What We Learned from the Largest Women Technology Conference in the World

This year, our very own Andrea Frost had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, Texas. The following is her account of the this year’s conference, key takeaways for women in technology, and why you should attend the 2017 Grace Hopper Conference in Orlando, Florida.

What is the Grace Hopper conference?

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is the largest gathering of female technologists in the world! It all started when Anita Borg and a small handful of women crossed paths in a bathroom at a systems conference back in the ‘90s. There were so few women in attendance that the women thought perhaps they should meet and talk more after the conference. This led to the creation of the Systers Mail List of women in tech, which today has more than 6,000 members worldwide.

Anita Borg, sadly, died some years ago from cancer, so her best friend Telle Whitney created the Anita Borg Institute, named after her beloved friend. These women were the first drops of water in a waterfall that now carries oceans of women through their careers in tech. This year, the ABI brought 15,000 women technologists (and a few men) together under one roof in Houston.

The panel on caching

“Cache Me If You Can” panel. Speakers: Ashley Jin, Distributed Computing Engineer, Paxata Anna Povzner, Software Engineer, Confluent Alice Yeh, Software Engineer, Eventbrite Vartika Agarwal, Technical Program Manager, Google

Why did you attend this year’s conference?

Last week was my third time attending GHC! Three years ago, Kelly Lyon and I both attended as GHC Scholars back when the conference had only 5,000 attendees. Last year there were 12,000 attendees, this year there were 15,000, and next year they expect 18,000+ in Orlando, Florida!

When I went the first time, I was only a year or so into my computer science major at school and was having a rough time. I wasn’t sure if I belonged or how I would fit into the tech world. I hadn’t met any female role models at my school, and I didn’t yet know about the many cool women in industry in my town and around the globe. There is something very tantalizing about being under the same roof as thousands of other intelligent women technologists. While that might sound intimidating at first, it is quickly understood that the group is incredibly inviting, open, personable, silly, and fiercely dedicated to the cause.

Years later, I too am a fierce warrior for the cause. Kelly and I were the first students from Western Washington University (WWU) to ever attend, and we knew we had to get more people from our school to this incredible conference. By selling t-shirts, I founded a scholarship that has since brought seven students from the WWU Association for Women in Computing (AWC), to GHC. We have also had the pleasure of helping bring awareness to the national scholarships that made it possible for eight more to attend. In total, this year there were 23 students, faculty, and alumni from WWU at GHC!

WWU group photo

WWU group photo

I attended this year so that I could officially pass the torch on to this new group of students, and so that I could meet other female technologists who, like me, are in their early careers in tech. At GHC it doesn’t matter what level you are at, be it student, early-mid-late career, industry or academia, entrepreneur, CEO, researcher, recruiter, or a simple observer. There is truly something for everyone. Where other than GHC could a software engineer from a tiny startup in Bellingham, WA walk and talk casually with the CTO of the United States government?!

Megan Smith and Andrea Frost

Megan Smith and Andrea Frost

What happened this year at Grace Hopper 2016?

Watching the excitement and camaraderie of women from my school at GHC was such a stark contrast to my experience three years ago! I felt proud to have helped create opportunities for such a large group of us to be there together, and it was fun to laugh together and see them encourage one another to apply for jobs, attend talks, introduce themselves to new friends, and explore new areas of technology. (Spoiler: three of them got job offers at the conference!)

The keynotes were fabulous and insightful. Latanya Sweeney, the first black woman to earn a PhD in Computer Science, now professor of government and technology in residence at Harvard University, spoke about bias in software and how data science is saving the world.

Ginni Rometty, President and CEO at IBM, reminded us that “comfort and growth never coexist” and to work on something bigger than yourself.

ABIE Award winner Anna Patterson showed us that women can rise up to all kinds of challenges while being a great leader all along the way.

I have a particular interest in cyber security, so I was excited to attend relevant talks in that arena. From panels on defense against the dark arts to presentations on policy and surveillance (Jennifer Stisa Granick) and new paradigm in cyber tactics (Andrea Limbago), we have much work to do in the cyber space. Women must be involved in these efforts, so be sure to also put the Women in Cyber Security (WiCYS) conference on your radar!

