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Why We Come Back: Past GHC Scholars Return to Support New Generations of Women Technologists

Updated 10/15/2015: Watch Clara’s Grace Hopper talk and read her GHC post here!

The following is an excerpt from an article on The Huffington Post, “Why We Come Back: Past GHC Scholars Return to Support New Generations of Women Technologists.”
In a few days, more than 12,000 people will arrive in Houston to attend the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. The conference is the world’s largest gathering of technical women, and is often the first time attendees are exposed to so many other female technologists who have the same interests and share the same struggles.
The conference is especially impactful for the GHC Scholarship Grant winners, who are selected each year to come to GHC with all expenses paid by generous industry sponsors, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Thelma Estrin Foundation, a National Science Foundation Grant, and individual donors. The winners, who demonstrate true passion for technology and changing the ratio for women in tech, often find inspiration and encounter a launching pad for their careers at GHC.
And as their careers progress, many of these scholars return to GHC as professionals representing some of the top companies in the technology space.
For Clara Shih, that cycle of learning is coming full circle this year as she returns to GHC more than a decade after first attending in 2004 as a scholar. Back then, Clara was a graduate in the computer science department at Stanford. Today, she is the founder and CEO of Hearsay Social, a social media marketing management firm.
“I remember feeling a tremendous sense of community, possibility and confidence-building,” Clara recalls. “Being the only woman in the room can be lonely at times, and I appreciated the incredible camaraderie and friendship at GHC 2004.”
This year, Clara will return to the celebration as a plenary speaker to share her journey to becoming a leader in technology with other women who aspire to leadership roles. Thirty percent of Hearsay Social’s engineering staff is female, and Clara has worked hard to promote a diverse and supportive work environment at her company and the industry as a whole.
“It’s an honor to return to GHC this year as a speaker and to speak to so many women who are where I was a decade ago,” Clara says. “GHC represents exactly the kind of community, mentorship and skill-building that we need to change the numbers for women in tech.”
Read the full story at The Huffington Post.

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First Hack Day at Hearsay Social

Hack days are a long-standing tradition in Silicon Valley, and a great way to fuel innovation, spark new ideas, and collaborate on a host of projects that don’t always fit into day-to-day business activity. Leading tech companies—like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo—often hold hack days throughout the year as a means to jump start internal innovation that may lead to benefits to an organization’s end product, solution or process.
As a software engineer at Hearsay Social, I often find myself asking my fellow engineers “What interesting side projects are you working on?” Like most engineers, I’m naturally curious and frequently spend time on nights and weekends working on projects unrelated to work that I find personally stimulating.
Because they are born out of curiosity, these projects are fertile ground for innovation, and are often sandboxes where engineers can test out new technologies that are not yet mature enough for use in a production environment.
To encourage the kind of self-driven innovation that only comes with free form, unabridged learning, (and as an excuse to spend a day working on our own projects,) my colleague Sukhada and I arranged to host Hearsay Social’s first hack day. We invited Hearsay Social engineers and friends who were interested to hang out with us on a Saturday to unleash their pent up ideas.
We started the day bright and early at 9 am (by engineering standards), and feasted on the requisite breakfast of champions consisting of donuts and coffee. We worked late into the evening, only stopping to eat lunch and drink beer from the office keg.

Nearly twenty people showed up, seven of which were guests, to work on whatever projects they desired. The projects varied widely, ranging from the simple to the complex, commercial or free, all having one thing in common: intriguing “hacks” that could very well lead to meaningful innovation.
hack day photo (1)
Below are a few examples of the cool projects we worked on:
Elayne, a friend of mine, has been teaching herself to code using online courses. She powered through her lessons on the Ruby programming language, occasionally asking someone for clarification when the lesson was unclear.

Mel, one of our user-experience engineers, has spent the last several months teaching herself iOS development

by building an app called “Hearsay Meals” which makes it easy for Hearsay employees to check

what’s for lunch, order dinner, and vote on what beer we should keep in the office keg. She, and two other

engineers she recruited, continued work on that, much to our collective delight.


David, another Hearsay Social engineer, worked on his Darwin.js project that makes it easy for people to run,

and visualize evolutionary algorithms in a web browser. While still a work in progress, you can try this example

for yourself.

hack day string-evolver
Other projects included:

  • My manager, Robert, wrote a program to generate weekly progress update emails that he hopes can replace his presence at the weekly managers’ meeting. We’ll see.
  • Sam, took the first steps on an ambitious free alternative to a powerful data tool Google has been using internally for years. Checkout unique.

The event was awesome, and went better than we could have hoped for a first attempt. We are already planning ways to make the next one even better.
If you or someone you know would like to join us next time, please connect with me @captbaritone, or send an email to, and we’ll be in touch! Feel free to also follow us or leave a comment @hearsaysocial.

Tech titans Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, and Clara Shih participating in's "Hour of Code"

Thanks to the video from this week showing an 8th grader teaching President Barack Obama how to write his first line of code, you might have heard of the Hour of Code. This is just the latest in a long line of initiatives spearheaded by, a non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color.
As part of this week’s “Hour of Code” event, I’m honored to say that Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih will be joining tech titans Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, and others in 15-minute video Q&As with 100 classrooms across the United States, including Pawcatuck Middle School in Stonington, CT, Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, St Francis High School in Traverse City, MI, Cooper High School in Union, KY, Concord High School in Staten Island, NY, Perry-Lecompton Middle School in Perry, KS, and Houck Middle School in Salem, OR.
Watch Clara and her fellow thought leaders in the webchat at the bottom of the post. And here are some thoughts Clara will be sharing:

If an 8th grade girl thinks she might be interested in computer science, where would you tell her to start?

It’d be the same for girl or boy:

  1. Make sure you have a strong math, science, and general academic foundation.
  2. Start coding. It’s easy to start with Web programming and HTML.
  3. Attend summer camp, which is valuable even if you don’t end up doing computer science, which is becoming as foundational in life as reading or writing.

I am a girl and a nerd who is interested in computer programming. Who inspired you and were any of these mentors female?

  • Ada Lovelace (one of the world’s first computer programmers)
  • Grace Hopper (invented the first compiler for a computer programming language)
  • Anita Borg (computer scientist who developed the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology)
  • Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo! and Google’s first female engineer)
  • Bill Gates (co-founder and former CEO and chairman of Microsoft).

What would you consider “key” decisions you made or crossroads you encountered to get to where you are today?

Think entrepreneurially. The best jobs of 10 years ago aren’t the best jobs of today or certainly 10 years from now. The most important thing you can do is build a solid foundation, learn how to think for yourself, and then be opportunistic.
In your opinion, what is the most influential social media platform out there today and why?

Social media has become so widespread that it’s basically impossible to answer that question, like answering what’s the most influential Web app. There are too many. Social has come to occupy different parts of our lives, from professional to family and friends to romantic to quick messaging utility. Aside from the obvious big three, Pinterest, Instagram, and WhatsApp are also very interesting to me.
As new social media platforms pop up everyday, how does Hearsay Social stay on top of trends and change accordingly?

We download and try everything. It helps to be based in Silicon Valley, because we live and breathe technology here.