Nicole Allport is currently a Junior at the Eller College of Management studying Management Information Systems (MIS). In September, Nicole was able to attend the Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, TX.
Written by Nicole Allport
I was extremely fortunate to be provided with the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, TX. The conference is three days long and consists of workshops, keynote speakers, and an enormous career fair with over 250+ companies recruiting for internships and full time jobs. This year, over 18,000 people attended- the largest gathering of women technologists in one place in history. The simplest way to explain what the Grace Hopper Conference is would be to say that it is a conference for women in technology. However, it truly is so much more than that.
Though I was incredibly excited about this opportunity, I was also quite nervous in the days leading up to GHC. Until I got to the U of A, I had never seen myself going into anything remotely technical. I’m currently in my first semester of MIS classes, I don’t know any coding languages proficiently, and I’ve never held a technical internship or role at a major company. For these reasons, I felt dramatically under prepared and under qualified in comparison to the other attendees I knew I would be meeting at the conference. However, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten in college is to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” for it really is the only way to grow. I learned so much through this experience of pushing my own limits and would love to share some of those moments here.
Like many other Eller students, being under prepared is one of my biggest fears in settings like this. Though I didn’t have enough time to develop hard technical skills before the conference, I knew I had time to research. I was able to utilize my network to get books on artificial intelligence, the history of women in tech, and many different article recommendations. I was also able to research the companies I knew would be there, the opportunities available, and the qualifications and experiences I could leverage to my advantage when speaking with these employers. This was a huge lesson for me that there is always something you can do. In school, the professional world, conferences, and life, there are always ways to make yourself more prepared, no matter your starting point.
Upon getting to the conference, I was amazed by the people I was surrounded with. Students from all over the world, partners from the top consulting and accounting firms, published scientists, leaders in technology, inventors, entrepreneurs- the list goes on. I even got to meet the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey! The energy in every room I entered was inspiring. Never in my life have I ever felt the powerful force of so many driven, dedicated people being in one place. This is where I began to realize my second biggest lesson: being around inspiring people chemically inspires you to reach higher, try harder and be better.
As I began to get to know many of these attendees on a more personal level, I was in awe of the stories and sacrifices so many had made to be where they were today. It’s my personal belief that this is the most exciting part of any event- getting to know the other people there. For example, while standing in line to talk to a company, I was lucky enough to meet Emilia, a 21 year old from Germany. Emilia ended up becoming my closest friend at the conference and I learned so much from her from both a personal and professional standpoint. She had left Germany and her family at 17 to pursue higher education and opportunities in tech including an internship with Google this past summer. Our friendship opened the door to conversations ranging from reality TV shows that we both watch to her advice and insight on getting your foot in the door at large tech companies. This reaffirmed for me how important it is to make friends with everyone; you never know what you can learn from them.
The more companies I talked to, the more I realized how little I knew about the niche roles that all of them offered. My biggest passion is people, and though I love technology, it’s extremely important to me that I am able to pursue a career that is centered around building strong relationships. Through this I was able to learn that this was what set me apart from so many of the other attendees. By being myself with recruiters, I was exposed to opportunities I had never even knew existed. It’s the oldest lesson in the book, but I was reminded of how important it is to be yourself even when you don’t think that’s what other people (or recruiters) are looking for. Many of the companies were recruiting for exclusively technical roles but by explaining my passions and skill set, recruiters were able to connect me to their colleagues that worked in and recruited for departments that were more what I was looking for. If I had pretended to be something I was not, I wouldn’t have been able to learn of these opportunities and may have ended up in an internship I wasn’t happy at.
When I got on the plane to come back to Tucson, I realized I’d handed out over 65 resumes, had collected more business cards than I could count and met more people than I could have ever imagined. Though not every single one of these interactions could lead to a tangible opportunity, each of them had taught me something in one way or another. This leads me into my next major learning experience: building connections is great but following up is vital. Throughout the conference, I was making LinkedIn connections, adding contact info and putting key words into each contact note to differentiate names. I began sending emails immediately and made sure to add something personal about our interaction in each one. These connections have since led to interviews, informational interviews with other members in each company, and even friends.
As I reflect back on my time at GHC, I’ve been able to realize how great conferences are for teaching you not only about the industry and opportunities but also about yourself. In that environment I was able to learn the people I’m naturally drawn to in a crowd of 18,000+, the company culture I want, the opportunities I want to pursue and the ones that don’t fit me. However more than anything I was able to learn what makes me a unique candidate and the areas I can capitalize on to become a more competitive applicant in the future.
I can’t thank Eller enough for the opportunity to grow through this experience and would absolutely recommend GHC and/or conferences in general to absolutely anyone.