Why don’t we start from the beginning? Tell me a bit about your early years and where you come from.
I grew up in Orange County, California. My parents are from Taiwan.
My parents signed me up for lots of extracurricular activities: Girl Scouts, lots of team sports like softball, dance classes, Chinese School… I realized I was terrible at tumbling and dance, but okay at sports and especially enjoyed the team aspect of softball, cross-country and track.
Were you into tech at all?
Yeah—it was also in high school that I started making really simple websites for friends running school clubs. I learned how to make the most basic websites. My code was pretty bad, as I found out later. Some girls would look at my code and make fun of it. [laughter]
When I got to college, the friends I made referred me to paid webmaster gigs at their campus organizations. Getting paid to be a webmaster and web designer was an awesome concept. So I had–amongst my many jobs in college–work experience in making websites. When I graduated four years later with a social welfare and english degree, I looked at Craigslist and tried some gigs.
My first job out of college was found on Craigslist—I joined as a web producer on the engineering team a VC-backed startup in Palo Alto. I was employee number nine at this company, and was with them until they grew to 50 people or so. Having just moved from Berkeley to Palo Alto, I was starting to understand what what entrepreneurship was. I reconnected with a friend from college organizing entrepreneurship events and conferences on the Stanford campus, so he recruited me to make websites, the program and schwag for his entrepreneurial activities.
I went to the events he’d host and ask, “Why are there no women speakers?” He recognized the problem introduced me to some other women who asked similar questions, and we put our heads together to organize a conference of women entrepreneurs.
Was that the impetus for founding Women 2.0?
We decided in 2005 that we wanted more women to be on TechCrunch, to be starting companies, to be growing them, and to be ambitious and do things in tech. We started meeting regularly as Women 2.0 to bring together women that wanted to start things. We grew the organization and programs over time, such as an annual business plan competition with culminated in a conference with an investor pitch night. Women 2.0 was a side project, while we worked various jobs in startups. I left engineering after two years because I realized that when people talk about engineering, they get very passionate about clean code, efficient code, and they start quibbling about that. My personal philosophy is simple, “I just want to make things” and I heard that product management was “like being a mini-CEO” and a step closer to the entrepreneurship path.
“I went to the events he’d host and ask, ‘Why are there no women speakers?’ He recognized the problem introduced me to some other women who asked similar questions, and we put our heads together to organize a conference of women entrepreneurs.”
I got my first job as a product manager in San Francisco, and was laid off right as the economy collapsed, spending many months in and out of employment. All along the way, I would always organize a Women 2.0 event and write a blog post about my thoughts on women starting companies. I shared their stories on the Women 2.0 website. I began writing what we now refer to as “listicles” – saying, “These are executive startup/entrepreneurial women that you should know.” And I would be surprised at how often they would get picked up and carried forward, so I think people were really encouraged. I’d hear that my name tied with Women 2.0 coming into women’s inboxes made them really happy that hope for life outside a boring cubicle existed.
It helps people to know that we are not alone in ambition. I also wanted to join Girl Geek Dinner events in the Bay Area, as I had seen on the internet that in London there are these things called Girl Geek Dinners, and I always waiting for the series to start in the Bay area, but it kept not happening. Six months later, I reached out to the founder in London and asked how to make one happen in San Francisco because I was so tired of waiting for someone to start the local series. Then I went to Google and proposed for them to organize the event, which Google agreed to do. We had over 400 signups for the free event in 5 days, and we had to close registrations early due to demand. Google wound up renting a large white tent to help accommodate the crowd outside Charlie’s Café, their largest venue at their headquarters in Mountain View in January 2008. I was asked to give opening remarks and you can find a YouTube video me—really shyly—saying “Welcome to Girl Geek Dinners…” [laughing] It was the beginning of my consistently having to go onstage and introduce events that I organized, because this meant I was a “leader.”
As a leader, you have to rise to the occasion and make remarks onstage. And you see all these smiling faces at you and they’re all taking out their cameras. There are always a lot of pictures and video and social media about these events. I brought onstage as speakers female VC, a Director of User Experience at Google – who’s a woman – a female entrepreneur, a female developer. A broad panel. The conversation was good.
