Visualizing Mile 26

Boston Marathon

“I don’t know how you do it” seems to be the comment du jour these days. I think it’s a compliment most of the time – an appreciation for everything I have taken on – but I do get this little jab in my brain when I hear it and it makes me wonder if I am insane.

I have a lot on my plate, that’s true. I am the CTO at a growing tech company in NYC, I teach a very hands on course at Harvard Business School in Cambridge. I have three daughters – one college kid in NYC, and a freshman and senior in high school (that’s right folks, college application season, round two!) – and two cats (one of which has a chronic disease requiring daily meds). I manage my household solo (yep, I’m a single mom) and I advise a few companies, coach a few rising stars and sit on a couple boards. Oh, and I occasionally blog.

What?

Ok, so I have taken on a lot, but I simply LOVE everything I do and I make it work by visualizing Mile 26.

I have never run a marathon, but I did the 26 mile Walk for Hunger many years ago with two of my BFFs. I remember being at mile 24 that day and thinking “oh my God, two more miles?!”. I had practically lost my mind because my feet hurt and I was tired and hungry, but instead of throwing in the towel, I just powered on and ran the last 2 miles and left my two friends in the dust, aghast. I had committed to this thing and I wanted to reach mile 26. It was for a good cause and my feet would feel better a week later.

Our lives will always have peaks and valleys. There were many sleepless nights when each of my girls were newborns that I thought would never end. By child three, when I had some experience under my belt, I got through those hard days of barely having time to eat, let alone take a shower, by visualizing Mile 26. The time would come when they’d all be sleeping straight through the night and the days would come when I had to drag them out of bed for school! I was close and I could make it to the end of this phase – Mile 26.

We also have to constantly recalibrate our priorities. When my Dad had major heart surgery back in 2001, I was running Engineering at a tech company and I had two little girls at home. During that time, my mile 24 was several weeks of a daily drive from work to the hospital to home to keep all the balls in the air. I missed many dinners and bath times with the girls, and my work suffered a bit, but Dad was a priority at that time. He eventually was back to himself and under good care at home – Mile 26 – and I was back to having dinner and splashing in the tub with the girls.

I’m not the only one trying to balance so much at once, so here are a few tips and tricks I use to keep it all together (most of the time) that others may find useful:

Give yourself permission to let stuff slide and get help
The school months are my most hectic time of year with many mile 24s (think: 90 degrees and humid running up a hill after 23 miles). I visualize many Mile 26s during this time, like holiday breaks, scheduled trips and the summers when school is out. During these killer mile 24s, I let some stuff slide like that growing pile of clothes I should really get to Goodwill or cleaning out the refrigerator (petrified clementines are cool). I may skip an evening networking event in favor of sleep or to catch up on work and I get help when I need it for errands, home repairs and cleaning (thank you InstacartTaskrabbit and Handy!).

Say “No”, but offer an alternative
As my career has progressed, I get a lot more requests of my time outside of work. I love paying it forward whenever I can, but my cycles are few and I am getting better at saying “no”. I’m flattered by every ask for advice, to speak or to attend an event of some sort. I wish I could do all of it but over the years I’ve learned to become more selective about what I say “yes” to. Whenever I have to say “no”, I try to find an alternative for the requester. Someone else who could coach or speak or attend the event. I find it not only gets me off the hook, but it usually ends up being a great experience for the alternate and very often the requester is quite happy with the result. It’s great when these situations turn into a win-win.

Block time off to GSD
I routinely block off time to make sure I can get stuff done (GSD). Sunday mornings are my most productive times – because #teenagerssleepuntilnoon. I focus on cleaning up my in-box and getting prep work done for the coming week. I have help at work with my calendar, but I do all of the personal stuff myself like making doctor appointments or coordinating carpools. I maximize driving/Uber time for that sort of stuff. It’s important to me that I stay plugged in and not offload everything – especially most things to do with my girls – and there’s something satisfying about getting out of the car and feeling like I just knocked a few things off of my to-do list – mini mile 26s!

[If Applicable] Respect your kids – you only get to do this once
My mile 24 life has taught my girls to be highly independent which is not so bad! They can make themselves meals, do their own laundry and help around the house (ok, with some prodding). That said, I make sure we have dinner at the table together a few nights a week and we have a no cell phone rule at meal time so we can actually talk with each other face-to-face.

