How Grace Hopper Fueled My Passion for Women in Technology
By: Kelly Vincent, VP Product and Engineering for Consumer Selling, eBay
How attending the Grace Hopper Celebration inspired me to build a LEGO village.
Where do women fit in technology? Everywhere. But there are still so many hurdles that we as women face. As a woman in the technology industry, my path to high-tech has surfaced many unnecessary roadblocks. I want to open the floodgates of opportunity for all women across the globe to be a part of the tech world – including my two daughters.
Last week, I had the honor of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration with our eBay team. The conference, which took place in Orlando this year, is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists and is put on each year by the Anita Borg Institute.
In addition to recruiting, connecting with women in technology, and learning from the group of amazing speakers and panelists, eBay participates and sponsors this amazing event because we believe that our company—and the world—will be better if people from all walks of life take an active part and have an equal say in its future.
The atmosphere at Grace Hopper was electric. From listening to the inspirational women who have led the way in tech diversity, to chatting with the women who are just starting their careers with boundless hope and drive to change the world, to hearing (and repeating!) the powerful words (“I am not bossy. I am the boss.”) that will set us free from our own psychological barriers. It was invigorating and re-fueled my passion for propelling women in technology.
My re-invigoration stems from two ideas that hit home with me this year for women in tech: urgency and hope.
The first came from Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Professor and Director at Stanford University AI Lab and Chief Scientist at Google Cloud AI/ML. She spoke about how diversity in technology has become an imperative, because nothing short of humanity is at stake. As we develop artificial intelligence technology, the “we” MUST be representative of the world population, or we risk creating a biased technology can and will change the world. This was such an important call to action that the time is now to find a solution to diversity in technology.
The second came from Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Melinda shared her work on opening new pathways for women in technology. Why write an “if then statement” when you can write a “for loop?” A lightbulb went off over my head. Why assume the only path to women in technology is taking programming classes in high school? Why not start with problems or ideas that people are passionate about, and find a way to teach and use technology as a “means to an end”? I thought about my own daughters. My 9-year-old takes programming classes, but the only reason she was interested in starting to code was because she loves LEGOs and we found a LEGO robotics class that she fell in love with. My 11-year old loves singing and dancing, and she and her friends found a virtual reality (VR) app where they can make their own music videos. She’s been asking me to find a hip hop dance class and I am looking for a VR class for her to take.
The idea is genius and powerful. If we can create avenues to learn technology that enable people from all walks of life to solve their problems or feed their passions, the small trickle of girls entering technology will become an endless river.
The conference not only renewed my passion and urgency for recruiting for diversity, but also I am now on the hunt for finding new pathways for people to find “their version of technology.” Just like eBay helps every buyer find their version of perfect, I believe that we can and must find ways to open new doors for women to find the technology that speaks to them. This can come in the form of learning to code with new languages in school, learning about exciting technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality while pursuing your passion, or leveraging technology-based solutions like crowd sourcing or data modeling for solving problems at work.
Let’s help every woman find her LEGO robotics.
Kelly Vincent is Vice President of Product and Engineering for Consumer Selling at eBay. She is also the mother of two young girls – ages 9 and 11.