Tuesday 29 October 2019

Earlier this month, our PhD student Alison O ‘Shea attended the Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando, Florida.

Read all about Alison’s experience below.

The Grace Hopper Celebration is a yearly event which invites technologists from all over the world to come together and celebrate women in computing. This year’s celebration was the largest yet, with an attendance of 25,000 people. It was held in Orlando, Florida and I was honoured to be able to attend on a Google Travel Scholarship.

The theme for GHC 2019 was ‘We will Change the World’, this message of hope and empowerment was reflected in the opening keynote address. The keynote highlighted inspiring women from a variety of backgrounds in different stages of their careers. Each speaker told their personal and professional stories in front of a captivated crowd of 25,000 attendees, with a background of inspirational quotes and dazzling lighting.

Aside from the spectacle of GHC, there is a sense of community and positivity that permeates all aspects of this event. Every person you speak to at GHC is friendly, an exemplar in their field and believes in the power of diversity. Attending advanced technical panel discussions with representatives from major companies and noticing that everyone on the panel was a woman with a different background and a different journey is something I haven’t seen before. This kind of representation is really important for young people starting their careers in engineering.

Machine learning and data science were emphasised at this year’s GHC, as Dr Fei-Fei Li was awarded the prestigious Technical Leadership Abie Award for her innovative and impactful career in computer vision. As a machine learning engineer at INFANT, I was extremely interested in the workshop sessions in the Data Science and AI tracks. These hands-on sessions gave attendees the chance to explore both fundamental and cutting-edge concepts in a practical and approachable way. Technologists of all ages from a wide variety of backgrounds tackled challenges in domains like image and natural language processing; by working in small groups at these sessions new relationships were forged and problems were investigated from different viewpoints.

There was also a focus on maintaining design inclusivity in the AI. How can we ensure that diverse perspectives are included in the AI pipeline? This is a question that should be asked in all areas of technology development; innovation should be led by diverse teams with many viewpoints represented. The aim of GHC and its parent organisation, AnitaB.org, is to ensure that we have equal female representation in technology. The vision is clear, 50/50 by the year 2025. In order to achieve this goal everyone in the tech sector needs to work with this mission in mind. The four days I experienced at GHC2019 were uplifting and inspiring, and I know that I will bring the Grace Hopper spirit back into my daily research. The real impact of this conference will be ensuring that diversity and inclusion are intrinsically connected with technical innovation and leadership.