A First-Timer’s Guide to Attending Grace Hopper Celebration

Congratulations! You’re attending Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) in Houston! It’s your first time, and you don’t know what to expect. Don’t fret, you’re in the right place. I’ve attended GHC five times. My first time was back in 2008 when the celebration had less than 1,500 attendees. In 2018, GHC is expecting to have 20,000 attendees! This blog gives you the tips and tricks I’ve found helpful from my GHC experiences.

Making Connections

Download the app and check out the list of attendees. Start making connections and see who you want to connect with at the conference. Interested in learning more about NetApp? There will be NetAppers from all over, so this is a great opportunity to get to know them!

Picking Sessions

There are two main things you want to keep an eye out for. The first is the schedule. Allocate time before arriving to choose the sessions you want to attend. The sessions will be color coded based on the track they belong to (e.g., career, software engineering, etc.). Conference organizers try to repeat the sessions they expect to be popular.


New in 2018 — GHC is allowing you to preregister for the sessions you want to attend. Note that the system will not allow you to register for sessions that have any overlap in time. You should have received an email from GHC with instructions on how to register for the sessions.


Tip: Don’t plan on filling all your time attending sessions. Schedule breaks to check out the career fair and network with other attendees. GHC is about networking as much as it is about tech trends and career talks.

Tip: If there are concurrent sessions you want to attend, connect with another attendee that’s attending a session you want to attend and swap notes.


The second thing to keep an eye out for is the mobile app. The GHC mobile app is a good way to quickly look at the schedule while you’re at the conference. Be sure to download the app before you get to GHC and familiarize yourself with it. The app should also link to your preregistered sessions.

Packing for GHC

The conference is approaching and you’re ready to start packing, so what do need? The conference has no specific dress code. You’ll find people in casual and formal attire to anywhere in between.


Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.


Don’t forget to bring:

  • A power bank for your phone. There aren’t many outlets to use, and you’ll be using your phone a lot. Also, cellphone reception is usually spotty, which drains your battery faster.
  • A comfortable bag to carry during the conference, especially if you’re lugging your laptop with you. You’ll be walking a lot so carrying a comfortable bag makes a big difference.
  • An extra duffle bag or leave a lot of room in your bag. You’ll be collecting a lot of swag.
  • Business cards. If you have them.
  • A water bottle/travel mug. You’ll be busy all day and walking around a lot, so it’s good to stay hydrated. Also, the water fountains are usually not as busy as the café lines to buy a drink in the middle of the day.
  • Sunscreen. If you plan to walk from the hotel to the conference center, you’ll be glad you packed this.
  • Something to wear to the Friday party. More on the party later.
  • Ear plugs for Friday night. You’ll thank me later if loud noise is not your thing.
  • Swimsuit/gym clothes. If you want to take a break from the crazy schedule. You’ll most likely meet conference attendees and network with them at the pool/gym.
  • A light jacket. Just in case it gets cold at the conference center or on the plane.

Traveling to Houston

On the day of arrival, you will see a lot of people traveling to the conference. Networking is in full force already! Get to know fellow attendees. Once you reach your destination, try to carpool with other attendees going to the same hotel.


Once you reach your hotel, check in ASAP. That’s one reason you want to arrive early in the day. Hotels usually allow early check-in if you ask and they have availability. Also, hotels usually overbook. I’ve been to GHC before where the hotel was overbooked and those who arrived late were out of luck as the hotel was sold out. Finally, by arriving early, you might be able to get an upgrade.


Arrange with your fellow attendees you’ve met so far to go to the conference center together. You need to go pick up your badge from there. That’s the second reason you want to arrive early in the day. Your other option would be to wait in line with thousands of other people the morning the conference starts. Your badge is your ID at the conference, so you need it at all times. After picking up your badge, feel free to explore the conference center.


Tip: This is a good opportunity to take pictures with the GHC signs before the place gets too crowded.


You also should have some downtime to grab a bite, explore the area and snooze a little. In the evening, there’s usually an orientation for first-time attendees. This is the final reason you want to arrive early in the day.


