Fourteen members of the student group Bowdoin Women in Computer Science traveled to Houston, Texas, for the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing.
The three-day Grace Hopper Celebration consisted of presentations from notable women in computer science, as well as workshops, a career fair, and a day-long collaborative “hackathon.” Employees and executives from many technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, JP Morgan, and Google, participated.
The networking opportunities were abundant, and Bowdoin students seized them. Eight of the fourteen students who attended the conference were offered summer internships or full-time jobs while they were at the career fair.
Beleicia Bullock ’19, one of the only African-American women studying computer science at Bowdoin, said, “I don’t get to see people like me very often.” She added that seeing other black women at the conference helped her feel like she belonged to the field. “Yes, there are black women in tech,” she continued. “It’s not just me, they’re there!”
Sam Valdivia ’19 said the conference pushed her to take more risks—and apologize less. During a conversation with a representative from eBay, Valdivia spoke about having experience in five programming languages before adding, “but I don’t know them very well.” The woman stopped her and asked, “Why do you talk about yourself so small?”
“Yes, there are black women in tech. It’s not just me, they’re there!”
—Beleicia Bullock ’19
She then repeated what Valdivia had said back to her without the self-doubting question. “That’s how you should portray yourself,” she advised her.
“It was just so genuine,” Valdivia said. “There was so much compassion in what she said.” She continued, “I wasn’t planning on applying to anything computer science related this summer because I thought that I would need another year to prepare.” After the conference, she changed her mind.
Grace Handler ’17, one of the two founders of Bowdoin Women in Computer Science, with Madeline Bustamante ’17, said the conference reinforced the importance of computer science to the liberal arts education. “The mission of Bowdoin is to get thinkers out into the world, and our world is becoming increasingly dominated by technology,” she said.
Bowdoin Women in Computer Science has established a supportive network of peers while connecting with alumnae working in technology. They hold events such as technical interview workshops and panels for first-years with female computer science majors.
To help pay for travel costs to attend the conference, students received funding from Bowdoin and from alumni. This is the second year Bowdoin has sent students to the Grace Hopper Celebration, with ten students attending last year.
Associate Professor of Computer Science and BWICS adviser Laura Toma went to the conference with the group. She spoke of the need to bring more women into computer science at Bowdoin. “There are years when I’ve graduated no women. I’ve never done research with a woman in the fifteen years that I’ve been here,” she noted.
Toma said she hopes the computer science department continues to attract women students by bringing more female computer scientists to speak on campus and establishing more fellowships and summer research opportunities.