This will be my sixth year attending Grace Hopper. I have seen it grow from a small conference to over 10,000 employees. Square recently hosted a kick-off event where I talked through what I learned over the past couple of years. This post is meant to provide some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your experience.
Upload your resume to the database.
The database is already open, but if you plan on talking to companies at the career expo, I highly suggest uploading your resume to the database. A lot of large companies will have iPads to sign in at their booth before talking with someone and they will use that information to follow up with you. Recruiters will also sort through the database before and after the conference to see if there is anyone that they are interested in contacting.
Have your elevator pitch rehearsed and ready.
This is good for all networking, but really comes in handy at GHC. It takes practice to nail down, but it will eventually become second nature. A good elevator pitch should convey to the other person: who you are, what you do, and where you work. It’s not just your quick introduction — it also showcases your confidence in what you do.
Pick up your packet on Tuesday before the conference or extremely early on Wednesday.
Wednesday is when the madness starts; lines will be long and people will be rushing to get to the keynote at 9am. Lines on Tuesday, however, are nonexistent. Make sure you get your packet early!
Have a game plan for each day.
Go through the GHC session schedule and figure out which presentations, panels, or workshops you are interested in, and plot them out. The schedule is already posted on the GHC website so why not start now? Also, be sure to look into where the sessions are held. If the sessions are close together, then the commute between the two rooms will be easier since you’re not fighting through large crowds in the hallways and on escalators. A shorter commute means you will most likely arrive early and get a seat in the session.
Dress for the day.
Comfy shoes that you can stand wearing all day are a must. Other than that, most people are casual, wearing a t-shirt representing their company. A pair of sunglasses for your walk or shuttle ride might help if it’s sunny. Most importantly, bring a sweatshirt to stay warm! Even though the conference is in Orlando this year, the AC in the conference center will be on full blast. I forgot a sweatshirt one year and ended up cuddling with my laptop for warmth.
Bring the essentials.
Laptop/charger: The conference can be a whirlwind, and taking notes during sessions can help you track the key takeaways that resonate with you. If you’re a faster typer on your laptop, bring your computer and charger. Keeping notes on your computer also helps you reference notes from previous years and events.
Portable battery pack: Ever been in a venue with 15,000 people where every person has a phone? You can’t get service — at least, not good service. When your phone is struggling, the battery will drain faster than normal. A portable charger won’t keep you tied to a wall all afternoon.
Hand sanitizer: You’ll be shaking a lot of hands.
Your contact information: You need a way to hand out your info. If that’s business cards, bring them; just be aware they may get lost. A QR code pointing to your LinkedIn page: have that set up. You’ll meet a lot of people and you’ll need a fast, easy way to get each other’s information. Students, if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, make one now!!!! I can’t stress this enough. LinkedIn is your online resume. You’ll need one after graduation, anyway, so just get on it now!
Don’t be afraid to take a break.
My first GHC was 2009 in Tucson. The conference was at a beautiful golf resort in the desert that had an amazing pool with a great view. At Friday’s keynote, the speaker asked how many women took a break from the conference and laid by the pool. Maybe five hands went up. The woman responded, “You know, if this was a conference full of men, you better believe they would have taken a break from the conference to get in a game of golf.” I will never forget that because she was right.
The conference is nonstop from Wednesday morning to Friday night. The keynotes are in the morning, sessions throughout the day, a career fair going on, afternoon sessions, then dinner and evening events/parties. By the end of the day, I’m running on pure adrenaline; by the end of the week, I’m flat-out exhausted.
GHC can be overwhelming. Leave time for a break. You don’t have to be in a session at all times. If a session isn’t relevant — or interesting — to you, don’t go. If you are not getting anything useful out of a session, leave! If your brain is mush and can’t comprehend anything that is going on around you, then leave the conference. Get a manicure, have a glass of wine, take a nap — whatever you personally need to recharge. Don’t feel guilty about it.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even seemingly silly ones.
Each session will have a Q&A portion. If you have a question, it’s likely other people in the crowd have the same one.
A few years ago, I attended a financial panel where one attendee stood up and said, “I majored in math and minored in computer science; am I even qualified for a job in CS?” Mouths dropped across the panel and she was swarmed after the event — but for her, it was a legitimate question, and one to which she didn’t know the answer.
If you are too nervous to stand up in the session, use the time after to talk to the presenters; if there’s no time, take down their names and emails and follow up. There is so much knowledge at GHC; it would be a shame to have questions left unanswered.
Go to the career fair.
The career expo is like no other. Companies go all out with large budgets and over the top setups to attract people to their booths. It’s a great place to talk to a variety of companies and see if there are any opportunities that you are excited about. There’s so much diversity to what kind of groups you can talk to, and just because you haven’t heard of a company, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing amazing things. You never know who or what will excite you. And if you are considering graduate school or pursuing a PhD, schools will also be at the career fair ready to talk to you about their programs. Even if you are not looking for a job, it’s still a sight to be seen, a great place to pick up swag, and a great place to make connections.
Strike up conversations with people you don’t know (yet).
Try to avoid always hanging out with the same familiar faces. At such a large conference, it’s easy to stick to your safe zone with people you know, but start by taking one lunch and just sitting down at a table where you recognize no one. You never know what the conversation will lead to.
At a 15,000-person event, there are constantly lines: for coffee, for lunch, for elevators, for entering sessions, etc. It’s a great time to meet and network. My second time at GHC, I met someone who worked at the company I was interviewing with the next day. We ended up talking for two hours about the company and its interview process — by the time I had my interview, I was calm, prepared, and knew exactly what to expect.
Also, be willing to talk to male allies that are attending the conference to get their perspective. This may be their first time at a tech event where their gender is the minority.
Most of all, do not forget to have fun! GHC is a great experience with plenty of amazing women doing amazing things in technology. I hope these tips help prepare you for wonderful 3 days. See you there!