Cyber security panel: Defense Against the Dark Arts -- Protecting Your Product From Bad Actors.  Speakers:  Clara Liu, Software Engineer, Pinterest Jenelle Bray, Team Lead, LinkedIn Ava Zhang, Software Engineer, Twitter, Inc. Jackie Bow, Software Engineer, Facebook, Inc. Angelina Huang, Software Engineer, Airbnb

Cyber security panel: Defense Against the Dark Arts — Protecting Your Product From Bad Actors. Speakers:
Clara Liu, Software Engineer, Pinterest, Jenelle Bray, Team Lead, LinkedIn, Ava Zhang, Software, Engineer, Twitter, Inc., Jackie Bow, Software Engineer, Facebook, Inc., Angelina Huang, Software Engineer, Airbnb

Passing in the hallways offered many opportunities to walk and talk with well-known, important people. At GHC, people take time to get to know one another rather than brushing off time with strangers. Some of my favorite encounters include:

Lisa Seacat DeLuca

Lisa Seacat DeLuca

  • Jamie Chappell at Red Hat – Created the Women in Open Source Award to help bring more recognition to women contributors.

  • Heather Ricciuto and Diane Delaney at IBM – Fabulous women I cross paths with at every conference who inspire all those around them while making important connections.

  • Ambareen Siraj from Tennessee Tech University – Founder of WiCYS who always encourages me to reach beyond.

  • Carol Willing – Director of the Python Software Foundation who also happens to run an OpenHatch table at the GHC Open Source Day each year.

  • Megan Smith – United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in the Office of Science and Technology Policy and closing keynote speaker. She works with President Obama and I got to meet her!

And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper GHC without closing keynotes and a stellar after party! Closing keynotes included: Megan Smith who brought important attention to the upcoming film Hidden Figures, the silly MC, Nora Denzel, Marc Benioff from Salesforce, and a panel of amazing women from NASA.

Megan Smith with panel of women from NASA

Megan Smith with panel of women from NASA

At the after party, we danced all night with a live DJ and a silent DJ party on the opposite end of the room, spinning gyrospheres, Ms. Pacman, a giant LightBright, Skee Ball, and some pretty awesome photo booths!

Silent DJ at GHC after party

Silent DJ at GHC after party

Favorite piece of swag?

My new custom emoji from Made with Code of course!


What are your top 5 take aways for women in tech?

It’s so hard to narrow it down to just five things! The following is my best effort to do so:

  1. You belong and the world needs you! We must have diverse minds at the table making decisions about the future direction of technology.
  2. Don’t be afraid to explore! There is so much more out there beyond what we can see and imagine, but you have to do the work to put yourself in a position to gain exposure to other ideas and people.
  3. Let connections run deeper. When you meet other women, keep in touch with them via LinkedIn, Facebook, email, user groups, or whatever tools suit your needs. I am still friends today with people from every conference I have been to, and I look forward to following all of our careers as we progress. Those contacts are your lifeline both to share in the good times and in the struggles.
  4. Look for the light. There will probably always be frustrations for women in tech, at least in my lifetime. No matter what you are going through, there is always a lesson to be learned and light at the end of the tunnel. Make sure you are looking for the light.
  5. Say thank you to those who have helped you along your journey. Almost every woman at the Systers luncheon raised their hands to say they would like more recognition for their work and for their accomplishments. It takes a village, and I believe we should acknowledge each other for the work we do. Women have been written out of the history books; it is up to us to make sure we have proper representation in the future.


The winning company and results, from the Top Companies for Women Technologists program was also shared during the conference. This is a national program that recognizes companies committed to building workplaces where women technologists can thrive. This year, an unprecedented 60 organizations across multiple industries participated! That’s a 71 percent increase from 2015.

This graph shows in red how far ahead the winning company was this year.

This graph shows in red, how far ahead the winning company was this year.

Why should you attend GHC next year?

