Inspiring, energizing, empowering: Reflections on the Grace Hopper Celebration 2022

Vidhya Sitaraman, a Senior Software Engineer, and Karina Galinskaya, a Business Intelligence Analyst, stand together outside the Grace Hopper Celebration

The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest annual gathering of women and non-binary people in technology. Named for computer science pioneer Admiral Grace Hopper, the event celebrates her legacy and the many contributions women and non-binary people have made in technology. The conference is an opportunity for attendees to develop their skill sets, experience the latest technologies, and be inspired by stories of other women and non-binary people who are leading innovation, overcoming obstacles, and challenging the status quo.

We were proud to send two Collibrians, Vidhya Sitaraman, a Senior Software Engineer, and Karina Galinskaya, a Business Intelligence Analyst, to this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration. Sending Collibrians to learn new skills, connect with peers, and represent the organization at industry events like Grace Hopper is one example of how we approach career growth at Collibra. Our career development philosophy is built on three core tenets: 

  • Doing your best work by leveraging your strengths
  • Owning your career path with support from your manager and the organization
  • Personalizing development opportunities that align to business needs and your interests

    Following the conference, we asked Vidhya to reflect on what she learned at the conference and how it connects to where she has been and where she wants to go in her career journey. Her story is unique yet relatable for many people — especially women in technology and anyone who has taken a career break to prioritize caregiving responsibilities. Here is her story:

    What led you to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration and what was it like?

    One day I received a message from Madalina [Tanasie, Collibra’s Chief Technology Officer] asking if I was interested in a development opportunity that would involve travel. I said yes, and she told me she thought I would be a good candidate to attend Grace Hopper. Throughout my time at Collibra, my managers have shared positive feedback about me with Madalina, and it felt nice that Madalina remembered my achievements and interests when considering who to send. 

    I was thrilled to be asked and became even more excited when I learned more about the Grace Hopper Celebration. It was amazing to witness 16K+ women from all walks of life under one roof. Many times in my nearly 20-year career, I have been the only woman or Asian software engineer on my team. It was refreshing to see so many women in tech, and it was nice to meet others who could relate to the feeling of being the “only” in the room. I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin most of the time, but it can occasionally feel odd. I heard similar experiences from people at other companies.

    In addition to these connections, I left the conference with many lessons I’m now applying in my professional and personal life.

    Let’s talk about those lessons. First, what are some key technical takeaways you got from the conference?

    Vidhya stands in front of a sign that says "next is now" at the Grace Hopper Celebration

    Staying up-to-date on the latest technology is very important to me because I like to keep different pathways open for myself to continue growing in my career. That’s why I really enjoyed participating in an AWS workshop at Grace Hopper. In the session we learned the fundamentals of hosting a simple website using AWS services like Amazon Lambda, Amazon S3, and Amazon API Gateway. 

    While I don’t currently work on any projects that use AWS services, I earned an AWS certification a few years ago, and Collibra partners with AWS services to deliver some of our technologies. In fact, the AWS architect who led the workshop was excited to learn I worked at Collibra because she is a strong proponent of our technologies.

    By attending sessions like these where I can refresh my tech skills, learn new technologies, and make connections, I feel prepared for when the next interesting career opportunity comes my way.

    Why is it important to you to stay prepared for interesting career opportunities?

    Through the many twists and turns and highs and lows of my career, I’ve learned that it always pays off to keep my skills up-to-date and learn new technologies. Doing so helps you position yourself for the next challenge — whether that is returning to the workforce after taking time away or taking on a new role. I have done both!

    Earlier in my career, I took a few breaks to focus on raising our two daughters. While I was on these breaks, the in-demand skills and technologies changed. Every time I decided to return to work, I had to learn all the new tech and standards from the ground up. It was difficult, but I was able to prove myself and be seen as a valued contributor at every new company. I know this is an experience many others have as well, especially women in tech, like those whom I met at Grace Hopper. While I’m now in a different place in my career journey, those experiences have motivated me to continue improving my skill set and learning new technologies. 

    Getting to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration is a great example of a learning opportunity I’ve had at Collibra that will help me continue to grow — something that I really value in this current phase of my career. I was approached by Collibra’s Recruiting team at a point when I wanted to stretch myself professionally. I loved Collibra’s record of success, its culture, and the prospect of growth, so I decided to take on this new challenge. Since joining, I have become a key member of the Asset Import/Export team. I am again lucky to have great managers in Collibra who are genuinely interested in my career path and goals and guide, mentor, and advocate for me.