I keep an open line of communication for my kids to voice when they need me for anything or feel like my crazy life is not in sync with theirs. When I’ve got a lot going on in a given month, we have “family meetings” where we make sure their priorities for me are in check. For the theater geek, I have a minimum number of shows I must attend (I usually make all of them, tyvm!) and for the sports kid, I have to attend at least two games a season – home or away. I get quality time with my big kid in NYC (perk of the job!) and thank God for texting and social media where we all stay connected probably more than my parents did with me when I was their ages! From Instagram, FB and snapchat to our “My3girlz” text stream that’s endlessly entertaining and annoying 24×7, we are in constant communication.

Take Care of Yourself
If I’m not ok, no one in my life is OK. I do yoga, walk or run a couple times a week. I am a self-proclaimed spa addict and try to get to one at least once a month – even when I was just scraping by early in my career, I made the budget work for this little luxury. I love to travel and take my all three of my girls on a trip together at least one a year. I do acupuncture, sleep eight hours most nights and I am a total freak when it comes to what I put into my body (GF, sorta vegan, organic). I also make time for friends – because friends are what keep me whole beyond my kids. Whether it’s a well needed night out on the town or just a long stream of texts to vent or to laugh, I have an amazing network of people that bless my life.

So, I guess that’s how I do it. I’d be lying if I said it’s a piece of cake. Sometimes I lose it amid a mile 24 and snap at the girls when I’m exhausted and stressed. Sometimes I cancel a few meetings and check out for a couple hours when I’m at work because I need to just think. Sure, a few balls get dropped on the floor – maybe a lot, sometimes – but that’s life and I try not to beat myself up over it. After all, Mile 26 is right around the corner.

Do you take on a lot or wonder how you can take on more? Share your thoughts and concerns in the comments.

Scaling Another Rocket Ship: Hello DO!

Every once and awhile, I meet a company so exciting, I can’t sleep because I’m thinking non-stop about its potential to scale, massively. Fortunately for me, I ended up joining two of them that turned out to be great success stories and I think I just found my third. Starting this month, I am joining the ranks at DigitalOcean as their CTO.

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Anyone who knows me well would agree that as much as I am an organizer and planner, I am also a risk taker. I love diving into challenges and creating results that require skill, agility and building relationships. While business savvy and technical skill are paramount to growing a successful tech company, understanding the human element and building high performing teams is what separates the good from the great.

In 1999, with a three year-old and an infant, I quit my healthcare IT job to go to Akamai to help them get organized before our IPO. Most of my friends and colleagues thought I was nuts, but I was hungry for bringing order to chaos and building something that made an impact. My three years at Akamai were among the toughest and most rewarding years of my career. We created the world’s first CDN for businesses and turned it into the backbone of the internet. The teams I led and partnered with were some of the smartest and coolest humans I’ve had the pleasure to work with. We pulled all-nighters together, cried together when we lost our CTO-Founder Danny Lewin on 9/11 and still celebrate the company’s success together at our annual “Akamai Pre-2002’ish Employees” reunion.

In 2005, I landed at VMware right after the EMC acquisition to help them figure out how to run a global engineering team. I took a leap of faith that we would not get fully absorbed into EMC (which was their MO at the time) and that I could help build another company made to last. What I found when I interviewed at VMware was the same good vibe I had at Akamai. Super smart people, fun, passion and humility…and of course, a wicked cool product. I still remember my final interview in Palo Alto – a last minute “Diane Greene would like to meet you” – that threw me for a curve. I was pretty frank with Diane that I wasn’t sure I could balance my role at VMware with three small children. She assured me that VMware would make it work, and they did. Both my career and the company flourished over my eight year tenure at VMware. When I joined the company, we had just over 800 employees and around $200M in revenue. Today, it boasts close to 19K employees and 2015 revenues were $6.57B. It was an incredible ride to help scale something that spectacular.

When I left VMware in 2013, I felt very lucky to have been part of two incredible rocket ship stories in the technology industry. After much soul searching around “Julia.next”, I settled into the startup ecosystem in Boston. I became a mentor at TechStars and recently began teaching a Product Management course at Harvard Business School. Until recently, I was fairly certain this was the tail end of my journey, but something was gnawing at me that I had at least one more in me. One more amazing rocket ship I could help scale.