There are so many reasons to attend GHC! Off the top of my head:

  1. If you want to be inspired, go to GHC
  2. If you want to connect with awesome women in tech, go to GHC
  3. If you want to learn about emerging technologies, go to GHC
  4. If you need to find talented women to join your team, go to GHC
  5. If you aren’t quite sure where you fit or what your next job should be, go to GHC
  6. If you want to participate in inclusive open source workshops, go to GHC
  7. If you want to know how to help in this mission, go to GHC

About Andrea Frost:

Andrea is passionate about using technology to make the world a better place. With many years of non-profit experience, she is incredibly excited to build ActionSprout tools that make life easier for non-profits. When not officially at work Andrea volunteers with the Creators & Innovators Club for Girls, Whatcom Hospice, and WWU Association for Women in Computing. She loves getting out in the mountains with her dog from Alaska. She is currently an engineer at ActionSprout.

Do YOU know the answers to these top Facebook FAQs?

ActionSprout works with nonprofits of all sizes and causes across the globe. Here are the questions they most frequently asked about Facebook. Chances are they asked some of the same questions you’re dying to know the answer to, too!

Let’s dive in, shall we?

How can I increase the organic reach and engagement of my Facebook Page?

The key to increasing your organic reach and engagement is content curation. This is the practice of finding and sharing the top stories and news related to your mission on your Facebook Page—not just your own content, but also content from others that is getting lots of likes, shares and clicks. The Facebook algorithm promotes content that people engage with, and so by sharing highly engaging content, you will grow your organic reach and engagement. You can learn more about why and how to curate Facebook content here.

What is the difference between reach and engagement?

“Reach” is the number of people that saw your post in their News Feed. (Not all of your supporters see all of your posts—over 1,500 pieces of content are competing for 200–300 News Feed slots for each person each day!) They may have stopped and read your post, interacted with it by liking, sharing, clicking or commenting, or they might have scrolled right past it.

“Engagement” is when a person interacts with your post by liking, reacting, commenting, sharing, clicking or watching a video. It will always be a subset of the people that the post has “reached,” because not everyone chooses to interact with every post they see.

How can I get more people to view my nonprofit’s Facebook Page?

People do not typically visit Facebook Pages. (When was the last time you visited a Page other than your own?) Instead, people will see and engage with your content when it appears in their News Feed. Trying to get people to view your content on your Page instead of in their News Feed is fighting an uphill battle against how they naturally use Facebook. Our advice: don’t worry about your Page too much—focus instead on creating great posts that people want to engage with!

What defines a “fan,” and how exactly does Facebook calculate this?

Your Page fans are anyone who has clicked the “Like Page” button on your Facebook Page, an ad or post. Your current fan count is the number of people who have clicked this button minus those who subsequently unliked your Page by clicking it again.

Can people who haven’t liked my nonprofit’s Facebook Page (non-fans) still see our posts?

Yes! All the posts that you publish to your Facebook Page are public and viewable by anyone, regardless of whether they have liked your Page or not. The number one way that non-fans see your content is when their friends share your posts. They can also sometimes see your posts when their friends like or comment on the post, or if you used a hashtag.

Is there any way to send messages to people who have liked my Page?

Not at this time. Facebook does not allow Page managers to bulk message the people who like their Page. Alternatives include: messaging key people who like your Page individually, engaging them in conversation in the comments, or running social actions to collect the contact information of your supporters on Facebook so that you can send them emails.

How do you build relationships with people who like and comment on your posts?

Message them back, reply to their comments and like their comments on your posts! One of the best ways to build deeper relationships with your supporters on Facebook is to engage in conversation with them! Don’t leave their questions unanswered, thank them for their support, or share additional resources that they would enjoy. Liking their comments on your post shows them that you care. You can learn more about replying to comments and building relationships here.

Should I verify my nonprofit’s Facebook Page?

Yes! There is no reason not to verify your nonprofit’s Facebook Page. Verification signals trust and security to your supporters, and clears up any questions about whether the Facebook Page belongs to your organization. This verification follows your Page all over Facebook as well, including in search and comments. Here’s how to get started.

Why don’t I have a “donate now” button on my nonprofit’s Facebook Page?

