Girls in Technology: Catalyst Conference

A relatively intimate conference focused on insights shared by successful women.

This past week, I had the chance to attend the Catalyst Conference, hosted by Girls in Technology in San Francisco, California. This event was different from other women in technology events I have attended, and I hope to highlight some of my key takeaways and experiences through the conference, as well as how it compares to others of its kind.

Before I decided to apply for a conference scholarship, I did some research regarding the event. The website describes it as a conference in which presenters would share “incredible, raw, gritty, and authentic” speeches. The organization also has an articulate and well reflective mission statement:

“Girls in Tech is focused on the empowerment, entrepreneurship, engagement, and education of women in technology.”

When examining the agenda, I was shocked to see the diversity in regards to disciplines of the speakers. Furthermore, many of the women presenting are incredibly well known and high up in their respective careers. Acronyms for top leadership positions were scattered through the agenda. The night before the conference, I laid awake thinking the density of the event really seemed too impressive to be true. Overall, Catalyst Conference surpassed my high expectations, and it was evident GIT worked hard to recruit a lineup of speakers that complemented one other and contributed to the holistic impact of the conference. Every speaker at the conference had valuable insights to share. Furthermore, the speakers, panelists, and hosts were humble, kind, and engaged, particularly during the Q&A portions. It was really an honor to be an attendee.

Adriana Gascoigne, the CEO and Founder of Girls in Tech, started the event off by sharing some shocking statistics about the lack of women in STEM and the incredibly high impact GIT has all around the world.

Locations in which Girls in Technology is present

Girls in Technology is a unique outreach organization which has many initiatives which make a huge difference for women in technology and entrepreneurship.

The hard work and attention to detail from the GIT team was not lost upon me. It appeared that every aspect about the event had been meticulously chosen. This includes the small things that created the ambiance of the main room, as well as things like picking talented women (not just speakers) to contribute to the overall success of the event. One of my favorites was that as presenters shared their stories, Deb Aoki illustrated and noted the highlights in real time, on large posters.

To share some of my takeaways from the event, I will highlight themes and lessons proliferated from three unique speakers.

Danielle Feinberg, Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar, started by sharing her career path, and included a clip of one of her first projects. She altered some leaves through a window to include some dynamic qualities (as instructed by her manager), and the leaves were not focused on through the scene as another character was screaming atrociously. It was both a humorous and reflective moment for audience members to consider the projects they worked on when they first started their careers. She also shared some more recent Pixar movie scenes with us, and specifically how they looked with and without lighting. The difference was shocking, Feinberg’s work literally brings movies to life. Her passion for computer graphics and physics was prevalent through her talk and I really enjoyed learning about her work.

Rathi Murthy, Chief Technology Officer at Gap Inc. brought a special kind of positive energy to the stage. She seemed so genuinely excited to be there to share her advice with the audience. Her lighthearted demeanor and attitude through her talk emphasized that both her positive and negative experiences were learning opportunities and never held her back. One piece of advice she shared, which I hope to implement in my own life, is to attend every meeting with one thing in mind to contribute. Whether that be a question or a comment or a new idea, having this prepared before hand can make a difference.

Amy Bohutinsky, Chief Operating Officer at Zillow Group, spoke about having a “crooked path” to success. Several other speakers talked about how having an indirect path was vital in the fulfillment and happiness they get from their careers. I feel that this demonstrates how imperative taking risks is to success. Through her presentation, Bohutinsky explained how much she thinks through her decisions and how careful she is at selecting what she believes to be best for her. In contrast, she ended by emphasizing that the reason she is where she is at is because there are certain times where she did not think, but rather chose to do something random and unexpected.

There were also two authors, Nataly Kogan and Patty McCord, who spoke and hosted book signings. Personally, I appreciated meeting them prior to reading their books.

I really enjoyed the intersection between entrepreneurship and technology. It was exciting for me to learn more about entrepreneurship and meet many individuals involved in startups. I presume that this was in part due to the event being held in the Bay Area.

Another aspect of the event that I appreciated is that sponsors were dispersed casually throughout. They were not overwhelming in any way and I had the chance to speak with a plethora of professionals and genuinely learned a lot about them and their work.

Overall, the Catalyst Conference was a unique event that had a different ambiance than other women in technology initiatives. I did miss the prevalence of technical workshops at this event, but to be fair, Girls in Technology hosts a variety of other programs focused on teaching technical skills. In addition, most of the sessions took place in just one room, which eliminated the logistical stress I tend to encounter at conferences. This includes not having to worry about being able to find the session rooms in time, and the likelihood that they will quickly reach capacity.

For me, this event was not about trying to check things off of a list, but about learning as much as I could and meeting really great people. In between sessions, I had the priceless opportunity to speak with women with such versatile experiences who I have continued to speak to and I hope to keep in touch with.

The Catalyst Conference was an incredible and unique experience. The energy through the two day event was positive and full of kindness. I am really grateful to have had the chance to attend, and I would highly recommend this conference to anyone passionate about technology and entrepreneurship.

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