The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), named after the computer scientist Grace Hopper who worked to invent the very first code compiler, is one of the biggest yearly conferences for women in tech. In 2019, GHC boasted almost 25,00 attendees from 94 countries ranging from early-career students to industry leaders and researchers. GHC is sponsored by an almost never-ending list of companies including Apple, Google, Dropbox, Accenture, Snapchat and Microsoft. It almost feels like if you name a big-tier tech company point blank, it’s very likely they’ll be on the sponsor list. In fact, GHC has so many sponsors, on top of the Gold Tier, there’s a Platinum, Diamond and Emerald tier to which companies could pay up to $200,000 to advertise and access top-tier talents. The conference is truly a place of development, networking and growth for women in tech.
This year, due to COVID-19, the conference went virtual, ticket prices ranged from $200 (Career Fair only) up to $800 for full access. GHC became vGHC, virtual Grace Hopper Celebration. GHC offered numerous scholarships to support its diversity and inclusivity values. Plenty of people bought tickets from many wonderful stories of getting interviewed and even job offers by their dream companies through the conference. Here is where things went wrong.
Days before the event, attendees were notified that the Career Fair is nothing happening besides pre-arranged engagements. Students were left confused, sad and scrambled to figure out how to obtain pre-arranged interviews. The organizers also did not give a direct route to refund but offered to upgrade the “Career Fair Only” pass to “Student Access.” With thirty thousand attendees and sponsors projected, it’s hard to say that GHC did not see the shortcomings of the career fair a long time ago. Many on Twitter even compared this to #FyreFestival moment.
vGHC offered opportunities to grow through a packed schedule of workshops and panel conversation for a variety of topics from quantum computing to dealing with workplace bullies. However, it did not deliver what was promised, the career fair. This opens a greater discussion about how online career fairs should manage virtually. Plenty expressed disappointing sentiments about the awkward conversation, the crushing flood of introduction messages in the chat and never being able to approach a recruiter like in person. Post-cancellation of the vGHC career fair, many companies have put out initiatives and recruiter information in hope of creating the same impacts. However, the incidents left plenty with questions about how to approach conferences and career fairs, in the age of economic downturns. Like many things in 2020, one can only hope that GHC 2021 in Chicago will offer the true experience it promised.