Over the past few years, I’ve made a few investments and became a formal advisor to the founders of several local startups. It was one of these founders who introduced me to Moisey Uretsky, DigitalOcean’s co-founder and Chief Product Officer. For those who don’t know Moisey, let’s just say brilliance and tenacity is an understatement. Despite my protests against working with a company in NYC, Moisey convinced me to come to DigitalOcean HQ back in January to meet his equally brilliant and tenacious brother and co-founder-CEO, Ben, and get to know the business. One visit became several and within a matter of a few weeks, I was fully enamored and signed up to advise the company.

During my early work with the DigitalOcean team, my instincts told me that this is going to be another winner. It is beyond impressive how, in just four short years, DigitalOcean has built such a strong platform and community. Ben, Moisey and I – along with the other key members of the DigitalOcean leadership team – began to work together to forge a partnership that will enable us to super-scale this company. The achievements we’ve made to grow the business so far left me unable to resist the temptation to join full time to help take it all the way. So now here I am, honored and excited to be DigitalOcean’s new CTO.

So what is it about DigitalOcean that gets me so excited?

In addition to our tremendous business growth, strong culture, talented team and impressive list of investors, the most striking is the simplicity of DigitalOcean’s features that developers love. We let developers create, automate, and manage a robust cloud server infrastructure out of the box with floating IP addresses, shared private networking, tier-1 bandwidth, team accounts and SSD hard drives which all come as standard. And all of our services can be provisioned in as little as 55 seconds with a plan for as low as $5 a month.

I am continuously blown away at the reaction I get from people in our industry who hear I am working with this company.

“I love how easy it is to spin up a Droplet to build software!” – MIT graduate student building software for his own startup

“I have 6 Droplets of my own!” – Boston VC

“Their tutorials and community engagement is the best in the industry” – Engineer building a neuroscience application

“DigitalOcean gets developers – they give us what we need with no BS” – SaaS application developer

In addition to our core feature offerings, our multiple data centers around the world and a 99.99% guaranteed uptime enable companies to build and scale robust SaaS applications. Even more exciting is what’s to come. Our storage capabilities will begin to roll out this summer and what follows is a list of features that developers building production applications will surely love. Because at DigitalOcean, it’s all about love…

This is going to be another incredible journey of risk, opportunity and balance for me. We are an organization that values learning and what better way to hold that true than to continue teaching my course at HBS (fear not, @teisenmann & PM101’ers!). And, while I’ll certainly be spending a lot of time at our HQ in NYC, I will remain living in Cambridge and to continue to be an active member of the Boston area startup community.

Finally, I am hiring! We’re looking for amazing talent across the company. Check out our current career opportunities both in and outside of NYC.

Will DigitalOcean be another massively scaling rocket ship ? I’m pretty bullish about it. So check back here soon for updates on how it’s going!

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“I was right, I am the only girl. AGAIN!”

This is the fourth summer in a row that my youngest daughter, now 13, has done some sort of a programming camp. For three out of four summers, she has been the only girl in her group. While I commend these programs for a great curriculum and instructors, this has caused me to think about how, as parents and a community, we need to step up efforts on gender balance in computing much earlier than college or even high school. If girls are not participating in programs like this in their formative years, how are to expect them to be computer science majors or pursue technical careers?

As we walked to Harvard this summer for her first day of camp, my daughter was a bit anxious about yet another digitalmediaacademy.orgsummer as the token girl. We had chosen a new program through Digital Media Academy (DMA) largely because they were one of the few to offer a Virtual Reality course where she could play with Oculus Rift and learn how to design virtual worlds. A second major factor was that much of the DMA website and materials are full of images of girls having fun with technology – suggesting they are very successful in recruiting girls to sign up for their courses.

