Women In Tech

Lessons from vGHC 21

It’s that time of the year again.

The time when we look back on the year that has gone by and recollect all that the year taught us.

For me attending my first Virtual Grace Hopper Celebration was one of the most enriching and inspiring experiences of 2021. I learned so much from these incredible women in technology. To give you a little context, Grace Hopper Celebration is the flagship, annual event organized by The AnitaB.org to “bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront, and highlight the contributions of women to the tech world.

I was inspired by the passion of these women and thus would like to summarise my key takeaways from the sessions I attended at vGHC 21.

1.  Turning Failure Into a Data Point by Payal Kadakia Pujji, ClassPass Executive Chairman & Founder

I first came to know about ClassPass a year ago when it became the first unicorn startup of this decade and I was so inspired by Payal’s journey, the risks she took, the challenges she faced, and how her company navigated the fitness industry through a global pandemic. In January last year, ClassPass hit the unicorn status and as Payal described, “their best month ever”. But then almost immediately after, studios around the world shut down in the wake of the pandemic. I can only imagine the challenges and uncertainty she would have faced as a founder when the entire revenue model of the company needed to be modified. But the resilience of her team flipped it from real-life experiences to digital. And as a listener, it was incredible for me to see her paving the way for all female entrepreneurs in technology.

2.  Daring to Dream Boldly by Diane Jurgens, The Walt Disney Company CIO

If there’s one thing I learned from this session it was to constantly dream big, try new things, and challenge oneself. From being the first in her family to go to college, travel all across the globe, work for a diverse set of companies like Disney, General Motors, Boeing, etc, Diane has always dared to dream boldly, and her journey inspires others to do so too. I was awestruck by the work Diane has done in her professional career, from programming robots to creating a new industry segment in China. Even in the 20 minutes she spoke, Diane imparted so much knowledge about technology and business.

3.  From Techno-Optimism to Techno-Realism by Margaret Gould Stewart, Meta VP of Product Design & Responsible Innovation 

This session gave me a whole new perspective on how I see technology and it’s impact on the world. If I had to talk about myself I would say that I am a techno-optimist. But Marget’s explanation on how we should focus on sustainable, responsible innovation has given me a broader outlook on technology. One key point that all designers, developers, managers in technology should consider is that we are designing for people and not machines and so we should be aware of the impact of technology not only on our target user but also on the people around our target user.

4.  A Moderated Conversation with Aparna Bawa, Zoom COO and Sheila Tejada

Over the last 2 years, Zoom has become synonymous with any form of audio/video communication (just like how Xerox was used to refer to photocopy). In this session, Aparna talks about how Zoom expanded it’s target audience from enterprises to universities and then everyone in the world with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom has paved the way for more inclusivity and flexibility in the workplace. But there are other aspects that need to be considered going forward to use this platform more sustainably, like differences in time zones and compensation.

5.  Building Your Career Beyond Your Job with Deborah Liu, Ancestry CEO and Vidya S., Meta Sr Product Manager

One of the key points that Deb talked about and the one I could relate to almost immediately is the feeling of burnout that we all experience every now and then. Managing assignments in grad school, taking time out for job search, reading and exploring for personal growth, and maintaining a social life could feel overwhelming at times. So, like Deb mentions it’s important to take an audit of the burnout, take detours ad pauses wherever necessary and planning ahead. And from my own personal experience, I feel planning ahead really helps.

I look forward to many more women doing incredible things in the field of technology.


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