GHC 2015 with Laura Romero: Why I’m No Longer Ashamed to Say I’m a CS Major

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is an annual conference that brings together the world’s largest crowd of women technologists. This year’s conference hosted about 12 thousand women, all from different backgrounds and stages of life. It was also one of the most profoundly impactful experiences of my life. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity that CCIS gave me to attend such an event.

I usually tell people that I ended up studying computer science by accident, which is mostly true. I had fleetingly considered the option a few times before college, but had never in earnest, telling myself that I didn’t have the right background or even the capacity to do well in CS. Somehow, spring semester of freshman year, I (thankfully!) ended up in Fundamentals of Computer Science, and eventually declared a combined major in cognitive psychology and computer science.

However, even after my first CS class, even after I took the second one, even after I declared my major, the same self-doubt from the past sometimes plagued me. I felt it was only a matter of time before my peers found out that I didn’t have the credentials to be sitting in class with them. I felt I was a pretender that would inevitably be found out. Telling people my major could feel like telling a boldfaced lie. I would often qualify my title, with “but I don’t really know what I’m doing, haha.”

It was not good.

Thankfully, this is where GHC comes in.

On the second day of the conference, after a jam-packed first day of tech talks, giveaways, and career fair booths, I first heard the words “impostor syndrome.” The words had been spoken by Sheryl Sandberg, who was giving Thursday’s afternoon plenary. Impostor Syndrome. There it was; a neat little name for all of the messy feelings of shame that I had secretly burdened myself. I immediately felt an overwhelming relief, a feeling of being understood. Here was Sheryl Sandberg telling me that not only were my feelings normal, but that she too had once felt them. By the end of her speech, I’ll admit I had been moved to tears more than a few times!

Every piece of advice that Sheryl gave felt like it had been personalized especially for me, and yet, at the same time, I knew that I was not alone; I knew that I was surrounded by women who were either going through the same experiences as me, or had already conquered them and were more than happy to share their wisdom. Even better, I felt like I belonged alongside all of the amazing women around me. This was only the first of many more times that I would feel this way, as many other inspiring women offered up their insights and encouragement during the course of the week.

From the late-night plane-ride to Houston to the quietly awe-struck walk back to the hotel after the conference, my Grace Hopper experience was a thrill from start to finish. I got to attend awesome tech presentations, play with the Oculus Rift, and amass a small hoard of free tech shirts. But best of all, I was exposed to an entire welcoming community that I didn’t know I belonged to. I got to Houston feeling like a pretender, but I left feeling irrepressibly eager to explore my potential = CS, and secure in my place at this newfound community.

And so, without further ado:

My name is Laura Romero, and I’m a computer science major.