In response to “Mom, if I am the only girl again this summer I am going to be so mad.” I tried to be encouraging and focus on the coolness of the course she was taking. I told her how leading edge she was to learn about an emerging technology before most people her age even knew what it was. I didn’t talk about the potential gender imbalance and instead focused on the fact that this was about pursuing her interests and passions. Inside though, I was hoping…no praying…she wasn’t the only one. Not just because I didn’t want her to be the one girl among the boys, but for the bigger picture. I was dying for a sign that the canaries were singing loudly in the coal mine. Hopeful that I would see a mixed group of boys and girls in the room eager to dig into technology.

The canaries weren’t singing…

When we arrived at the camp check-in area, we were relieved to see a few other girls signing in and heading off to their classrooms. The counselors whisked my daughter away to her classroom so I didn’t have a chance to see the gender composition. I asked her to text me at lunch with a pulse on how it was going.

As I walked back home, I reflected on the prior three summers. The first summer, she signed up for a game design course through ID Tech, hosted at MIT. The boys in this class were obsessed with Pokemon cards – something my daughter knew nothing about and had no interest in – and their break time was used to trade cards or play video games. As a pretty typical 10 year-old girl, she would have rather spent her lunch break talking about boy bands and Youtubers or maybe tossing a frisbee around outside. Needless to say, between that and being among a group of 8-10 year-old boys with zero interest in socializing with girls, my daughter felt pretty isolated among the group. Outside of learning a bit of Javascript, she was pretty disappointed with the experience that year.

The following year, I decided to combine a week I needed to spend at VMware’s Palo Alto HQ with an opportunity for her to try ID Tech again, but this time hosted at Stanford. She was willing to give it another try, thinking it was cool to “attend Stanford”. Once again, I dropped her off at the sign-in area and hoped for a better outcome than we experienced on the MIT campus the prior summer. At pickup time, she joyfully jumped in my rental car bubbling over about all the fun girls who were in her mobile app game design class. Just like her, some were there because their parents were in the valley for work and others were locals and long-time ID Tech participants. Not only did she have a lot more fun than the prior summer, but she accomplished a lot more in that week than I would have expected. We were both thrilled.

Flash forward to last summer and another year with ID Tech at MIT. My daughter was pretty into Minecraft at the time and was eager to go deep and get better at programming in general. She is a very go-with-the-flow kind of kid and told me she didn’t care if she was the only girl, she just wanted to geek out for a week after her return from a month at sleep-away camp. After such a good experience on the west coast the year before, I hoped that I’d see a trend shift here and she’d have other girls in her course. Alas, once again, she was the only one.

While I only have one data point of one summer in the valley, it was pretty interesting to experience such a different situation out there as compared to here. Are more households tech savvy out there because of the thick concentration of tech jobs? Is the bar higher in Silicon Valley schools such that kids out there are exposed to programming/technology earlier? Perhaps it’s climate and spending a week inside to code is a welcome break from sunshine (?!) whereas here we take every moment we can to get our kids outside before the next snomageddon.

Or, perhaps the girls here are not signing up because, like my kiddo, they’re worried they’ll be the only girl.

“I was right, I am the only girl. AGAIN!” was the text I received during her lunch break last Monday. I told her to hang in there and get as much as she could out of the course. But, I felt so very disappointed. Where are the girls that were shown so prominently on the brochure? Why are parents not signing up their girls for these cool classes? It’s Oculus for Pete’s sake!

My biggest concern here above all is that this is one of the biggest factors that impacts the pipeline of young women choosing technical degrees and jobs. If 8-13 year-old girls think their only option to learn how to code or experiment with new technology like Virtual Reality is to be an outlier in a room full of boys, they won’t sign up. Even now, while she learned a lot and got along just fine with the “gamer boys” (her nickname for them) in her class, my daughter is desperately looking into more girl-friendly programs for her age group next summer. Thankfully, now that she’s older, there are programs like Girls Who Code or Technovation. Even though I am a huge fan of programs like these and they give girls the critical mass of peer support they need, I worry it swings the pendulum the other way. I want to see balance in these programs. Not programs for just girls or those that cater to just boys.

