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 had to publish the article over two series. You can read Part One of Women in Tech Week 2019 here. We thank everyone who participated and gave so much valuable insight into what it is like to be a woman in tech.
Fireside Chat with Facebook Directors About Their Career Journeys
Koshambi Shah, Director at Enterprise Operations at Facebook, and Rebecca Nicholas, Director of Engagement at Facebook, participated in our first fireside chat during Women in Tech Week.
Koshambi is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 15 years of experience in supply chain, manufacturing operations, compliance & regulatory affairs and information technology at companies that include GE and Cisco. Rebecca has nearly 20 years of experience with driving large scale change efforts across a broad and diverse environment including leadership roles at companies such as HP and Capital One.
During a candid discussion, Koshambi and Rebecca shared their own personal journeys into technology. Rebecca shared her non-traditional pathway into tech, from accounting major to director of engagement. She elaborated, “I have gotten here basically by being passionate about the end-users. And I have been willing to challenge myself and have confidence even if it’s something like learning how to code.”
Reflecting on Successes and Opportunities to Grow
They also reflected on their successes and opportunities to grow throughout their careers. Koshambi said that her biggest success is coming home and being a role model for her daughters. She also gave great advice when it comes to approaching success, “In terms of success, do not slow down in anticipation. I truly think you will find the strength to make things happen, but do not just slow down in anticipation of yet another life event that is going to happen. Make the most out of the opportunity that you have today.”
Additionally, they were asked about the best professional advice that they ever received. Rebecca shared, “For me, it was always, should I take that next step, should I take that next bold move. No matter what choice you make, it is going to be the right choice. Because you are going to make the best out of it. Instead of analyzing all of these things, you just have to go for it.”
Koshambi shared that she learned a great lesson after five years of working at Facebook, especially from her manager. She elaborated, “My mentor helped me realize, you always start from a place assuming good intent. If there is one thing from Facebook that has been life-changing for me and has been a learning lesson is you start from a place of assuming good intent.”
Afterward, Koshambi and Rebecca took questions from the audience and gave invaluable insight and advice to our student community. Reflecting on her experience at 42, Rebecca shared, “It was a great experience to share some of my life journey with 42! I loved the passion in the room and the insightful questions! Thanks for the wonderful opportunity to share!”
42 student Anastasiya Yezhova was in the audience and gave some feedback on the event. She elaborated, “I really like when Koshambi said about how you should assume good intent on behalf of other people, and to not anticipate a no. I also appreciated Rebecca’s advice that every choice you make is a good one because whatever happens, you will follow through. Overall, what they said was powerful stuff!”
Brave, Not Perfect = Happier
Lan Jenson, Founder, and CEO of nonprofit Adaptable Security Corp gave a topical presentation called “Brave, Not Perfect = Happier.” During her presentation, Lan shared a few life stories that unlocked her happiness by stepping out of perfect roles into imperfect ones. She believes this mindset to be the secret to happiness for both men and women.
Lan started Adaptable Security Corp from scratch 2.5 years ago. Adaptable is now leading Bay Area local governments and communities in adopting a regional cybersecurity model. Nationally, Lan co-chairs the Cybersecurity and Privacy Advisory Committee for NIST/DHS-led Smart Cities and Communities Challenge, which helps 200+ cities worldwide to adopt cybersecurity and privacy by design with a Guidebook and matching champions.
Learning to Speak Up
Lan is comfortable and confident speaking with people now. She influences volunteers and decision-makers alike through the power of words and expertise in cybersecurity. Lan shared, “I would never have imagined I would start a cybersecurity nonprofit that would gain traction all over the world. I always felt I didn’t want to speak in front of people when I was younger. I was a perfect daughter, student, colleague, then wife and daughter-in-law by being quiet.”
Eventually, happiness demanded a change from her perfect role to an imperfect new student in the United States. As a master’s degree student in intercultural management, Lan needed to speak and contribute to the class. She had to contribute even though she couldn’t speak perfect English yet and wasn’t good at finding the fleeting opportunity to join a fast-paced conversation. It was time to trade perfection for bravery, “I was stopped midway many times.” Lan shared a story when her classmate inadvertently cut her off and felt so bad that she offered Lan free lodging for the summer as a way to apologize.
Learning to Move Ahead
One year later, a happier Lan went home to China and promptly made her family drop their jaws. “You talk so much!” Lan’s brother exclaimed. In that moment of clarity, Lan realized that she didn’t have to be afraid to speak up and lose her perfect image. What if she spoke too much or made mistakes in her speech or made a fool of herself? No matter. “You are bigger than those mistakes,” Lan summarized, “I learned to forgive myself, let it go, and I can move on ahead.”
Lan also touched on the issue of equity for women. Besides being brave and trying new things to advance society, Lan believes it is important to grow allies and sponsors in men. She believes that open communication about this issue is important. There are many open-minded and supportive men, including those attending the talk. Men can gain a lot from partnering up and supporting women’s pursuit of equity too. It’s a win-win that will make the world a happier and more beautiful place for ourselves and our next generations.
