Category Archives: Women + Technology

Girl Develop It: Helping Women Learn To Code

This morning 20 women woke up early on a Saturday to learn how to code and create websites using HTML and CSS.  Pamela Fox, an experienced programmer who used to work for Google, is their instructor today.

These women are from a variety of backgrounds and by a show of hands, most are new to programming but are ready to add new skills to their toolbox.  Today’s workshop is part of a growing movement called Girl Develop It which provides educational opportunities for women who want to learn how to code.

After grabbing coffee, the students sit down benches, three to a table facing the instructor and a big screen.  Training content before lunch includes an essential introduction to the web: Tim Berners-Lee, browsers, text editors and the basics of HTML tags like headers, text formatting, lists, tables, form and button elements.

Pamela is explaining things progressively, connecting the technical content to real-live examples that students can relate to.  The students are responding well – they’re fully engaged, asking questions and completing the hands-on exercises.

After lunch attendees will be creating layouts in CSS,  iframes, working with the Chrome inspector and customizing the sites even more.

What can the students expect after completing this workshop?

They will have the basic skills to build a website plus and understanding of how the web infrastructure works when it comes to servers, files, server side scripts, the internet, domain names and browsers.  They can then continue to improve their skills once they leave the workshop through working in study groups, working on side projects and taking on tasks at work that call for these new skills.

Have you always wanted to learn how to program?

Are you interested in becoming a front end designer using HTML, CSS and Javascript to makes amazing websites?

Or maybe you want to become a programmer and develop in languages like Ruby and Python plus master new frameworks like Rails and Django.  Love the thought of creating useful apps but on a smaller scale?

Smartphone application development is a mix of both design and development and you can build on the two most popular mobile platforms using Objective-C to create iOS apps or Java for Android development.  Sounding good so far?

If you answered “yes” reading the last paragraph, I have two more questions for you –

  • What if there were affordable classes and workshops, focused on beginner to intermediate levels for these topics?
  • Have you felt intimidated, overwhelmed or unsure of your next steps in learning to code?

Let me introduce to Girl Develop It.

The program was started by Sarah J Chipps and Vanessa Hurst, two women developers who saw the need to help other women gain development skills.  The first chapter in NYC has done over 70 workshops and classes on popular programming topics like Ruby on Rails, Php and mySQL, iPhone and Android development, Javascript and more.

There are currently six locations in the United States including New York City, San Francisco, Austin, Columbus and Cincinnati plus two international chapters in Australia and Ottawa.  Pamela Fox, today’s instructor, started the chapter’s in Australia and San Francisco.

The company I work for, SendGrid, is sponsoring this event for the second time this year.  Woohoo!  We sponsored the first event back in April shortly after I had joined the company.  I had been following the Girl Develop It Meetup group in NYC for several months and saw that there would be a new chapter in San Francisco.  I asked SendGrid if they’d be interested in sponsoring the event and got a yes!  I contacted Pamela and discussed sponsorship opportunities.  Disqus hosted the space and SendGrid sponsored lunch that time.  Today Twilio is sponsoring the space and we’re  covering lunch.

I really like working for a company that supports professional development and skill building both internally and in the developer community.

Best Programming Language To Learn?

If you’re not sure where to start or what you want to end up doing yet around programming, code and development, start with HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Try different types of learning tools including books, videos, hands-one exercises on the web and meeting with others who are also learning.  This will help to clarify your learning style and what type of technology interests you.

40 years ago it was unimaginable that you would leave your job and change careers but these days it’s common.

We’re all in a constant state of learning.  As I write this, I am learning Ruby on Rails and made a Youtube video this week about my thoughts on why it’s important, especially at a startup, for all employees to understand how to code:

Video Link: Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn To Code

If you’ve decided this is the right step for you to take, give yourself a pat on the back for being brave!  I know what it’s like to step outside your comfort zone.  I know what it’s like to be unsure of your future.  The flip side of the unknown is that yes, it could be awful but it could also be really awesome.

It’s up to you to take that first step.  The reward is knowing what it’s like to solve problems that stump others.  It’s also a great feeling when you receive praise for your solutions!