So, how do we solve this problem?  Some suggestions:

  • Parents: Sign up your girls for programming summer camps! In most cases it’s ONE week. One! Your kids will survive a week of being indoors most of a day, trust me. And if not in the summer, sign them up during the school year or during school vacations (gasp!). Also, have them sign up with a friend to further balance whatever program they choose. And if you have boys interested in tech, try to sign them up for programs that are diverse too! The younger boys are sitting next to girls who are coding, the more “normal” it’ll feel to them as the grow up with technology.
  • Tech Camps: Don’t just try to recruit girls, sign them up. Reach out to faculty and school technology programs that have girls enrolled and develop partnerships that drive these girls to your camps. Also, try to mix up your courses so it’s not eight solid hours a day of programming. Stop catering to the boys who play video games all day and offer time to run outside or maybe even swim in the afternoon. Kids learn fast. There’s a lot they can learn in a week without having to sit in front of their desktop the whole time. And please, for the love of God, stop plastering your brochures and websites with just pictures of girls. Show boys and girls working and having fun together. Foster diversity.
  • Groups that target professional technical women: Invite young girls to some of your events or encourage mentoring between your members and the girls’ programs mentioned above. If more young girls interested in tech have role models, they are more likely to persevere in rooms full of boys. Maybe even start a camp of your own?

As the VR camp came to a close, I attended a showcase to see what my daughter had accomplished for the week. It was pretty cool to navigate the funky landscapes and terrains she had designed as though I DMA_showcasewas in them via the Rift. She was proud of what she had learned and was eager to download Unity at home so she could keep working on her project. I asked her how she felt about the week overall and she said “It wasn’t so bad this year being the only girl, in fact the best part was that I had the bathroom all to myself.”

Got ideas about how to get more young girls into tech?  Please share in the comments!

Step One: Investing in the Minority

Once, in my first few weeks in the early days at Akamai, I was pulled aside and told I had to stop wearing suits every day because people thought I was looking for a new job. I promptly went out and bought five new pairs of jeans and mothballed my vast array of suits and dresses. I wanted to be sure I was taken seriously as a senior member of a technology organization. Now here I was, 15 years later, asking myself if jeans were OK to wear to a program I was invited to attend at Stanford Law. The event was hosted by a16z and is designed to prepare future corporate board members of venture backed companies. I’m a big believer in the value of strong first impressions and, like it or not, what we wear is part of that first impression.

I sought advice from a friend who’s been a senior leader at a few top technology companies in the valley. Her opinion is that jeans “are part of a wardrobe that connotes technical competence. Dressing like a stereotypical engineer offsets the fact that I’m female; people can place me as an engineer in spite of my gender. And the converse is true as well – jewelry, high heels, emphatic makeup, skirts, scarves – most garments that emphasize femininity also connote non-technical because they connote femininity.” However, she goes on to say “being female, of course, still connotes ‘not a leader’ just like it does ‘not technical’ so you’re still going to have to dress like a guy to get intuitively bucketed as leader instead of an admin.” This last part struck me because the guys I know, in our field, who are some of the best leaders I have had the pleasure to work with, routinely wear jeans; not just to go to work but on stage and in executive meetings.

So what does this have to do with “Investing in the Minority”?

As noted above, the program I was about to attend was to prepare future corporate board members. I knew I was invited along with another CEO friend of mine from Boston in part because we were women, but I thought it was to round out the attendee list. We are often the token “nerd chicks” in our circle of professionals. So, while I was stressed about walking into a room full of white dudes in suits and being taken seriously (on first impressions because of what I wore), it turned out to be a totally moot point. As soon as I arrived, I knew this was about getting a new class of highly diverse board members and no one cared about what we wore. The room was ~75%, ethnically diverse, women and of all the male attendees, I counted only two white dudes. Most of the presenters were, however, white dudes (and most of these white dudes were wearing jeans), but they had clearly been tutored on balanced use of pronouns and were careful not to patronize or overtly call out the diversity in the room.

Audience diversity and wardrobe aside, what was really striking was that a16z put a stake in the ground that they are intent on solving the dearth of women and diversity on corporate boards by training up a bunch of us for the job. This realization reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a founding CEO and CTO duo who want to hire more women engineers. Women were applying for their job postings and they were great fits for this company, but they were finding that most of these women were not “technical enough”. I questioned whether there was unconscious bias at play or whether these women were really not as technically competent for the roles they were hoping to fill. The founders insisted these candidates were great in every way, but they just didn’t have enough coding experience. Just like a16z is investing in diversity for boards by training us up, I pushed these founders to invest in these women engineers. If they are great in every way, but just don’t have enough experience, give them that experience!

