Reflecting on WE16, my fourth annual SWE conference, I realized how my goals for the conference have changed year to year. My first SWE annual conference was in 2012, and it was incredibly intimidating, yet inspiring. A sophomore in college, I had barely been exposed to all the possibilities that engineering and SWE can offer. I had no idea what to expect, but I had been told that it was a great place to find an internship. So my goal was to dominate the career fair, and it paid off with an awesome internship with Northrop Grumman a year later. I have since realized that a significant portion of my career fair swag ends up being donated to the thrift store, and those heels are not worth it. With internships complete and graduate school lined up, my focus has transitioned into learning more about how to help SWE advance its mission and how to successfully navigate my ever-changing engineering career. As a collegiate senator this year at WE16, I was able to participate in the Collegiate Leadership Institute where I heard talks on topics like how to improve my personal brand and how to combat the imposter complex. At the region and senate meetings, I was able to use my experience with SWE to convey information to others and help influence the society’s future.
I have learned uncountable pieces of information from SWE conferences, but the best advice that I have heard at annual conference is how to take a compliment. You should accept it without downgrading it or feeling obligated to return it. At first I wondered what could be wrong with returning a compliment? Someone compliments your dress, and you immediately respond that their hair looks super cute today. It seems harmless enough, but I learned that it can be a defense mechanism that relates to the imposter complex. We don’t want to be seen as arrogant or we don’t believe we deserve the praise, so we deflect it onto someone else. Worse, the returned compliment will probably sound inauthentic. With practical tips like this, the skills and knowledge I’ve gained from SWE impact my life everyday.
As a freshman reluctant to join SWE, I never would have believed how the society would change my life and career goals in the next 5 years, but it has. SWE conference is more than meetings and interviews and information. SWE is a feeling. The details of my conference experience change yearly, but the support from the people I’ve shared the experiences with is constant. The number of women engineers in one place felt foreign at first, but now my favorite part of conference is just the energy and positivity that emanates from such a crowd. It’s the reassurance that they did it, and I can do it too. I left Philadelphia feeling physically exhausted, yet I know that the mental power that I get from all of the thought-provoking speakers and results-oriented meetings will continue to draw me back year after year. I’m sure Austin, Texas won’t disappoint!