Tell me a bit about your early years and where you come from.
I was born in Virginia, but I was raised outside of Philadelphia, in the suburbs—like really, really suburban. I was kind of shy as a kid. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to socialize, I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to do it. Or how everyone else was doing it. I went to a small private elementary school, there were about 35 kids in my whole grade, and everyone there was nice, like there wasn’t any bullying or anything, but it was just an incredibly homogeneous school.
I got this label of being the “smart kid.” But the reason people thought I was smart was because I got good grades. And also because I had started kindergarten early, ‘cause I started reading really young, so I was a year younger than everyone in my class. When you’re like 8 years old, that one year makes a big difference. And I didn’t think getting good grades was interesting at all, and reading was just like, something that happened. Like I literally found a book on the side of the road and I took it home and it was this book of animal poems and that’s how I learned to read. Getting good grades was just what was expected of me by my parents, you get straight A’s in school, like that’s what you do. I didn’t feel intellectually challenged in school at all. And so I kind of hated that label, I hated being “the smart kid,” it was like because I got good grades in school, that was all anybody knew me for. Because everybody gets a label, right. There was one girl who liked to draw, so she was the “artsy kid.” But if you were the “smart kid” you couldn’t also be the “artsy kid” because you can only have one label at a time. And I hated being reduced to something so one-dimensional just because I’d done what was expected of me.
I found a lot of the people and the kind of stimulation I was looking for online. We got AOL when I was 8, and I would play a lot of RPGs through chat rooms and mailing lists on there. I loved MUDs, which are these text-based RPGs, no visuals, everything is a written description. They’re still my favorite kind of game. Especially the smaller ones, where the people who made the game were just other characters you hang out with in the game, and there was such a strong sense of community that was built by the players themselves, not handed to you by some big game company or whatever, and the makers were always building new areas for you to explore and doing silly things, because it was just text, right, so it was easy to make more stuff. But those games became my world, like my whole social world.
“We got AOL when I was 8, and I would play a lot of RPGs through chat rooms and mailing lists on there. I loved MUDs, which are these text-based RPGs, no visuals, everything is a written description. Those games became my world, like my whole social world.”
I’m really old school about games, I like where people just sort of agree on a set of rules and then the rest is left to your imagination. I love how you can turn those worlds into anything you want. I think at some point in real life, like way into my adult life, I realized “fuck it,” like you can do that in real life too. Everything is malleable. It’s this really beautiful thing, like games are actually just reality and vice versa.
I kind of stopped playing games in high school but then I ended up spending a lot of time on random online forums and making friends on there. It was the same sort of thing where you had to figure out all these social norms and learn how to make friends and politic a bit. And that felt more natural to me, reading and typing and making friends that way, than doing it in real life, where in real life people kind of look at you and tell you who you are based on something that’s sort of out of your control. Like I didn’t know my dad had an accent until I was in junior high. I didn’t know I didn’t look white until somebody told me. I didn’t know I was like, a woman, until I started getting that kind of attention.
I think I just got along better with people online because nobody knew who anyone was in real life and it didn’t really matter. Like I was in this guild for awhile and they finally figured out I was 9 years old and then it got awkward. It was a big deal if you even knew someone’s first name in real life instead of their character name or username. I mean this was all pre-Facebook or whatever. And I remember people would have, like, one photo they would upload to the game website and be like “This is me! This is what I look like!” So yeah it was just very detached from the real world and I liked that I could just be me and not be this flat “smart kid” character, where like, any time you had an original thought people were like “oh, it’s ‘cause she’s smart!” which seemed incredibly reductive and boring and not interesting to me in real life.
“I think I just got along better with people online because nobody knew who anyone was in real life and it didn’t really matter. Like I was in this guild for awhile and they finally figured out I was 9 years old and then it got awkward.”
