Ryan Looney is the Client Services Manager at Digital Science’s portfolio company Overleaf. Ryan is committed to making the world a better place by connecting scientists and researchers with the tools they need. Avid reader, lifelong learner, slow but joyful runner.

When I boarded my flight from RIC to MCO, I had no doubt I was on the right plane. There were a few families headed for the Orlando amusement parks, but nearly everyone on the plane was female, a little on the nerdy side (myself included), and clearly headed for a party. The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) is part conference and part job fair, but as the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, the total experience is much more.

I attended GHC as a Hopper – a volunteer who receives free conference registration in exchange for a few hours of work. I had to attend an orientation the night before the conference officially started, and sport a nifty red t-shirt during my volunteer shifts.

My volunteer duties included helping distribute sponsor swag during a session, and staffing the AnitaB.org booth in the Expo Hall. When I wasn’t busy hopping, I attended as many sessions as I could.

Sessions were divided into many different tracks, ranging from career guidance, to more technical sessions about subjects like data science. There was something for everyone – from students, who are heavily represented, to mid-careertechnology-adjacent professionals like me.

Screen shot of a small selection of sessions available during a single timeslot.

My favorite sessions were the keynotes – there’s nothing quite like being in an enormous room with 18,000 other women. And GHC keynotes aren’t like any other keynote I’ve attended. Legions of conference staff and volunteers ushered the crowds into the hall with dance music and lighted wands. Instead of a single speaker, the keynotes each had multiple speakers. Some, like Melinda Gates, and GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling, I’d heard of before. Others, like Sue Black and Mary Spio, were new to me. Each had a compelling story and encouraging, supportive, energizing messages for the audience. I truly appreciated the diversity of age, race, background, and message in the keynote speeches. The keynotes are posted online here.

Many attendees are there just for the Career Expo. The enormous expo hall was filled with recruiters, and attendees with resumes in hand. The giveaways used to entice participants ranged from the usual conference swag like pens, to more elaborate items like custom 3D printed candy portraits. Yes, you could get a gummy of your face.

Gummy face in progress.

I feel so fortunate to have attended GHC, and to spend three days listening to great sessions, and talking with other women in technology. As a remote worker in a small company, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with my peers in person. I even had the special treat of meeting up with nearly all the attendees connected to Wellesley, my undergraduate alma mater.

Wellesley rah!

I now understand why GHC has exploded in popularity in the past few years. The depth of the concurrent sessions, the energy of the keynotes and the expo hall. The acceptance and inclusion that are omnipresent, combine to produce both content and an atmosphere that are one of a kind. I can’t wait to experience it again.

You can find out more about the Grace Hopper Celebration here.

The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. It is produced by AnitaB.org and presented in partnership with ACM. GHC 17 took place on Oct. 4-6 in Orlando, FL.