It’s over! 😫 😫 All good things must come to an end I guess. But overall attending GHC was pretty awesome from beginning to end. Here are my favorite bits.
The conference runs Wednesday - Friday, but they put on a 1-hr session on Tuesday evening for people who’d never attended GHC before. They pretty much recapped all of the information on the website, but it was a great opportunity to walk through the venue, get oriented, and ease into the talking-to-random-strangers aka networking aspect of GHC. They also gave a bit more context of how the sessions were categorized, which helped me decide on some schedule changes. Overall I found it very useful and would recommend to any future GHC first-timers!
Wednesday morning kicked off with a few keynote sessions. It’s pretty amazing to be in one room with 22,000 current & future female technologists. And I had a goosebumps moment when I remembered watching the live-stream 1 year prior while getting ready for work, wishing I could be there too…what a difference a year makes!
Padmasree Warrior gave an inspiring keynote with some actionable advice: 1) pay attention not just to your industry, or technology, but how technology is changing your industry. 2) Develop the skill of working across boundaries and learn more than your own discipline; sometimes the “barriers” we see in this respect are self-created.
Jessica Matthews also told the inspirational story of how she came to start a business that’s disrupting the energy industry and bringing electricity to developing nations. She spoke about how she didn’t and couldn’t have planned her journey, but rather it was following the path of what needed to be done that got her to where she is. Great quote: “Your destiny is unshakeable, regardless of what your plans are.”
There were several other speakers who spoke about great things they’ve done with technology in their communities. Not gonna lie, my tinkerings with some little websites felt pretty inferior by comparison! But we’re all on a journey, and these sessions were a great kick-off to get me in a ‘mindset of possibility’ before going into the next sessions.
I went to a number of career development workshops, and saw some similar themes come out of all of them:
- A professional path can happen by design, but there will also be unexpected turns along the way. In either case, what you do with the situations you’re presented with will ultimately determine how personally satisfied & fulfilled you’ll be with your career (and life).
- When it comes to taking risks on the job and in your career, you don’t know where the boundaries are until you meet them; you’ve gotta try things out if you want to make sure you keep growing.
- Being very clear on your personal values will help you make decisions when faced with a fork in the road. Some speakers spoke about how this really helped when personal issues forced them to take an undesired break from their careers; others gave excellent prompts on how to identify these values, and how to apply them to your career using the Agile methodology.
- Self promotion is a skill that can (and should) be developed. One fantastic workshop gave some step-by-step advice on how to develop this skill, and how to revisit it periodically to make sure you can make the most out of every networking and business opportunity.
#### Open Source Day
All day Thursday I participated in an open source hackathon, working on the Mozilla FixMe platform, a new part of the Open Source Student Network. It’s an app that helps students find good projects they can contribute to in order to dive into the world of open source. There is a set of criteria that determines what makes a “good” open source project, and contributors can add projects, or work on the platform itself.
So I had a great time working on the project team I joined, and think I’ll keep contributing to the platform if I can balance the time with my other personal projects. It was also really interesting to hear about the other open source projects that other groups worked on throughout the day.
…And the free lunch was great!
I really enjoyed the hands-on nature of the hackathon, and carried this on with a few other workshops. One of the best ones by far was a serverless workshop using the AWS ecosystem; we built a full-stack application from scratch in one hour (ok, they supplied the code 😋) using S3, DynamoDB, API Gateway, and Lambda. Having worked with AWS before, and having tried and failed at deploying other full-stack applications on AWS, it was really great to get a step-by-step guide on how to go about doing this. Obviously to do it in an hour we breezed through some of the settings, but the presenters gave an excellent tutorial which I took home with me, so I’ll be able to go through more slowly and really learn how the services work together. Perfect timing for the next app I want to build, which I’d already set my sights on using these services for!
A few other workshops about the product and testing processes were equally applicable and productive. Here are the key takeaways from those collectively:
- Test early with actual users to find out what your users want from the product, and then build those things.
- Building these things can be done cheaply: even mockups and drawings can allow you to measure real behavior, capture emotions as well as data, see what people will actually give to use the product (their personal details? money?), and these things can be done quickly.
- Testing is very effective on small parts of a product, or even a single behavior.
- If you add exit points into your product test sessions, you’ll quickly see when people might stop being engaged, and where you’re likely to lose them.
- You can use “priority sliders” first individually, then with a group to gain consensus on what the team should focus on…this helps ensure everyone is working towards the same goal throughout a project.
When it comes to GHC the FOMO is real. It’s just not possible to be everywhere and see everything.
There were a few very high-calibre featured speakers I didn’t get to see, including Anita Hill, Priscilla Chan, and Joy Buolamwini. They really bring out the big guns for this conference! That said, the talks I missed were a great source of conversation with people who had been to them, so I was able to get some of the information that was shared. Also, I feel like the events I did attend were practically applicable, with information I can take directly into the projects I’m working on…I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on those!
I also didn’t spend much time at all in the career expo. Hundreds of companies and universities where there talking about what they do and what kinds of opportunities they have available. And they were giving away great swag too! I only got to pop in for about 30 minutes at the very end, so missed the information, live AMAs, and technology showcase that went on there.
There were also some outside events that I would have loved to join. For example there were a number of community and affinity group luncheons and brunches and meet-ups which would have been great to participate in—especially the one with London-based attendees, as I’d have liked to have people here at home to meet up with again afterwards and keep those relationships and learnings growing.
But despite these things I missed out on, I left feeling like I’d gained a wealth of knowledge, so no complaints!
I hope and expect I’ll attend another GHC in the future…these are the top things I’d like to remember for the next time around.
- The prep I did before arriving was absolutely worth it in the end. All of the info about logistics was spot on. I also gained a lot by joining Slack and Whatsapp groups ahead of time—that’s the only way I found out about the non-GHC events and parties that happened after hours, and I met some really great people at those! I’m so glad I’d taken the time to read through those long articles.
- I don’t think I would have made it through the week as well as I did (and I barely did!) if I hadn’t had a decent breakfast every morning. It was a bit boring—2 packs of plain instant oatmeal made with soy milk, and a banana—but it kept me full & attentive through the early afternoon…very important as on one day I didn’t even have time to get lunch until nearly 3pm. Quick, substantive veggie options were limited in or near the convention center, so this really made a big difference.
- Not every session is a winner. I stuck through to the end for the 1.5 that weren’t top notch, but if something else more valuable had been going on at the same time, I wouldn’t have hesitated to leave.
Finally, what would a trip to Houston be without visiting the Johnson Space Center! IT WAS SO COOL!! A group of us (thank you Slack channel) drove down after the conference ended and spent the day learning about space and visiting the NASA facilities, seeing the rockets, and glimpsing the equipment real astronauts use to train before their missions. Talk about geeking out. I hope they do GHC again in Houston so that I can go back again 😄
I left feeling immensely motivated and excited about the projects I’ve been working on, and it was great to have made some new connections that I hope will grow into a community that I can go to when it comes time to start making those projects more public. I’m sure I’ll run into a lot of glitches and obstacles along the way, so it’s really great to know that the community is out there. In fact, I already started scaffolding my next app, so it’s working already!
Lastly, I just think it needs to be said that all of the work that went into organizing a conference like that is greatly appreciated!! If for some reason someone who had anything to do with putting it on (organizers, sponsors, volunteers…everyone) stumbles across this blog some time in the future, THANK YOU! The effort and attention that went into to every experiential detail was clear, not to mention the quality of the talks and workshops throughout the whole event. I’m really grateful to have been able to take part and have a pretty good feeling that the majority of the other 22,000 people felt the same. Well done and thank you! 👏👏👏