Let’s jump in. Tell me about your early years, and where you come from.
Sure. My early years. I immigrated here when I was three. I don’t have any real memories of living in the Philippines, but that’s where I was born. I was largely raised in San Francisco, in a neighborhood called Bernal Heights. Back then, it was mostly just a blue-collar, lower-middle-class neighborhood. It wasn’t what it is today, which is starting to look a little chichi in some respects. Back then, security alarm systems for people were dogs in front of their houses that were loose and chasing you away.
I had to actually start going to school on my own at a pretty young age. I was walking by myself to school at the age of seven which can be a little scary in the city. Coming from an immigrant family, my parents were both working and they had asked my sisters for help with dropping me off at school, but they had their own world of stuff that they were dealing with. So, I ended up walking to school on my own. I was also a latchkey kid as early as five years old. It can be scary being at home alone, and so I had to learn to be independent and resourceful really early on. You have to be street smart and careful, so you in some ways you have to grow up too early.
“I was walking by myself to school at the age of seven which can be a little scary in the city. Coming from an immigrant family, my parents were both working and they had asked my sisters for help with dropping me off at school, but they had their own world of stuff that they were dealing with. So, I ended up walking to school on my own.”
You kind of lose that sense of innocence about things that kids should really enjoy. Like Santa and the tooth fairy. My parents, up front, when I was around five or six, told me there’s no such thing as Santa Claus and there’s no tooth fairy. I’ve been happy as a mother to see that innocence through the eyes of my children. I think that it’s wonderful to keep that in our young children for as long as possible, because the pragmatics of life will set in soon enough, and there’s no need to do that too early.
I started playing tennis when I was seven. My dad would play tennis on the weekend, from around six in the morning until noon, and so I’d hang out on the courts with him while he played with his friends. I would mostly go hit against a wall to practice playing tennis, and then he would spare half an hour or so to play with me at the end. As I got older, there was this national program during summer breaks that was cofounded by the legendary American tennis pro Arthur Ashe called National Junior Tennis League (NJTL). They were for inner-city kids to keep them out of trouble, because they knew that a lot of people couldn’t afford summer camps. I was one of those kids. I started playing more formal tennis and I was getting more actual lessons through that, which was a wonderful, wonderful program. That’s where I started really competing against boys in tennis, and really becoming a power hitter and really just enjoying that sport.
I really believe that, especially as a girl, playing sports helps with development in math and science and the confidence you need that lots of girls lose as they get into their teen years. I didn’t experience that lack of confidence and I attribute it to my participation in tennis. There have been some studies published about how girls (especially those participating in team sports) do much better in math and science. It’s actually the opposite effect for boys. It makes them much more aggressive. I’m grateful for the experience of sports as a regular part of my life growing up. I’m also grateful for the fact that when I was 16, they (NJTL) gave me the opportunity to be one of their teachers. At the time I was the youngest teacher they had ever hired and I taught both in Oakland as well as San Francisco. That helped me start exercising some leadership skills early in my life. I really appreciated that opportunity and that responsibility, and also being able to give back to kids in the neighborhood.
I started my interest in computers fairly early. This is way back when everything was command prompt driven. There was no user interface. There was no Windows. It was DOS-only green screen. Those were the early days of primitive spreadsheets and word processors. But it was interesting to use a computer back then – not everyone had one so it was novel. I grew up in those early days of using a computer when there was no Internet for the public. That didn’t happen for a while. In retrospect, it was a little less interesting too because it was more isolating since there was no social network to leverage. There weren’t any online resources to learn more about tech. The ability to learn from online communities and research was tough unless you were going to college and could get in those kinds of classes, which were also limited in those days.
“I started my interest in computers fairly early. This is way back when everything was command prompt driven. There was no user interface. There was no Windows. It was DOS-only green screen.”
My family situation was really difficult. We were an immigrant family and my parents had difficulty adjusting to the American culture. I was also the youngest of four girls but my sister who is closest in age—she’s about 2 years older than me—was born mentally retarded and her mental capacity is at the level of a three or four year old. Even though I’m technically the youngest, I’d end up spending a lot of time taking care of her. I would sit and do flashcards with her to try to teach her the alphabet and numbers. When I was a teenager I remember taking her to some of her doctor appointments and navigating the bus system with her to get there. It gave me a lot of responsibility really, really early on in life. I had my hopes of where I wanted to go and wishes for success. I did very well through most of my academic career, so I had these lofty goals to go to an Ivy League college at some point. I had made it to a top high school in San Francisco (Lowell High and they were rated really, really highly back then). I wished to go somewhere like Harvard for college but because my family life was really difficult, I had to make the decision to just compress my high school education as much as possible and I actually finished in three-and-a-half years. And when I was done and had finished all the credits to get my diploma, I left home when I was 17.
