Student Blog: Roxanna Shaik
Grace Hopper Conference is a Journey of Discovery

Nov. 19, 2018 — The Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) is the largest gathering of women in computing. Over the years, I have seen group photos of the outstanding young women who have attended GHC on behalf of UCI’s student-run organization, Women in Information and Computer Science (WICS). Watching the photos flitter across the television screens mounted throughout Donald Bren Hall, I would dream of one day attending the conference, so I too could meet and learn from professionals from all around the world.

Before the end of my junior year, I finally took a chance and applied for a WICS Grace Hopper Scholarship. Mid-summer, I jolted awake one night as I remembered that I had not checked my school email in a month. What if, by some miracle, I was awarded the opportunity but missed a deadline? I fretted as my computer started up, but I when I finally checked my email, I was shocked and honored to learn I had received the scholarship — and hadn’t missed any deadlines!

A little over a week before the event, I rearranged a few items in my already packed carry on, revised my resume and was ready to start my journey. I arrived in Houston, Texas a day before the conference began and headed over to the Convention Center to pick up my badge. I peeked into the career fair area, and it blew my mind! I saw an abundance of booths perfectly arranged as far as the eye could see, each with its own distinct theme. I had attended career fairs before, but I was awestruck by the layout of this one and eager to see what the next day would hold.

Roxanna Shaik at the 2018 Grace Hopper Conference

Roxanna Shaik at the Grace Hopper Conference.

I quickly learned that Grace Hopper is more than just a conference; it’s a place of discovery. Along for the journey was a friend who had pushed me to great lengths since my freshman year of college, as well as my mentor from my summer internship. These two people had supported me at crucial points both personally and professionally, and I was blessed to have them with me at GHC. In addition, I made new connections with other recipients of the WICS scholarship. At the career fair, I met a plethora of young ladies and learned about a variety of career paths within computing. One woman, from across the country, had virtually the same goals as me — she was a fourth-year computer science major with an emphasis in statistics, and we exchanged anecdotes about the struggles of finding data science positions for undergraduate students. We also bonded over our shared interests in machine learning and artificial intelligence. She and I met a project management intern, and we all compared and contrasted the challenges we had faced.

A group of ICS women at the 2018 Grace Hopper Conference

ICS group photo from GHC 2018.

Through discussions with various companies, I solidified my future career goals. As a data science major with a strong software development background, I was at a loss as to which path I should pursue. I have often found that those filling data science positions prefer graduate or even post-graduate students. I asked multiple companies for their take on the situation, and the general consensus was to enter the workforce as a software engineer and build industry experience as a data scientist. As that vision came together, I asked recruiters for feedback on my resume as both a software engineer and data scientist. The general consensus was to tailor my resume for each position. In other aspects, such as formatting, I received contradictory advice, and it reminded me that sometimes simplicity is the best way to go.

Asking for feedback — rather than asking about the company — opened the door to more personal conversations. I had the pleasure of speaking with a software engineer and learning about the trials she faced when moving across the county to pursue her dream job, which she had landed at Grace Hopper the year before. The week she moved from warm beaches to a snow-covered New Jersey for her first job, a tree fell on her car after heavy snowfall, effectively destroying her windshield. Then, the weather caused an electrical wire to fall onto the auto shop where she had taken her car, delaying repairs. Despite such an unexpected accident, she not only stayed at her job, she thrived. She symbolized the perseverance of all the aspiring technologists at the conference. From the recruiters to the attendees, the people I met re-shaped my vision of the future and reminded me to never give up when it comes to reaching my goals.

Roxanna Shaik is a fourth-year data science major.

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