Admittedly, I’m one of those startup techies who suffers from Valley Envy from time to time. Oh to have access to those financing resources and face-to-face mentorships. It must be awesome to stand in a bar, throw a stone and hit someone that has a startup idea brewing or in full force. Having said that, I also love to see tech startup communities growing and thriving outside of the Bay Area. Much respect to that tech powerhouse on the Cali West Coast, but I’ll always keep a special eye on those startups that are born elsewhere. So when I got the chance to speak to Melissa Bugai, Co-Founder, Booker, I was already a fan even before we connected on Skype. Booker is a beautiful, easy-to-use appointment booking application that should be used by everyone who has customers that book appointments. But besides her awesome startup, she has some interesting insights on why there aren’t more women in tech.
Women generally go after collaborative, mentor-oriented work. Most job ads for developers use language that doesn’t appeal to women in this way.
I found her on Quora when I read her answer to the question: How do I get a more diverse developer applicant pool? And I found myself nodding my head at what she wrote.
TechFemme: How did you get interested in technology?
Melissa Bugai: My dad is an Electrical Engineer so I got a lot of tech as a kid. We talked a lot about tech, spent time fixing TVs, talking about radio, as in wireless communications. We had computers when I was very young. I had two computers even before my Commodore. We have a fairly technology-centric family, but my parents aren’t necessarily savvy. They’re not huge technologists but they gave me a start.
TF: How did your programming career start?
MB: I came to find out when I signed up for my first computer class in middle school, the counselors talked to my mom and asked her “Are you sure you want her to do that? That’s a boy class.” I was oblivious to it. I went to Grand Valley State University and majored in Computer Science. There were two other American girls in my graduating class of several hundred. There were also a few female foreign exchange students. That ratio was very common and it’s still common. I went into the industry as a software developer and then my career led me to software testing, which I enjoyed and I’m still part of that community. I worked at a wonderful company called Atomic Object and got a good start there. It was probably the best place I’ve ever worked. I worked there for three years.
TF: How did you go from there to Booker?
MB: I used to do ski instruction on nights and weekends. It was frustrating because I couldn’t see my lessons during the day on my computer, while I was at work. I had all this pain around lessons and appointments, so I started Booker. And you’re really an entrepreneur from birth. It’s really ingrained in you. You want to change the world and it’s really hard to work for other people. So in December last year, I left my job to work on Booker full time.
TF: What were the first steps in starting Booker? How did you go from idea to an actual product and business?
MB: We started product development last summer and got into Momentum, an accelerator program in our area. We operate in the lean startup way and focus on customer development. We talk to at least one customer every week. We talk to them about what problems we can solve for them.
TF: What is the tech community like in Grand Rapids, MI?
MB: It’s is awesome and growing. There’s an immense amount of talent here. We have 22 universities and colleges so we’re graduating tons of computer science individuals. People talk to us about moving to Silicon Valley or Boulder but we want to put Michigan on the map. We’re sticking it out here. The community support here is in some ways more valuable than venture capital. The community helps each other out with time and energy. Besides Atomic Object, we have Mutually Human Software and Collective Idea and they’re all doing awesome things.
TF: What would you tell girls who are considering going into a Tech Career?
MB: Don’t let your parents or anyone tell you that all the computer science jobs are going overseas because that’s just not true. Don’t buy into it. In college, there are so many other kinds of computer science fields that they don’t teach you about. You can either go into IT or you can go into programming, and that’s it. Unfortunately, others are underrepresented. People are making a lot of money in other computer science areas like software design, interaction design, and software testing. And if you’re looking to start programming, look into the programming language ruby. It’s an extremely easy language to read and to write. Ruby also has a web framework called Rails. Ruby on Rails enables coding web apps to happen quickly in a very straightforward way. Ruby favors convention over configuration. Python is also another beginner – friendly language.
It’s clear that Melissa and the rest of her Booker crew are benefiting from and contributing to the growing Grand Rapids, MI tech community. I can’t wait to hear more great things about them in the future.
This isn’t your typical awesome Women In Tech list. You won’t find any super-famous, rock-star Sheryl Sandberg or Padmasree Warrior types on it. Many an article and list have been published singing their praises (rightfully so). Here’s why I love Femmeonomics‘ Top 50 Women In Tech list – it’s going to highlight the largely unknown women working hard at doing wildly incredible things in technology. Here’s the call to nominees:
Are you a woman silently changing the technology industry from the confines of your cubicle? Perhaps you know of a woman seeking to launch the next big thing from her daily seat at Starbucks? If so, we want to hear from you….Unlike other lists, Femmeonomics plans to highlight the ambitious and creative women flying just under the radar.
This means that there’s a high chance that you can nominate yourself and/or other women in tech you know for this list. It’s time for all that hard work to be applauded. Go here to get recognized.
I came across this fantastic opportunity from the Angie Chang’s post on the Women 2.0 blog yesterday.
