ORLANDO, Florida — Thousands of students flock to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing each year to meet other women in tech, network and find inspiration.

 

Employers also attend the largest gathering of female technologists in the world to find diverse talent. I caught up with students wandering through the giant career fair featuring Silicon Valley’s most well known names, to find out more about emerging female technologists.

 

They shared stories of gender discrimination in the workplace, efforts empowering other women and aspirations to become leaders and scholars in the field. Both undergrad and graduate students told me what they expect from potential employers. The majority of interviewees pointed to inclusive, open corporate cultures as a top priority when looking for jobs.

 

Here’s more from Grace Hopper attendees:

 

Jayashree Chandrasekaran

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Jayashree Chandrasekaran
University of Buffalo

 

How did you become interested in technology?

In high school I took a couple of computer science classes and I was hooked.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what would you look for in a potential employer?

 

I would actually look for diversity and inclusivity, which is one thing that is extremely important to me.

 

Do you have any concerns about entering a male-dominated industry?

 

I used to work for two years in India. It was really hard to be on a team that had a majority of men. Your ideas wouldn’t get taken very seriously. I really hope that doesn’t happen again, because once was enough.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

Every time I had a point in a meeting, they would just go, “Oh, she’s so emotional.” I had to shut down and act like I had no emotions whatsoever and give it to them straight without saying, “Hey, what you are doing is extremely unfair.” Instead I would go, “I am not happy with this outcome. I wish you would reconsider.” I just absolutely shut down my emotions and acted like I had none. That was not a fun place to be.

 

Have you noticed differences between that experience and the U.S.?

 

In the U.S. the major difference is, if you genuinely have good ideas and your ideas make a difference and are extremely relevant, then you get an opportunity whether you are a man or woman. That is something that is extremely important.

 

Yamundow camara

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Yamundow Camara
University of Illinois Springfield

 

What brings you to the conference?

 

When I was going to university (in West Africa), there were just two girls in my class. So in my second semester, I decided to make a change. I knew I wanted more women coming into computer science, so I went to high schools and started a project where we taught girls how to code. After I graduated from university, a nonprofit organization approached me. We would physically travel to villages and teach girls how to code. Last year I got a scholarship from the U.S. government and I went to the White House and met President Obama.

 

Technology is a big thing for me. I am very passionate about it. I get inspired everyday, especially if I see women doing this. I have been reading about Grace Hopper for a while, so when I saw this opportunity, I just applied for it. It’s so inspiring to see how technology is changing the world and how women are a part of it.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what would you look for in a potential employer?

 

The ability to share and use their skillsets to improve something without racism, without color, without saying, “She’s a girl,” or, “He’s a boy.” I went through all the companies and checked their diversity (efforts) and made a list according to that.

 

Do you feel like you have resources to really know which companies are diverse and inclusive?

 

No, I have to go to their websites to find out.

 

Any advice for younger girls thinking about technology?

 

Oh, yes what I tell my people back home — I’m like a role model to them — I see how technology is such a big part of people’s lives here. Even back home, it’s less but growing. What I tell them is the world is working towards that. Everything is technology. People are moving from paper to digital. Empowering and encouraging more women into technology would be a very good idea.

 

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Giulia Mattia
University of British Columbia

 

What brings you to the conference?

 

I am just looking to expand my network and see what options are out there for women in computer science.

 

When it comes time for you to choose a job, what would you want to see from employers?

 

For me, it’s not really about the bigger companies. Obviously it’s cool there are a lot of huge companies here. It’s good to explore all options, not just the ones that you know of. There are some cool ones I’ve been to today that I didn’t know of before, but they have an awesome culture and good work experience, too.

 

Do you have any concerns about entering a male-dominated industry?

 

Personally, I’ve never had any issues. I know there are definitely some other sides to the story, but I’ve always had a good experience at my past jobs. It’s always good to see a lot of women in tech here because it’s definitely not what you see in the industry.

 

Harshita Das

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Harshita Das

Michigan State

 

What brings you to the conference?

 

Every year Michigan State sponsors students to come to Grace Hopper and last year was my first time. I applied on a whim because I wanted to see what the conference was all about and why people were excited about it. I had a really positive experience and even got my first internship from the conference.

 

Do you have any concerns about entering a male-dominated industry?

 

I have moments when I am unsure of myself. Sometimes in school, I’m the only girl in the room. But if I don’t do it, who else will? If I do it, more people will look at me and they will do it. That’s the only way to make a difference because there is a gap. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that I am one of those people helping to bridge that gap.

 

Any advice for younger girls thinking about technology?

 

Don’t be scared because when I was younger I used to think computer science was for guys who are really smart and driven. I never did coding before college and now it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.

 

Kalyna Reda

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Kalyna Reda
Monmouth University

 

What brings you to the conference?

 

This is my second year and this year I’m a scholar. I’m just very excited to be a woman in technology and looking to break the gender gap and make a change.

 

How did you become interested in technology?

 

When I was 12 years old, I used to have a Tumblr and I didn’t even know it, but I was coding. I went in the back-end where they had the html section and I was just adding my own stuff in there and making it look prettier. When I took my first computer science class, I realized, “Oh, I’ve seen this before. I’ve done this.” That’s how I got into it. And then also my whole family including my mom, grandpa, aunts — they all code, too.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what would you look for in a potential employer?