“My family situation was really difficult. We were an immigrant family and my parents had difficulty adjusting to the American culture. I was also the youngest of four girls but my sister who is closest in age—she’s about 2 years older than me—was born mentally retarded and her mental capacity is at the level of a three or four year old. Even though I’m technically the youngest, I’d end up spending a lot of time taking care of her. I would sit and do flashcards with her to try to teach her the alphabet and numbers.”
For some time, I was just trying to survive out in the world with no real support. I picked up my love for computers again when I was fortunate enough to land at a startup company in San Francisco that was building a network layer called TCP/IP for Windows. This was back when not all computers had networking capability. I landed an admin job (administrative assistant), which was not my dream job at that time, but was something I could easily get, and was good pay for a college student at that time. It re-exposed me to my love for tech, and my love for engineering, and it was good to see the work that they did.
I was also very lucky that there was an IT worker there (named Kate) who allowed me to spend some time with her, helping with her hardware, like swapping out motherboards, adding memory. I loved troubleshooting as well, so the QA team borrowed some of my time, and that was really great. That sort of really invigorated me to say, “Okay. I really need to get my act together and make sure I’m taking the right computer classes in college.” And so I continued down that route. I was in school part time and a lot of courses were very difficult to take at night. Generally, there were very limited classes in terms of the computer science program. Those programs were very, very new back then, so you were lucky if your school had a computer science program. I cobbled together my education as I went. We had a lay off at some point and I ended up in one more admin job. It was there that I was fortunate enough to make a connection with someone who recognized my troubleshooting and technical ability and after the startup was acquired, he recommended I apply for a support role at Lotus which was a subsidiary of IBM at that point. I interviewed and they hired me as a support person. I loved that they had given me that opportunity. It was such a great experience.
“I did very well through most of my academic career, so I had these lofty goals to go to an Ivy League college at some point. I had made it to a top high school in San Francisco (Lowell High and they were rated really, really highly back then). I wished to go somewhere like Harvard for college but because my family life was really difficult, I had to make the decision to just compress my high school education as much as possible and I actually finished in three-and-a-half years. And when I was done and had finished all the credits to get my diploma, I left home when I was 17.”
Pretty early on I ended up coming across this scripting language that was part of the extension framework for what was called LotusScript—it was in a desktop database called Lotus Approach which competed with Microsoft’s Access. No one knew how to use these API’s or the scripting language and I just sort of started playing around with it. I was able to use it to customize different interactions in the app. At some point there was an opportunity that came up for someone who needed to have some web skills and needed to know Lotus Script. The job was unfilled, so I kind of raised my hand and went, “Well, I can do this.” I applied. It was a little unusual for me to do it, because I was only three months in— three or four months into my support role, and for a good reason they want support people to stay in their roles for at least a year before moving on to something else.
They actually made an exception for me, which I was really grateful for, and allowed me to take on this role as an application engineer. That role ended up leading to other opportunities. It was still within the first few months of that role to take on a project to “webify” forms and reports in Approach. “Webifying” and creating dynamic pages was a thing back in the 90’s when most sites were still static. We were trying to take advantage of the new concepts of web forms to bring reports that people wanted to produce dynamically to the web. I worked with the DB2 group. DB2 was IBM’s database server solution. They had an internet connector that they had just built that could be used on the web and so I was able to connect the dots and build a wizard that took your Windows based forms and reports to the web and leveraged that dynamic connector. It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, and I did that in three months.
That was with the beginning of my career and I was grateful for the opportunity to continue working as an engineer for awhile. But from all my experiences with engineers, I was almost always the only woman in the group. There was one startup when there were two other women, but that was unusual. Most of the time in teams I was working on, I was the only woman in the group. To be really honest, it didn’t bother me. I didn’t really notice it in a bad way. We would go out for lunch, we would hang out, we would talk tech, etc.
