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The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the kind of event where the line to see the team of software developers from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign snakes around a ballroom more than once. 

Among this group of 18,000 people, the technical women who tried to elect the country’s first female president might as well be rock stars. 

“There’s nothing like seeing this many women excited about tech, excited about being together, excited about possibilities of how being together could change everything,” said Brenda Darden Wilkinson, the president and CEO of AnitaB.org, which puts on the conference. 

“There’s nothing like seeing this many women excited about tech.”

Grace Hopper, an annual gathering of those women in tech and engineering, pulsates with a unique energy. Unlike most other spaces in the tech industry, men aren’t dominating the conversation. In fact, the only men to be found at Grace Hopper were a few recruiters manning their companies’ career booths. 

On a conference floor with every major tech company and some lesser-known names trying to recruit women to their teams, you can feel the enthusiasm of recruiters who care about their work as well as young women who can’t wait to join the tech industry. 

The career fair spawned crowds around Snap Inc. and a long line to take a photo in Instagram’s #Hoppergram photo setup, sure, but also for information on technical careers in construction and at the State Department. Only a few culprits reached for questionable recruitment moves, like free red nail polish from State Farm. 

In a year marred by , , and questioning the ability of women to work as software engineers, a feeling of resignation or defeat is a constant for a lot of women in tech. 

Grace Hopper, by some miracle, provides an almost total respite from all of that. The women at GHC are excited about supporting other women in computing, but they’re also just enthusiastic about technology as a whole. The throngs of optimistic internship-seekers thrilled to see this many women in tech in one place don’t hurt either. 

“It’s my first time. It’s crazy to see so many women in tech in one space,” said Aleksandra Zakrewska, a senior studying computer science at Yale University. “There are Women in Computing groups, but it’s always the same 15 or 20 people you already know. Seeing 18,000 women in one space—it’s crazy.” 

“It’s crazy to see so many women in tech in one space.”

First held in 1994 and named for a pioneering computer scientist, the Grace Hopper Celebration brings together thousands of women across the tech industry for networking, panel discussions, interviews, and socializing. 

In addition to bringing thousands of women in tech to one place, the conference does its best to support other communities within the tech industry. There are panels about trans issues, being a working parent, tons of technical questions, and asking for a raise, plus socials for Asian women in tech, Indian women in tech, Chinese women in tech, black women in tech, Latinas in tech, LGBTQ-A people in tech, Iranian women in tech, and a combined social for Jewish, Native American, and Turkish women in tech. 

Nowhere is perfect, of course. The conference has faced criticism for a lack of diversity and financial inaccessibility in the past. At a panel discussion between Native American Women in Computing, five women discussed how they didn’t have a group of their own until a Native American staffer noticed and started the group on her own three years ago. 

And the success and scale of Grace Hopper draw attention to the fact that there isn’t a conference with this level of resources for people of color in tech. 

But after a major stream of criticism in 2015, Grace Hopper is on its second go-around trying to publicly improve. One of Darden Wilkinson’s goals for AnitaB.org is to reach more women from different backgrounds. 

“There are so many women who need and desire what we offer. I want to reach out to different kinds of women different backgrounds different stages in their career. We want to broaden this opportunity for so many more of them,” Darden Wilkinson said. “I feel like the current narrative many times centers around a very sequential pathway into these opportunities. There are multiple on-ramps, women who are self-taught, women who have gone through community college, women who do boot camps, women who have done other things in life and now want to try out tech. We want to make sure those pathways are very clear for them and that they know that they have a community in us.” 

The women on the ground this year were inspired by the solidarity, understanding, knowledge, and ambition they saw in Orlando. 

“With other career fairs in computer science, it’s all men,” said Monique Oliver, a senior at Arizona State University. “Seeing a bunch of women trying to get opportunities for themselves—it’s very exciting.” 

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