    Many people can relate to the daunting task of rejoining the workforce after an extended career pause. What advice do you have for people who want to jump back in?

    Collibra Senior Software Engineer Vidhya Sitaraman smiles with her husband and two daughters in a tropical locationI am glad to be an example and offer assurance to anyone who is not sure if they can afford to take a break or is thinking twice about getting back to work in the technology sector. Restarting after a break can be overwhelming. Sometimes you feel like you’ve made the wrong choice. 

    Even still, looking back, I do not regret any of my career breaks. I have enjoyed the time with my daughters, and I am heartened when others comment on how well we have raised them. I am also proud to see how they excel in school and how confident they are. 

    For people taking a break, my advice is to try to keep your skills current. This will be a big help when you decide to reenter the workforce. Working toward certifications can provide helpful goals to motivate you toward maintaining skills and learning new technologies. 

    Even if you are not able to do this as much as you want to — I did not always find the time to do this — have confidence that you can learn quickly and give it 100% when you start a new job. When you are passionate about the work you do, you can find your way back no matter what.

    That’s great advice and inspiration to share. Did you gather any advice or inspiration from the Grace Hopper Celebration?

    At the conference, I heard from other women that they are not as confident as their male counterparts — even though they are equally, if not more qualified. They also expressed that they have a hard time talking about their work. Like them, I also believed that my work should speak for itself, but attending the conference helped me shift my mindset and feel more comfortable proudly sharing my work.

    I already shared some of these lessons on LinkedIn, but there is no harm in repeating them:

    • Don’t devalue yourself. Believing in yourself will push you to the next level. 
    • Your work will not talk for you. You must do that. It’s ok to be proud of your hard work.
    • Don’t let impostor syndrome define who you are. Embrace your fear and remind yourself how remarkable you are. Or, even better, write it down!

    The conference was a great platform to see I am not alone in my struggles or life experiences. It also gave me a new hope that women can be out there for each other. 

    I loved the closing concert from singer Jessica Jay. I was amazed at the energy she created and loved her sense of humor. One thing she said stuck with me: “Let other women shine. Them shining will not take away from your shine!”

    Have you shared any of these lessons with your daughters?

    I always do. They are my biggest supporters. My oldest daughter, who puts her best foot forward in everything she does, is similar to me in how she does not talk about her abilities or her accomplishments and downplays them. I’ve been talking to her about how it’s okay to be proud of her achievements. It’s not bragging if it’s a fact.

    That’s beautiful. Can you share more about the connections you made with other women at Grace Hopper?

    Vidhya Sitaraman, a Senior Software Engineer, and Karina Galinskaya, a Business Intelligence Analyst, stand together at the Grace Hopper CelebrationI met many amazing women and non-binary people, and I especially enjoyed connecting with Karina, my fellow Collibrian at the conference. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know her by sharing our challenges and success stories. We were surprised to learn how many life experiences and beliefs we had in common — even though we come from different backgrounds. We’ve had monthly 1:1s since returning from the conference, and we talk regularly to encourage each other. 

    Even though our work is very different, connecting at the conference has been good for our overall understanding of Collibra’s business. For example, my background is in software engineering and API development, and I didn’t have as strong a grasp on the difference between data science and data engineering. I wanted to know more, so I attended a session at Grace Hopper on key concepts, principles, and use cases of data engineering and how it drives data science. 

    When I shared what I learned with Karina, she explained that this is one of the things she and the Data Office do at Collibra. Her team uses data from the Jira tickets the Engineering team works on to improve cross-functional collaboration, release planning, and more. It was great to understand the “why” behind some of my team’s workflows and how they help Collibra succeed. 

    Is there anything else you would like to share about your Grace Hopper Celebration experience?

    Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration was rejuvenating. I have worked from home for many years now, and though I enjoy the flexibility and time with my family, it can be tough to go so long without any in-person connection with colleagues. I’m glad I had this opportunity to meet so many interesting people at the conference. 

    I have been fortunate to have a few in-person experiences this year. I recently met my whole team in-person for the first time in Collibra’s London office, and I also enjoyed seeing many other Collibrians at ReUnited in May. 

    I again sincerely thank Madalina and Collibra for this wonderful opportunity. I came back inspired, energized, and empowered!

    Thank you Vidhya for sharing your story, and thanks Vidhya and Karina for representing Collibra alongside so many women and non-binary people in tech.

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