In October 2018 I had the chance to attend the biggest meet-up of the tech girls in the world, Grace Hopper Celebration that took place in Houston, Texas. In the next sections I will tell you about the main aspects of this experience and I will share my opinion with you. Enjoy!

How Did I Get There?

During the time of the STEP Google Internship I received an email about the opportunity to get a travel grant for attending Grace Hopper Celebration. I did not hesitate, so I filled the form in that night. The candidates selection was made by analysing the answers of two essay questions. After a while I got an email informing me that I was selected as an Intern Travel Scholar. Yuuuhu! 🎉

Please note that some companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter give scholarships for female students and professionals to attend this conference and the selection process is similar. I encourage you to apply and don’t be sad if you are not selected because choosing only few people from thousands based on the resume and some essay questions is not very simple and always fair. Just keep trying and maybe you will get this amazing opportunity.

Because I was in London before going to the conference, I had to get the US visa there. The process was pretty simple. Firstly, I filled an online form with all my details, the purpose of the trip and other security questions. Then I payed the visa tax (160$) and I got an appointment at the US Embassy. For the visa I needed a special picture that I got from a photo booth in King’s Cross station. In the day of the appointment I went to the Embassy and I waited for my time slot. Before entering the building it was a security check like the one in the airport. I had a lot of papers with me that I showed to the man I had the interview with. He asked me some usual questions about me and my trip. After the interview, I waited for almost 30 minutes and then they announce me that I got the visa and I will get the passport back in 5 working days.

I was flying from Romania and there are no direct flights to US, so I had one stop on the Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. The changing time was very short and the airport is very big, so I had to run from one gate to another. Fortunately, I arrived in time and I was prepared for the 10 hours and a half flight. Or I thought I was. In fact, the flight was very long and I could barely sleep for 2 hours. I watched some movies on the provided screen, I was eating and waiting forward arriving in Houston.

Conference Experience

Probably the most impressive part of the conference was the opening keynote. This was held in a huge amphitheatre, so that all the 20 000 participants to be able to attend. In essence, it consists in many motivational talks that have the purpose of introducing you in the conference atmosphere and motivate you to take as much as you can from this experience.

Opening Keynote

The Grace Hopper Celebration conference has 3 important parts that you have access with your participation ticket:

  • Talks. For attending the best talks you must save your spot online approximative one month before the conference. For the others, there are not so many people that want to attend, so you can just go there.
  • Career Fair. For me and all the people I know, the best part of the GHC is Career Fair. This is a huge hall with a lot of companies booths and the most wanted thing: swag. For those who are not familiar with this word, swag stands for all the free objects personalised by the companies. Tip: don’t go there with your bags full because you will need more space when going back home. For the Career Fair you don’t have to be shy, just go and talk to all the companies. You need to print copies of your resume before the event and offer them to the recruiters you talk with. Often it’s better not to mention in the beginning you are not from US because they are not interested in European people. Just try to speak with the recruiters, see if you are interested in their company and get informed. As a bonus, you will get a lot of swag from them, especially when they find out you are not eligible for the job. Haha. 😂
Career Fair
  • Interview Hall. Before the event you can upload your resume on the GHC website and you have the chance that some companies contact you and invite you to the interview. I didn’t know this tip before the conference, so I had no interview. The main advantage of the having an interview there is that the recruiting process takes 1-2 days compared with several weeks for the standard process.

Lifestyle Gap

As you may know, the lifestyle of European people is such different from Americans. I will describe the main aspects that I noticed to be very different:

  • Food. I am sure that I am not telling you something new, but I can also confirm that the fast-food is consumed on a larger scale in US than in Europe. The breakfast for a lot of people is usually a large Starbucks coffee with something sweet. Most of the food was either very sweet or very oily, so not my usual type of food. Also, another thing that bothered me is the fact that I couldn’t find room temperature water. I don’t really like to drink soda or juice or cold drinks, but there all the liquids were extremely cold.
  • Transportation. In Europe a lot of people prefer to walk or use the public transport while in America the main way of transport is the personal car. Walking is not common at all and the cities are that big so they say that a location is close if it takes 30 minutes to ride there. You can’t rely on the public transport because it is not very frequently, so if you don’t have a car, the best option is to use ride share services. The prices for Uber and Lift are lower than in some European countries.
  • Climate. The weather is hot even in October and they have humid climate that is not something usual in Europe, especially on the continent. The sensation is that it’s hard to breath and you feel sometimes a little bit cold even if it’s hot outside. The big problem is the excessive using of the air conditioner in all the buildings and cars. Inside there were always 18 degrees and outside around 30, so the difference was huge. Even if the temperature outside was summer like, I was dressed with hoodie all the time because I was freezing in the Convention Center.

Space Center Houston

The last day of the conference was shorter, so me and some other Romanian participants decided to visit the Space Center Houston. Here we were able to see the inside and outside of the Independece Plaza and many expositions with Apollo missions, astronauts or starships. I recommend visiting this type of museum if you have the chance. It is unique and give you the chance to find out more about NASA missions, their objectives and space.

Conclusion

Attending GHC conference and visit US are must-have experiences in the life of a tech person. As an European student, you don’t have so many chances of finding the job you dream of, but for sure you have a lot to learn from this experience and you will go home highly motivated. There are many companies and NGOs, like Anita Borg, that offer travel grants for female students, so I encourage you to apply and keep your finger crossed.

If you have any other questions, I am happy to answer them in the comments below!

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