I did a gig at Borland for two-and-a-half years— almost three years —as a pre-sales engineer. I was one of three for their worldwide organization, and I started noticing, “Okay. There are three of us women in sales engineering. That’s kind of interesting.” Again, it didn’t really bother me that much. The three of us still kind of keep in touch. We obviously bonded pretty easily, because we were the only women in any of our sales meetings. Once I earned a top SE award for my district. I was really proud of that because that was also the year I finally finished my college degree after more than 10 years. My sales rep at the time didn’t even know I was studying at night so she was impressed that I was able to kick butt at work and also finish my degree.
“Once I earned a top SE award for my district. I was really proud of that because that was also the year I finally finished my college degree after more than 10 years. My sales rep at the time didn’t even know I was studying at night so she was impressed that I was able to kick butt at work and also finish my degree.”
From Borland I landed at Microsoft, and it was one of those things where I thought, “Wow, an evangelist!” To be an evangelist, travel and speak at conferences, and present about the latest technologies was just an amazing opportunity. There also, for the first year and a half, I didn’t notice anything different. Again, I was one of the very few women in that evangelism organization. It’s probably a thousand people worldwide, at corporate it was about a hundred and fifty people, but only a few women. At the end of my first year, I married, became pregnant, was about to go on maternity leave. I had also moved back from Redmond down to Silicon Valley. They felt that I’d done well enough my very first year at Microsoft that they asked me to stay even though I was going to be remote. We actually had to get approval in order to keep me. It actually escalated all the way to the VP at the time, and he approved it, which was remarkable. Because Microsoft in those days wasn’t very pro remote-employee. I was very lucky that they allowed me to keep my job. Seven of the eight years that I was at Microsoft was remote. I used all the technologies that we had in order to make sure people knew that I was actively engaged, and still driving my initiatives, and I was still networking with the right groups, and getting a lot done in my particular area.
For the first year after I moved, quite a few coworkers had not realized I moved because I was able to create a strong virtual presence. I started noticing that I was being treated a little differently was when I came back from maternity leave. It wasn’t immediate. I had what I felt was a really weird experience of coworkers, partners I was working with, and customers saying, “Wow, you’re pregnant. Congratulations, that’s really great. You’re going to quit your job, right? And stay at home?” I had that over and over again. And I thought, “What? Really, you think I should? I never thought about just being a stay-at-home mom.”
“I started noticing that I was being treated a little differently was when I came back from maternity leave. It wasn’t immediate. I had what I felt was a really weird experience of coworkers, partners I was working with, and customers saying, ‘Wow, you’re pregnant. Congratulations, that’s really great. You’re going to quit your job, right? And stay at home?'”
I’ve had this long career, and suddenly people are saying, “You should stay home” I was getting a lot of peer pressure. I got some from some local moms that I started to meet as I was pregnant, and they were all saying, “Oh, you’re going to quit, right?” And I thought, “Oh…” I just wasn’t expecting that. It was strange to me, and foreign. Not one person ever asked my husband if he was taking time off for our first baby. I was planning on spending some maternity leave off with my young child. I was excited about having my first baby. And I took the 12 paid weeks off that Microsoft offered at that time. I could have taken more through vacation time or other means but I took the 12 weeks. With that first child it seemed to me that 12 weeks would be enough – that was more time than I had ever taken since I had started working when I was 17. In the end though, 12 weeks, for me, wasn’t enough, and I wish that I had taken a little bit longer. As I got back into my role and continuing to do my work, that this term of being “mommy tracked”, I started to feel like, “Wow, that’s actually real.” You’re not being given the opportunities to grow. You’re getting rated really highly for reviews and yet you see the remote colleagues getting the promotions that you’re also asking for. They happen to be male. And I don’t think any of that was intentionally malicious. I think people don’t understand what we know now as unconscious bias.
“As I got back into my role and continuing to do my work, that this term of being ‘mommy tracked,’ I started to feel like, ‘Wow, that’s actually real.’ You’re not being given the opportunities to grow. You’re getting rated really highly for reviews and yet you see the remote colleagues getting the promotions that you’re also asking for. They happen to be male. And I don’t think any of that was intentionally malicious. I think people don’t understand what we know now as unconscious bias.”
