The Anita Borg Institute does a lot of things right. They sold out this year's Grace Hopper Conference during one of the worst recessions since WWII and attracted 2147 attendees--undergraduate and graduate students, industry professionals, sponsors who also participated in panels and workshops, along with 436 speakers over a four-day period of which I was fortunate to have been one of them.
When you have these many people showing up like they mean it, e.g. ready to engage, contribute and learn, the amount of creative energy generated has the potential to shift perspectives, open minds to new possibilities, and encourage personal risktaking.
Of course, things didn't always run perfectly (including my own workshop) and, yes, there were a few logistical glitches here and there, but I like to stand back and view the bigger picture and assess the total value which, in this case, was well worth the investment.
Now that I've had a chance to digest things a bit, below are my key takeaways / learning from this year's Grace Hopper Conference (+ and ∆).
Worth Celebrating (+'s)
- Planning matters - Amazing ABI planning team headed by Deanna Kosaraju, VP of Programs, with a special shout out to BJ Wishinsky, Communities Program Manager and Christine Chiu, Program Content Manager.
- Grace Hopper Volunteers - It was fun being part of a community made up of evangelists, bloggers, notetakers, and photographers. Our fabulous blogger/notes/Flickr Lead, Gail Carmichael, also writes her own blog The Female Perspective of Computer Science.
- Opportunities to share and learn - From formal sessions and workshops to informal meetups and spontaneous gatherings my brain, ears and mouth had a serious workout. Any technical problem that I had with my netbook, server connections, social networking tools (Poken), i.e., the "simple stuff" could be solved riding the elevator, grabbing a beverage between sessions, and blogging on the main floor. I am seriously going through technical support withdrawls.
- Free on-site childcare - Although I no longer need this bennie, just knowing that it was available to moms/dads who otherwise might not have been able to attend this year's GHC blew me away.
- Diversity matters -It was great to be part of a conference where so many really smart, talented and quick-witted women congregated from around the world. Although male attendees were few in number, those participating were proud to be female advocates in their organizations.
- Table mentors - Facilitated the flow of information and cross-communication at their tables during my workshop. It got a bit intense at times--I took some risks in presenting complex material within a tight window--and I'm appreciative of those mentors who remained until the end (it mattered to table participants).
- Workshop report outs - During my workshop each table was given a unique "table challenge" where team members had to complete a number of exercises that would help them "connect the dots" and pull everything together. These table report outs were impressive--real gems! One participant approached me afterwards to say that she plans to apply some of the recommendations from the report outs for a nagging problem back at the office.
- Fun intro video - My team and I created a music video that had people tapping their feet and celebrating female risktakers from the 40s to present day. We're providing a slightly customized version of the video for one of my table mentors from Australia to use during an upcoming initiative that aims to encourage 2000 secondary school girls to consider computing.
Key Learning (∆)
- Incorporate field work - my workshop included content / exercises designed for a multi-day experience. I'm glad to have over delivered; however, some of the table exercises would have been more effective had they been completed before the conference (of course, you'll always need a Plan B for those who don't complete the field work in advance).
- After lunch workshop - "Chunk" a four hour workshop into two days of two hours each. One participant at my workshop who shared a shuttle ride to the airport with me suggested that three days of two hours each would have allowed more in-depth coverage of each topic area and more personal examples / stories.
- Announcements - We lost valuable time in moving 500+ people from partially filled tables to a more efficient arrangement. We could have made an initial announcement as participants were walking into the ballroom.
- Crowd control - Most women like to talk. So, when you get 500+ (mostly) women in one room and encourage them to network and connect...well, I could have used a facilitator who managed just this aspect of the workshop.
- Invest more time in pre-training - I had 41 fabulous table mentors who could have used more time in understanding their role & responsibilities and the exercise content.
- Check your math - A flaw in my Risktaking Styles self-assessment caused a roomful of (mostly) engineers and technical folks to do a data deep dive that got us off-track. On the plus side ("There's no such thing as a wasted experience, unless you choose not to use it"), Anna Ravenscroft who co-authored a Python Cookbook, 2nd Ed (O'Reilly, 2005) generously offered to show my (non-engineering team) how to use a Google app to correct it.
- Missed opportunity - We weren't able to capture the audio for the final table team report outs.
I've celebrated the +'s and learned something valuable from the ∆'s which, of course, I only give myself 15 days before moving on (insider point for workshop participants, but also available for those who view my deck on Slideshare.)