Seattle conference draws inspiration from renowned Grace Hopper Celebration

Attendees at the first Hopperx1 Seattle conference in November 2017. (Jen Au Photo)

Tickets go on sale this morning for the second annual Hopperx1 Seattle conference, a take on the popular, long-running Grace Hopper Celebration that brings together women in technology from around the world.

The first Seattle conference held in November 2017 sold out in 36 hours.

The event, which runs March 22-23, is organized by the Seattle chapter of, formerly known as the Anita Borg Institute. The chapter is the nation’s largest, with a mailing list of more than 4,000 participants. Hopperx1 Seattle will feature four focus areas encouraging women’s participation in technology: growing community; strengthening collective, diverse voices; fostering inclusion and inspiring action.

While women make up approximately 46 percent of the U.S. workforce, they held only 24 percent of computer and mathematics jobs, according to a GeekWire analysis of 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. and local chapters are working to shift that percentage to make it more closely reflect the general population — including racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community and people with different physical and mental abilities.

It’s an effort that’s been underway for decades.

Grace Hopper Celebration in October 2017, in Orlando. Left to right: Kiki Tsagkaraki, Hopperx1 Seattle attendance committee chair; Sheila Oh, Seattle co-leader; Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO; Ross Smith, Seattle co-leader. ( Seattle Photo)

In 1987, computer scientist Anita Borg created an online community called Systers with a dozen women technologists to support each other and discuss issues that the group faced at work. She later co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration and then launched the Institute for Women and Technology, which included Systers and Grace Hopper. The umbrella group was renamed for Borg following her death in 2003.

The community and conference were among the first women-focused tech efforts, and the celebration is now the largest annual gathering of women techies in the world. The Seattle chapter launched with fanfare in June 2016, at a sold-out event hosted by Google.

The local groups are run by volunteers, so “these are real women in technology who are working in the industry or working in academia or students themselves. We always mention how the voice of the community is what matters,” said Sheila Oh, a co-leader of Seattle and director of Seattle University’s Computer Science Fundamentals Certificate Program. 

“It’s asking the community what is important to them,” Oh said. “We’ve gotten a lot of answers about what are the gaps that other organizations have not been highlighting.”

That has included a need to support women who are in mid- and senior-level positions and eager to move up in management or take C-suite roles or seats on corporate boards. Seattle members have come together to create a side organization called LevelUp Seattle that promotes these women.

In January 2017, Seattle rented an entire theater at Seattle’s AMC Pacific Place 11 for a screening of “Hidden Figures,” a film about three African American female mathematicians who played critical roles during NASA’s Space Race. ( Seattle Photo)

Oh’s co-lead is Microsoft director of engineering Ross Smith. The two emphasize that it’s essential to have men participate in the conversation as well. Male counterparts need to be allies to women to help recruit and retain a more diverse workforce.

Smith hopes to be “a resource so I can maybe show other men, show them why it’s important,” to increase diversity, he said, and why it should matter to them. Smith has attended the Grace Hopper Celebration four times, and recalls entering the event where there were 88 men and 4,000 women.

“Everyone is welcoming and inclusive, but those numbers are intimidating,” he said. It made Smith realize that for women in tech who walk into meeting after meeting and are the only woman in the room, “it feels like that everyday.”

This year’s Hopperx1 Seattle event will be held at the Amazon Meeting Center and headlining speakers include:

  • Sandy Carter, vice president of Amazon Web Services
  • Laura Butler, Microsoft vice president and technical fellow
  • Bridget Frey, Redfin’s chief technology officer
  • Kathy Alexion, chief information officer and vice president of Information Technology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

The conference will be roughly twice as big as the first event, with 1,500 tickets available. The price is $345. Organizers hope the larger event will mean more women outside of large tech companies will attend, including students, government workers and people working in tech roles at non-tech focused companies.

Editor’s note: For more events in the Seattle tech community, check out GeekWire’s community events calendar here