Ep 13: Can Women Lean Out? Three Divas Share from Grace Hopper 2015

In October, 2015, Nicole Johnson Scheffler, one Diva Tech Talk’s co-founders, attended The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, organized in Houston, by The Anita Borg Institute.

Attended by over 12,000, the conference connected, inspired and guided women in computing and attracted many sponsoring organizations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative. This Diva Tech Talk podcast highlights three diverse women who represent facets of that greater community.

The first is Anita Garcia, a junior at California State University in Monterey Bay, enrolled in the cohort-based “CS in 3” a three year accelerated computer science degree program.  A lucky recipient of one of the Grace Hopper Celebration scholarships, conference “VIP” Anita found the event both exhilarating and “a bit overwhelming.” Her principal reason for attending was to obtain interviews for upcoming internships to complement her budding career.

Anita began her technology odyssey at the early age of 12, developing a fascination with HTML and Websites.  Her interest sprouted further as she researched the burgeoning high demand for women in the field. “I quickly realized that there is a huge need for somebody like me,” she says, “to have this specific skill set.” Anita is excited about “the impact I can have in this domain.  I am able to work in any field with this kind of base as my undergraduate experience.”   Getting no semesters off from immersion in all facets of computer science, Anita describes herself and her colleagues as “busy bees.”  She has been involved in a number of fascinating research projects, one of which is the development of an Android-based mobile application to detect diseases transmitted on apples.  In the field of agricultural technology, Anita is additionally working with a Salinas Valley startup called Heavy Connect on a project to “eliminate unnecessary headaches and help the farmer save time and money.”  Anita is also the Co-Founder and President of student-led Her Script, with a mission to help women with technical and professional aspirations.  The group, (which she describes as “partially an ambitious study group,” as well as a community outreach organization) fields monthly classes in HTML and Android development using MIT’s App Inventor for people as young as 8 years old ranging to college age.  “It’s amazing to see the need for this kind of outreach in our community,” Anita says.  On her future career plans, she comments “One of the things I love about computer science is that I can branch out into any industry.”  Anita also advises our audience: “Don’t be afraid to try something new!”

Our second interview was with uber-entrepreneur Elissa Shevinsky, currently Co-Founder and CEO of JeKuDo Privacy Company, a startup building high security group collaboration tools, which are easy to use, for enterprises and activists.  “The (current) tools available, people aren’t using them,” she says. “We are making enterprise tools that feel like consumer tools.”  In the security field, Elissa prides herself on her ability to explain security issues in layperson’s terms.   She also believes that current security policies are almost unenforceable. “You either have security as part of your company’s culture or you don’t,” Elissa says.  “Breaches can put you out of business! And the ‘insider threat’ is also something you have to think about.”

Talking about her own career evolution, Elissa says “I have always loved being on a team, and making things.  That has driven me more than anything.” The secret to Elissa’s success she says is that she “failed up!  I stuck with it.”  She advises every woman to “stay in the game, and keep learning.”   Elissa credits startups with helping her to “level up” up her skill set and her portfolio to get to where she wanted to go. Elissa’s greatest current learning experience is the “day-to-day hard stuff of running a company. It’s not for everyone but it’s very rewarding. If you want to lead, and you have a vision, there is nothing else like it.”  As an entrepreneur she appreciates the opportunity to recruit and foster her team and create her company’s culture. “You decide what you’re comfortable with.”

“Ideally, I would like to encourage people to do their own thing,” Elissa says. “We should be able to be ourselves in the industry. Companies are actively trying to recruit women, and women of color.  That puts us in a different position.  We can begin standing up and saying ‘this is what we want to be comfortable at work’.  It’s time that men began accommodating women, not just women accommodating men.”  

“I feel comfortable saying the women are often very good communicators,” Elissa comments. “Women also contribute incredibly valuable things to organizations which have not been properly compensated. Women’s roles like community moderation really deserve a lot more respect and reward.” Her key advice for women “is to take a step back and reflect; and say ‘who am I and what do I want’. Then figure out how you go after it.”  

A published author, Elissa recently released Lean Out, a self-described “dark” book focused on the struggle for gender equality in technology and entrepreneurship, which features 25 different stories from 19 different contributors. “It’s a collection of stories that is really unedited. I am open to a lot of different ideas and connecting to a lot of different people. I don’t have to agree with you. There’s a story in there for almost everyone.”

Get your copy of her book here: http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/lean-out/

The final interview was with Jessica Legner, a web developer with ESPN.  Pregnant and married at age 18, Jessica was a “lost” college dropout, who got her first job on a manufacturing line producing car parts.  After 18 months, she realized that her aptitudes were being wasted, and decided to go back to community college, where she parlayed her interest in website design into an eventual focus in computer science at Michigan-based Saginaw Valley State University. Internships at various companies, focusing on Website support and development, fueled her interest and built her skills in PHP, CSS, and HTML.  Then her alma mater offered her a full-time job, after graduation, working on a learning management system for the university, where she built her skills in Java, PHP and JavaScript.  

Jessica credits an interest in sports wagering (beginning with “Fantasy Football”) as feeding her competitive nature, sparking her talent for data and leading her to her current role. “I was really interested in what ESPN was doing on their Website,” Jessica says.”In 2006, the Web looked nothing like it does now!  They were ‘ahead of the game’ and it was really cool.  That was where my inspiration started.”  After a decision to leave SVSU, and some lengthy interviewing, Jessica landed her “dream job” as a Website and mobile Web application developer at ESPN, and has never looked back.  “We are improving things at ESPN, every day,” she says. “And here I am, at Grace Hopper, 8 months later, meeting wonderful women and talking to you.”

Jessica’s most important advice to other women is “Notice and realize you are capable of anything.  Follow your dreams; as my grandmother told me, you can do anything you want! You just have to want it, and work hard enough.”

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