Anyway. So then I went to a Quaker high school, which was super impactful in the way I was brought up. It was much more challenging and interesting. It just kind of like—it just gave me really good framework on the rest of life. Quakers are sort of like the hippy branch of Christians that are all about equality, and everything was about sitting in a circle and talking out your feelings. They believe everyone has this same sort of “that of God” inside them, everyone has something worth sharing, and that’s what brings us together. So it was just really influential for me.
Let’s see, what else? My dad is Persian, but he grew up in Germany, and my mom is Chinese-Indonesian, but she grew up in Indonesia. I was in suburban Pennsylvania so there was a lot of culture mixing and everything. My mom lived in Indonesia when I was younger and my dad was in Pennsylvania. I spent a lot of time in Indonesia and a lot of time in Pennsylvania. I’ve always just kind of felt in between everything. Everything is kind of the same, it’s all a matter of perspective and I think that’s carried with me throughout the rest of my life.
I went to college at Tufts in Boston, came out of college, wanted to move to San Francisco because it was warm and different. I had been on the East Coast—North East—my whole life. San Francisco was like a whole other world for me. Being in a super suburban environment was—I just kind of felt like I never really belonged. It was not a great place for creativity to thrive. I even felt like being in Boston or D.C. or wherever, there was just such an East Coast way of doing things, and on the West Coast it was like, “Be free! Be yourself, whatever.” I was really overwhelmed when I first moved to San Francisco because I was like ,”Oh my god! There are other people my age that are doing things that are crazier than me, and like, how did I miss out on this? My life is over. I’m 21.” Not true, of course—and I sort of learned to get into the flow and the balance of things. Everyone here is so, so introspective and there is always something you can fix and change about yourself. And that appeals to such a big part of my brain and is very exciting. But then, I think especially in recent years it’s kind of been around managing, like, alright, there’s a point where you can be happy and where you can decide what you do and you don’t want to do. So, yeah.
“I was really overwhelmed when I first moved to San Francisco because I was like ,’Oh my god! There are other people my age that are doing things that are crazier than me, and like, how did I miss out on this? My life is over. I’m 21.'”
When did you first get interested in tech as a career?
Kind of by accident. So I was—I thought I was going to go into environmental policy after Tufts. And then I ended up doing stuff around impact investing and working with foundations and university endowments to invest their money into more socially conscious things. That ended up giving me a little bit of a detour. I ended up going to San Francisco and working with a strategy consulting firm that specialized in nonprofits. And so I got placed with an education nonprofit. And that education nonprofit happened to also be a website—it was called GreatSchools. And so they provide free K to 12 data for parents and teachers and students and whatever to help them choose a school. I just thought that was really cool because they were just offering this information for free. They were just doing it because they thought it made sense. That was my first introduction to technology, through the nonprofit site. I saw technology as kind of a way to influence ideas more quickly than I was able to in nonprofit roles. I still felt like I had the same sort of goals and objectives as I did in nonprofit world. There are a lot of things that are so slow-moving when it comes to nonprofits, and with tech it’s just like, “You have an idea? You can get implemented. You can do it.” So that really appealed to me.
“Sometimes I feel like playing around in venture, and sometimes I feel like playing around in startups or whatever. But I want to be wherever the best place is for ideas to happen.”
Walk me through your next steps. You’ve done entrepreneurship. You ended up in VC. You’re working in open source world. Walk me through all of that.
I don’t really know how I ended up doing all sort of different things [chuckles]. I think after being at the education nonprofit, I left to start a company with my roommate at the time, because that’s what you do. It was sort of like me wanting to try my hand at something fun. I don’t think there is really anything deeper to it. I was learning how to code at the time and teaching myself how to code. It was fun and we kind of made something. I was super inexperienced. I remember when we made the website. I was like, “I think I can put a website together, maybe,” and my co-founder was like, “Sure. Whatever.” So it was just kind of like a fun project for us, that started growing into a business. And that was really exciting.
We went through the 500 Startups accelerator. We went into raising money, and kind of seeing how well-supported startups and venture were—and how well the ecosystem works. Basically, if you have an idea, there’s going to be capital out there to support you. No one is saying that startups don’t get funded enough. I think, fundamentally, it was just really creatively enabling to realize that you can do that. I kind of wanted to be able to provide that to other people too, right?
