Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando, FL. I was surrounded by 25,000 (!) women in computing and it was amazing. I left feeling so inspired and humbled. But I’m not going to lie, it’s been a challenging week since I’ve been back adjusting to my normal routine and coming to terms with the fact that engineering might not be the path I want to set myself on.
Let me back up. How’d I hear about this conference anyway, and why’d I go if I’m not an engineer? Yep, great questions. One of my close friends is an engineer (a badass one – shoutout Kim), and she told me about GHC when I was visiting her in Seattle. She told me what a highlight the conference was for her each year, and how she always left feeling so inspired and energized. She encouraged me to see if Google would sponsor my attendance, so I did.
When I got back from that trip, I did some research on Google’s involvement (it turned out they do sponsor attendees), so I spoke with my manager in a 1/1 and he immediately encouraged me to pursue it. I was so excited I could cry – this was a huge opportunity for me that would not have been possible if I wasn’t at Google, and I was so ready to immerse myself in the tech world. My head was spinning!
Coming out of that 1/1, I instantly started planning my GHC “experience”. And by that, I mean I started daydreaming about the impact this conference would have on my life, and how it would be a ticket to a new life as a Tech Queen.
Because I’ve been so stressed out about my lack of career vision, this daydreaming served as a lovely panacea to my anxieties – in my mind, I’d go to GHC and leave with a robust 10-year plan. This naive daydream caused more harm than it did good – I did not leave with a 10-year plan.
This triggered an acute mental breakdown, which included tearful phone calls to my mom and my boyfriend. They helped me realize that I needed to re-evaluate the narrative I was spinning about the experience. My engineering daydream was unrealized, but I had to let that go and remember how fucking amazing the conference was in the first place. The fact that I even got to attend was remarkable. I learned a lot, and my experience was still incredibly worthwhile and valid. And you know what – I did realize something important: I don’t want to pursue a career in engineering. Maybe something more technical, sure – but that realization in itself is a helpful piece of information to have on hand as I map out next career moves.
My mom and boyfriend were right. I needed to take a step back and think of all the good that came out of the week. I flipped through the notes I took throughout the conference to help with this. I went to over a dozen sessions, and each of which left me with at least some nugget of wisdom or inspiration that I am so thankful to have gained – the most shaking of which was a quote from one of the keynotes, Aicha Evans – “Run towards the problems that others are running away from”. I loved this and I’m still wrapping my head around what it means to me.
I learned that the tech community is incredibly diverse and welcoming. Not once did I feel out of place or unwelcome, despite the fact that I’m in sales. I learned that what I do actually is quite technical, and the engineering mindset is extremely applicable. I learned that I’m braver than I give myself credit for. A year ago I’d have been too riddled with imposter syndrome to have enjoyed myself at all. Above all, I learned that I need to not let my daydreaming set an unrealistic expectation of what an experience should be.
So here I am, writing about it. Taking a breath. Learning from my experience, and of course: getting excited to go back next year.