From the Investors’ Circle Website:
- Energy & Environmental Solutions
- Sustainable Consumer Products
- Sustainable Agriculture
- Community & Economic Development
- Healthcare, Biotech & Wellness
- Social Media and Software
Last Tuesday, I finally got to cross two things off my want-to-do list that have been there for months. When I started this blog late last year, I reached out to web designer / tech author / speaker extraordinaire Denise Jacobs for an interview. We exchanged a few emails but due to her insane travel schedule (she gets invited to speak everywhere!), we never got to actually connect – until last Tuesday at the first ever Girl Geek Dinners event in Miami. Girl Geek Dinners is a global organization serving to provide networking opportunities for women in the technology field. I would read about the events in the Bay Area and Europe and wish I could transport myself to one of them. So I was super excited to go to my first ever Girl Geek Dinner and hear Denise speak in the same night.
As expected, Denise was engaging and dynamic. She spoke about the lack of diversity (not just women) representation at tech conferences and the tech world as a whole and even better, she spoke about what she’s going to do to change that. Denise’s personal goal is to “change the mental image of people in tech” and she advises us that the way to do this is by “changing people’s perceptions with visible presence.” She’s doing her part to help this charge. With her newest venture, Rawk The Web, Denise is going to be providing a much-needed site for diverse web entrepreneurs filled with resources and insight from those who are already ‘rawking’ the web. As Denise pointed out that night: “People are hungry for a multiplicity of voices.” Photos from the event are here.
“Let’s Rawk The Web – A Manifesto”
Many tech conference organizers and attendees agree there is a lack of diversity of speakers: both of women and people of color. While some conferences support a proactive diversity policy, the common lament industry-wide is the pool of candidates just isn’t large enough to draw from. However, this is an issue of visibility, not viability. We need to RAWK the web: to become more visible, promote our achievements, and make ourselves known as the rockstars we truly are. Let’s talk about some pointers, practices, and inspiration from those who are rawking the web and learn from their successes and missteps.
Jamie Lee (Business Operations Manager, JumpThru) wants to see women entrepreneurs succeed. She runs the operations at a startup that aims to help women entrepreneurs start and build tech-related businesses. Although she doesn’t refer to herself as a technologist, the truth is that one doesn’t have to be a hardcore coder to be considered active in technology. Helping women start tech businesses more than qualifies as being a technologist, and that’s exactly what Jamie’s doing with JumpThru. Most recently, JumpThru partnered with Girl Develop It to host the women-led Hamptons Hackathon for Humanity – a luxurious alternative to the male-dominated, pizza-and-red-bull-fueled, coding festivals that define most present-day hackathons. Jamie is exactly what the Women-In-Tech community needs right now – someone to help women transition from the “I have an idea” stage to actually starting a tech business.
TechFemme: What is JumpThru?
Jamie Lee: So far, it’s an experiment. Our goal is to help women entrepreneurs build businesses around great ideas, using technology, that serve the needs of women. We do that by advising them along the process of forming the core team and in securing funding. We’re very hands-on.
TF: How did you get started with JumpThru?
JL: I met Deborah Jackson (Founder & CEO, JumpThru) at Golden Seeds. Early this year, Deb reached out and asked me to join her effort in starting a company that helps tech companies founded by women. I welcomed the opportunity to help foster a community of forward-thinking women in tech. One of the best parts about my job is getting to sit with new entrepreneurs that have great ideas.
TF: What are some of the things JumpThru is doing to help women tech entrepreneurs?
JL: We’re exploring a new concept in the form of a business accelerator. We’re particularly interested in the ways existing web-based technologies can serve the needs of smart women. To better understand this opportunity, we meet with women entrepreneurs offering tech-based solutions to the female demographic. Currently we have a relationship with Girl Develop It, an organization founded by two professional software developers in New York City. Girl Develop It teaches women how to code in languages such as HTML, CSS, PHP, and MySQL. They’ve taught more than 500 women in nearly 40 classes since they started a year ago. Their success underscores that fact that women are hungry for technical knowledge and for an opportunity to learn in a supportive environment. Because we are believers in Girl Develop It’s mission, we’ve backed their effort to secure sponsorship by providing strategic marketing support. Also, we are creating a newsletter targeted towards an older generation of women to show them the fun and power of technology. We’re curating content that would make them interested, excited and want to get involved in the tech world.
Most of my profiles trend towards women in technology, more specifically women in the wonderful world of tech startups. Admittedly, that’s where lots of my passion lies. But once in a while, I come across someone who reminds me that there’s more to the world of technology and science than a really awesome mobile app. Meet Ariel Waldman, founder of Spacehack.org, a directory of ways that anyone can get involved in Space Exploration. She showed me how, even if I never put on an astronaut suit, I can still be involved in significant programs, initiatives and even some discoveries in Space.
TechFemme: How did you become interested in Outer Space?
Ariel Waldman: I’ve always been excited about space exploration and some parts of science. But I wasn’t really that into it growing up. I’d put myself in the category of watching the Discovery Channel on weekends. But that changed a couple of years ago when I realized being involved in space was accessible to me.
