Tag Archives: tech

Longform Reflections

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups

If there was a Godwin’s law for technology, it would go something like this: go to a startup event. Hear or be the person pitching a dating application. Stop—you’ve lost.

Entrepreneurs are trained to solve real pain points—their own, especially. The truth of the matter is that when you’re with a bunch of single, young men, this is one of the first problems they will encounter: the lack of single, young women. The solution that comes to mind? Yet another application. If it can solve the broken hospitality, and taxi industries, surely it can solve the lack of gender inclusiveness in the startup scene.

The Internet is being shaped by males to be comfortable for other males. For those of us fighting for an open, and inclusive web, this is something that should change, and it’ll certainly take more than a new application.

Only about 5 to 10 percent of the venture capital devoted to early-stage ventures goes to females. This isn’t through blind luck, or through lack of trying. A double-blind study delivered the exact same startup pitch with both a male and female voice, and found that the pitch delivered by the male voice was preferred 68% of the time by investors, with no change other than the voice delivering the words.

Three out of ten entrepreneurs starting their own business are female. It gets even worse in Silicon Valley, where only one out of ten people starting technology startups are women.

Part of this has to do with factors external to the community itself. The ratio of women studying in computer science, one of the most valuable traits to have in a technology startup, has decreased from 37% of degree holders in 1985 to 14% in 2010. This is a societal issue, and there are no silver bullets.

Nevertheless, there is a feedback loop that links the startups that hire computer science majors with those who choose to major in the field. Women can and should feel comfortable working with technology, and carving out space in the Internet.

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups with code(love)

Building Gender Inclusiveness into Startups with code(love)

They should because women are very successful with technology. While there is selection bias (to be a female founder in Silicon Valley is to be an extraordinary person), the fact that women-led technology companies have achieved 35 percent higher return, and bring in 12 percent more revenue when venture-backed, all while running their companies on two-thirds of the funds allocated to their male counterparts—all of this adds up to data that can only seek to encourage the inclusion of women in the startup world because it makes economic sense to do so.

It also makes intuitive sense. Successful communities are built on being open, and diverse. Everybody suffers when a perspective that could enhance the community goes under-represented or ignored.

The goal of technologists should be to build their technologies to be open and accessible to all: how can that goal be achieved when the community it is built with doesn’t reflect those values?

This isn’t just an existential problem for the startup community, it is one for society at large. With median real wages constantly decreasing, and investment in startups constantly increasing, the reality is that those who are able to run their own business will be the ones who thrive in this new digital age.

All of the work achieving gender inclusiveness in the material economy of the past may fall by the wayside in the digital economy of the future.

There are ways to reduce this risk. Here are some:

1-Build an inclusive community

Easily said, hardly done: thus the crucible of the problem.

Etsy is a uniquely female-led internet community, an enclave for a group of mostly women selling to a group of other women. The problem Etsy faced is that the engineers responsible for fleshing out this community was, like most startups, dominated by males.

It was only by switching  from poaching male senior engineers to training female junior engineers, that Etsy was able to change its internal culture. Etsy encouraged women to join its’ ranks, and created a sense of belonging for female engineers. In doing so, the company was able to attract high-level engineering talent, both male and female, who were inspired by the initiative.

There are no silver bullets, but change only comes when people move towards it.

Building an Inclusive Tech Community with code(love)

Building an Inclusive Tech Community with code(love)

2-Highlight the leaders that emerge

The role of female leaders that emerge from an inclusive community cannot be understated in a world where storytelling wields immense power. Sheryl Sandberg is able to inspire a generation of women to consider technology, and future leaders that step into her shoes will have a powerful narrative for which they will be contributors: the narrative that anybody that deserves to be a leader can become a leader in Silicon Valley.

The next generation will need leaders to look up to in the future, and it is up to technologists in the present to ensure that those leaders have the right platforms to tell their stories.

Highlight leaders in technology with code(love)

Highlight leaders in technology with code(love)

3-Reach out to the next generation

The next generation will need more than female leaders in technology. Technology needs to be relevant and cool for girls for there to be significant change going forward. Stressing how technology is a means to an end can help immensely: the applications of code in fields ranging as far as fashion to film-making can help girls realize that code is interweaved with every aspect of their lives.

Initiatives like Girls Learning Code and the Chic Geek which seek to educate girls about how they can build the future will help immensely. We need them to succeed, and for there to be further initiatives in order to break the loop that prevents women from entering technology because they don’t feel like they belong in the field.

Reaching out to the Next Generation with code(love)

Reaching out to the Next Generation with code(love)

A startup is built upon a viewpoint that is different: that it alone can succeed where so many others have failed. This is the birth of innovation: the belief that we must think differently to build differently. Silicon Valley was built on thinking differently—it was built on the premise that it doesn’t matter who you are—what matters is what you do.

