This past week, I traveled to Orlando, Florida as a Github scholar to attend the 2018 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. This conference was meant to celebrate the diversity in the computing field by having students connect with each other from common backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and disabilities. It also featured several student and professional development workshops, a career fair, poster presentations, and was a great celebration of the field I am happy to be a part of.
My flight and boarding charges were fully covered, courtesy of Github‘s sponsorship. I stayed at the four-star Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, Florida, where the conference was held.
How did I get to attend the conference? Well, I found out about the scholarship that would cover for the costs associated with the conference and applied for it. Earlier this year, the conference organizers notified me that I was a Github scholar. I was excited to attend this STEM-focused conference because it would feature folks from my field.
However, I only found a select few cybersecurity students. Most people in the conference were focused on computer science and software development. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I also wish the organizers had opened up the conference to a more broader audience of undergraduate students. The career fair was directed mostly towards those having completed their bachelor’s or seeking to enter graduate school programs in computing.
That is not to say I did not enjoy the conference. I learned everything that was wrong with the format of the resume and just finished modifying it yesterday. It looks so great now! Also, I loved making connections with people in my field and I foresee myself becoming a computer science major when I eventually transfer to complete my bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity are nonexistent. Most programs in universities focus on computer science with a focus on cybersecurity. Then again, some say that you don’t really need to get a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity anyways: what matters is the skills you hold.
Sandia National Laboratories is one of three National Nuclear Security Administration research and development laboratories in the United States. After some CCBC studies, Ms. Smith went on to complete her bachelor’s in computer science next door at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and also worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). She has been with Sandia for over 15 years now. She is very passionate about her job and we had a nice conversation about her interests. She sees herself as a hands-on person and truly enjoys her work environment and responsibilities. When I asked Ms. Smith if I could feature her for this blog, she was very happy to oblige and asked me to convey to students that, yes, CCBC students can go on to become what she did. It is definitely a great accomplishment to work for a national laboratory and you can be a part of it as well. Go to https://www.sandia.gov/careers/ to learn more how you can specifically work at Sandia.
One of the surprising highlights of the conference? I met Janice J. Smith (pictured above) who is a manager of Next Generation Systems and Advanced Information Architectures at the Sandia National Laboratories. She is also a former CCBC student!
I noticed that a lot of companies and industry leaders urged students to develop necessary skills for the job, and many were only willing to speak to students who had those skills. This is compared to those who still want to develop those skills. This signifies a competitive atmosphere of the recruiting environment within companies that are in desperate need of qualified candidates for full-time jobs or even short-time internships. It means that you have to work quite hard to develop those skills and then market them in a way that sets you apart from the crowd of other candidates. Many students were interviewed by the industry on the spot, but I did not hear of any getting an ultimate decision.
Connecting with others was very important in the conference, so I tried to do that as much as possible. I even recruited a small group of us to go out and explore Orlando (see below)! The city is a tourist-attraction and I was hoping to visit at least one: Walt Disney World Resort or Universal Orlando Resort. I and a few friends visited the Universal Orlando on Friday night for a couple of hours. While I wanted to explore the theme rides and other attractions, not everything was free. So we just explored the outskirts of the resort complex and checked out the restaurants and stores. All of us had flights the next day so we bade each other farewell and went on our ways.
I am certainly going to be on the lookout to attend more conferences like this. I think this was an amazing opportunity to build connections and to learn new things and it definitely opened my eyes to what’s actually going on within the computing field. I am taking part in another conference in Charleston, South Carolina later today. I will try to keep you guys updated about that as well.