We’re doing a lot of training within Atlassian about this now—how to recognize it and what to do about that. That term didn’t exist back then. There was no way of knowing what was going on. I knew that my colleagues and my managers weren’t bad people, but I don’t think they recognized that. They were probably thinking, “She’s busy with her kids now. We can’t give her these responsibilities.” Every year I got great reviews and I was in the top quadrant of very promising and talented employees, yet my career really flatlined after I started having kids. To be clear though, I’m grateful for the time I had at Microsoft. I did get a variety of opportunities where I learned a lot, but I really wish that I could’ve taken my career a little bit farther while I was there.
The issues I experienced were not ones unique to Microsoft – these are issues that exist across our tech industry and we need to recognize it as a broad problem that we need to solve as a community. I did end up leaving Microsoft after eight years. I was ready at that point for bigger challenges. My younger child was in school. She had started kindergarten at that point. I really wanted the next big career opportunity. I went to Intuit for nine months. I was there for a short time in part because developer audience wasn’t a big focus for them at the time and I felt that was still a big, big part of my career. I was recruited then by a fintech company called Yodlee. There I had the opportunity to exercise many different skills of mine from marketing to engineering, to planning and product management, as well as the evangelism piece.
And there was a really wonderful opportunity of just connecting the dots across many parts of the organization, and really focusing on evangelizing internally. The part of business that I was in wasn’t well understood, especially in our Bangalore office where all of our core engineering and product management was happening. So I spent some time in Bangalore. I actually did three trips in one year to Bangalore, just to really help educate them and to get the alignment that we really needed to be successful with that business. I’m really proud of that work.
I had a challenging project when I started. The developer portal they had wasn’t a true developer portal. You logged into a walled garden only to have three big PDFs to download as documentation that didn’t give enough guidance to get going on the APIs. It didn’t have online,, searchable documentation. It didn’t have a sandbox experience for you to try out the API, and I was able to get everyone rallied around it across all the different organizations, including the Security Office. So we were able to get a new portal out that actually did provide a sandbox environment, and that really shortened the duration of time for the sales reps to close deals with customers that were trying to evaluate their product. They were able to try it out and assess for themselves if the data they were getting was the kind of data that they needed for their solutions. I’m proud of the work that I did there.
I was recruited by Atlassian where I have been now for the last couple of years. Aside from the fact that I’ve built an evangelism team from the ground up, I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that I took some of the learnings that I had from my days at Microsoft. I was a chair for the Women at Microsoft Silicon Valley organization there – we grew an active community and had regular speakers and meetings. We also launched our first Silicon Valley Women at Microsoft conference at Microsoft while I was in that team. But, there was also this concept of mentoring rings that we ran in Silicon Valley. I thought that was unique to us. I didn’t really find any other information about mentoring rings outside of Microsoft. The idea is that it’s really difficult to find female leaders to be your mentor, because there are so few of them in tech. Yet all of us have something unique to contribute in terms of the skillsets, backgrounds, and the learnings we have through our work experiences.
The concept was born out of the idea that we can learn from each other, so let’s bootstrap ourselves together with these mentoring rings. I was part of the pilot group. Martha Galley, who’s now an exec over at Salesforce, was one of the driving forces behind that. So was Kris Olsen, who is a friend of ours who passed away too early. I think about her often when I’m doing my diversity work. I took that mentoring rings concept to Atlassian, and did the first pilot group over a year ago. Just this week the participants from that group (six of them) basically stepped up to run three new mentoring rings that they’re launching over the next few weeks. I’m so happy and proud that they felt it was such a worthwhile endeavor that we participated in a mentoring ring together, that we all learned from each other, and that we have formed a support network and our work has lasted outside of that. I did a women in tech speaker series too, where I invited different people I knew within the industry to come and talk about diversity challenges, specifically for women in tech. All talks were published on YouTube. This year I’m going to be shaking that up. Internally our volunteer initiative is called Side by Side. That’s our broad diversity initiative to make sure that we’re being inclusive of all groups. We’re going to be recasting my speaker series as Side by Side so we can include a broader pool of diversity topics. That brings us to today.
“There was also this concept of mentoring rings that we ran in Silicon Valley. The idea is that it’s really difficult to find female leaders to be your mentor, because there are so few of them in tech. Yet all of us have something unique to contribute in terms of the skillsets, backgrounds, and the learnings we have through our work experiences.”
When was the moment for you when you realized when you were interested in women’s initiatives? Because obviously it became a huge passion.
