Women in Tech Week 2019: Part One

Last week, from September 23rd to September 27th, 42 Silicon Valley hosted our second annual Women in Tech Week. An event open to the public, we welcomed sixteen guest speakers over ten different events! This diverse group of women gave topical presentations and discussed their journeys into tech on panels and fireside chats. With so many amazing women in one week, we are breaking up this blog into two parts. We thank everyone who participated and gave so much valuable insight into what it is like to be a woman in tech.


Topical Presentation: Women’s Negotiations and the Gender Pay Gap

Stephanie Young giving a Topical Presentation about the Gender Pay Gap

Stephanie Young, co-founder, and CEO of Riva delivered our first topical presentation during Women in Tech Week. She gave an engaging talk with a full audience about the research her company conducts to help address the issue of the gender pay gap and women’s negotiations. 

Riva is an early-stage company that uses machine learning to help people negotiate their job offers. She has four degrees from Stanford University, including a graduate degree in computer science and an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Previously she worked at Google, McKinsey, and an early-stage VC firm and she’s passionate about social impact work.

During the presentation, Stephanie addressed some of the key reasons why the gender pay gap still exists. Stephanie shared the gender pay gap and women’s negotiations research, such as the fact that 84% of employers expect you to negotiate your salary. At the same time, many women still struggle with negotiations, fearing that there will be repercussions if they try to pursue a higher salary.

Stephanie reviewed what women can do to avoid unconscious bias and other forms of bias, as well as the common misconceptions around negotiations. She gave practical advice on how women can handle negotiations and gave real-life examples during her talk. Additionally, Stephanie explained that you can do more with data, and that is exactly what her company does for their clients. Riva provides emails, phone scripts, and data to make negotiations seamless, easy and stress-free.

An Empowering Event

 It was an inspiring talk and gave our students more awareness surrounding this important issue. Stephanie shared her perspective on what it was like to present at 42 during Women in Tech Week, “A big thank you to the 42 team for putting together the week and for creating an engaging and lively discussion around important issues. What they’re doing at 42 is incredible and we, Riva, are proud to be part of the story.”

42 student Melanie Murray attended the topical presentation and shared her thoughts, “It was excellent advice on how to push the needle forward and now I feel more empowered.” 


Perspectives from Local Leaders in Technology, Business, and Government

Our first panel during Women in Tech Week welcomed City of Fremont Mayor Lily Mei, Head of Data Engineering at Xendit Kanchana Vivekanandhan, and COO at SecuritAI and VP at Stanford Angels Sabrina Yuan. 

Mayor Lily Mei was sworn in on December 2016 as Fremont’s first woman and minority mayor in Fremont’s 63-year history. Her professional experience includes over 20 years in competitive analysis, product and channel management, supply chain practices and serving as a worldwide sales operations controller. Most recently she led a global high-technology trade association representing industry leaders to develop best practices to advance intellectual property protection.

Kanchana Vivekanandhan is Head of Data Engineering at Xendit. Xendit, a payments gateway company for South Asia. She previously worked at a company called Youcaring, which was later acquired by GoFundMe (a popular online fundraising portal). She has also co-founded a company called GoA2B, that compared all rideshare providers in one mobile app.

Sabrina is co-founder and COO at SecuritAI, an image intelligence AI software company. She is also VP at Stanford Angels. Sabrina holds master’s degrees from Stanford University Business School, Georgetown University Law School and Tongji University. Sabrina was the former General Counsel/VP Legal and Compliance for Porsche (China) Motors Ltd, Counsel for Siemens, as well as COO Redrock Capital. Sabrina is an entrepreneur, investor, and impact innovation enthusiast.

Insights Into What It Is Like to Be a Woman in Tech
L to R: Moderator Crystal Schulle, Mayor Lily Mei, Kanchana Vivekanandhan, and Sabrina Yuan

Mayor Mei, Kanchana, and Sabrina discussed their favorite aspect of the work they do now. Sabrina shared, “Being a startup founder is hard. What I enjoy most about my job is that there are always new problems, new issues, and new ideas.” When talking about the biggest challenges, Mayor Mei gave advice on how to work with people who may have different opinions. She stated how important it is to set aside those differences to reach a common goal.