Which leads me to think more about this group of newly enlightened future board members. Now that we have been schooled in the duty of care and the duty of loyalty, who is taking the next step to actually get us onto boards? This is no different than the very capable women engineers who just need hiring managers to give them a chance, and perhaps some training/mentoring, so they can get experience. Unless we are actively marketed, recruited and given a chance to sit on boards, this investment in us as minorities is for not. I am not saying that we sit back and wait for others to do the work for us. I will definitely tap my board and others to make sure they know I am now even more prepared to take a board seat than I was with “just” my 25+ years of experience in management in startups and mature companies and from sitting on three different non-profit boards. However, I do think it’s incumbent upon a16z and others who aspire to support and foster diversity on boards and in corporations to seek us out and take a chance on us.

A16z made it clear in their invitation to this event that they are not guaranteeing us board seats. I get that and nor should they as we each need to stand on our own and demonstrate what we can do. However, they should, IMHO, commit to Step Two:

  • Create a directory of newly minted “board ready” professionals who have completed programs such as the one offered by Stanford Law
  • Upon election to a board, provide a mentor directory to those who have completed the program so we can have an experienced, trusted advisor or two to call upon in our first year of board service [Note: They may have to sign an NDA to do this, but if they are trusted professionals without a conflict, this should be a reasonable ask.]
  • Pressure their portfolio companies, current boards they sit on, and others in their networks to take a chance on us, or perhaps if not already oversubscribed with board observers, let us observe so we can start to get real board experience.
  • Finally, track our progress. Where are we in 9-12 months? Are we sitting on a board? Did anything we learned in this program become valuable in our first months as board members? Did we make an impact? As Professor Daines noted in his lecture last week, not enough research has been done on corporate board governance – especially on VC backed companies – so let’s start capturing the data now.

I am truly grateful for the invitation to participate in the program last week and hopeful I can leverage what I’ve learned on a private or public board soon. Much thanks to Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Margit Wennmachers and their team for taking the time to organize and participate in last week’s program!

…and for those wondering “but she never said what she ended up wearing??!”, I wore jeans.

Got ideas about how to foster more diversity on corporate boards? Please reply with a comment!

Computer Science – Because It’s Just Plain Fun

I’ve worked in tech for my entire career and I love it. I get to work with people who are really smart (and very cool) and I get to build things that people actually use. Where did my interest come from? It all began in an office a long time ago…

I got turned on to technology in the 70’s when my Dad would take me into work with him on the weekends and give me girl-techprojects to do on his fancy Radio Shack TRS 80’s. He’d go through these huge stacks of Byte magazines and hand me cool programs he wanted to use for his civil engineering work. I’d sit in front of the “trash 80’s,” pop one of those huge 5+ inch floppy discs into the computer and start to code. The instructions were simple: Enter the text on a particular page and type “run.”  If there was an error, it was up to me to debug until the program ran successfully.

At eight years old, I had no idea that I was coding or that what I was doing was a rare activity for a girl. I liked how it felt to click on the keys. Debugging was like solving a puzzle and it was so satisfying when I finally got program to run. I was learning a new language and soon I could translate what the code was telling the computer to do. I was hooked.

As a studio art major in undergrad, I took computer graphics and Computer Aided Design (CAD) as electives. I can remember spending hours in the computer lab with my fellow students as we hacked away in BASIC to make little stick figures jump across the screen. We would fantasize about how cool it would be to get a job where this was actually what you got to do all day (If we had only known that Pixar was brewing out West!). Before the days of simple LANs and mainstream internet, I would work late into the evening with my male colleagues writing code in the lab. But not once did it ever occur to me that as a woman, I was a minority. All I knew was that I was alongside people who were as passionate as I was about what we were doing. That was all that mattered. And it still is.

Working with people who are passionate has been a fundamental driver for my career.  It concerns me that there are not enough women taking an interest in this field. Lenore Blum’s research at Carnegie Mellon demonstrates that women are more inclined to stay within the field if there are female professors and student role models to learn from and emulate. While I agree that we need more women role models in the field, and I will always try to be one myself, I also believe that if we inspire our children early to be creative thinkers who are comfortable with, and have access to, technology (beyond their smart phones and iPads), they will pursue careers in the field because it’s just plain fun.

