Last week, 16 students in Bowdoin Women in Computer Science (BWiCS) attended the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) in Orlando, Fla. The conference aims to create a more inclusive environment in the technology industry, especially for women and non-binary identifying students. However, the students who attended this year noticed an increase in the amount of attendees at the conference, including a large number of men at the conference.
BWiCS leader Abby Mueller ’24 said that she was frustrated by the amount of men in lines for career fair booths that were already long.
“There were a lot of men waiting in lines, which took away opportunities from women,” Mueller said. “The conference was quite crowded this year and a lot of the booths would close if there were too many people. That was the biggest disappointment.”
Mueller said that the conference tried to prevent this through encouraging men to show up as allies. While the conference encourages women and non-binary people to attend by offering scholarships to them, anyone can attend by buying a ticket on their own.
“They had one of the male leaders of the Anita B. Organization, which puts on this conference, speak at the opening ceremony. He said, ‘Hey, if you’re a man here, show up as an ally and attend sessions to learn more about what women are going through in tech. Don’t necessarily go to the career fair and be taking jobs away from women in tech,’” Mueller said.
Mueller added, however, that what bothered her the most was not necessarily the presence of men, but what it took away from her original experience of the conference.
“Something I’ve been reflecting on is that it’s not necessarily that men in [computer science] make me uncomfortable as a woman in [computer science],” Mueller said. “I think what was so great about the experience last year was really the sheer number of women I was surrounded by.”
In order to navigate the long lines, Bowdoin students at the conference opted to split up and share information from booths with one another, while also communicating about which lines were shortest.
“I think there was some amount of being selective,” Mueller said. “Rather than waiting for two or three hours in one line, I would sometimes choose to just attend a session or maybe go to a smaller booth, even if I was really interested in the company that had a long line.”
Professor and Chair of Computer Science Laura Toma said the lines were much longer than last year. According to Toma, students’ interest in the conference was growing exponentially before the Covid-19 pandemic. After Covid, student interest dipped, but she said that people are more willing to go to an in-person conference now.
“There used to be 12,000 people before Covid and [it was] growing every year, so crowds at Grace Hopper were always a problem. Then Covid happened and the conference went on online for two years, and last year it still hadn’t come back to its regular attendance yet,” Toma said. “This year, it sparked so much interest that pretty much every college [sent] a lot of women. It’s really hard to get in now.”
Senior Associate Director of Skill Development and Programming and Advisor for Technology Bethany Walsh said that, despite the long lines, Bowdoin students fared well at the extremely large job fair.
“It was gigantic. For Bowdoin students, we don’t even really do fairs here because we’re a small school. It’s going from zero to 1000 in terms of recruiting experience,” Walsh said. “It was really magical to see our students right there alongside MIT and other big schools that have more events like this, since their students are a little more accustomed to this environment. But our students showed they were so great. They got interviews and did amazing things.”
Other than the long lines, Walsh also noticed a change in the pattern of tech hiring from recent years.
“I saw that companies are definitely still hiring and that there’s still lots of opportunity in the tech industry,” Walsh said. “But I think it is starting to change a little bit from that furious hiring environment from a few years back to what I hope is a more sustainable hiring environment. We’re not going to see as many layoffs.”
Looking forward, Toma is eager for more female and non-binary identifying students to attend the conference. That being said, Toma expressed concerns about the growing number of people interested in attending the conference and possible funding.
“30 percent of students in the department are women, whereas 50 percent [of students at] the College [are women], so we’ve identified this as a priority that we want to work on and the College is helping us with the funds,” Toma said. “But I’m concerned for next year. We need to keep the momentum [going]. With funding for next year, I’m worried about turning some people away [from attending the conference]. But that’s where partnering with CXD will help us.”