“That’s what Women 2.0 was about and Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners is about—sharing what we know and our ambitions, so there’s no information asymmetry. We don’t want make the same mistakes over and over again. We indubitably will make mistakes, but hopefully you always think that you will help someone else by sharing what you know.”
We’ve hosted over a hundred Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners and the event series is successful. Renowned. I have to stand up at every event and introduce and welcome the attendees — “Hi, I’m Angie. I’m the founder of Bay Area Geek Girl Dinners. Welcome…” and make a short statement. It’s the part I hate the most, and the part where I felt like people seem to really enjoy. They like that I stand and own up to it. I’ve learned to do introductions and remarks now pretty readily, and I’ve also given talks on entrepreneurship, startup ecosystems, women in tech and how to move mindsets on diversity. That’s what Women 2.0 was about and Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners is about— sharing what we know and our ambitions, so there’s no information asymmetry. We don’t want make the same mistakes over and over again. We indubitably will make mistakes, but hopefully you always think that you will help someone else by sharing what you know.
When I was hosting Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, I met the founders of Hackbright Academy and loved the mission of changing the ratio of women in engineering, and so I joined Hackbight. After realizing when LinkedIn reminded me like, “You’ve been at Women 2.0 for seven years,” like, “Oh, seven-year itch,” I thought, “That’s a long time,” I realized that I wanted to work at Hackbright Academy on the problem of getting more women into technology. I joined them really early, and now I work there on the “business side” of Hackbright. I say “business” because people think of Hackbright as a school for women. We teach women who have already graduated from college, had started working on another career, and wanted to transition their careers into tech. Oftentimes, they have friends who do it, they have partners who do it, and they want to do it too. So we’re giving them a way to make a career transition into tech. Granted, you can also learn to code on your own. I know people who have done that, and that takes oftentimes years. What I do at Hackbright Academy is work with the companies that want to hire engineering talent—and we have a lot of them graduating from Hackbright.
“The reason why I started thinking I want to start a company was because I went to one meet-up and every guy would give me his business card and be say, ‘I’m the CEO of this company.’ I’d take his business card, go home, put in the URL into the web browser and wonder ‘What is this one page website/company? Everyone is the CEO of their dream. Why don’t I have business cards that say Angie Chang is CEO of this company?'”
In your experience of working on Women 2.0 for seven years now, how much of their collective experiences were something that you experienced, or did it totally opened your eyes to things that you had no idea about?
I think there’s a lot of varying experiences in tech. I’m sure you’re talking to a ton of people who—based on their unique experiences, a combination of their age, class, background, race—have anticipated, expected, and experienced many different things. I feel fortunate to be Taiwanese-American and to have had grown up in strong, middle-class family with ambitious parents. I feel very fortunate at the end of the day to be able to do what I do. I do hear about stories and we do work with a lot of students and people that I know that have a lot of anxiety around just rising up in their careers. And I don’t want to say tech as an industry, but generally speaking, there’s anxiety in lawyers in tech as well for women that want to transition their careers into engineering. It’s kind of a 2016 thing, they want to be happy with their jobs and they want to have it all and they look on Facebook and they think someone else is having a good life. I think generally our generation right now, people are less happy. When we look back, we’re like, “I should be happy because I have a place to live and I have a fair wage and I have friends.” But I think there’s generally a lot more discontent.
I’m noticing in this project the kind of trends of struggles that stand out for everyone, like imposter syndrome, that sort of thing. What are the biggest struggles that seem somewhat universal?
Imposter syndrome is a big one for our students. It’s really helpful to identify it for people. I forget about it because it’s kind of something I experienced 10 years ago. The reason why I started thinking I want to start a company was because I went to one meet-up and every guy would give me his business card and be say, “I’m the CEO of this company.” I’d take his business card, go home, put in the URL into the web browser and wonder “What is this one page website/company? Everyone is the CEO of their dream. Why don’t I have business cards that say Angie Chang is CEO of this company?” And run that and go get funding.
