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Grace Hopper and the Island of Misfit Toys

Grace Hopper is a big deal around here. Just uttering her name -- for us, now synonymous with the annual conference -- will evoke the feelings of children on holiday mornings. We tend to get really excited, and have to remind ourselves to breathe.

But that's because seven years in, we know what we're in for. Three days of utter, wonderful madness: thousands upon thousands of women, inspiring and sometimes challenging conversations, and a collective energy that powers us through hours on our feet.

Our leadership -- and in particular, our CTO Rebecca Parsons -- have supported the Anita Borg Institute for years. Support of women in IT and thus, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, is crucial to our social mission and beliefs.

ThoughtWorks has been referred to as the Island of Misfit Toys. Misfits we may be, but our wonderful and weird collection of individuals has long fostered an environment that welcomes and supports women within our technical ranks. We're not perfect, but our values and mission insist that we all try a little harder, that we are more thoughtful, that we each play a part in righting historical wrongs.

We're often cited in statistics and studies as "one of the hardest companies to interview for." We insist on technical excellence for our clients, yes. But our interview process also screens for those who not only understand our mission of changing the face of IT, but come racing towards it.

It's simple. It's impossible for us to do the work our clients deserve without raising up the women in our ranks. It's also just the right thing to do.  

And it's working. Globally, almost 35% of our technical workers are female. Our graduate program has done even better, achieving a clean 50/50 gender balance. We've worked hard to achieve these numbers, but we can do better. We have to do better. And Grace Hopper is one of the ways for us to do just that. To invest in the growth of women in STEM, and seek out new ThoughtWorkers who align with our mission and can help us grow; these are the most important things we can do to affect change.

In short, Grace Hopper is a big deal around here. We do it big, and bigger yet every year. We were a proud sponsor of GHC14, where we sent 33 ThoughtWorkers, 30 of whom were female, and eight of whom were selected to speak at the conference. (Eight! We are so proud.)

The seats for our talks were full, with ThoughtWorkers giving talks on topics like Open Source Software for Humanitarian Causes, Supporting Girls in STEM from South Africa to San Francisco, and Stereotype Threat in Education. Their talks were thought-provoking and compelling, a testament to the commitment and planning of the speakers. Many worked with speaking coaches here to prepare months in advance. And it paid off, with full-houses, engaged audiences, and lots of debate both during and after each talk.

We met thousands of women in three too-short days at our booth, where our developers paired with attendees at coding stations, writing code live. We took lots of photos of women with our pal Grace, with whom yes, we're now on a first-name basis.  "Want to take a picture with Grace?" Who doesn't, really? And we danced like madwomen on Friday night, celebrating a great week with 8000+ technologists in support of women in tech.

In the rush of the first few hours of the career fair, a high school student stopped by our booth, looking dazed. "It's just that I never even knew there were this many women in computing," she said. These are the exact moments that we lose count of at Grace Hopper each year, the moments that really matter. GHC14 is on the books, and we've returned invigorated to push forward our ambitious mission of changing the face of IT: for the good of ThoughtWorks, the industry, and the community of women in IT to come. GHC 2015 was just announced for Houston -- watch out Texas, we’re coming for you!