GHC12: Keynote Speaker Nora Denzel

Nora Denzel: What an amazing speaker! I loved how she coupled some really valuable career advice along with her amazing sense of humor.

Starting off on a light note, she shared her story of the TRS 80 computer and how it motivated her and enabled her to decide at the age of 16 that computing is what she wanted to do in her career. Touching upon the theme of the conference – ‘Are we there yet?’, she mentioned how she felt that we were not there yet, also evident through statistics. I was astonished to learn that women make 57% of the workforce, however, only represent 25% of the technical jobs worldwide. This puts the case forward for the need for more women in computer science.

She then provoked some thoughts by asking “Why is it that we need more women in computer science? Why can’t we let girls decide what major they want to take, without trying to attract them towards computing?” The answer: simply that diverse teams make better decisions, in turn leading to a better society as evidently men and women think differently. She emphasized through examples that when women are better represented on teams, the success rate of the project generally increased. I liked how she spoke about ‘reversing the reverse revolution’ (of the % of technical women not moving at a positive rate) by making sure that every single female in the room made a conscious effort of recruiting atleast 1 technical woman every year.

After putting her case forward for the need for more women in tech, Nora came down to 5 key points of career advice she had for everyone who wanted to stay very long in the tech industry:

1) It all starts with your attitude. Your attitude is like a flat tyre, if you don’t change it, you are not going anywhere.

2) For longevity, you have to feel very comfortable with being uncomfortable. Comfort and growth are ‘or’ bit and not an ‘and’ bit.

3) Act as if you are courageous. Courage means being able to act in spite of your fear.

4) Be your own PR agent. Every time you open your mouth, it is a press release. Be careful and deliberate.

5) It takes a village. Don’t be in your career alone. Maintain a group of people inside and outside of your office who you can reach out to when you need advice and who reach out to you when they need advice or are feeling low.

I loved her quote on the last point when she said: “It is not what you know or who you know, it is who knows what you know!”

Moving into the last part of her speech, she bulleted 5 points on how to convince girls to get into tech. I am going to give you all 5 points here below, but my favorite is the last one.

1) You get to wear what you want.

2) They feed you all the time.

3) You get awesome swag.

4) The money is good (but don’t get in if that is the only reason why you want to get in!)

5) You have the power to change the world – change people’s lives so profoundly that they cannot think of going back. I got goosebumps when I heard about a project at Intuit that using simple phone messaging and doing real-time search, led to 30% more wages for farmers on a daily basis. I have a personal favorite quote from Margaret Mead which goes – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And when Nora mentioned about being able to have this massive impact through your work, I found it extremely exciting and inspiring!

She ended her speech by re-quoting one of her favorite quotes, which enabled her to get through her hard times: “Ships in the court are safe. But that is not what ships are made for.”

I left the room inspired by Nora’s words. And completely amazed by her candidness and light-hearted nature. Also, her ability to weave memorable stories made her a great speaker and I am going to work on developing that skill during my next Toastmasters project speech!

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