To unlock this feature, your Facebook Page must be classified as a nonprofit. Here’s how to check what your current Page category is and how to change it. Once you have categorized your Page as a nonprofit, follow these instructions to set up your new donation button.

I started my nonprofit as a personal profile on Facebook. Should I switch to a Page?

Yes! Personal profiles are designed to represent real individuals and not organizations. Facebook says:

“Personal profiles are for non-commercial use and represent individual people. Pages look similar to personal profiles, but they offer unique tools for businesses, brands and organizations. Pages are managed by people who have personal profiles.”

Using a personal profile for anything else is against Facebook’s terms of use:

“It’s against the Facebook Terms to use your personal account to represent something other than yourself (ex: your business). If you’re using your account to represent something other than yourself, you could permanently lose access to your account if you don’t convert it to a Page.”

Worse, personal profiles are limited to 5,000 friends, which many nonprofits will quickly exceed. Learn how to convert your personal account to a Page.

What makes a “good” post? Should I always include an image? Should my text be a certain length? How about videos? How long should they be? Are text-only posts okay?

There are no fixed rules that define a “good” post. Ultimately, you will need to experiment and pay attention to what works on your own Page with your fans.

Here are a few loose rules of thumb to get you started:

  • Try to post the most engaging image or video that you can. Photos of people and animals tend to be highly engaging, especially if they’re looking right at you.
  • If you’re including a lot of text in your post, make sure that your most important message comes first. Otherwise, people will have to click “read more” to see it and most will miss it.
  • If think you might spend money to boost a post with an image, make sure that the image contains less than 20% text. You can check this with Facebook’s text tool.
  • When creating and uploading videos, make sure that your video grabs people’s attention in the first two seconds. Videos auto-play as they come into view, so you have just a moment to catch someone’s attention enough make them stop scrolling and watch your video. Put the most important part first to grab attention, and then work backward from there once you have it.
  • 80% of Facebook users watch videos with the sound off. This means that your video must have text or captions, or be otherwise be understandable without sound.

How does the Facebook algorithm determine which of your fans receives each post?

There are three main ways that Facebook decides which of your fans they will show your post to.

  • Their relationship with your Page. If they commonly engage with your posts, they are likely to see more of them in their Feed. If they usually don’t engage when they have the chance, they will see fewer of your posts over time, and may stop seeing them altogether.
  • Have they historically shown Facebook that they are interested in the subject matter that you just posted about? If they commonly engage with posts about polar bears, and you posted a polar bear post, they are likely to receive it in their Feed.
  • Have they historically shown Facebook that they prefer the content type that you just posted? If they commonly engage with videos over other types of media, and you posted a video, they are likely to receive it in their Feed.

How often should I post to Facebook?

This will depend on when your particular audience is on Facebook. Facebook gives this data to every page manager under the Insights tab, then Posts.

I am concerned about “communications fatigue” with our audience if we post 2–3 times per day.

First of all, not all your Page fans see each of your posts. Instead, each time you post to Facebook, the algorithm decides which of your fans would most likely enjoy and engage with the post. Thus, if you post multiple times a day, you are reaching a new sub-group of your fans each time. In this way, you are increasing your overall Page reach for that day. It is safe to say that if you posted to Facebook five times in one day, no single fan would see all five posts in their Feed. Facebook is very good at protecting its users against spam like this.

How many posts per day is too many?

That will depend on your particular Page fans, your content and your issue. Many successful Pages post 10 or more times per day! Most nonprofits, however, do not have the time or resources to post that often, and that’s okay. Post as much as you can; it’s extremely unlikely that you will ever post enough to cause a problem.

What’s the difference between a mention and a hashtag?

A mention links to a person or Page. Once mentioned in a post, they will receive a notification on Facebook. Mentions are used to get someone’s attention, invite them to engage with your post, or ask for a response. Anyone who clicks on the mention will be taken to that person’s profile or Page. Learn more about mentions here.

Hashtags are used to organize large conversations on Facebook and social media at large. When someone clicks on a hashtag in a post, they see a feed of all the people and Pages talking about that subject. It’s a way to tell everyone, “I’m joining this conversation and I want this post to be a part of it.” Learn more about hashtags here.