 

I try to ask about the culture. I want to know if it’s a good work culture. I also like to ask what kind of change they’ve seen since they started working (at the company).

 

Any advice for younger girls thinking about technology?

 

If you actually like it, stick with it. It doesn’t matter if you are the only girl. You can build their trust just like I did. They don’t take me for granted and they listen to my opinions. They know I’m a valuable part of the classroom.

 

Marie-Claire Langdon

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Marie-Claire Langdon
McGill University

 

What brings you to the conference today?

 

I first started at McGill in 2013. I ended up dropping out after the first semester because I wasn’t motivated or interested in any of the majors. I took a year-and-a-half off and I came back and my friend was doing computer science at the University of Pittsburgh. She got me to try computer science and I stuck with it since then. I did computer science for a year and then switched into software engineering. If I hadn’t known her and saw her doing it, I wouldn’t be here. I know it’s important for me to see other women doing this.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what would you look for in a potential employer?

 

It’s really good to see a lot of the employers here. I want to know that they value diversity. Aside from all the usual perks of good location, good hours and good pay. I want to work somewhere where I know I’ll be listened to and where I won’t feel alienated.

 

What do you think would move the needle to make it a more equal playing field?

 

I think most importantly having more women going into it. If I had seen another woman enjoying computer science years earlier, I might not have dropped out of college to go on a whole soul-searching thing. I think by increasing the sheer numbers, people have to pay attention to what we are saying.

 

Caitlin Whitter

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Caitlin Whitter
George Washington University

 

How did you become interested in technology?

 

I’m a really algorithmic thinker. I like looking at problems and thinking through them step by step. That that meshes well with programming and computer science in general.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what would you look for in a potential employer?

 

An open environment where everyone’s opinions and ideas are appreciated. And just a good culture in that people are kind to each other.

 

Do you have any concerns about entering a male-dominated industry?

 

Not too many big concerns. Hopefully the team would accept me and listen to my opinions. So far I haven’t had any bad experiences with male colleagues.

 

Any advice for younger girls thinking about technology?

 

Stick with it and seek out upperclassmen to help guide you.

 

Anosha minai

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Anosha Minai
University of Pennsylvania

 

How did you become interested in technology?

 

I think my initial interest was from this feeling that tech was where everything was happening. I was more interested in other areas at first. I really wasn’t a tech person, but I knew tech is where everything is happening. I also felt like I have the analytical ability to do something like that. That was what got me started. I definitely didn’t know what I was getting into.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what would you look for in a potential employer?

 

I think it’s a care for people. Now people know biases exists, but actually changing the environment of the workplace is really difficult. And actually making people care about each other is really difficult. You can have policies that might seem inclusive and supportive, but if people aren’t actually connected and considerate, it won’t do anything.

 

Are there are barriers you foresee having to overcome working in tech?

 

The way you’re always kind of doubted or treated differently, and how you have to do the things to make people believe in you, but also advocate for others and advocate for change. It feels like such a big task and a constant battle. I know it exists in every industry, but I think in tech it’s a little more frustrating because tech is this concept of being a meritocracy and disrupting industries and changing the world.

 

Nora Myer

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Nora Myer
Ohio State

 

What brings you to the conference?

 

I got a scholarship to attend. I’m mostly excited to come because of all of the sessions. The career fair is awesome, but primarily I wanted to hear from all the other women in technology. I have been struggling a lot with confidence, so seeing all of the empowered women who are taking charge of their careers are extremely cool.

 

How did you become interested in technology?

 

I did some programming my senior year of high school and in my first semester of college and I was like, “Wow this is really cool.” I think one of the things I am drawn to about computer science is the fact that if you can get access to a computer, whether it’s at a library or at school or a personal device, you can teach yourself to code. I think that’s incredibly powerful. You can do whatever you want with technology.

 

When it comes time for you to enter the workforce, what will you look for in a potential employer?

 

Work-life balance and the mission of the company. Also, what really stands out to me is how passionate the people I am talking to are about their company. There are a lot of great companies here and they are doing amazing things, but I think some of them have a more competitive nature. I’m drawn to the ones where people really care about what they are doing and at the end of the day, they aren’t just there for the name of the company.

 

Any advice for younger girls considering tech?

 

I definitely wish someone had told me this. Sometimes we make the mistake of complaining, “Oh, my classes are so hard.” I think that scares women away from the tech field. Not only then are you dealing with a difficult major, but only one in five people in the class are women. You can’t be scared away by hearing these difficult stories and hearing all the stuff in the news. The reality is those are the horror stories and if it’s something you enjoy, you have to push through.

 

Khushali Dalal

(Photo by Hilary Burns/GroundTruth)

Khushali Dalal
University of Maryland College Park

 

What brings you to the conference?

 

I’m looking for summer internships. I’ve never been to a conference like this. I come from India and I have not had that much exposure to so many different people from different countries under one roof.

 

Do you have any concerns about entering male dominated field?

 

Not particularly but there is a barrier I’m facing right now in technology. Many of us are international students and right now because of the rules and other reasons, they don’t give jobs to international students. They require sponsorship or citizenship. Whenever I meet somebody, they say, “Oh you would definitely do a good job.” But people are not ready to take international students.

 

When you do find a job, what do you want to see from potential employers?

 

The main thing is people should value you and allow you to further your education.