TAPIA: A diversity in computing conference – What is it like to attend a conference?

From Feb. 5-8, 2014 I flew to Seattle, WA to attend the “Richard Tapia Conference for Diversity in Computing”, which is generally referred to as the TAPIA conference. I’m a white female who graduated with a B.S. in computer science from the University of Maryland.

These days, the common definition of diversity is: people of color.

In computing, the definition of diversity most commonly is: women.

At TAPIA, the definition of diversity is: people of color, women, people with disabilities & those in the LGBTQ community.

If you’re wondering why TAPIA needs to exist, the most profound quote I heard during the conference was:

“I went to Amazon, and we were talking about diversity, and the Amazon rep asked me ‘how do we become more diverse’, I started speaking and the rep stopped me, ‘no, I meant, how do we get more women in computing’

So, what is it like to attend TAPIA?

10:00pm Wednesday, February 5th: I check into the Red Lion Hotel in Seattle

11:00pm Wednesday, February 5th: My roommate walks into the hotel room. Oops, my roommate is a boy. We stare at each other for a moment. “Well, I wasn’t expecting a girl,” he says slowly, a thick Carribean accent makes his words sound musical. I laugh, “me either.” As we await a reply from the scholarship organizers, we talk about computer science, where we are both in school (him: Norfolk State University, he went to undergrad at the University of the Virgin Islands; me: recently graduated from the University of Maryland), and why we chose to attend the conference.

12:00am Thursday, February 6th: We go to the front desk of the hotel and get separate rooms. Bed time!

7:00am Thursday, February 6th: Time for breakfast at the Grand Hyatt Seattle

8:00am Thursday, February 6th: Instructions. The conference organizer gives us the etiquette rules for the next three days. When speaking to someone who is deaf, speak directly to them, not to their interpreter. When speaking to someone who is blind, restate your name because they will not yet recognize your voice in a crowd. Wouldn’t it be vaulable if everyone got these instructions (and followed them) for interacting with each other in real life??

8:15am Thursday, February 6th: Keynote speaker Chieko Asakawa. Chieko is an IBM Fellow and a researcher at IBM Watson in Japan. She has been blind since the age of 14. Her work at IBM has been crucial in the effort to help blind people use computers.

9:00am Thursday, February 6th: Another keynote about a computer science class at Berkley that was able to achieve 50.5% female enrollment!

10:00am – 3:00pm Thursday, February 6th: Talks, and more talks and more talks: about grad school, and diversity in the workplace. Also,  lunch with the conference sponsors and meeting tons of awesome people!

3:00pm Thursday, February 6th: Time to hit up the career fair! I walked away having set up a writing test appointment with a Facebook recruiter who had been trying to call me before the conference. I also ended up having an awesome conversation with a recruiter from MIT lincoln labs. I heard back from both recruiters by 11pm the same night.

6:00pm – 8:00pm Thursday, February 6th: Dinner time.

8:00pm-10:00pm Thursday, February 6th: Google after hours cocktail party.

10:00pm Thursday, February 6th: BED!

7:00am-10:00am Friday, February 7th: Breakfast and more keynote speakers.

10:00am – 2:00pm Friday, February 7th: More talks, including a super awesome talk on using improvisation during your career. Who knew life was an act?

2:00pm – 5:00pm Friday, February 7th: Time to explore Seattle!

5:00pm-5:30pm Friday, February 7th: Join the other women of TAPIA in the bathroom getting dressed for the banquet and dancing.

6:00pm-11:00pm Friday, February 7th: Eat and DANCE. The dance is one of the culminating moments to TAPIA, for me. There was latin music, hip-hop music, “old” music, and the chicken dance. Me (clapping) standing next to my new friend Mallory at the dance.

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11:00pm -2:00am Friday, February 7th: Hangout in one of the fellow scholarship recipients hotel rooms, drink a little, talk a lot about our backgrounds, philosophy, religion, computer science, you name it!

1:00pm – 5:00pm Saturday, February 8th: Writing workshop: learning how to craft good personal statements for graduate school applications!

7:00pm Friday, February 8th: Flight home. Recovery time!

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