The last couple of weeks have been technology-focused weeks for me, and two events in particular have stood out as outstanding examples of the great innovation going on here in the Bay Area.
This past Tuesday, I attended a Women Who Code event called Lightning Talks. Women Who Code is a wonderful Meetup group that, like the name implies, seeks to promote women who code. In Silicon Valley’s male-dominated technical fields, women are largely underrepresented; it was a rare and pleasant feeling to look around the room during Lightning Talks (my first WWC event) and find myself surrounded by smart, technical women!
Lightning Talks is an event where women speakers can come up to the podium and talk for 6 minutes on anything they’d like that’s tech-related—projects they’re working on, tips they’d like to share with the group, or even their own personal history.
Sarah Mei, one of the programmers of Diaspora, a social network you can own and control without fear of having your information being sold to third parties, talked about the project and how it started. Another woman got up and demonstrated how she “hacked” an XBOX Kinect to be able to control the game Portal with your body. Another software engineer, who had been programming for over 15 years, gave career tips on how women should think about negotiating their salary.
The women who both spoke and attended were PHP, Java, Rails programmers, technical project managers, founders of companies, front-end coders (myself included), and software engineers. Jokes about beer, bugs, and being a woman coder were thrown around the room followed by knowing laughter. The solidarity in the room was tangible and wonderful.
Two weekends ago, I attended another tech event which I’d written on earlier—StartupWeekend EDU. It was my first-ever StartupWeekend event, and I went as a front-end web designer/coder. I was, to my knowledge, the only technical woman there—a stark contrast to the Lightning Talks event.
Our team created, in one weekend, a prototype for a product called I’m In the Band, which helps kids memorize lessons through singing. The idea behind it is that while it isn’t fun to memorize, it is fun to learn a new song. My teammates included Adam Selzer from Adam and the Couch Potatoes, Michael Kascel from Tokbox, Ruby on Rails engineer Peter Ehrlich, and our business team Joseph Okafor, Felipe Baytelman, and Alicja Z. While we didn’t win the event, we were one of the four finalists!
It was an indescribably exhilarating experience: going into the Grockit HQ three days in a row, working all hours of the night, exhibiting our product at the Zeum Museum and seeing our customer validation survey get responses from all over the world, watching our Facebook page grow in Fans—all in one weekend.
The event taught me a lot about what the cutting edge of education technology looked like, and what kind of ideas people had. Mitchell Kapor of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation gave a wonderful keynote talk about what it means to innovate in the education space, and how to create a product that both produces profit and closes the achievement gap—a hard balance to maintain.
Most of all, both of these events really showed how many amazing groups and activities exist here in San Francisco that promote two causes I am passionate about: entrepreneurship and women empowerment in male-dominated fields. I’m already looking forward to a few more events on my calendar which I’ll be writing about soon, so stay tuned.