We need to show children (and their parents) that computer science is an interesting and cool career path and not just an option for nerdy boys. We need to integrate lessons on programming, networks and clouds into daily curricula because these are basic tools one should possess. Children learning about how our bodies work, science works, or how to do math equations should be equally educated in the history and workings of the technology they use and rely upon every day. This is how we can diffuse the “nerdy boy” stigma associated with computer science. This is how we can better prepare our children to be innovators of the future.

I have three daughters who are all tech savvy. It’s unclear which side of the nature vs. nurture debate that falls under but regardless, technology has been a part of their lives since they were born. They see it as an enabler for a variety of fields and not just the basis to become programmers. With two who are artists and one who is a musician/budding architect, their days are filled with high tech sound mixing, computer graphics and CAD tools. It is a part of their daily lives. They are well past making a stick figure jump across the screen and blow me away with what they can do with the technology at their fingertips.

As we kick off CS Ed Week in MA this week (December 8-14), hundreds of young people and their parents will be checking out Hour of Code at their schools or with local community groups. The purpose is to provide access to coding and demonstrate how fun it can be. My hope is that somewhere a young boy or girl will be as excited about technology after that hour as I was when I was in my dad’s office years ago, and still am today.

To find a group in your area that is leading an Hour of Code, check out this list. You can also help promote computer science in your community by signing this pledge to encourage policy makers to include computer science in core curricula.

Please tweet or post your experiences during CS Ed Week using the #HourOfCode and include @Masstlcef if you’re in MA!

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People Who Code – A Call to Action

I am a huge advocate of the women in computer science movement. coding-bannerI am also a huge fan of the Computer Science (CS) field in general and, despite my number of years in this industry, I continue to be amazed at the volume and speed by which new technology is coming at us. Yet, with all that’s going on out there, it is still incredibly hard to find talented developers and designers. So, while I want to see more young girls learning to code and women in professional technical roles, quite frankly I just want to see more people who code.

Three things happened recently that made me realize that I need to focus my efforts on encouraging more young people to get into computer science:

First, there was the scuttlebutt around the “Male Allies” panel at the Grace Hopper Conference a couple of weeks ago. Everyone was so wound up about the gaffes of the three men on the panel that we lost sight of their key messages which were to support gender balance and eliminate wage gaps in tech across all levels of a company. How are we going to make progress for women and minorities in tech if we attack the majority when they aim to support the movement? When will meritocracy prevail over gender? My friend Jocelyn Goldfein has a lot of good thoughts on this topic here. We need to bring men into this conversation without them worrying about being attacked for speaking up and we need to focus on how to build great careers in CS for everyone – not just women.

Second, I have been thinking a lot lately about the preponderance of women and girls’ organizations that are encouraging and supporting women to code and choose technical careers. It’s wonderful that there are SO many of these organizations out schools-codingthere, yet it is so hard for girls and women to know which ones are the best to meet their particular needs and/or interests. I am concerned by how many of them position themselves competitively against each other vs. combining forces to form a stronger, united, movement. A founder of one of these organizations told me recently that when she approached a nearby, similar, group to collaborate she was met with “hostile resistance”. Also, that some of the members of her organization did not want to be part of meta-organizations because it drew too much “adverse attention” to their roles – akin to the extreme circumstances of #gamergate where women are fearful for their lives because of their chosen profession. Certainly there are varying views on how best to encourage girls and women to code, but imagine how powerful these groups would be if they combined efforts instead of competing with each other or fearing retribution (or worse) for participating. Perhaps the mere size of these groups would deter those who attack them today or maybe, even, convince their attackers to support vs. challenge their mission.

Finally, I was recently enlightened by my friends at the MassTLC Education Foundation on the rather pathetic state of our k-12 CS programs in Massachusetts. I view CS as basic literacy in the 21st century, yet in most publicmassCS_stats and private schools it is treated like an elective, not a core math or science requirement. In 2012, only 1000 students in Massachusetts took AP CS and 559 passed; of those who passed, only 24 were underrepresented minorities and 89 were female. There are also no standards or licensure for teachers who teach CS in k-12. According to this NPR story, only an estimated 10% of k-12 schools in our country teach computer science. This interactive data chart shows the steady decline of CS majors in the US. With all the money out there to invest in new technology and innovation, we are not making the same level of investment in the people we need to make these innovations a reality and sustainable into the future.