“I love the idea of being able to enable other people to be creative. I love the, just the idea of helping people be the most ‘them’ that they are, and just pulling out whatever is unique and special about people and really encouraging it. And so funding can be a really great mechanism for that because you’re enabling somebody to do something.”
So being on the venture side afterwards—we ended up selling our company to a food brand—because we realized cooking was not our lifelong passion. But it was fun.
So I ended up joining this venture capital firm. It was a lot of fun. I just started feeling really sucked into [chuckles] the machine of it all. And that’s not a knock against funders, it’s not even a knock against venture capital.
I think I’ve moved around a lot of different sectors because I actually didn’t really grow up thinking of myself as a creative person, but now people keep telling me I am, so maybe I am. In just the sense of I kind of want to do whatever I feel like doing. And so sometimes I feel like playing around in venture, and sometimes I feel like playing around in startups or whatever. But I want to be wherever the best place is for ideas to happen. And I felt like, with venture—and I think that’s why I’ve been drawn to the funding side, even with impact investing stuff before. I love the idea of being able to enable other people to be creative. I love the, just the idea of helping people be the most “them” that they are, and just pulling out whatever is unique and special about people and really encouraging it. And so funding can be a really great mechanism for that because you’re enabling somebody to do something. But, I think they’re—it sounds like that on paper with venture, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
And right now, working in open source and basically I’m trying to help people understand a lot of the risks and problems in supporting open source infrastructure right now. And the best part about it right now is being able to work with really, really creative people all the time. I love hearing people’s crazy stories. I love hearing how they’ve had to grapple with other people. I think the coolest thing about open source right now is that it is just—it all comes down to community and working with people and there’s nothing you can really automate about it, it would just never work. So you have to learn how to talk to people, you have to learn how to get along with lots of people and make it all come together somehow. So I feel really happy just being around creativity and feeling enabled and validated and all that.
“I think the coolest thing about open source right now is that it is just—it all comes down to community and working with people and there’s nothing you can really automate about it, it would just never work. So you have to learn how to talk to people, you have to learn how to get along with lots of people and make it all come together somehow.”
Let’s back up. Tell me more about what it was like being a lady entrepreneur. Being part of that world, fundraising, eventually selling. What was that experience like?
I wasn’t doing most of the fundraising so that made that part easier. [laughter] It was actually kind of funny. I was the person building the products and people would always go, “Oh, you’re a female coder!” or whatever, which was sort of funny, but I guess worked to our advantage because it was a positive expectation for people. The thing that bothered me about being a founder was that if I told people that we had a food company, they would always assume my co-founder was female and they would just be like, “Oh, women, food. Makes perfect sense. Women do fashion companies and food companies and stuff,” and I never thought of myself as that—it was just something that we wanted to do at the time and it was just like, “You’re my roommate,” you know.
“I was the person building the products and people would always go, ‘Oh, you’re a female coder!’ or whatever, which was sort of funny, but I guess worked to our advantage because it was a positive expectation for people. The thing that bothered me about being a founder was that if I told people that we had a food company, they would always assume my co-founder was female and they would just be like, ‘Oh, women, food. Makes perfect sense. Women do fashion companies and food companies and stuff.“‘
I felt like I was being forced into some sort of weird stereotype that I didn’t really identify with. Yeah, actually, I really love cooking, personally. I still do, but it doesn’t make me womanly, that I like to cook. There are plenty of guys who like to cook. It was just this weird pushback against my gender. The same thing happened in venture, where everyone calls you a woman VC. I was like, I don’t want to be a woman VC. I just want to be an investor, like anybody else.