November: Giving Tuesday Strategy

This guide is the last part of a series of guides designed to get your nonprofit ready for #GivingTuesday.

GivingTuesday is just 29 days away! Between now and then we’ll recap the most important points from the previous months. This will be a quick refresher to make sure you’re on your A-game all this month.

Let’s go!

Content curation

When we first got started all the way back in June, we introduced you to the strategy of content curation. We learned that organically increasing your reach and engagement on Facebook relies on two things:

  • Posting more. Two-to-three times a day, to be exact
  • Posting awesome, high-performing content

Content curation delivers on both of these. The strategy hinges on sharing the top content from similar pages on Facebook. This content is both relevant to your cause and something your audience would be interested in.

We showed you how to practice curation through both ActionSprout and Facebook, so hopefully you now have a curation system that works for you!

Analyzing and learning from your posts

Next, we taught you how to measure the success of your new content strategy. We showed you how to isolate your top performing posts by engagement and look for patterns of success. This strategy showed you what was working and thus what types of posts your supporters were interested in. By discovering these and posting more of them, you increased your chances of reaching and engaging supporters organically.

Remember to keep an eye on what’s working, as it can change over time. Keep looking for changing patterns in post content, format (videos, images, links) tone (negative, optimistic) and overall approach.

How to boost your best posts

At the end of the summer, we taught you that putting a little money behind your top performing posts would pay huge dividends!

  • Only boost what’s already receiving above average engagement on your page
  • A $5 to $10 daily budget is enough to see awesome results on your page
  • Use SmartAds to automate the process

This helped further boost the organic reach and engagement you started to foster through content curation.

Social actions

In the fall, we dived into social actions. Social actions are how we move passive Facebook likes into engaged, contactable, supporters. Remember to follow the STEP UP best practices when creating social actions:

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 6.24.24 PM

Learning from our social actions

The following month we learned how to analyze our social actions for weak points, and how to fix them. Remember to compare post engagement, form views and completions against each other to find the weak points in your flow.

Post engagement is higher than form views

  • Double-check that your Facebook post includes a strong, clear, call to action
  • Make sure your call to action is urgent and triggers an emotional response to act right away. – If they feel like they can come back later you’ve lost them.
  • Is your call to action convincing? Plausible? Does it inspire?

Post engagement and views are about equal, but conversion rate is low

  • Is your form mobile optimized? Are you losing supporters who want to take action but cannot from their device?
  • Was the form confusing? Was it clear what they were being asked to do and how?
  • Did the form fail to move them to act? Could your language be stronger?

Conversion rate is high, but post engagement is low

Remember, this may not be an issue. Simply double-check the following:

Does your post have a strong call to action?

  • Looking at your post, would you know you needed to click and complete the form?
  • Is it clear what is being asked and why?
  • Is your call to action urgent and reasonable?

Is your image attention-grabbing?

  • Would your image make you stop scrolling through Facebook?
  • Does it grab attention and make you want to engage?
  • Have you tried testing different images?

Fundraising best practices

Lastly, we took our new insights and lessons from our social actions and combined them with fundraising best practices to create a killer #GivingTuesday call to action. Donate for change

Your supporters, no matter how loyal they are to your organization, are really donating to effect change on an issue they care about. Ask them to donate to the cause, not your particular organization.

“Chip in”

It’s been shown in some nonprofits tests that using the word ‘donate’ actually reduces donations. Try something like ‘chip in’ or ‘pitch in’.

Set a goal

Set targets for donations and outcomes achieved. Targets put perspective on your campaign. No matter how much or little someone gives, they know they are chipping away at the set goal. They can easily see that their donation had an impact.


It helps if the donation appeal is directed at a specific goal, e.g. keeping open a children’s hospital, saving a local park, passing legislation, etc.

Wrap up

Wow! We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last six months. Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back!

Take the time this month to go back over what we’ve covered and strengthen any weak spots you may have. All these pieces will influence the success of your #GivingTuesday campaign come November 29th.

Best of luck!