Yeah. You know what? For me, it was a “start-stop, start-stop” thing. Because I really wasn’t sure what I was experiencing when I came back from maternity leave, from that first child. There was this group starting out in Silicon Valley at that time within Microsoft just getting together for lunch. I went to one of the lunches so I could feel a little more connected to the local campus, because I didn’t work with anyone on our local campus at all. I only worked with folks in Redmond and our field organizations. So I went and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, they have a bunch of pink balloons. I hate the color pink,” [chuckles]. I went to lunch and they just had a very casual lunch get together. The evangelist in me said, “Well, you know? We should have a speaker series. We should get more people rallied around this. Let’s make this more structured. Get more people to come by inviting a speaker. We can still do the networking thing but why don’t we start getting people to come speak about these different topics.”
Claudia Galvan, who was one of the chairs at the time—she’s gone into a number of other amazing women in tech initiatives, and she’s still very, very active—reacted with, “Well, you should join our board.” I said, “Sure, why not?” I figured it would be a great opportunity to stay more connected. But to be honest, at that time, I just didn’t really identify that much with the issues. It took actually participating on that board for me to hear what was going on with the people on the board and people that would come to our program. I built my empathy around what was going on with other women. I realized, “Oh, well actually, this thing where I’m being told I need to work on my soft skills is because I’m assertive and they’re not used to women being assertive. They want me to be the quiet mommy in the corner. Got it, okay.” Other people are experiencing that.
“I built my empathy around what was going on with other women. I realized, ‘Oh, well actually, this thing where I’m being told I need to work on my soft skills is because I’m assertive and they’re not used to women being assertive. They want me to be the quiet mommy in the corner. Got it, okay.’ Other people are experiencing that.”
It helped me identify and put a label to some of the problems that were going on and realize that, “Oh, it is actually part of this diversity stuff that people are talking about.” It’s an issue, I just didn’t realize that was the experience I was having. It’s all part of this. When I left Microsoft I was really just focusing on getting my career back on track at Intuit and Yodlee and there were already staffers running initiatives like that. I didn’t feel a compelling reason to be a driver in that area. I was happy to be a participant and supporter. It was at Atlassian where I felt like there wasn’t as much of that support yet and that I needed to help bring that along. I’ve been really happy to be part of the volunteer groups that are starting to embrace some of those changes.
The wonderful thing about Atlassian is our strong values. One of them is “Be the change you seek”. I took that and ran. The mentoring rings that I introduced were also launched in Sydney after our pilot in San Francisco. The leaders there reached out to me about how to run it, what people get out of it, what the ground rules are. They ran a successful one in Sydney. They also still meet up more casually like our group does. I think they’re also considering more mentoring rings. It was amazing that word got out about the mentoring rings experience such that so many people wanted to sign up in San Francisco, we had enough for three rings for this year! I thought it was really neat and I was just so proud of the team just to step up and pay it forward.
Over the years, have you seen the issues women are facing change? Or have they been really constant over time?
That’s a great question. I think a lot of it has been constant over time. I don’t know if you saw—There were some reports the other day about how someone had launched a board list, a suggested list of women to put on the board. It’s great that it’s a recognized problem, but before we wouldn’t have even talked about that because there weren’t enough women at that level of seniority (a decade or two ago) that you could even develop enough of a list. I think, too, what’s sad and remarkable is that in the ’80s we didn’t have such a significant problem with women in tech. We had a problem, but it wasn’t as bad. We’ve dropped the numbers, since the ’80s. So the number of people that are coming in, that pipeline problem, really is significant. I think it used to be in the thirties and now it’s 18% coming out of school going into tech that are women. I think that’s sad. We definitely need to fix that problem, that perception of what life is like as an engineer or being a woman in tech.
“What’s sad and remarkable is that in the ’80s we didn’t have such a significant problem with women in tech. We had a problem, but it wasn’t as bad. We’ve dropped the numbers, since the ’80s. So the number of people that are coming in, that pipeline problem, really is significant. I think it used to be in the thirties and now it’s 18% coming out of school going into tech that are women.”
I get this question sometimes about, “Well, I’m in sales or I’m in marketing here.”—Whether it’s Atlassian or Microsoft or somewhere else—and they ask me, “Do I count as a woman in tech? Absolutely. You’re a woman in the tech sector. You’re affected just as much as anyone else with some of these issues that happen. And you do have that unique factor, even though you’re in sales or marketing, you have to absorb some of the technology language in the products we’re working with. Yeah, absolutely, you are a woman in tech. I think the severity in issues may increase when you are an engineer because there are fewer women in engineering.