It definitely has its advantages. I have no way of proving this, but I felt like it was easier for people to open up to women in a one-on-one conversation. At least, I found that I would learn things very quickly, like really personal stories, about founders that I talked to. That was cool. Then on the other hand, there would be boundary crossing with other investors in other firms, or with founders I talked to, where it suddenly gets a little too close, and it’s like, “I don’t know how to manage this.” I feel like there’s always this adjective being attached to everything I’m doing, that’s like, “You’re the female.” Like, “So cool. You’re a woman.” I’m like, “Yep, I’m a woman. I don’t really know what else you want me to say.” I only want to do things that feel really natural to me, so this stuff feels really natural, and so that’s why I do it. It feels awkward when somebody retroactively puts this adjective on me that I don’t even feel like I identify that strongly with.
“I don’t want to be a woman VC. I just want to be an investor, like anybody else.”
You brought up that you downplay your gender in the workplace, which I could totally relate to when I worked in tech. I am so much more feminine—I’m still not super-feminine, but I’m so much more feminine now as a photographer who works for myself than when I was in tech.
It’s odd because sometimes I don’t know whether I feel like I don’t identify that strongly with the woman label because identifying with it would downplay my own power and influence, or whether because I truly don’t identify with it. So it’s like a really odd thing to manage. I make a point to wear basically the same thing all the time.
“It’s odd because sometimes I don’t know whether I feel like I don’t identify that strongly with the woman label because identifying with it would downplay my own power and influence, or whether because I truly don’t identify with it.”
All black? Yeah me too. [laughter]
Just dress down, like don’t wear anything that’s too form-fitting, err on the side of pants and sneakers and stuff. People joke around with me about it. I’m like, “Honestly it makes a difference.” It makes me feel like when I talk to people they’re at least not looking at my body or something. It’s sort of weird that we have to do it. But I hate being looked at. I think that’s why I prefer writing to speaking, honestly. Or just being behind a screen. Because then I feel like people are paying attention to my ideas instead of my face or what I’m wearing or whatever.
“I hate being looked at. I think that’s why I prefer writing to speaking, honestly. Or just being behind a screen. Because then I feel like people are paying attention to my ideas instead of my face or what I’m wearing or whatever.”
I totally get it. Have you experienced in the same way that I did, people making assumptions about why you were even around, in a networking sense, at events or things like that?
I haven’t had anyone say that to my face, thank goodness. But definitely a lot of the—I’m standing in the circle with a bunch of people, and all the guys get asked what they do, and the woman is just assumed to be, “Oh, she’s probably someone’s girlfriend.” Even if the conversation is highly relevant to what I’m doing, I jump in and make comments about the ideas like anyone else would. And they kind of just look at you like, “Oh, that’s cute,” and keep talking. The most validating time, I have to say, to have this happen was being in VC. Because when you say the word VC, the mic drops and everybody’s like, “Oh my God, you have money.” Which I thought was just funny because people’s tones would just change completely when they realize that. And I’m like, “Yep. You probably shouldn’t do that.”
“I’m standing in the circle with a bunch of people, and all the guys get asked what they do, and the woman is just assumed to be, ‘Oh, she’s probably someone’s girlfriend.’ Even if the conversation is highly relevant to what I’m doing, I jump in and make comments about the ideas like anyone else would. And they kind of just look at you like, ‘Oh, that’s cute,’ and keep talking. The most validating time to have this happen was being in VC. Because when you say the word VC, the mic drops and everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, you have money.’ Which I thought was just funny because people’s tones would just change completely when they realize that. And I’m like, ‘Yep. You probably shouldn’t do that.'”
What was the impetus for turning your attention to open source and giving back to the industry in a way?