TF: How did you come across that discovery?
AW: I was watching program about Apollo 11 and I said to a friend that I’d love to work for NASA. That friend randomly had a contact at NASA. I sent a shot-in-the-dark email and received one back that they just created a job description that was a perfect fit for me. It changed my life – I fell totally in love with Space and Science. I learned that anyone can contribute to Space and Science without having a formal background in it.
TF: What is your background in?
AW: I have a degree in Graphic Design. I started out as a graphic designer and became more involved in digital anthropology and digital behaviors. I always jumped from thing to thing. I was working at an interactive agency for about eight years but at some point along the way, they wanted to introduce a group that did digital anthropology work so brands could have better understanding of their audience. Then I quit my job and moved to San Francisco, where I was doing that work as a consultant. Until I applied to NASA. Now I focus on Spacehack.org and also do consulting work on interaction design.
TF: Why did you move to San Francisco?
AW: I went to SXSW and the main influencer of me wanting to move somewhere was to go where people actually made things. There was also a strong community support system for taking risks, trying out things, supporting you when you fail. No matter how drunk people were and how late at night it got at SXSW, everyone would not stop talking about websites. I loved it – I felt like such a geek in Kansas City. It felt right to move to San Francisco.
TF: What was it like working at NASA? Were you working mostly with males?
AW: I was expecting it to be male dominant but it wasn’t that way. My first week there, I was pleasantly surprised at a decent balance of men and women.
TF: What are some of the ways people can get involved with space exploration?
AW: Spacehack.org lists ways of getting involved with a variety of learning curves so as many different people can get involved as possible. Through Galaxyzoo.org people could use data analysis to discover galaxies on their own. Some people have discovered galaxies.
AW: A lot of it is just a passion for wanting to try out things you find cool. Cupcake Camp was with some friends and we were joking around about what if you combined a barcamp with cupcakes? I thought maybe at most 40 of our friends would shop up and 300 showed up. A lot of the stuff I do is about wanting to experiment with stuff that excites me and not care so much if it fails.
TF: Why did you found Science Hack Day SF?
AW: We have both the technology and science industries here. My motivation is that the science and tech industries are fascinated with each other but not very socially connected. Out of that frustration, I was compelled to make it happen in SF. I’ve witnessed it happen so many times. If you take NASA scientists and give them a tour Google, the Google people will think it’s cool that NASA scientists are there and equally, the people at NASA will think it’s cool that Googlers are walking around.
TF: How would you get more young girls involved/exposed/interested in Science?
AW: I was always a straight A student in math. Math was super easy for me but I was incredibly bored with it. I had no interest in being a mathematician. I’m frustrated that nowhere along the way did anyone say hey, if you’re really good at math, you’d be really good at programming. If someone had told me the options, I would have looked into it. Now, I’ve dabbled in it (python, etc.) and I’m fascinated with solving problems but it’s frustrating because I could’ve been proficient by now. Tell kids about opportunities depending on their skills. If someone is interested in science, and math, let them know their opportunities. I never had the idea that you could create things with a logical mind so I decided to go to art school and go into design to feed my creative side.
TF: What would your advice to young girls interested in Science be?
AW: Get involved in various science-related competitions that are open to middle and high school students. The Spirit of Innovation Awards is a great example of a competition for high school students where they not only compete but are given the chance to turn their creation into a commercial success that could benefit the science industry. If competing isn’t your style, get involved in the Maker culture through tinkering with tutorials from Make magazine or by going to Maker Faire to be inspired.
16% of the Founder Institute’s 250+ graduated technology companies are founded by females. This beats the average, but quite frankly the average sucks, and we know we can do better. – Adeo Ressi, Founder, The Founder Institute
Adeo Ressi knows what’s up. And through his technology pre-seed incubator, The Founder Institute, he’s trying to help balance the Male-Female tech startup founder ratio. Adeo has quite an ambitious and daring goal for 2011 – to graduate 175 female tech founders from The Founder Institute. Through their newly-launched Female Founder Fellowship Program, The Founder Institute will “provide extraordinary female applicants the opportunity to launch their dream company … free of charge.” They will be subsidizing the course fee ($ ) for the most extraordinary female applicant in each of their 10 Spring Semesters. Cities include San Francisco, NYC, Paris, Berlin but check here to see the other cities.
While it’s true that the number of female tech startup founders is abysmally low, and we can talk endless hours about the reasons for this, Adeo is confident that it’s not because females can’t be founders.
In fact, of all applicants to the Founder Institute, the acceptance rate amongst women is equal to that of the men, while the graduation rate amongst women is almost 20% greater than that of the men (data compiled from all completed Founder Institute semesters worldwide, totaling over 1500 total applicants and over 250 total graduates). – Adeo Ressi
So ladies, go ahead and get yours. Apply now. Help The Founder Institute reach its 2011 goal by launching your own tech startup this year. Good luck!