“Confidence comes with time, and being coachable is a big part of that.”
Yes, I can see imposter syndrome in many people, not just women in tech. Having to level to where other people are at is always intimidating if you don’t feel like you look or fit for various reasons, that you’re an imposter. So that is something. Successful people have imposter syndrome too. Everyone has imposter syndrome. Having these platforms like Women 2.0 and Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner events and blogs to talk about it and to commiserate. But hopefully, you don’t spend too much time commiserating and be able to achieve small successes at the end of the day is what will inspire other people to join you in the industry, be your awesome coworkers, and not leave tech—which is the other problem people keep talking about – women leaving the workforce.
Did you have support networks growing up that affected you in a way to where it made you want to build support networks for others?
No, not really. I do think that I was a Girl Scout and I had to face so much rejection trying to sell Girl Scout cookies in like a supermarket parking lot for hours. I think doing that and sports has made me more competitive and think more like a marathon than a sprint. Confidence comes with time, and being coachable is a big part of that. Also, I feel relatively lucky to not have a lot of mental health issues, which I realize many people do have in this day and age. So those are things that I feel fortunate not to have personally. There are many anxiety issues, depression, and other factors that are inhibiting people’s ability to continue working.
How has your experience been as a female entrepreneur, or just entrepreneur in general?
You have to have a thick skin because, sure, if you are working in any field dominated by men, you have a high likelihood of experiencing an amount of discrimination and/or sexual harassment, as recent studies/surveys have shown. I think you have to have an end goal in mind to continue to work. I’m with the very determined people to be like, “Yes, I’m not going to let this stop me, though,” and figure out ways around it and mobilize people and like-minded people to figure it out together. I find that talking to people is very helpful and doing it at scale, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do, is bring people together to help them figure out for themselves. I think that’s what Sheryl Sandberg means by launching Lean In and encouraging women to start their own circles. She means well; she wants people to get together and have support networks.
“I think you have to have an end goal in mind to continue to work.”
Over your career, have you had people within the industry that you looked up to for inspiration or people that were pivotal in your growth?
In 2006, there were very few women that blogged, but there were a small handful like Christine Herron, who’s a VC. There have been some women that had been visible, and they used to write blog posts every so often, but I can see who they were. Caterina Fake was on the cover of Newseek or something for Flickr, looking like she was having a ton of fun. I see those every now and then. The cover of Wired had Limor Fried posing in a “We can do it” kind of way—and she sells hardware and electronic maker items from her Adafruit company based in New York, she’s really great. Seeing stuff like that always stokes the flames of, “Yes, we can do it.” Sharing women’s stories of entrepreneurship and leadership have been validating.
So when I was younger and looking at the blog posts for guidance and inspiration, I realized I wanted to pass it forward and do the same – share my stories and find like-minded people. That’s why I spend a bit of time venturing to put out blog posts. If I learned something, I would blog it as a way to synthesize the situation in my head and be able to restate very simply what the points were. Because I have a really terrible memory, I take lots of notes on Evernote.
What do you think are your motivators? What drives your work?
I think, like many people, we just want to have more women in positions of power, leadership, in technology… Women as players in building tech, working in tech. As someone who works in tech, I would like to have more women at the table. You see gender parity walking down the street and then you’re like, “Why is it once I enter this room it’s all 20-year-old white and Asian guys?” So, to that effect I think many of us do want to see the workspaces change and also hopefully to have better projects and business results and more interesting day-to-days.
“You see gender parity walking down the street and then you’re like, ‘Why is it once I enter this room it’s all 20-year-old white and Asian guys?'”
What do you feel like—in terms of diversity—tech companies are doing okay at right now? And what feels like the obvious next step?
I think– it’s really hard to regulate across companies. I would love for there to be quotas and stuff but I can’t imagine them actually happening in the United States yet. I do think, as companies grow, they are able to hire HR and start being accountable to having certain metrics for hiring and retention of non-traditional employees. Slack and Pinterest are companies with plenty of capital to hire a lot of people working at this problem.