There were a lot of things. My story changes a little bit every time, because it honestly was a lot of different reasons. I think that, honestly, I was feeling a little bit burned out by venture. It was truly the most fun and the most hard job I’ve had so far, but after I left I really thought about, “Do I even want to be in tech any more? Like, I should just go.” Like, “Fuck this place.” And really thought about moving out of San Francisco. Really thought about whether I just want to do something completely different. And even experimented and talked to people about it and really gave it some serious exploration, and in the end I realized, “I actually love technology.” Like, there’s a reason why I came into this sector. I really, really, really, really love it. I could not picture myself anywhere else. And that comes with all these other strings attached, but I love being here. And so I kind of had to find, “What is it that I still love about it that can make me happy?” And I realized that chasing after the next unicorn or trying to get into the next hot deal is just not fulfilling for me. And I think it required a lot of mental adjustment, too, because you get told—when you’re in the startup-venture binary—being in venture is like you hold the purse strings; you have all this cachet and people invite you to things and people think you’re important and whatever, and so you get this false sense of status which is kind of ridiculous. And it felt weird to be like, “Why don’t I want this”, or like “Why doesn’t this make me happy?” It took awhile to just let that go and say this is not where I want to be and if I do this I’m going to be really unhappy and I want to be around things that make me happy and so it just started with like, “What can I do that makes me happy?'” and like “Where do I want to be?” and that’s how I ended up here because once I started talking to people in the open source world, I just felt really happy. I felt really at home. I felt like people understood me and my mindset and I wasn’t feeling like I had to defend this core sense of identity all the time so, yeah, that’s why I’m here.
“There’s a reason why I came into this sector. I really, really, really, really love it. I could not picture myself anywhere else. And that comes with all these other strings attached, but I love being here. And so I kind of had to find, ‘What is it that I still love about it that can make me happy?’ And I realized that chasing after the next unicorn or trying to get into the next hot deal is just not fulfilling for me.”
What fatigued you on the industry during your time either as an entrepreneur or a VC?
Many trends over time, and there was plenty of good stuff too. I still feel like I have great friends in the industry. I just felt fundamentally not like me, which was like this gut feeling. I felt like there were constantly people around me telling me I had to be a certain way that I wasn’t and I guess I actually didn’t really realize how feminine my outlook is, if you can call it feminine.
In VC for example, people talk about, “Are there enough women in venture”, and they talk about discrimination. I actually don’t think the discrimination is that obvious. It’s not really about, did someone make a sexist remark at you or something, but it’s more of, I feel like my point of view was just not compatible with venture. Where venture is highly, highly competitive, and it’s about bravado, and I don’t know, just posturing, being something you’re not, whatever. And this is true with founders too, I think. I’m super, super cooperative, I like finding ways to bring everyone together, and let’s work towards a solution. I’m really inspired by multiple sectors, and how do nonprofits and for- profits work together. Like venture and foundations. And so I love just thinking across a lot of different things, and I felt like that was just not a point of view that was appreciated. Even with startups, it’s like, “execute execute,” “hustle hustle.” And then just, aaahh, I just want to—it was so binary for me to think that way, and I think very fluidly. And there’s trade-offs for both, but it’s just I think I felt burnt out over time, because I felt I was being forced to be this binary supercharged hustler. It’s like, “That is not who I am, and is that okay world, if I’m not?”
Did you have early support networks when you came here, and where do you find those now?
Yeah, that’s a good question. Nobody has asked me that.
I did not really know anybody when I moved here. I had one friend from Tufts who I didn’t know super well but we’re now really close friends. I had a couple people that I knew through this fellowship that I was doing when I moved out here, and cobbled together a friend network from that. Those people ended up becoming my closest friends, so I felt supported in that way. And my partner, who’s my biggest source of support and positive influence in my life, he came out of that circle of friends, too.
In terms of support network for tech, it happened slowly and over time. I’m trying to think back. There were a couple people that were really, really useful and supportive early on. Literally, a couple. Anything I knew that I wanted to do, probably came from popping into a network of sorts. When I learned how to code, there weren’t a whole lot of bootcamps or courses. It was still a fairly opaque process. I joined the Women Who Code group in the meetup here, and it just gave me such a safe space to do something that was so intimidating. I’m so thankful for Women Who Code. Just having people around you who are willing to be helpful, and sharing resources, that was just very helpful, to tap into something where by tapping into one thing, you’re connected to a whole bunch more stuff. Then with being a founder, 500 Startups helped tap into a certain network as well. I think that’s probably the benefit of accelerators for a lot of people. It’s like, “Oh, now you’re part of this network and part of this family,” or whatever. Then with doing VC, I think being at a fund that already had a great reputation was so, so helpful. People would just be like, “Oh, I know your partner,” or, “I know your investments.” And like, “You guys are a great fund,” and whatever. That’s like the ultimate tapping into a network. VCs are everywhere. That probably expanded my network the most.
