I am writing this from a workstation area in the Connecticut Convention Center, location for the WE Local Hartford conference.
I arrived in Hartford around 6:30 pm last night, managing to arrive before a snowstorm hit several states in the Northeast (I wanted to make sure I left early as I could for exactly this reason). The conference takes places over two days, although I arrived too late to take part in any Friday activities. Friday night was uneventful; I checked into my hotel, got myself dinner, and retired to my room for the night.
Today (Saturday), for me, is pretty much where all the action has happened. After checking out of the hotel, I went to the convention center, registered, found my room, and went to the main ballroom to get myself breakfast, as well as the opening keynote. I’ll admit that I went primarily for the free breakfast! The keynote was given by Dr. Jenny Gusba, a senior director at Pepsico. She mentioned a couple of things that resonated with me. She talked about taking advantage of your strengths and addressing your weaknesses (or, as she called them, “opportunities”), and also mentioned how her challenge in her work was “how to take science and be able to get the masses to relate to it.” The former addresses things that are in one of my presentations, which the latter is a good description of what I do for a living.
My two presentations went well. Both were well-attended (there were at least twenty people in each), and I had a very receptive audience. A lot of questions and comments (which I encourage) were shared at both sessions. I assume that they solicit session evaluations for these presentations, but so far, the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive!
Pepsico, one of the sponsors for this event, sponsored a “networking lounge,” where I hung out in-between my two sessions. I did strike up a conversation with a young lady from Pepsico who said to me something to the effect of “thank you for supporting (women in engineering)!” That was a nice little acknowledgement of my participation at an event that is dominated by women.
Lunch was also an interesting event as well. They billed it as a “power networking” lunch. The rule was that you were not allowed to sit at a table where you knew more than half of the people. (To facilitate this, each ID badge had a sticker on the back that designated your “assigned” table.) I sat at a table along with four young ladies, all (as far as I knew) of whom were students. One was a student at NJIT, and two (who knew each other) were from Ohio State. (I didn’t get much info from the fourth, and she didn’t stay very long.) I found out that they were chemical engineering students. (As it turned out, I happen to know chemical engineers from each of their geographic regions. Hey, more reason to network!) We had a wonderful conversation; I gave them my business card and told them to drop me a line if I could be of assistance.
I thought the networking lunch was a great idea! In my networking presentation (which, unfortunately, I didn’t do today), my attendees get an opportunity to network. When we do so, I tell them that I have one rule: you are not allowed to engage someone you know. You can’t; that defeats the entire purposes of developing networking contacts. Networking is such a huge deal in career development these days; I do have an entire presentation dedicated to it, after all, and I’ve been attending more events where they put an emphasis on networking (including this past PASS Summit). I hope more events schedule activities that facilitate and encourage networking!
I should also mention that this is the second time I have spoken at a WE Local conference (the first was in Buffalo last year), and for me, it’s a bit of an interesting experience. I’ve been speaking at various events (mostly SQL Saturdays) since 2015, but Buffalo last year was the first time that I spoke at an event where the attendees were predominantly female. STEM professions tend to be predominantly male, so there have been efforts by groups such as SWE and WIT to get more girls and women interested in pursuing STEM careers. That comment I got today in the networking lounge meant a lot to me, and I like to think I’m doing my part to contribute.
As I write this, there’s still a couple of hours left in this event. I’m going to see how the rest of the day winds up, maybe do something for dinner, then make the two-hour drive back home. Looks like the weather has cleared, the roads are clear, and I think it should be smooth sailing back home.