From the past we have learned that big issues such as the civil rights and feminist movements took large groups of likeminded people to go from controversy to significant policy and cultural changes. We take for granted that women can vote in the US and in many, but not all, other countries around the world and we tend to forget that not too many years ago, schools and busses were segregated. Today, we are fighting for equal pay and career opportunities for women and there is controversy about how few women there are studying CS, but there is a bigger issue to solve. If Venture Capitalists and technology industry leaders want to support these movements, we need to do more than just attend conferences and speak on panels. We need to change policy – like eliminating noncompetes in MA to allow talent to move where their passions take them instead of feeling trapped in their jobs or eager to depart from the field of technology altogether.  We need to band together instead of standing on hundreds of different platforms to solve a greater issue. We need to fund programs for young people – not just girls – that foster interest in creativity and technology. We need to enlighten high school kids about the opportunities in technology and be available to mentor these kids when they go to college. We need people who code.

Do you agree that we need to do more to encourage young people to code? Join me the week of December 8-14 for CS Ed Week where the MassTLC Education Foundation will be championing Hour of Code in cities and schools across all of Massachusetts. This national program is designed to inspire students to learn more, dream more and be more through Computer Science.

“People are Funny”

IMG_4079One of my favorite and rather famous family quotes from my Dad, is “People are funny” [see his epitaph, inset]. It was his catch-all phrase for when someone did or said something odd. The saying was his way of recognizing that we can’t always explain why people do or say what they do, we just have to either learn from them or have compassion for them. Sometimes, though, I want to do more than just learn or have compassion. I want to respond with a “hey, what are you doing?” or “you can’t say that!”.  Yesterday was one of those days. When someone said something that I brushed off in my head as “people are funny”, but the next morning it still nags.

“Are you two both work and life partners?”

I’ll explain…

Because I’m in the wonderful world of entrepreneurship and tech, I have the common experience of working closely with men. A man has been my boss in just about every job I’ve had. Men have been the majority of the employees I have hired and managed and, as I have grown professionally, more often these men are my peers. I travel with these men, go out to coffee, lunch, drinks, and have dinner with these men. Often, I also get to know their wives and have introduced our children. I’ve been to their weddings and have had the honor of staying in their homes when I travel. I have been so fortunate to develop some of the strongest relationships with these men over my career as I have with some of my dearest girlfriends. They’ve been my mentors and confidants and often ask the same of me – which I do with pleasure.

Despite all of this, it seems that no matter what my rank and status or theirs, there is always someone who assumes that my strong rapport with these wonderful men must mean there’s more to our relationship. Good working relationships at work are often like second marriages. We’ve all heard the expression “my work husband” which suggests that this other guy in your life who knows you inside and out is your go-to guy at work, but it’s strictly a professional relationship. These are the guys we have friendly banter with, we share inside jokes and we are able to finish each other’s sentences. We’re BFFs in the best sense of the word. Yet, someone always opens that door that questions how a relationship like this is possible without something more going on. It’s the proverbial “a man and woman can’t possibly JUST be friends“.

Now back to yesterday. While in a meeting that was (ironically) about raising awareness of gender bias in venture capital, I was asked if my male colleague in the meeting with me was both my “work and my life partner”. I do not believe there was anything this man or I said or did that would infer such a thing. We clearly know each other well and had a few occasions of poking fun at each other that demonstrated a good working relationship, but it wasn’t flirty or unprofessional.

So, what provoked this question? Do men and women have to be all business to be taken seriously as professional colleagues? Should my colleague and I be more impersonal in meetings? Can men and women NOT just be friends? When we are striving towards more equal and gender neutral work environments, how do we eliminate the assumptions and biases we have about men and women working together? As a society, we need to hold each other accountable for respecting the strong relationships colleagues develop regardless of their gender. If two guys can be BFFs at work, play golf together and travel together without judgement, shouldn’t male and female colleagues be able to do the same?

…or, are people just funny?