When discussing imposter syndrome, Kanchana noted, “I deal with it every single day. I have come up with a few data points on how to overcome it. One of the major instances I experience imposter syndrome is when I move from one job to another. Remember imposter syndrome is real and take steps to work on it from one job to another.”

After their panel discussion, Mayor Mei, Kanchana and Sabrina took questions from the audience. They shared more about how their diverse experiences helped bring them into the roles they are in now. 

42 Student Moderates Panel

42 student Crystal Schulle moderated the panel. She shared her views on the inspiring talk, “It was a pleasure and an honor to host three prominent leaders in the local community on Monday night. I was really inspired by the insights they shared from their achievements in technology, business and government, and the advice they shared about navigating the challenges facing women and minorities in the professional world. Kanchana, Sabrina and Mayor Lily Mei set a great example for all of us at 42 as we embark on new careers.” 


UX 101: A Topical Presentation by Director of UX Design at Shutterfly

Joelle Benvenuto giving a topical presentation about UX Design

Joelle Benvenuto is the Director of UX Design at Shutterfly. Previously she worked for IMVU, designing games and 3D chatroom experiences. Before that, she worked for a nonprofit organization, Givezooks and learned how to integrate CSS to Ruby on Rail. She also worked on the first connected GPS for Dash Navigation. 

Joelle spoke about her own personal journey and how she got where she is today. She studied visual communication with a focus on film editing and photography. Joelle shared how she acquired two very special skills. The first skill is storytelling, which helps identify pieces of a narrative. She explained how your narrative can make a user feel happy and productive or frustrated and upset. The second skill that is important in design is motion and animation. She shared that this helps you be influential by projecting a story for others. 

From First Job in Tech to Building a Mobile App

In Joelle’s first tech job, they often asked her to serve coffee for the first 2 or 3 months. But at night she had an opportunity to be at a computer with a lot of books. She had a lot of colleagues that helped her when she was blocked with code.

Joelle said she was lucky to work in many different industries over the years; it helped her become a versatile designer who could think outside the box and be innovative. She challenged herself because she wanted to make an impact. Recently she transitioned to management so her focus is now on product strategy.

Her most recent success at Shutterfly was building a mobile app. She walked the audience through the process, going over the issues they needed to solve to improve the user experience. Joelle also went over CX (customer experience) versus UX (user experience).She used glimpses of customer feedback verbatim to illustrate and enforce the importance of every touch points in an experience. Joelle’s last point was on the overall design thinking process. She shared, “The quality of an experience is global” and acknowledged how this is always the end goal with UX design.

42 student Mason Young watched the presentation and shared his thoughts, “Joelle made clear the fine tuning that goes into the Shutterfly UX and how important storytelling and user personas are, for not only the development, but for management and communication too!”


Fireside Chat With AI Industry Leader About the Future of Big Data

Beena Ammanath, AI Managing Director at Deloitte, spoke about AI during a fireside chat with 42’s Academic Program Coordinator, Jem Cope.

Beena is an award-winning senior digital transformation leader with extensive global experience in Artificial Intelligence, big data, and IoT. Her knowledge spans across e-commerce, financial, marketing, telecom, retail, software products, services and industrial domains with companies such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, GE, Thomson Reuters, British Telecom, Bank of America, e*trade and a number of Silicon Valley startups. She is the former Global Vice President for Big data, Artificial Intelligence, and Innovation at HPE. Prior to that, she was the Vice President of Innovation and Data Sciences at GE. She is also the Founder and CEO of nonprofit, Humans For AI Inc. Additionally, she has co-authored the book “AI Transforming Business”.

When asked about why AI is important, Beena explained, “I like to look back at history. As humans, we always evolve, we always try to make things easier for our own good. We want to improve our lives, and to give ourselves more free time. When you think about it, we have always done things to make our lives better. In the past, it was about automating the rudimentary physical tasks. Now, it is about automating the rudimentary mental tasks. At least with AI, where we are at, it is still in the very early stages. It is about automating rudimentary tasks which used to occupy our brains. Now we can free up our brainpower so we do creative work and things we enjoy doing.” 

