me that will set me up for a better day tomorrow?
  • Is my schedule the best that it can be for me?

Insider Tips

  • Fly in on Sunday or Monday, if you can. The extra “early time” can help you get acquainted with the conference spaces and register early to avoid waiting in long lines on Tuesday. Try doing a sampling of how you would get from a room in OCCC to a room in the Hyatt. Take note of room numbers and how long your traveling time was.
  • Take a deep breath, and search through #GHC20 on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s A LOT. This will be your first taste of how much content is offered. GHC 2020 Facebook page has golden threads of organic community-building centered around niche topics you are interested in. These often lead to joining Messenger and WhatsApp groups. Find your people.
  • Join the Techqueria Slack community and join the channel #grace-hopper-celebration. Techqueria is a nonprofit that serves the largest community of Latinxs in Tech. AND IT’S AMAZING. I’ve made so many wonderful connections in this platform and am constantly inspired by my fellow Latinxs in tech, including Susana Benavidez and her brilliant First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #Newbie #GHC19 Part 1 of Series.
  • Know your why. And know it well. Sanika Gupta does an amazing job at describing how a healthy mindset begins with clear goals here, whether that be landing a job or internship offer, building your network or simply, having fun.
  • Try to not compare your resume or narrative to that of other amazing womxn in attendance. You have your own unique story to share and your own special accomplishments to be proud of.
  • Do feel invited to stop and work on your narrative, resume, pitch based off of the day’s critiques and learning lessons.
  • Make sure to check out Child Care information and accessibility information — you can rent a scooter or wheelchair.

Is GHC right for me?

Absolutely. It is meant for those who have a desire to learn and uplift other womxn. But participating in this experience can be tough.

GHC can be prettty pricey. From conference tickets to a weeks worth of traveling costs, it can add up. I spent close to $600 on purchasing business casual outfits, food, traveling, etc. Scholarships help a lot and there is great opportunities hosted through AnitaB.Org, Google or perhaps your local company/organization. Carrie Mah has a list compiled here (and a plethora of other tips, thank you!).

I absolutely loved my time in Orlando, and I hope that you do too! I’m beyond grateful that AnitaB.org gave me the opportunity to be a part of their amazing conference and learn so, so much.

As a womxn of color, GHC can simultaneously be a wildly beautiful experience with a few tough moments. I can guarantee you that most womxn of color at GHC probably thought, for at least a split second —This isn’t for me. I wish I wasn’t here. For those moments, come back to this guide, call a friend back home and remind yourself that your journey is unique and valuable. Oh and also, do try a sanguich cubano.

The Everglades ended up being close by, so I said — why not? (Everglades National Park).

Data Science Student and Latina Educator at UCLA. mitzibandera.com | @latinasindata_