I’ve never been great at asking people for individual support, like one-on-one support. People will make fun of me for it. I kind of suck at finding mentors and whatever. But I just try to be nice and make friends. Trying to give as much as I can is—I know it sounds like everybody says it, but—when you do that a little bit, it ends up coming back and helping you. I just try to take a really—and there have been some friends of mine who have really influenced my thinking on that, of just being like, “Give, give, give! Be super, super, super fucking nice,” and like, “Never give anybody a reason to hate you.” That works really well. I guess I never really thought of myself as a super social person or like a networky kind of person. I think of myself as actually sort of antisocial, but then all my friends are always like, “You are the most calendered antisocial person I know.” So, I don’t know. It sort of happens, I guess. I try to be nice and friendly, and stuff just sort of comes my way that way. I wish I were better at asking for help though.
“I’ve never been great at asking people for individual support, like one-on-one support. People will make fun of me for it. I kind of suck at finding mentors and whatever. But I just try to be nice and make friends. Trying to give as much as I can is—I know it sounds like everybody says it, but—when you do that a little bit, it ends up coming back and helping you.”
No, I’m exactly the same. You can probably relate. I had no money or power in tech, so my currency was social.
I would intro people to people, or I do favors for people, or whatever. I would do anything for people because it was free, and that’s like literally how I built my value in tech.
It’s actually a funny mindset. I used to, like, literally—“I will help you with whatever, just let me help you.” Now I have to think about, “All right, what do I actually need to say no to, to manage my time better”, and it’s been a funny mindset to transition out of, or like, scale out of. Because I really want to be helpful to everyone. But, oh yeah, I can’t just go and do 20 different projects. I need to do the one that I want to do. But I think it’s like—it has felt that easy to just sort of be helpful wherever I can. But to look back at it, I feel like, “I don’t know how all that worked out.”
Yeah, if you haven’t read Essentialism yet, it’s probably a good time in your life to read it.
It talks about the paradox of success and how we became successful because we had this vision, and we work super, super hard and we’re opportunistic. So you get to this level of success and then you suddenly have a million inbound options and opportunities to choose from. You have people who want to work with you, people who have cool projects for you, job offers, people who want to get coffee with you. An you’re an opportunistic person, and you want to be helpful so you want to do all those things, but then you end up stuck at this plateau because you’re busy, your energy’s now distributed towards addressing all of these options and opportunities and then you forget what you’re even going for in the first place. It’s a great book, would recommend.
That actually describes my life right now. I need to read this.
I always have a copy at my house, so when you come and take your picture I’m probably just going to send it away with you.
What are your biggest motivators? What drives you?
What drives me? I really believe strongly on the power of creativity in individuals and to unlock that underlying ability. I know that’s super cheesy but it’s just so true. When I think about everything even in my personal life, like my personal interests, friendships, relationships, everything—it’s all about enabling some personal weirdness about myself and other people. If people feel like they can’t be really them, how can we make it so that people feel comfortable? I love one-on-one conversations with people because it’s just a matter of kinda drawing all their stories and, how do you do that to hopefully get them to open up? It makes me happier than anything else in the world. I’m very story driven. I just love hearing things that are different about other people, getting other people’s perspectives. Its why I love doing what I’m doing right now, because it’s tons of weird stories and you have to talk to people and earn their trust and then they might open up to you. Everything I do, I want it to be around that.
That’s awesome. It’s like what I tweeted like a week ago or something. “There are extroverts and introverts, but there’s need to be a word for people who get their energy exclusively from one-on-ones.”