Advocating for Diversity in AI
L to R: Moderator Jem Cope and Beena Anmanath discussing AI

Beena runs a nonprofit that focuses on increasing diversity in AI. She shared why this is so important to her, “Humans for AI is about making AI part of everyone’s life. Not just as a consumer, but how do you shape and influence AI. Over my career, I have built AI teams from scratch. And every time I see people who have very similar educational backgrounds, and folks with the same gender and race. I worry about it because we need more diversity in AI. The reason is that we are all biased, and that is what makes us all interesting and unique. But when you code that unique perspective into a machine and then scale it, you are enforcing it on the rest of the population. And I think we will miss out on the big opportunities we have with AI if we don’t bring in more diverse perspectives.” 

Building New Perspectives about AI

Moderator Jem shared, “We had an amazing talk from Beena Ammanath — an award-winning industry leader in Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. It was exciting to learn about what’s being used in the field currently, the challenges currently being faced, and how diversity is not only important to fairness– but also helps us build better products by considering new perspectives.”

42 student Victor Wade shared his thoughts on the presentation, “I am interested in AI and I was able to learn a lot about the field. I especially like how she explained how it evolved from theory to practice and how that will impact the future. I also like how she discussed bias. Bias is something I always try to be aware of and I would like to find a way to eliminate it.” 


From Flight Instructor to Tech: Ilana Golan Comes Back to 42

Illana Golan sharing the life lessons she has picked up over her career

Ilana Golan presented at last year’s Women in Tech Week. She came back to 42 for this year’s event to share life lessons she picked up over her career journey.

As the first female to become an F-16 Flight Instructor commander in the Israeli Air-Force simulator, Ilana Golan is used to working in fast-paced, dynamic environments where inconsistent execution can generate catastrophic results. The same challenges are found in business: markets change, customer needs evolve and if you do not adapt quickly, your company is at risk. Ilana knows that. She’s been part of startups and founded her own to success.

In her motivating and engaging presentation, Ilana shared her fascinating experiences operating in various challenging environments. This includes her experiences in the Air-Force, startups, and long-distance adventure races. 

Big Successes Come with Big Failures

Ilana reminded the audience that big successes come with big failures. But she also reminded them it is important to never give up because startups die when founders give up. She also shared that it is important to not only know your audience but to also think differently. Ilana emphasized a way of thinking that we share at 42, “Don’t be afraid to fail; you have to go outside your comfort zone to make things happen. When things go wrong, thinking positive is critical.”

Ilana also recognizes the importance of celebrating the little wins. There aren’t a lot of wins when you are just starting out. But those small wins count so celebrate them with your team. She also shared we all have the power to reinvent ourselves; it is important to trust your instincts and to communicate. Ilana elaborated on how there are different phases in our lives, “Sometimes you want more money, sometimes you want career growth, sometimes you want to make an impact, and sometimes you just want more balance.  No job has all four aspects at the same time, and if it does, you should hold onto that.”

Taylor Yang, who is in 42 Accelerate, appreciated the advice that Golan gave during her presentation. He elaborated, “As a startup, Illana gave us a lot of encouragement through her talk. Additionally, the simple mindset of not giving up is just what we need to keep working hard on what we believe in.”


42 Silicon Valley: Building an Inclusive Environment

At 42 Silicon Valley, we are trying to build an inclusive environment.  We host a Women’s Speaker Series once a month that is open to the public. Additionally, we cultivate partnerships with organizations that support women in tech, such as Women Who Code, and we volunteer with organizations like Lesbians Who Tech. We also feature profiles on our website about inspirational female students and alumni. 42 was designed to make programming education accessible to everyone. Based on a September 20th, 2019 assessment, 25% of cadets at 42 Silicon Valley are women. At 42, we are committed to being allies for a new generation of women entering the tech field.

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published by Stacey Faucett – October 4, 2019