How To Get Involved

After tweeting today about the workshop, several people replied asking how they could be a part of the next event so I’m listing a few ways you can make a difference:

Join your local chapter and take classes – Head over to the main Girl Develop It website.  Even if there isn’t a chapter in your area, join the main NYC meetup group and get familiar with the classes being offered, who’s teaching, who’s attending and what other meetup groups they belong to plus announcements for new chapters.

Sponsor your local chapter – Join SendGrid, Twilio, Disqus, Mozilla, O’Reilly and others in showing your support for technology and learning initiatives.  There’s a huge shortage of developers.  We can help turn that around by supporting initiatives like these.

Start a new chapter – Would you like to see workshops like this held in your city?  First thing you’ll want to do is contact the founders of GirlDevelopIt and discuss your interest.  Then talk to people in the community to see if there is a demand, find instructors and a place to hold your event.

Promote events like these – While I hope you join the newsletter, follow them on Twitter @girldevelopit, friend them up on Facebook and share their events, remember as well there are women + technology focused events all over!  A few good ones out here in San Francisco include Women Who Code, Code Chix, PyLadies and many more.  Women Who Tech is a yearly virtual conference and were responsible for me joining Twitter in 2008.  A great starting place is to go to Meetup.com and search your zipcode for those keywords.

As you read this, remember to think of people who you know who would benefit from attending a workshop and send them a link when you see something awesome.  It may just be the spark they need to get going on their dream.

tweet where the ladies?

Is It Still Sexist If You Objectify Both Genders?

There was buzz at EMCWorld this week about how many women were there.  Of people who voted, nearly half thought the ratio was 100 men for every woman.  

I attended EMCWorld as CDW’s digital correspondent.  I interviewed keynote speakers, attended sessions, did live tweeting on the CDW twitter account, wrote content and checked out the expo center.

Thoughts on EMCWorld’s Dual Gender Ushers

First thing at Monday’s EMC keynote with Joe Tucci and Pat Gelsinger, I noticed something interesting,  attendees were greeted by futuristic ushers dressed in uniforms you would see in an episode of Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation).

As you can see there were both women and men ushers dressed like this.  As a woman in tech, I was happy (overjoyed!) to see this equal opportunity placement of both genders in this role.  Is it still sexist if you objectify both genders equally?

I will keep my thoughts about the attractiveness of the male model in the photo out of this blog post.

I did see several men taking photos with the women ushers which is a  common thing at tech conferences since they’re usually overflowing with scantily clad “spokespeople” who are women in tight, low cut blouses and 5 inch heels working for the vendors to attract attendees.  Not sure I’d ever want to take photos with a hot looking guy who’s being paid to look that way at a conference but as you can see, this usher’s pectoral muscles are…uhm..very well developed).  

First impressions are a big deal so this made me feel more comfortable as a woman attendee of this conference.

No EMCWorld Booth Babes

The other thing I noticed is since nearly all the booths were EMC run, the women had on very reasonable polo shirts.  In fact, vendor and partner booths also had women working in shirts and clothing that were pretty much acceptable.  The only one that caused me to raise an eyebrow was the Hawaiin booth handing out drinks and those flower necklaces known as Leis by pronounced “Lays”.

Are the women of EMCWorld feeling left out?

Still, there were several tweets from women asking about the number of women at the conference, reaching out to connect or looking at the upside of there being so few women at EMCWorld (like no line in the bathroom:

The first one was from Robin Perry:

Chad Sakac (the guy who demo’d on stage with Gelsinger) and is EMC SVP of Global SE, replied:

What Twitter thought about #EMCWorld The Man to Woman Ratio

EMCWorld event did a Twitter poll asking the ratio of Men to Women:

I estimated 200 – 400 women for the 13,000 in attendance putting the ratio at about 40 to 1.  Ironically, on the same day this poll was shared out (and yes I retweeted it from the CDW twitter account) I was participating in a panel about diversifying your tech teams via the 4th annual Women Who Tech conference.

I estimated there were 40 men to every 1 woman making the total number of women around 325. Most of these women appeared to either be customers or EMC employees (the light blue shirt). The ethnicity most represented at EMCWorld by the women I saw: 79% White and 19% Black. That leaves 2% for everyone else. There were very few Asian or East Indian women. Yes, there were a lot of Black women at the conference! What is it about tech, engineering and Black women?

