Tech Superwomen & San Francisco: Part I
Two weeks ago, I journeyed down to San Francisco and took my first steps onto the windy streets of the Bay Area. I was there for two reasons: 1. To speak as a panelist at the Tech Superwomen Conference and 2. To see San Francisco, of course! This trip had been over five months in the making, ever since my friend and inspiring tech mentor, Cat Posey, reached out and asked me to speak at her event. I had never set foot in SF, but I went home reinvigorated and inspired by the missions of the women I met, as well as the vibe and pace of SF life.
May 3, 2018 - Day One
Day One, May 3rd, was the day of the panel. The conference started bright and early at 8:45 am, so I pulled my sleepy self out of bed. While I found myself a latte at Starbucks, I noticed how many people were out on the streets already, vigorously approaching their workday. It was very different from the normal pace of life I experience in Redmond, Washington. I called an Uber to take me to City View Metreon, where the conference was held. I had debated walking, but the windy city felt much colder than the advertised 65 degrees and I didn't want to catch the sniffles right before speaking in front of hundreds, ya know?
Upon arrival, I made my way over to the Speaker's Lounge, where I was quickly joined by my fellow panelists, Zoe and Jibby, right before we embarked on a day of learning.
Kamilah Taylor's opening keynote "Black Panther, Harry Potter, and the Swag of Tech Superwomen", discussed importance of role models and having mentors in tech that look like us and have been through similar experiences. Kamilah brought to light how impactful it is for black women to have those role models and how hopeful she is for a future where more black women at the forefront of technology and invention continue to inspire each other, just like Shuri of Black Panther inspired her.
Venture capitalists Ann Miura-Ko and David Hornik had a great conversation about investing in women entrepreneurs and the work that companies need to do to enable both men and women to have work-life balance. Their talk made me incredibly grateful for the work-life balance we have on my team at Microsoft, where I see that my coworkers, parents of both genders, have flexible schedules that allow them to care for their children. In addition, just seeing Ann on stage was incredibly inspiring to me personally, because it's not every day I get to see a powerful, whip-smart, elegant, humble, and hilariously funny East Asian woman on stage. On a side note, just like Ann, and one of the reasons I absolutely love her, I have the "worst parking juju" of all time (her phrase I borrowed and shall use forever) :)
From Raquel Romano, a Principal Software Engineer, I learned about how code review culture can be very problematic if there is no thought applied. Often times, when engineers review code, they want to be short and to-the-point with their comments. However, this often results in harsh, toxic comments that distance team members from each other and break down trust. Raquel led her team to become more aware of remarks that cut a little too close to the bone, and how those could be altered to be more encouraging rather than demoralizing. These are the types of things that help people feel more welcome at work. These are the types of changes that make people want to stay. If you want to learn about steps to improving your coding culture, check out Sandya Sankarram's article on Medium.
After lunch, Erin Teague, the Head of VR Product at Youtube, shared her journey in tech, emphasized the importance of empathy product creation, and inspired me to adopt new apps and view them with a critical eye. Pamela Rice, MVP at Capital One, spoke passionately on blockchain and emerging technologies.
Then it was time for the panel I was speaking on, titled "How Early Does the Pipeline Leak And What Can We Do About It? Insights From Recent Grads". From the panel, I learned a great deal about my fellow panelists' experiences in CS programs during their college years and the current challenges they personally were facing in their roles at work. For me, it was so inspiring to hear about how a tech conference I had run in college, WECode, had touched the life of my fellow panelist, Zoe Olson. Zoe credited WECode with inspiring her to stay in tech at a point when she thought it would be too difficult to continue, and eventually organizing her own tech conference back at her school in Portland, Oregon. The talk about our experiences made me reflect on my own experiences with diversity initiatives. I think of diversity more and more as a multi-faceted entity. Diversity is not only in reference to race or skin color, but inclusive of education, socioeconomic background, beliefs, cultural upbringing, and where you are in your life timeline.
The rest of the day went by in a blur, but every single talk was highly inspiring and reminded me of why I had entered tech in the first place: to build products that change people's lives. It also called attention to the problems we currently face in tech, and challenged me to start speaking up and addressing the elephant(s) in the room. I ended the day filled with new optimism for the future, and headed out to dinner at Sakana sushi with my friend Amanda (I mentioned her in my panel as part of the Harvard community that inspired me to pursue CS).
May 4, 2018 - Day Two
Day Two was filled with equally inspiring talks, but my favorite came from Jazmyn Latimer, a Lead Designer and Researcher at Code for America. Jazmyn shared the design process her team went through to create an application called Clear My Record. Clear My Record helps people with conviction or arrest history in California clear their conviction records and begin the rest of their lives. According to Jazmyn's talk, when they started building the app, as many 5 million Californians were available for record clearance, but only 1% had actually succeeded, because the process was so arduous. Clear My Record has enabled thousands of people to clear their records on their own. For me, it was eye-opening and incredibly cool to hear about how Jazmyn's team went through multiple iterations to improve the application to solve their users' problems.
It was also such a treat to hear from NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle and the former CTO of America, Megan Smith, about what inspired them when they were younger. They are both incredible women who have so much to teach us.
After the conference ended, Zoe, Jibby, and I ended up taking a short tour of the Capital One office where Jibby works, and then going to SFMOMA, the modern art museum that was right next to the conference venue. Since I had not visited any museums in a while, our short time at SFMOMA made me think anew about the role of art in my own life. My brain jumped when I entered the "Designed in California" exhibit, because so many of the displays were of new tech products that debuted less than three years ago! It was such a jolting thought to me that in 100 years, people will look back on the products we created as a piece of history.
And I spent Friday night in the best way: touring Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf with Amanda and eating a delicious dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants.
I'd like to thank my manager & supportive organization leaders at Microsoft for sponsoring the transportation for my trip.