As I boarded my flight to Bengaluru on the early hours of the 14th of November, a little irritable with sleep and grumpy because of the Diwali vacations at home coming to an end, I had little idea of what to expect out of the Grace Hopper Conference that I was about to attend for the first time. I had a schedule marked up on my calendar in advance with the sessions I wanted to attend and the speakers I was excited about. But little did I know that these 3 days would give me a lot more than what I had signed up for!
As we saw the start of the GHCI conference 2018 at the elegant BIEC, the entire room that was filled with delegates representing around 411 companies was abuzz with excitement of what was to follow. The keynotes by Lori Beer- CIO of JPMC and Vaishali Kasture- Founder, Sounder Connect were instrumental in setting the right tune for the coming 2 days of the conference and also gave us some much needed insight and direction into where we, as women need to re-look at some behavioral patterns that instinctively come to us. While Lori spoke about dreaming big, staying relevant in the ever-changing tech industry, owning your career and the importance of identifying and projecting your brand; Vaishali shared her experiences of dealing with bias and the “Art of Selling” and networking in everyday life with Optimism as a force multiplier. Both the keynotes had the audiences rasp with attention and also raised a lot of questions in their minds which led to a very fruitful post session Q&A and discussion. The room was also addressed by Geetha Kannan- MD, Anita B.Org India, Jackie Copeland- COO, Anita B.Org- both of whom stressed on the need to make it to 50-50 by 2025 in terms of parity at the workplace and K.J George, the minister of IT in Karnataka. After all this, just as we had started stirring with all the information we had just received, we were hit with a gripping performance by ‘Urshas’ dance troupe, with the central theme of women who are constantly multitasking, yet, project that enchanting enigma that encompasses all. The dancers beautifully represented the strong and the delicate aspects of feminine energy. As a perfect closure of the conference day 1, we saw women who are living the dream and running successful companies across various disciplines getting rewarded for their efforts in an elaborate award ceremony for women entrepreneurs. This added the right touch of inspiration to the already motivated audience and everyone left the room with their own takeaways, eager for what was to follow in the upcoming days.
Day 2 started with a session on understanding how the brain works. The speaker spoke about the cognitive processes in the brain and how they influence strong emotions and things like attention, negative thoughts. The expo had started off in parallel and the delegates were all set for a field day of demos and pitching for their respective products. The Microsoft booth had started buzzing with activity from the early hours itself with the Hololens demo being a huge hit among everyone. The tracks were interesting, spanning across design, infrastructure, machine learning, etc. One of the sessions that was highly impactful was “Inclusive design and technology for accessibility”, where the speaker- Swami Manohar from Microsoft Research, spoke about checking exclusion, mental dimensions and learning from diversity to design for all. The session was made even more relevant by an ISL interpreter, who was parallelly translating every statement in sign language. We gained more insight into the psyche of the vision and hearing impaired people and that designing for them shouldn’t involve thinking of them as any lesser. He also introduced us to the products that the research team are coming up with for accessibility. Some of them are: 1. CodeTalk- Visual Studio for blind programmers by incorporating speech to cursor functionality. 2. VG4VI- Video Games for the visually impaired, which incorporates audio description, spatial audio and body scan for alignment. 3. Headtracking and Gesture recognition. In a nutshell, the session focused on the following virtues: Accessibility. Enablement. Empowerment. The next session I attended was an extension of the previous topic- “Designing products that people will love” where we had a panel of 3 successful women who had shared their stories of what they kept in mind while designing and developing their respective products. The icing on the cake was the role play session by “Yours Truly” theatre group, where they explained the importance of assertiveness and making yourself heard at the workplace. They had a very engaging session with the actors performing a scene and the audience being called up on stage to enact what they would have changed had they been in the same position.
After all the madness and fun at GHCI finally came to an end on Day 3 and I remember smiling as the novel I was reading on the airplane on my way back home about a quadriplegic with some references to his tryst with everyday chores made even more sense to me now after the session on accessibility on Day 1. I remember trying to think up solutions to his challenges along the lines of what was taught in the session. “Do not sympathize, empathize” was at the top of my mind as the speaker had called out in the session when someone had suggested making the video games for the visually impaired with a slower pace. “Just because a person is differently abled does not mean they want gaming made easier for them. They want to compete like an equal”. Most of Day 3 was spent at the expo, with me trying my hand at the quizzes and attempting to win the amazing goodies that were at display. The session by Arjuna awardee swimmer Nisha Millet was a useful lesson on how sportspersons thrive on pressure and manage to keep their cool even in the worst situations. She told us the importance of discipline, planning and visualizing goals, prioritization, handling bias, etc. and spoke about how she faced her fears with swimming after a scarring incident she faced as a child. She ended her session with a quote by Winston Churchill- “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”.
Finally, after all the learning, we had some time to let our hair down and show the Microsoft spirit to everyone at the crowded expo. The flash mob was a definite crowd puller followed by the human train by the delegates around the expo area. I can safely say that we had one of the most crowded booths of all with students, delegates from other companies and entrepreneurs alike. In closure, I’ll just leave you with the lyrics of Sia’s unstoppable anthem.
I put my armor on, show you how strong how I am
I put my armor on, I’ll show you that I am
I’m a Porsche with no brakes
Yeah, I win every single game
I’m so powerful
I don’t need batteries to play
I’m so confident, yeah, I’m unstoppable today