In order to fully live out that promise, technologists should strive to include as many people as possible and judge them on the fruits of their labour. They should embrace inclusiveness as a key value, and see to it that they mean what they say. Change only comes when people move towards it.  It can start with women, but it will never end. There is no end to the iteration of the products the Valley builds: why should there be any when it comes to its community of builders?



Thanks to Kylie Toh of the Chic Geek for giving suggestions, reading this over, and providing pictures from Ladies Learning Code, and Girls Learning Code

Research Sources

VC money tilting towards males: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/03/22/292467848/need-money-for-your-startup-being-an-attractive-male-may-help

1 in 10 of those starting businesses in the Valley are women. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232090

Decline in women holding CS degrees: http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/legacy/pdf/BytheNumbers09.pdf

How women-led startups have impressive economic metrics: http://www.eweek.com/it-management/google-encouraging-more-women-led-startups.html

How real wages are declining: http://www.businessinsider.com/real-wages-decline-literally-no-one-notices-2013-6

How Etsy Attracted 500% more female engineers: http://www.fastcolabs.com/3005681/how-hack-broken-gender-dynamics-workplace

For more:

Check out http://geekfeminism.org/

Julie Ann Horvath’s departure from Github

Julie Pagano’s blog

Shanley’s post on how to work towards solving systematic sexism


Longform Reflections

I rejected a top law school for tech entrepreneurship—here’s why.

I have thought about this long and hard, and law school isn’t for me.

I have a firm belief that in our new digital economy, those who are able to scale their ideas most effectively will triumph. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape once said: “Software is eating the world”. My corollary to this statement is that “the geek shall inherit the Earth.”

The geek shall inherit the Earth.

From hospitality, to transportation, we live in a world where minute connections of individuals can actually change the world for the better—within a span of months, rather than decades.

Technology has accelerated both the potential for good, and for bad, but as a catalyst the effects are undeniable. From sidestepping the conventional financial system, to underpinning the democratic aspirations of a people, the ability to communicate frictionlessly has fundamentally changed what we view as possible.

Download / By Namphuong Van

Changing the possible with code(love)

While I appreciate the value a law school education holds for those who want to learn and practice law, I no longer think that is my true calling. Having talked with multiple lawyers, I have come to the conclusion that the impact I can have is best served by scaling my aspirations, and those of others throughout the digital realm, rather than through slogging it out one jurisdiction at a time.

I hold a high amount of respect for those who fight the good fight throughout legal and political channels: society has a need for this. I just don’t see myself being as effective at that as I can be with digital engagement.

My feeling in the startup scene is one akin to coming home.

I have advised on several ventures that have the potential to grow into something beautiful and meaningful not only from a monetary sense, but from a societal one as well.

When I sit down to talk with people, it’s about creating a secure communications platform for doctors and underserved patients in rural Bangladesh, or about tackling urban homelessness through a crowdfunding solution—these are not only realizable, but people are working on these right now. It is liberating to be able to talk about these issues, and see action straight away that helps chip away at some of the biggest problems this world faces—all of this in a matter of days, rather than years.

This isn’t only a passion-borne argument. Fundamentally, I believe working in technology is a more rational decision for me than working in law.

Fundamentally, I believe working in technology is a more rational decision for me than working in law.

Download / By Marco sama

Rejecting Law School with code(love)

I am motivated by three things in life: knowledge, impact, and love. It is only in technology that I have found all three—and it is only in technology where my passion can be translated into tangible, and material well-being. While I believe the current valuation bubble will burst, leaving true technologists behind to pick up the pieces, the truth is Silicon Valley is on the upswing, while Wall Street and Main Street is on the downswing.

With the doubtful legal market in Canada and the United States, and the overwhelming need for engineers across both sides of the border, I think I am better suited to learn outside of school, or to pursue a formalized degree in computer science (an option I have not precluded) for the age we live in.

I’d rather fight it out getting paid to gain experience rather than taking on debt for experience for a field I’d rather not be in. I have always been more of a kinetic learner, someone who learns by doing. I cannot afford either the time nor the money that would be invested in learning less efficiently otherwise, and this has been made even clearer in the last few weeks than all of the preceding year.

I’d rather fight it out getting paid to gain experience rather than taking on debt for experience for a field I’d rather not be in.

I love what I do, and I know what I am fighting for. The next following days will determine where I will head, but I feel that I can preclude law school, even though I recognize it is a great opportunity.

This is not a choice I made lightly, but it is something I have to do to move towards the love, knowledge, and impact I believe I can have. I hope you can understand.