Jessica and I first traveled to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as mother and daughter in 2007. Jessica was a member of a panel I moderated called “Girl Geeks in High School: Technical Experiences of Future Inventors”. She had just started her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University. She and I worked on developing the Girl Geeks panel for over six months. It was one of the first, though not the last, time she and I would work together as professional women and friends, as well as family. Jessica and three High School girls from the Silicon Valley joined me on the GHC stage.
She loved the Hopper Conference and I got even more out of it by sharing it with Jessica. I was working for Sun Microsystems at the time as the CTO’s Director of Business Process Architecture, running SEED, the company’s worldwide Engineering mentoring program. Every year I brought one or two dozen Sun technical women with me to Hopper, for which Sun was an annual sponsor. But sharing Hopper with Jessica was different.
We were both official conference bloggers that year. Reading Jessica’s point of view on activities we both attended was fascinating. Jessica and I did not always go to the same talks or panels but we tried to meet up at meals. In our families, meals are the keystone of shared adventures. Since Jessica was four, we’ve driven up to the UC Berkeley Alumni Association’s Lair of the Golden Bear in California’s Sierra (listening to BBC “Lord of The Rings” on tape until she could sing “The Ballad of Gil-Galad” by heart). Our family camp rule is: kids can do what they want as long as they check in with the family at meals. For me, the Hopper Conference felt like the Lair: full of diverse activities, fascinating people, and safe enough to leave a teen to her own devices.
Jessica and I have attended Hopper together every year since then. Since her first year, Jessica has presented a poster annually, once also giving an Ignite Talk, and another time running a panel in addition. I wonder if people attending both of our presentations see how much we have in common. At GHC10 I moderated a panel on “Advancing Your Career Through Awards”, her poster was called “OPM (Other People’s Money): How to Get the Funding You Need to Do the Work You Love.” Though we design our topics for our own peer groups (mid-career professionals and students, respectively) and don’t coordinate submissions, both of us show our passion for making other women’s road to success a little easier.
Since 2007, blogging has been a part of our mother-daughter communication. I have written Katysblog since 2005 and Jessica started hers the summer before going to college. She says she started Feelingelephants (1) “mostly as a tactic to avoid calling the dozen friends and family-members who wanted regular updates on my life at college”. Jessica always loved to write but composing a regular web log for the public has honed her skills. Besides giving me a view into what every mother wants to know (is she safe? who are her friends? who is she becoming?), Jessica’s blogging has given me even more evidence of the thoughtful, wise, and courageous woman she has grown to be.
Jessica attended CMU for five years, collecting honors and experiences as she went. She was graduated this Spring as a 5th Year Scholar, Andrew Carnegie Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa member and student ambassador to Carnegie Mellon University’s undergraduate campus in Doha, Qatar. She ended up choosing a major in Ethics, History, and Public Policy (that’s one major offered by CMU in Humanities and
Social Sciences), with a Minor in Vocal Music (she sings opera), and a language focus in Arabic. She is now working against human trafficking for the Polaris Project in Washington DC, writing for their blog and social media accounts, as well as doing some fundraising. I am enormously proud of my daughter!
Jessica’s interest in the Middle East led her to spend a semester at CMU-Q in Doha, Qatar. When I became the Process Architect for the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen mentoring program for women in the Middle East and North Africa, it gave my daughter and me even more to discuss. Last year, when a group of the first class of TechWomen came to the Hopper Conference, Jessica and I were frequently to be found hanging out with them. When Jessica visited Egypt on her CMU Senior Year spring break, the TechWomen of Cairo and Alexandria generously helped make arrangements and spent time with her in their home land. TechWomen has given us more relationships to share as professional women, friends, and family.
I am looking forward to this year’s conference, when all of the TechWomen 2012 mentees will come to GHC12, and four dear friends among the TechWomen 2011 mentees will return to present the panel “Arab Region: Challenges vs. Aspirations” (for which I am honored to be the moderator). Jessica is excited too, asking after her friends from last year’s TechWomen program and wanting to stay connected with these inspiring women. Jessica feels the conference is the single best place in the world for a young technical woman to juice up every year, to prepare to enter an often hostile and lonely technical world, and makes sure she can scrounge the money to attend.
There are still parts of our lives which are quite separate: my work as a Director for the Enterprise Global Competency Center at Huawei,
her commitment to martial arts, and the intellectual property rights of fanfiction. But every year for the past five, and hopefully for many years to come, meeting up at the Hopper Conference is a time when our hearts connect. This year Jessica and I will leave our husbands and jobs behind for a few days to learn from the Hopper Conference, and each other, as we have since 2007.
Sharing the Hopper Conference makes it a richer experience – both at the event and in a greater connection after. Check out http://gracehopper.org/ Think about it: Who can you invite to go to the Hopper Conference?