The language and behavior of engineering teams can be really, particularly tough, especially in a day and age where, we’re very casual and we’re coming in with hoodies, t-shirts, and jeans. We bring our gaming behavior, our nerf guns, and other things that are okay for the bro club, but not very inclusive of women that come in. And it’s not with any malicious intent. I’ve had really good friends in engineering. A lot of them, obviously, have been male and it’s a problem in education, helping them to build that empathy. It’s not that they don’t— they’re doing anything specifically malicious, in many cases, it’s just helping them to understand that things they do that they don’t recognize exclude someone. It can be harmful for someone’s career.
“The language and behavior of engineering teams can be really, particularly tough, especially in a day and age where, we’re very casual and we’re coming in with hoodies, t-shirts, and jeans. We bring our gaming behavior, our nerf guns, and other things that are okay for the bro club, but not very inclusive of women that come in. And it’s not with any malicious intent. I’ve had really good friends in engineering. A lot of them, obviously, have been male and it’s a problem in education, helping them to build that empathy. It’s not that they don’t— they’re doing anything specifically malicious, in many cases, it’s just helping them to understand that things they do that they don’t recognize exclude someone. It can be harmful for someone’s career.”
What are your thoughts on the state of tech in 2016 and the changes that you’ve seen over time? What is really exciting to you right now? What is frustrating to you right now?
I think in the last year and a half it’s been remarkable to see as much coverage as I’ve seen around the diversity problem. I mean, the volume’s pumped up right now. There are tons of articles. There are new articles almost every day, which is great. So it’s more of that education. What I would love to see more of—and I know a lot of companies are looking at this internally—is how to make actionable positive changes. A lot of that’s turning into “How do we roll out our unconscious bias training and make sure that it sticks?” How do we make that effective and not just have a presentation where we make people aware and then leave them feeling helpless that, “Oh, it’s just innate— it’s a by-product of the fact that we learn those behaviors from caveman days to survive.”
You stereotype people based on something that has been built into your brain to help make sure that you can identify danger really quickly and run, but we apply that in our daily work life to people in not the best way. I think there’s still a level of pragmatics around how we make sure that we can really make those effective changes.
There are women-specific VCs that are starting to crop up, where the real focus is funding female-led startups, which is great. I think until we see more companies that are actually being led by women, we’re not going to see significant and fast change, because by and large, most tech companies are still being driven by white men. We don’t want to start excluding white men in the conversation, but it’s about making sure that the company that you work for really includes as many diverse groups as possible. It benefits the company. There are all these reports about how the more diverse a company is, the better off the shareholders and the company can be in terms of providing the right tools and products to their customers and getting their share prices up. So there’s massive benefits in doing that, and yet we’re still so slow in making sure that happens, you know. There are still lots of baby steps.
“I think until we see more companies that are actually being led by women, we’re not going to see significant and fast change, because by and large, most tech companies are still being driven by white men. We don’t want to start excluding white men in the conversation, but it’s about making sure that the company that you work for really includes as many diverse groups as possible. It benefits the company.”
How do you think your background and life experience have shaped the way that you approach your work?
Because of the way I grew up, I’m really persistent and tenacious with that marathon syndrome of “You’re going to get through it, and survive, and do the best that you can, and you want to be successful.” I sometimes forget and I remind myself. I walk into my home and go, “Wow, this is really my home.” I have a nice, comfortable home in an area where I don’t feel afraid to walk around, and it’s a luxury to be able to do that. I may not have made it here, had I not really been determined in those early days to be successful and pursue my passion in tech and to believe in myself, despite the lack of support that I had back then.
So I continue to use that in terms of solving problems and marathoning through cultural changes or organizational changes that happen. Those changes happen in any tech company you go to. At Microsoft we had re-orgs regularly—you could even experience more than one in a year. You’d get shifted to different teams and in order to survive an environment that can be really dynamic, you need to kind of be open to embracing the change, because that change can provide new opportunities for you. I try to stay optimistic. I’m also very pragmatic about things too, because when you’re a survivor you take things in with a more pragmatic perspective. When I look at these broad problems around diversity, I try to identify the meaningful thing that I can do to help. I don’t want to be the helpless victim. I’ve never wanted to be the helpless victim, so I do what I can to impact change. In the areas where I’ve been able to contribute I’m really happy with that, because I feel I’ve helped to make baby steps forward in my area, which for some people has been big for them. I’m happy with that.
