My Early Days in Tech
In late summer 2007 I moved across the country from my hometown of New York City to Palo Alto, California, to start graduate school at Stanford. I was 24. It was a fascinating time to land in Silicon Valley. Facebook, which had launched while I was a senior at Harvard, had opened up to the public a year before. Twitter had caught fire in March at a conference I’d never heard of (but would later attend five times) called South by Southwest. The first iPhone had been released six weeks earlier, and now here were people carrying these coveted devices around on campus just a few miles from where they were designed.
I didn’t move to Silicon Valley to get involved in tech, but suddenly I found myself in the middle of the explosion of the social web and the personal devices that enabled it. So what’s a gal to do? Join the fun, of course.
I took an internship in marketing at a tech startup, and ended up joining full time to run strategy and then product. It was my first time being on the inside of this new economy. But I still felt like an outsider.
I would go to meetups and speak on panels, and I was always one of the few women in the room, and often the only woman of color. The narrative at the time was that there weren’t enough talented women and people of color to be hired. While it was clear to me that this was absurd, it actually took me years to realize that hearing this over and over had an impact on my own identity in the space.
After running product at the tech startup, I cofounded Code2040, recruiting and deploying hundreds of talented students, partnering with dozens of tech companies, and working full time to prove that the talent so many in the industry claimed didn’t exist was out there and ready. Yet still I struggled with my own identity in tech and with owning the fact that despite the fact that I wasn’t coding, I was an important part of the tech industry and was shaping it through my work.
Some of the most influential people in the tech industry are engineers and developers. And some of the most influential people in tech are designers, operators, and entrepreneurs—people who may never write a line of code. I don’t write code, but I did work hard with my colleagues at Code2040 (a team of leaders that, at that time I left, was two-thirds women and 90+ percent people of color, by the way) to shape the tech industry for the better.
Acer reached out to me a few weeks ago and asked me to share more about my own journey as part of their #MakeYourMark campaign. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about doing more writing and sharing of my story now that I’ve stepped down as CEO of Code2040 and have a little extra time on my hands. I’ve learned so much since cofounding the organization in 2012: about myself, about tech, about social entrepreneurship, about management, and more. So, consider this the beginning of me sharing some key reflections on what I’ve learned through an intense professional and personal journey.
(This post was sponsored by, and written on, the Acer Swift 7!)