I am that person [chuckle].
That’s a word that’s really hard to scale a time to, because I love meeting people even if it’s somebody that in the end there’s no real way for us to work together or whatever. I just love sitting there and listening to them. Like, “That’s awesome, tell me more” [chuckle]
How do your friends and family at home feel about the work that you’ve done?
My mom has been actually super awesome and supportive. Both my parents have been really supportive. I wouldn’t have thought they were going to be when I first graduated and everything. My dad is always super, super encouraging—motivating me to “do what you need to do.” He’s always supported all my weird travel adventures and everything.
I remember when I first told them I wanted to start a company with my roommate. They didn’t know what was going to happen, but they were so, so, so supportive. Then I went to VC and they were really supportive. They’ll send me articles, right, because they’re my parents. The articles will change depending on whatever I’m doing and they’re researching all the time, which is so nice of them. My mom—when I told her I wanted to do open source stuff she’s like, “I don’t know what this is, but I’m reading about it all the time.” I was like, “Oh my God. You’re reading about open source? What? Do you even—even my friends here don’t know what it is.” It’s been really, really awesome to have that level of support from my parents. And with friends—I think the friends I keep over time are friends who understand my kookiness a little bit. Even within tech and stuff. So they’ve all been really great and supportive. I think that’s one of the most important things is: just having people around you who believe in you.
Yeah, for sure. How do you feel about the state of tech in 2016? What excites you, even particularly in open source? What frustrates you?
I’m so curious what is going to happen in the future [chuckles]. Everyone is obviously talking about—I don’t want to say the word, but—bubbles. But it’s kind of funny, so the short time that I was in venture, was apparently, now looking at the charts, one of the peak times in spending, so no wonder I thought it was fucking nuts, and last quarter, spending dropped like crazy. So, I can’t tell from the outside necessarily what is going on, but my friends I’ve talked to have said yeah, we’re investing way less, we’re examining things a lot more carefully, and so it’s kind of like, man, I wonder what it’s like to be in venture now. So, yeah, but I think, my theory is, it’s very hard to think long term about an industry that has a short history. My theory is the world has periods of high high growth and periods of figuring out how to sustain that growth, like grappling with whatever we’ve done. And so maybe right now we’ve passed through the hyper hyper growth periods and now we’re thinking about how to sustain things, and so, I mean, there’s plenty of politics around all this stuff, but there’s more talk about nonprofits and funding long term research and partnerships and initiatives that are reaching across certain sectors, and we’re talking about basic income and it’s not a joke anymore. That’s so cool.
“It’s very hard to think long term about an industry that has a short history.”
I’m really excited about maybe potentially we’re entering this time where people are thinking a little bit more around sustainability and ensuring these long-term things are around, that we can help fund creativity. I feel like creativity itself has been so validated as the power of the individual to make significant contributions which is why stuff like basic income doesn’t seem crazy. I mean it should be crazy. I think it’s just so funny that people are into basic income because other things sound like socialism or communism to them but then it’s like, “Oh, no, basic income is great,” and it’s partially because we believe in people. I think it’s a really cool time right now because that’s what I believe and I really hope that more people invest in it and care about it.
The one thing that bothers me right now or feels weird is just all politics and conversations getting more polarized than it was before, and I’ve definitely noticed this about diversity conversations in tech, where I can’t even take part in them. It’s just really frustrating because I think that there’s two philosophies around diversity. One is around hyper-polarization and separation into different shells, like, “I’m black and you’re not,” or, “I’m a woman and you’re not. You can’t understand me. You can’t possibly understand me.” That’s one school of thought and the other school of thought is more around things like unconscious bias where it’s like, “We’re all sexist. We’re all racist.” We’re all scared and vulnerable and know what it feels like to be rejected on whatever level, and so use that as a uniting, empathic connection. Obviously, I resonate more strongly with that camp, and I feel like it’s missing from the conversation around diversity, because diversity can be all about highlighting what makes you different from others, or it could be all about highlighting what’s common between us. I really hope that is part of the conversation. I’m not very optimistic that it is and that makes me kind of sad.