The conference arranges buses that go from different area hotels to the conference center throughout the days of the conference. If you’re staying at one of the hotels on the bus route, ask the front desk for the schedule.


Tip: This is another great way to network with other attendees. However, pay attention to the schedule and allow yourself time to wait for the bus. If the bus doesn’t work for you, use Lyft and try to share a ride with others. It’s safer and more fun!

Attending the Conference

Day 1

The conference starts with a keynote. Make sure you arrive early as the lines get very long since all 20,000 attendees will be trying to get in. Also, be on the lookout for a reusable bag. They usually hand these out in line. You want to get one. This will be your swag carrier, unless you packed one yourself.


After the keynote, you will break out for sessions. Make sure you head to your session as soon as you can. The place will be very crowded. Sessions are first-come, first-served. People line up outside the sessions and volunteers scan your badge for entry. Once they scan a certain number of badges, they won’t let any more people in.


Tip: Don’t forget to wear your badge. This is your access to the sessions.

Tip: If there’s a session you absolutely have to attend, make sure you get there early.

Tip: If you preregistered for a session, make sure you’re in line on time so you don’t lose your spot.


The breaks are a great time to get a snack. They usually provide small snacks and drinks in between sessions.


Tip: It doesn’t hurt to pack some snacks in case your day gets very busy and you miss out on the snacks provided. Also, the water bottle you packed will come in handy.

Tip: As you network with people, exchange information and connect on LinkedIn right away. If they give you their card, add them to your LinkedIn network as soon as you reach your hotel room (earlier if possible). If you don’t have cards, take a picture of them with their badge. This way, you know who that person is, and you can connect with them later.


The evening of the first day of the conference is when the career fair starts. Even if you’re not looking for a job, you don’t want to skip it. This is where the real swag is. This is why you want that reusable bag they’re giving away, and this is why you want to make room in your luggage.

Day 2

The second day also starts with a keynote. The career fair remains open all day after the keynote.


Tip: If you’re already tired from the first day and sleep in and miss the keynote, the keynotes are recorded so you can watch them later. Up until 2017, the keynotes were the only sessions recorded, so plan accordingly.

Tip: Schedule some time off during the conference in between the sessions for networking and checking out the career fair.

Day 3

The third day is similar to the second day. There are a few differences though. First, you’ll find that the conference has fewer attendees. Some people have other commitments and can’t stay till the end of the conference. Their loss! Second, the career fair closes early. The final difference is the Friday party.

The Friday Party

The C in GHC is for Celebration, and Friday night is the big party! People come dressed in all kinds of attire, from shorts and t-shirts to full on party dresses. Wear what you want but be ready to dance a lot! You’ll want to arrive early.


Keep in mind:

  • Bring an ID. There’s alcohol, so you need an ID if you want to drink.
  • Bring cash or card. The alcohol is not free.
  • There will be free food, but it’s mostly finger food.
  • Arrive early; get the party swag before it runs out.
  • Be on the lookout for conference t-shirts. If you arrive early, you’ll be able to find your size.

Tip: It’s going to be LOUD. If noise is an issue for you, the ear plugs from the packing list will come in handy.

Going Home

Hopefully, you attended the Friday party and had fun. Make sure you pack all the swag you can in your check-in bag. Some swag may not be approved for carry-on bags. For example — one year, a company gave away lava lamps! On the other hand, some swag may not be approved for check-in bags, like portable chargers. Carpool to the airport if possible.


Finally, don’t forget to post photos and share your experience on your social networks!

Sally Wahba

Sally is a Member of Technical Staff at NetApp in RTP, NC. Sally joined NetApp in 2012 after obtaining her PhD in Computer Science from Clemson University. She is passionate about outreach and increasing the number of women in STEM. Her passion for outreach activities started at Clemson when she became aware of the low number of women in STEM — a problem that did not exist in her home country, Egypt. When not working or participating in outreach activities, you will find her serving as a reviewer for a technical conference, reading, baking, or training for a running race.

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