42 student Ariella Grodzinsky shared her thoughts on the presentation, “I really enjoyed the presentation. One of my favorite things was when she talked about times in her life that she had struggled and overcome it and then asked the crowd to share similar experiences. I also thought what she was saying about smart cities was really cool and hope to learn more about them in the future.”
Technology + People = Making a Social Impact
We had a fascinating panel discussion with Lisa Schmidt, CEO of Home Energy, Anh Bui, COO of Leiden Measurement Technology, Iris Bianchin, Director Of Operations at BeMyApp, and Regina Wallace-Jones, Vice-Mayor of East Palo Alto and Tech Executive.
Meet the Panel: Lisa and Anh
Lisa is currently president of Home Energy Analytics, a company she founded with her husband. HEA is boot-strapped and helps people reduce energy use in their homes. She is passionate about climate change, and this is their way of contributing to the solution. Lisa received an EE in 1981, which was fairly unusual at the time. She’s worked in Silicon Valley since 1983, participating in at least eight start-ups, raising two children, and getting a Masters in Liberal Arts from Stanford.
Anh brings more than a decade of strategic product management leadership to her current role as COO of Leiden Measurement Technology, a start-up designing high-end scientific instruments used to look for biomarkers in space, conduct environmental analysis, and more. Anh’s career includes building online platforms for scientific and scholarly communications, and leading new product development for software-for-good in the social sector, including as VP of Labs at Benetech.
Meet the Panel: Iris and Regina
After working as a Project Manager between Paris, London, and Amsterdam, Iris moved to the other side of the Atlantic to oversee the US operations of BeMyApp. BeMyApp is an agency whose mission is to foster digital transformation and accelerate innovation. For the past nine years, BeMyApp has helped more than 200 major companies such as Intel, IBM, and Visa, through the execution of tech events and digital strategies – from B2B workshops on Computer Vision to AI virtual conferences, from developer studies to hackathons. Iris has applied a lot of the core hackathon principles to her career: stepping outside of her comfort zone, learning by doing, and finding ways to work smarter.
Regina Wallace-Jones is a versatile leader and community advocate with 20+ years of experience as a tech executive. Regina is the founding board president of StreetCode Academy, a patron of Black Girls Code, a board member for Women Who Code, and a partner of the Lean In Foundation. She sits on her local community’s City’s Technical Advisory Committee, where she also serves as the Vice Mayor for the city of East Palo Alto. Regina was the former Chief of Staff and Head of Product Operations at eBay Inc. and has previously served as a tech executive at Yahoo and Facebook. She holds a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a Masters from UCLA in Public Policy with Emphasis in Technology Policy.
A Commitment to Helping People Through Tech
Regina shared what it was like to watch her father’s sector transition from paper to digital. She explained how this led to a career in public service, “I felt like there would be people who would be part of this tech ecosystem and people who would not. And that is when I became interested in public service. I got my master’s degree in public policy with a focus on technology. I decided to be an engineer first, and when I was 40, I began to pivot into public service. Now I do a lot of tech and city work. I believe it is my distinct role and goal to help us close the gap because I understand what it is like to be on both sides. I consider it an honor and an obligation, and it is something I have fun doing.”
Anh explained how her career evolved from a graduate student studying English to working in tech, “Data was everywhere. That is what took me from my graduate school experience to the world of digital publishing. It also eventually led me to where my heart is, which is the world of tech for good. So up until very recently, I was Vice President for R&D at one of the first social enterprises here at Silicon Valley, called Benetech. There we were able to build software for good. You marry not just technology with needs, but you bring communities together. So for me, technology has always been a facilitator essentially. Tech is 10% of the game, and the rest is people. The most important part of the conversation today is about technology and people.”
Keeping Up With Changes
Lisa’s company tackles climate change by making people aware of how much energy they are consuming. She has excellent advice on how to stay relevant in the fast-paced tech talent marketplace, “You have to always keep moving, always be looking around and accept things are going to change and not be scared of changing with them. A lot of people are going through the same things, so jump off and do it. You have a lot more capacity than you realize to deal with the changes. This background you are getting of solid problem-solving and learning things from the ground up will serve you incredibly well moving forward.”
Advice for Non-Traditional Students
Iris had a non-traditional route to tech. After working at the French equivalent of the USPS, she eventually jumped ship for a young startup organizing hackathons. Her advice for students from non-traditional backgrounds, “There are tons of companies out there that are more interested in your unique experience than in a fancy name on a diploma. Look for those companies who are hiring in a more diverse and inclusive way. I also know that 42 students have no problem getting great jobs because of all the experiences that you build up by doing your own thing. And it’s a unique education that you get here; I think it brings you all the soft skills that matter in the workplace.” Her last piece of advice, “Always show that you are much more than whatever label people want to put on you.”
Anh, Lisa, Iris, and Regina went over several different topics. These included their pathway into tech, their thoughts on work-life balance, and how gender is perceived. We thank the entire panel for taking the time to share their unique perspectives at 42, and we are grateful for the wisdom that they shared with us.