EMCWorld posted the results and it looks like nearly half of the people who voted felt the ratio was 100 to 1

http://twitpolls.com/s/dc

There were several more tweets including a Women meetup at EMCWorld.

You can check out the tweets I captured in Storify about this:

  • Is this true?
  • What is being done to change this?
  • If you attended, how do you feel knowing this conversation was going on?
Mega Startup Weekend

Everyone Has A Voice When It Comes To Tech And Sexism [VIDEO]

This blog post isn’t about the endless, circular argument on the lack of women in the tech industry.  Instead it’s a slice of my life  that I wanted.

I received an email this morning from Chris Yeh who was one of the judges for the event letting me know he’d blogged about the incident with the startup that pitched their social photo event discovery idea using women in bikinis and I was moved to share my experience.

Update: I’ve uploaded a video of the pitch.  You can watch it below or click through to YouTube.

This weekend I was in Mountain View for MEGA Startup Weekend.  It’s an amazing event where people gather to build amazing things over the weekend.  Developers, business people, designers, product people and anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves and experience the feeling of awesome on 54 hours.  There were people from all over the world including Brazil, Hawaii and Denmark.

The Pitch That Needed One More Voice

Chris Sey speaks up at 00:06:10 in the video.

Wow, what just happened?  Did this team just flash flesh on stage for points?

After the guys were done pitching, the judges asked questions about the startup’s business model, customer acquisition strategy, competition and so on.  But Chris Yeh, one of the judges and more importantly a prominent figure in Silicon Valley due to his being a VC investor, Standford and Harvard graduate, entrepreneur and all that awesomeness, spoke up about the bikini slides.  In fact, he addressed that first before he asked his question about their business:

“Hate to be a buzz kill but I’d warn you about throwing up pictures of bikinis .  This is what gives our Silicon Valley a bad name.”

My jaw dropped.  The audience roared with applause.

Was this guy standing up for me?  Was he standing up for us?

Wow and I don’t even know him.  As I write this now in the hotel room in Mountain View, tears are falling down my cheeks because the acknowledgement meant so much to me.  I didn’t realize that it would have such an impact on me but it did and I want to share that.

I waited with baited breath to see if the guys from the team would acknowledge Chris’ statement in their answer.  They didn’t and I felt disappointed because this seemed like one of those movie moments with a happy ending.

You can hear in the video that when they’re asked what sets them apart from competitors, they actually say, “bikinis”.

I was sitting in the front row next to the Elizabeth who pitched the first idea, 500>, which was about creating a network to improve the effectiveness of medical devices in developing countries.  I’d seen her and her co-founder pitch the first night.  I turned to her, said something positive about what Chris said and we nodded in agreement about the power and impact of what had just happened on stage.

A lot was going on in these few minutes when I realized I had another new feeling – As an attendee and representative for my company was that I felt like I belonged and that the guys on stage were out of place.  Amazing!  Because of this, I had the courage and better yet, the sense of entitlement, to march right up on stage and thank Chris after all the pitches were done.  And that’s what I did!

I was there on behalf of the company I work for because we’re global sponsors along with Microsoft, Google and others.  I’m a developer evangelist for SendGrid.  I talk with developers about how to integrate and leverage our API.  I embrace my inner nerd and am becoming a social geek, especially through conferences.  This is my third Startup Weekend.  The first one I attended last May in San Francisco was a phenomenal!  Steve Blank spoke about entrepreneurship, testing your assumption, failure and being memorable.  That event gave me a data point to work from to explore and identify the intersection of passion and purpose.

So basically, I’m a Startup Weekend fangirl.

Now at first I was thinking, “Is this sexism?”.  I mean isn’t usually thought of as you feeling uncomfortable about statements, images or inferences?  Well, it turns out sexism also includes the context of reinforcing stereotypes.  From Wikipedia:

Sexism, also known as gender discrimination or sex discrimination, is defined as:

  1. prejudice or discrimination based on sex
  2. conditions or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Sexism can also be defined as a process of disempowerment.  That is, removing power or ownership from a person.  It turns out that before 1875, women were not even considered people in the United States.  This blocks you from owning and amassing things like property and wealth.  In Chile, a woman’s property automatically will be the responsibility of her husband upon marriage.  Weird!  I still remember in old Twilight Zone episodes where these sorts of old laws and societal expectations pop up like women not being allowed to own bank accounts or go to the local pub.