“I think that there’s two philosophies around diversity. One is around hyper-polarization and separation into different shells, like, ‘I’m black and you’re not,’ or, ‘I’m a woman and you’re not. You can’t understand me. You can’t possibly understand me.’ That’s one school of thought and the other school of thought is more around things like unconscious bias where it’s like, ‘We’re all sexist. We’re all racist.” We’re all scared and vulnerable and know what it feels like to be rejected on whatever level, and so use that as a uniting, empathic connection. Obviously, I resonate more strongly with that camp, and I feel like it’s missing from the conversation around diversity, because diversity can be all about highlighting what makes you different from others, or it could be all about highlighting what’s common between us. I really hope that is part of the conversation. I’m not very optimistic that it is and that makes me kind of sad.”
How do you think your background and life experiences impact the way that you approach your work and what you want in work?
Hyper-collaboration [chuckles]. I just believe that positive communication is the key to everything. Or people just being able to trust each other and be vulnerable with each other is the key to everything. I think that maybe is why building support networks and stuff doesn’t feel unusual to me, because it is just a natural part of that—of building trust with somebody else. You honor them and their willingness to trust you, and you expect likewise. I think that’s just a really powerful currency and a way of just communicating with people and making people happy. It’s the most, most important thing of anything I do with work. Making sure that I have other people’s trust and confidence and that I don’t ever violate that. That people feel welcome and included and no one ever feels shitty because I think those emotions are so universal. Everything we do can kind of be boiled down to, “Do I feel shitty and rejected for who I am, or not?” I’ve felt that in so many different ways growing up and I never want to inflict that on anybody else.
“Everything we do can kind of be boiled down to, ‘Do I feel shitty and rejected for who I am, or not?’ I’ve felt that in so many different ways growing up and I never want to inflict that on anybody else.”
Sounds like a very good quality for a founder or VC to have.
Yes, or a person.
Where do you see yourself in five to ten years? Do you think you’ll still be here?
Maybe. It’s hard to plan that far ahead. I’d like to be a little more flexible, and travel. But this still feels like my home for sure. I don’t know. I really suck at thinking far ahead for anything. [chuckles] I kind of just think ahead to like the next year. As long as my bills get paid, and I’m having fun every day, then I know I’m in a good place.
What about this year? What are you like working on either yourself or for work?
Right now it’s kind of a funny—I never really know how to explain what I’m doing right now, because I’m basically being supported by a foundation to bring more transparency to an issue that’s really important to technology. So I see sort of like the first half of this year just kind of being around getting people together, getting them talking, writing about open source so that it’s accessible. That helps bring some of those stories out of just within their communities and more to other people who might not have heard them. So that’s like a really important part of it. The reaction has been so much stronger than I expected. That’s a really positive thing. I feel like now it’s kind of time to also start thinking towards how can I help support that stuff long-term. So thinking through like what would an organization look like that can help support and sustain, or just be a resource to people in those communities who need support or need help and there’s nowhere really like that right now. I think that’s the fun part that happens next as people get excited and engaged. The question is, “What do we actually do about it?”
The last question: What advice would you have for people from similar backgrounds who are hoping to get into tech?
I’d say, “People are just your best resource.” I think that’s especially true in tech. And it’s especially true in Silicon Valley tech more than anywhere else.
Where people are just so willing to help in this industry maybe more than anywhere else. I haven’t worked much in other industries but it just seems like it here. So if you don’t know how to do something or you want to learn how to do something, just cold email people and say hey. Or go attend an event and introduce yourself to people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and then also give as freely as you receive. Honestly like 90% of the work is just be nice and help people.
“So if you don’t know how to do something or you want to learn how to do something, just cold email people and say hey. Or go attend an event and introduce yourself to people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and then also give as freely as you receive. Honestly like 90% of the work is just be nice and help people.”