“I have been worried that there have not been enough women leaders emerging in the last few years. I wish more women would start growth companies and killer event series to rally smart people.”
How do you feel about the state of tech in 2016? What really excites you about the future, or frustrates you?
I have been worried that there have not been enough women leaders emerging in the last few years. I wish more women would start growth companies and killer event series to rally smart people. Grace Hopper Celebration is great and brings together thousands of female engineers, and there should be more events and organizations that do that.
“I work on convincing companies and engineering leadership and hiring managers to consider non-traditional schools as well as non-traditional people. Companies say they want diverse candidates, and we have them in spades. They’re all really smart.”
In a way, Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners is a lightweight way to work on changing the ratio – similar to my job which is at Hackbright Academy working with companies looking to hire engineering talent that isn’t Stanford or Berkeley or University of Waterloo. It’s hard work getting companies on board to recruit from a women’s coding school because the entire coding bootcamp movement has only been around for four years. I work on convincing companies and engineering leadership and hiring managers to consider non-traditional schools as well as non-traditional people. Companies say they want diverse candidates, and we have them in spades. They’re all really smart.
Yeah. Tell me more about these girls like, where are a lot of them coming from, what are their first impressions of Silicon Valley, how are they feeling?
The Hackbright engineering fellows love the work spaces. Companies have free food, oftentimes, and snack bars and unlimited drinks in the kitchen. What we do at Hackbright is work to expose our students to a range of companies – small, medium, and large companies of varying shininess. Because we find that a lot of our graduates are really happy at places like SurveyMonkey and New Relic that don’t have the same brand-name recognition as Facebook and Uber. Not many people will say “I want to work at a survey company” or “I want to work at a developer tools company” but those are actually some of the better places to work at, because they have engineering leadership. In the case of SurveyMonkey, Selina Tobaccowala’s the CTO. At New Relic, the SVP of Engineering is Darin Swanson. They’ve both been working with Hackbright since day one and recruiting from us steadily for the last four years, and have been cycling back to tell us what’s worked and what hasn’t so we can share that information with other people. Our students are educated through mentorship and field trips to our hiring partners. Our mentors are all working software engineers who actually run that program at Hackbright, where we enlist every quarter. For each student, they get three mentors who are working as engineers in the tech industry. Hackbright mentors are 60% men, 40% women. They donate their time – an hour a week – for the course of the program. It’s a really good way to bring people in and actually meet a woman engineer. There are a lot of guys out who have expressed that they do not enjoy the gender ratio in engineering and want to help. It’s their quiet way of coming to Hackbright, getting trained on how to work with a new engineer that’s a woman. The mentors learn to slow down and talk to the new female engineer, hear her anxieties, help her with her code. Basically, be her champion and cheerleader. After mentoring for a few months, we have Hackbright mentors bringing their colleagues and company to Career Day – Hackbright’s premiere recruiting event for companies looking to expand their engineering team with diverse engineering talent.
That’s amazing—just the idea of the amount of empathy and value as a manager that provides to a man who doesn’t necessarily have experience interacting with young female engineers.
A lot of our mentors come in, they say things like, “I have a daughter. I want to learn how to make the world better for her,” and also there are a lot of people that just want to help out. It’s been really great to hear their stories.
You know that XKCD comic where a guy is bad at math, and the thought is “he is bad at math.” But if a woman is bad at math, the thought is “women are bad at math.” I feel like the same happens for women in engineering. I feel like that sometimes people meet a coding school graduate and evaluate her. “Oh, she didn’t meet the bar. All women are not going to meet the bar.” That’s really unfortunate because it’s just that one woman who didn’t meet that bar that time. It’s not all women. But it seems that people judge all women as the same and let their biases get in the way of giving women a chance to succeed.
“A lot of our mentors come in, they say things like, ‘I have a daughter. I want to learn how to make the world better for her.'”
That’s so interesting. It’s just strange, strange logic.
Lots of people are talking about hiring in terms of diversity at the moment. Obviously, a super-hot topic. Slowly more people are starting to talk about retention as well. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that.