I’ve felt frustrated about the use and objectification of women in slide decks at tech conferences and blogged my thoughts on it.  But this time was different.

So how was I going to tell this judge that I really appreciated what he said?

Approaching people who were on stage is an uncomfortable thing for me but I realize that most people feel uncomfortable about it and if you want to make progress, you need to step out of your comfort zone.  I ‘ve been making it a goal of mine to approach speakers after events on the regular.  For example, I went up to Alexis Ohanian in NYC after his moving presentation at Ignite about how we all can make a difference in making the world a better place.  Not only to congratulate him on his message and delivery but let him know how his company has made a difference in my life.  When you meet people that you know of but they don’t know you, it’s a crap shoot on how things will go.  This is why it’s so powerful when a mutual friend makes the introduction.  Alexis recognized me and I asked for a coffee meeting.  We met a few days later at that delicious bakery to chat about technology.

Friday, another powerful thing happened on the Startup Weekend stage.  Sponsors were being introduced and talking about their companies.  Sharon Vosmek, the CEO of Astia was asked to go up and talk about the company.  She immediately did something that made me (and everyone else) take notice – The guy before her had stepped up near the podium on the left side of the stage where the organizers were and talked about his company sponsoring Startup Weekend.  Sharon on the other hand took the mike and then walked to the center stage and said, “I don’t do side stage, I do center stage”.  Wow!  Seeing Sharon own her power, the audience attention and the moment like that was epic!  I saw her speak last year at BlogHer Entrepreneur on the very same stage at the Microsoft building.  Afterwards, I approached her to share how her actions and statement made me feel empowered.  It felt amazing and I felt solid about making a connection with her.

My takeaway from all of this is acknowledgment.

Thank you for acknowledging my experience
Thank you for acknowledging my power
Thank you for acknowledging my pain
Thank you for acknowledging me

Intent is often a big discussion point when it comes to this type of thing known as sexism.

  • Did he or she mean it in this way?
  • Did they intent to hurt someone?

The better question to ask is one of awareness out outside of the self:

  • Will this alienate anyone?

After the event, I talked with one of the guys from the team and told him I would have liked it if they’d acknowledged what the judge had said.  He explained they didn’t mean to show the bikini photo three times but only twice.  My friend Kimberly Dillion who participated as well this weekend, has an MBA and a marketing background said that once for the shock value and laughs would have been more understandable from a marketing perspective but using it several times and leaving it up for QnA made their product look weak like it couldn’t stand on it’s own.

We all get offended by things.  Dave McClure made this point over and over in his presentation on Friday and put in a disclaimer slide (in Comic Sans).  I get that as well and enjoyed Dave’s presentation 102% Fuck you! (you had to be there)

I see why they put in the bikini slides.  One of the guys on the team likes the ladies.  He made this clear with his pitch on Friday night called, “Where The Honey’s?” which would have users take photos and you could judge how fun the scene was.  As you can see, this pivoted into their pitch app, SnapMo.  He likes women, I get it.  He thought other guys in the audience would identify with him on this.

Overall, I feel the Startup Weekend community handled it really well.  We addressed it, acknowledged it and moved past it.

It’s important that people go to events that can change their lives.  Stories bring people to these events.  Look at the success of Burning Man by word of mouth, photos and video.

In fact, the job I landed was through networking and introductions at a previous Startup Weekend event.  When Frank and Ahmed, c0-organizers of the Bay Area chapter heard I was working at SendGrid, they both made positive comments about how cool it was I came to an event, I mentored and now I was working for one of the sponsors.  It felt great to close the loop and be a part of this successful effort.

  • Could I have stood up from the audience and said something?
  • If there was a woman on the panel of judges could or would she have said something?

The important thing is someone spoke up in real-time.  Let’s make a pact to speak up in the moment when we see things we disagree with vs grumbling about them afterwards.