Topical Presentation: Making the Most of a Technical Education
During Aparna Dhinakaran’s interactive topical presentation students received valuable information on how to apply to internships in Silicon Valley. There were two main themes in Aparna’s presentation: “never stop exploring…even as an adult” and “how to navigate being an engineer in the real world.” Aparna also reviewed her experiences working at Tubemogul, Apple, Dote, Uber, and founding a startup and going through Y Combinator.
Aparna is the CEO and Founder of Monitor ML. Previously, she was a backend software engineer on the Uber Forecasting team. Before Uber, she was an intern at Apple, published her research on drones with IEEE, and studied electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley.
Aparna allowed the audience to chime in and ask questions. She wanted to use the space as a discussion because everyone is going on their own journey. Aparna recognized how there are a lot of women starting this journey of getting into tech. She knows firsthand how important it is for more women to go into the field. She also acknowledged how she was happy to see a lot of men in the audience because they will be allies for women in this space.
Figure Out What Value You Can Add
Aparna shared why she decided to talk about making the most of a technical education. While in college, you have an opportunity to explore with literally zero risks, especially at a school that is tuition-free. She suggested trying to figure out what you want to specialize in while in school. Get good at coding first, then figure out what you want to be an expert in. Aparna suggested trying research, building a startup, secure an internship, or get involved in volunteering.
After graduating from college, Aparna realized, “Being an engineer in the real world is way more than just coding. There is so much more work before writing code – figuring out why you’re building the product, who will be your user, what are the technical requirements, designing a technical spec, figuring out sprint plans, etc.” She suggested practicing interviews with friends who are in the field or even reaching out to professionals on LinkedIn.
Aparna also shared how important it is to make sure you highlight your skills and projects on your resume. Another piece of advice, “Figure out what value you are going to add from day one. Think of additional things you can do so you’re not just an engineer in their eyes; but you are also someone who is an active team member, someone willing to step up, and own different responsibilities.”
42 Student Kirstin Black shared her experience at the presentation, “I really loved how she gave us information about internships and went over the process and what to expect.”
Topical Presentation: A Long and Winding Road Leads to Khan Academy
Anna Berns, part of the International Content team at Khan Academy, gave a topical presentation titled, “Around the World in 40 languages: A wandering route from for-profit to non-profit/social-justice tech; and a love affair with internationalization and localization.”
Anna is proud to work with a community of international volunteers and non-profit organizations who translate and localize educational content to accelerate Khan Academy’s mission of a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.
Prior to joining Khan Academy, Anna held various product, program, and operations roles in human rights, environmental, and global literacy programs at Benetech, and software consulting and data analysis roles at Manugistics. Anna received a B.A. in Math, and a Master’s degree in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering, both from Cornell University.
Transitioning from For-Profit to Non-Profit
During her presentation, Anna explained how she was always a self-described math geek. While at Cornell University, she decided to move away from theoretical math and concentrate on applied math; specifically in the department of operations research and industrial engineering. Basically, it was math modeling for real-world problems, and Anna found that was more fun for her.
That experience led her to Silicon Valley, where she worked in various roles from data analysis to product management. While working in for-profit, Anna decided she wanted to switch to non-profit. She also wanted to find a role where she could work in tech and do some good for the world. Anna found a position at a non-profit company called Benetech. While working at Benetech Anna learned about working with international users and users who don’t speak English. She realized how happy it made her to see software come up in other languages.
Anna wanted to move into EdTech and was excited to find a role at Khan Academy working on International Content. Khan Academy is more than just math videos; it’s about focusing on mastery-based learning and doing things at your own pace. There are over 85 million users of Khan Academy worldwide and 43 sites in different languages.
Creating More Access through Internationalization and Localization
Anna went over what internationalization and localization mean, “Imagine you’re trying to learn something and it’s not in your language. Internationalization is about setting up your software so you can easily translate it into other languages and make it relevant for other languages so you don’t have to create new versions of the software. Localization is the process of taking the software and actually making it available in other languages.”
Anna went on to explain what she loves about her job, “There’s something about making that stuff accessible. Whether it’s software or education, making it accessible to people around the world is just an amazing feeling to me. I love my job because I get to talk to people around the world all the time and I feel like I am having a global impact. It’s just a really fun thing to do and I’m very happy that I’m back in it.”
Before taking questions from the audience, Anna explained how there are many different jobs and roles related to this work. Additionally, she mentioned some general non-profit tech resources.
Women in Tech Week 2020
After wrapping up a successful Women in Tech Week 2019, 42 Silicon Valley would like to announce that we will be transitioning from hosting an annual event to a bi-annual event. Our next Women in Tech Week will be held in Spring 2020. Additionally, all are welcome to our monthly Women Speakers Series that is held throughout the year. We hope to see you, and we can’t wait to invite more women to tell their stories and share their perspectives about what it is like to work in tech.