Thursday, February 9, 2017

Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

In October, three midshipmen and one professor from the U.S. Naval Academy joined approximately 14,000 women and 1,000 men from more than 80 countries at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, in Houston, Texas.

MIDN 2/C Hanna Urbaczewsky, MIDN 2/C Svetla Walsh, and MIDN 3/C Sarah Barkley all earned scholarships to attend the event, together with Assoc. Prof. Adina Crainiceanu from the Computer Science Department.

“I had a phenomenal experience,” said Urbaczewsky, a computer science major. “Attending this conference improved my confidence as a leader and as a woman studying computer science. While the sessions were not designed specifically for military leaders, I was able to take away many of the lessons and apply them to my career as a future naval officer.”

Named for computer science pioneer RDML Grace Hopper, this event brings together people from across the computer science community for three days of technical talks, career mentoring, networking, and recruiting.

“The Grace Hopper Conference was one of the most empowering and informative experiences I have had during my short tenure in the field of computer science,” said Barkley. “I was able to attend a number of relevant and poignant panels on current technological innovations such as machine learning, as well as further discussions on being a woman in this traditionally male-dominated industry.”

The conference included a large expo, featuring hundreds of companies and organizations spanning all levels of industry, government, and academia. The list of keynote speakers at the conference included Ginni Remetty, IBM’s president and CEO; Dr. Latanya Sweeney, Harvard professor and director and founder of Data Privacy Lab; and Megan Smith, chief technology officer for President Obama’s administration.

“Going to the Grace Hopper Conference only inspired and pushed me to take on challenges that the tech field offers. It is where I observed and learned how an idea can become a reality with code and that data is the ‘new fossil fuel of the 21st century,’” said Walsh. “I am excited for the future of technology and want to continue to be part of the forefront of pushing the boundaries of what being able to program allows us to do. Grace Hopper's influence has definitely inspired me to not back down when faced with a programming challenge.”

Prof. Crainiceanu said that attending Grace Hopper Celebration is one of the most empowering and exciting events for women in computing.

“Seeing thousands of women in computing, all in one place, hearing about their accomplishments, attending the talks, energizes you and gives you a sense of community,” she said. “I hope that USNA will continue to support midshipmen and faculty attendance at this wonderful event.”

RDML Hopper received her PhD from Yale in 1934 and her commission in the Navy in 1943.  Her contributions to computer science were immense, influencing computer scientists even today.  Perhaps her biggest contribution was the creation of the compiler, which greatly eased the work needed to write software, opening programming up to a much larger community of developers.  After a career featuring several congressional and presidential exceptions to mandatory retirement, RDML Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and retired for the final time in 1986.  On November 22, 2016, RDML Hopper was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She is the namesake of the Naval Academy’s new cybersecurity academic building, Hopper Hall.

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