Photo courtesy of ACM-W
On Friday, February 22 at 2:00 a.m., I woke up to get ready for my flight to Boston, Massachusetts. With a group of seven other members of the Illinois Tech chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery – Women (ACM-W), I would soon be attending the Women Engineers Code (WeCode) conference at Harvard University.
WeCode, a conference intended to expand the skills, network, and community of those who attend, is one of the largest student-run conferences for women in computer science. I was honored to attend the conference, where all genders are encouraged to attend, along with Gladys Toledo-Rodriguez, Devyani Gauri, Diana Butnaru, Jenifer Rodriguez-Delgado, Minu Mathew, Rosana Sincere, and Yang He. Alongside these ladies, I listened to keynote speakers and learned from various workshops hosted by the university.
Although we attended a friendly pre-registration session and get-together Friday night hosted on Harvard’s campus, the WeCode conference didn’t truly start until Saturday morning. A company entitled IMC Trading held a yoga routine for all the participants to take advantage, of, complete with free water bottles, yoga mats, and towels. Yoga was a great start to the conference – it got all of us ready for the long day ahead and allowed us to meet people from other schools in a calm, welcoming environment.
After yoga, which admittedly doesn’t stimulate technical skills, I attended a fireside chat about creating an interdisciplinary tech career with Felicity Yost, creator of the mobile women’s healthcare app Tia. Yost offered insight into how she merged healthcare and tech in app with AI, and the challenges she faced going from an entirely tech-based company to one with brick-and-mortar stores.
Following this fireside chat, all participants were invited to attend a provided lunch, with the option of signing up for a mentorship lunch, where they would be encouraged to listen to and ask questions of a mentor in a tech field. My mentor unfortunately did not show up to our lunch, but thankfully the organizers were able to find another presenter to take her place. The replacement mentor worked for the New York Times as a manager of their technology-based operations, such as their mobile apps and website. She discussed her challenges and successes moving from the software engineering side of operations to the project management side. Her advice was to move upwards in whatever company you work for, and to always be open to trying something new if you get bored in your career.
Next, I attended a workshop on “landing your dream job” hosted by Grace Macjones, an Azure Cloud Engineer at Microsoft. Macjones recommended that we develop our personal brand in order to make us more favorable to employers, as well as to expand our personal network. One easy way to do this is with LinkedIn, as well as other social media sites. She also advised us to set goals – she encouraged us to write down three goals we wanted to accomplish by this time next year. This was eye-opening for me – I realized that to achieve them, I would have to start working now.
Catarina Macedo, a program manager at Microsoft, then hosted a keynote speech that quickly became my favorite part of the conference. Macedo discussed her struggles in finding her dream job at Microsoft in America while she grew up in Portugal. As a child, she was enamored with playing video games and participating in their competitions, specifically on PlayStation systems. When she one day received an Xbox 360 from her father instead of the PlayStation she had been wishing for, she soon came to love the Xbox systems as well, particularly obsessing over the "Gears of War" series. Macedo decided that one day, she would work for Microsoft in America. While everyone told her that her dream was impossible, and that she would never find a tech-based job that she enjoyed or move from Portugal to America, she persisted. And eventually, she achieved her dream. Macedo shared her methods for obtaining her vision – she said yes until she couldn’t say no. When offered an interview for a job, she said yes. When offered the job, she said yes. Eventually, she accomplished what she set out to do.
Following Macedo’s speech, I attended a “Getting Started with Product Management” fireside chat hosted by Allison Lee. She mainly went over the basics of an interview for a project management position. And finally, I attended an Introduction to the UX/UI Process workshop presented by Dalton Follows. In his presentation, Follows discussed the importance of creating flowcharts for paths on any website you build, as well as determining a design before the process begins.
Although the knowledge I gained from the conference was invaluable, I most enjoyed spending time with the ladies I attended with and learning about their cultures. We spent long nights talking about the social expectations of India, sexual assault issues in China, and the political turmoil and landscape of Moldova. As most of the young women I attended with were international, I got to experience worldviews that I never have before. I cannot thank them enough for spending the time to explain their home cultures and countries to me.
Overall, I would say that the WeCode conference was a total success, and I gained knowledge, ambition, and friends. It was incredible to see such successful women in the technology industry, because the media doesn’t often portray them. Hearing about their experiences was life-changing for me and the other attendees. For anyone debating attending an ACM-W meeting or signing up for a conference, I would advise you to reach out and ask what you can participate in. You never know what incredible opportunities await you.