“When I look at these broad problems around diversity, I try to identify the meaningful thing that I can do to help. I don’t want to be the helpless victim. I’ve never wanted to be the helpless victim, so I do what I can to impact change.”
You’ve impacted the lives of many, many women. I feel like that’s more than a baby step for a lot of people. You know?
I wanted to make sure that they knew that they could do that, that they were empowered as young girls. I wanted them especially to know that math, science, and programming, are not “boy things”. They should see too that Mommy has done it, and can do it with them so they can do it as well. I recently blogged about this, and I had some of the parents internally say, “Oh, I’m so excited about that blog post. My kid’s are also doing Minecraft. We’re going to try this out!”
I had some friends on Facebook who also in tech share that in their networks. That was great to see. I thought, “well, someone’s going to think this blogpost is lame.” I’ve tried to simplify this to make it accessible for—not just super tech-y parents—but any parent to sit down with their kid, and set this up and try it out. I hope people do more things like that. I know there are a lot of different programs—a lot of content out there—that focuses on teens, older kids, and college students. I think, especially for girls, you have to start a little bit younger to get them really excited about technology. It’s funny how stereotyping happens so, so early. When the girls starting coming home and saying, Oh, yeah, robotic stuff? That’s for boys. I thought, No, that’s not true. So I wanted to really provide a way for them to feel empowered—that technology is totally within their reach, even at this age.
I love that. One more question. What advice would you give folks who’ve experienced struggles similar to yours, who are hoping to get into tech, or stay in tech?
To people trying to get into tech, reach out in your network, see if you can find someone who’s in the tech arena already, who really understands the day-to-day of what it is to be in tech. People have all sorts of notions from Hollywood about what the tech life is, and that’s such a narrow, narrow view. There are just so many amazing opportunities in tech, that I wish kids would come and speak with us more, and ask us, what is it really like? I would love for companies to do more of the “bring your kids, bring your local classroom to work” day, so that more kids can be exposed to what that’s really like, and realize, “Oh, it’s totally accessible. There are women there. There are people that look like me here.” That’s really important.
“To people trying to get into tech, reach out in your network, see if you can find someone who’s in the tech arena already, who really understands the day-to-day of what it is to be in tech. People have all sorts of notions from Hollywood about what the tech life is, and that’s such a narrow, narrow view.”
For women in particular, many aren’t sure that they want to stay, and that worries me too. The drop-out rate for women who are mid-career in tech is something like 56%! 56% is huge. That’s too much. I saw an article a few days ago about a company starting to experiment with basically, interning their mothers back in via a program they are calling “returnship.” It’s a program to get women who have been gone from the field for a while comfortable with coming back. I love that concept because I think there’s some pushback with women coming back if they’ve taken a two, three year break. It makes it really hard for them to come back, where they have to start at a level that it doesn’t make sense for what they’ve done in the past.
The other factor is just fear for the women coming back, “Can I do it, it’s been a couple years or three years, or maybe longer, am I capable?” That slow path back in and that support network, I think, is really huge. I think, too, that there should be an active network within a company, whenever a woman is leaving for maternity leave to support them and let them know, “Hey, take whatever leave that you need, and when you come back, we’re here for you, and here are other mothers that have gone through this, talk to them.”
“For women in particular, many aren’t sure that they want to stay, and that worries me too. The drop-out rate for women who are mid-career in tech is something like 56%! 56% is huge. That’s too much.”
Whenever we’ve had people that have gone on maternity leave, I actively reach out to them and talk about the potential challenges. I also remind them “Hey, you know what, don’t make any rash decisions while you’re pregnant, while you’re on leave because your hormones are still super, super high and you can make some decisions you might regret. Talk to me, reach out to the other moms that are here. I’m happy to help you, let’s talk through anything that you might feel is difficult. When you come back, you’re also going to not have as much sleep as you usually have. It’s going to be a transition so, however I can help you, you let me know.” I think that’s important to be supportive, especially once you’ve gone through it, to just let them know, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and you can make it through.”