The reason why Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners started and why I feel so passionate about continuing it, I think it’s a really good networking event. Because I feel like one of the things that I saw when I was working was that day-to-day you don’t see that many women in engineering or tech. So to keep people from burning out, it’s good to have women-only events. It’s like group therapy, or a support group. It’s a way to keep women invigorated. Take for example a recent Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner – I saw a bunch of Hackbright graduates coming back, hugging their fellow Hackbright, and getting to know more women in tech across different companies and working in different roles. It’s really invigorating. I think it helps feed your soul so that you don’t burn out and decide to quit and leave the workforce.
“You know that XKCD comic where a guy is bad at math, and the thought is ‘he is bad at math.’ But if a woman is bad at math, the thought is ‘women are bad at math.’ I feel like the same happens for women in engineering. I feel like that sometimes people meet a coding school graduate and evaluate her. ‘Oh, she didn’t meet the bar. All women are not going to meet the bar.'”
What are things that you feel like tech companies could do to make life more hospitable for women?
Taking parental leave policies seriously from day one of a startup/company would probably be good. All parents should exercise their leave. This helps women take their leave, and opens the door for us to have work life balance as an expectation for all.
Provide manager’s training from the very beginning. I’m not sure what a good answer is because everyone always thinks like, “Do things earlier.”
I think it comes down to people, not companies. People’s mindsets have to change and they have to care and champion for diversity and parity early on. People have to want to be coaches, mentors and supporters of women’s careers in tech.
“So to keep people from burning out, it’s good to have women-only events. It’s like group therapy, or a support group. I think it helps feed your soul so that you don’t burn out and decide to quit and leave the workforce.”
You’ve been doing this for eight years. I’m sure you’ve seen many women – friends and acquaintances – transition over those eight years in tech. What have you seen with these women? Have you seen a lot drop out, have you seen a lot move up through the ranks? What are kind of the trends you’ve seen across women getting into their thirties?
I wish more women started a legacy of stuff. For example, I was at a table of women leaders for a tech dinner. The leaders of groups like Women Who Code, Girl Develop It, Black Girls Code. We’re all sitting around the table, and we do this every year. I realized after a few years that this is still the same table of people. Why are there not new faces around the table? I want competition. And by competition, I mean friendly competition, because it means that we have peers. I would love to refer to other women in tech events and be excited for their growth and results.
What do you see yourself doing in five or ten years?
I’m not sure. I want to see Hackbright Academy succeed as a women’s engineering school. I think we are in a good place to work on important issues for women in tech, being a women’s engineering school. I have friends who always say, you should be the CEO. Maybe one day, of something. I enjoy women in politics succeeding and leading as grandparents. This reassures me that I have plenty of time. I’ve already been a founder several times. Now I’m an executive. People have told me several times, you should be a CEO of something VC-funded, or go into politics. In good time.
My last question—What advice would you have to a young lady who is interested in getting into tech but doesn’t know how or doesn’t feel like it’s possible?
The hard thing for people starting out is that, you don’t know what you don’t know. So you don’t know where to start searching. Usually people find their way to Codecacademy and Coursera where they learn to code. They can dabble. There’s many helpful “learn to code” websites that Google, Facebook, et cetera, have put up for the purpose of educating women and people around the world, at their home in Montana, Iowa, Florida, Kazakhstan. They can learn to code online. Now, whether the online course or MOOC course is completed, side project(s) built and the new engineer is able to have the connections to get hired into an engineering job, I don’t know. That’s why many people move to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, and go to coding bootcamps like Hackbright Academy to gain the education and network to succeed.
Start Googling and learning what you don’t know. That will put you on a path, and you will soon find that in the world of engineering and building things, there are so many job titles involved. It’s not just software engineers. There are people that are launching imaging satellites, there’s hardware, there’s so many different things that people can learn and do if they went to a Hackathon for a weekend or just dabbled on a project and finished some Instructable about how to make your thirsty plant tweet at you or something. I hope people will just get started and learn how to learn what they don’t know so they can start learning what’s important. Also, I hope they blog and tweet and share their lessons learned along the way, to help someone else out there.