How To Stay Focused While Being A Visible, Active Member Of The Female Tech Community


There are always interesting engineering events on the weekends in Silicon Valley, such as hackathons.

By Julia Grace (Co-Founder & CTO, WeddingLovely)

As the CTO of a small startup, my days are almost always spent head down, focused on our business and building our technical infrastructure. I’m writing code, fixing bugs, building features, thinking about what’s next on our product roadmap and figuring out how we’ll get there.

The adage is that most startups fail because they lose focus. The problem is that it can be difficult to focus when you also have to ensure that potential investors, future employees, and the tech community know that you exist.

The question is: how do you build your company and gain visibility when there is never enough time to get everything done?

This is especially true for women in my kind of position because, on top of focusing on your own work, it is also important to show young women, those who have chosen to be a developer as their second career, and the tech community at large that there are strong, visible, female, technical leaders.

#1 – Choose the events that you attend wisely.

99% of the events I attend are technical in nature: they are about an open source technology I use or the feature a startup whose API or functionality we have built on. In my role as a CTO, I try to never attend an event purely for networking, or recruiting, or “because someone important might be there”. (I leave these things to my amazing CEO, Tracy Osborn.)

Since our software stack is Python/Django, I’ve gone to a Django Open Source Sprint to work on the Django framework. I also attended the Hackbright Girl Geek Dinner (where all the awesome ladies in that program learn Python!) I’ll be speaking at a PyLadies meetup in Palo Alto this week, and then at DjangoCon in early September.

Attending these kinds of events has allowed me to not only meet many potential future hires, but to talk with the people who have built many of the Django modules that we use as well. I’ve had to the chance to pick their brains on how to best implement certain features and received invaluable (free!) advice about the best packages to use that fit our implementation.

#2 – Give back in ways that have the most direct impact.

We are builders as engineers, and typically we are building because we see a problem that needs to be fixed. At WeddingLovely, Tracy and I knew the wedding industry was broken. I watched so many of my engaged friends slowly lose their minds as they tried to navigate the fragmented, antiquated, expensive industry. So we built something better.

In addition to resolving engineering problems, I’m also passionate about encouraging young women to study computer science and giving them career advice and mentorship after graduation. There is much talk about how to change the ratio and get more women in tech. I don’t have endless time to talk about the problem, but I make time to try to fix the problem.

At first, I was hesitant to join the California Polytechnic State University Computer Science department’s advisory board when asked because the meetings would require a real time commitment. But then I found out that the 45 person board had only 6 women and that the department chair was having a difficult time getting women to join, despite the fact that female enrollment in CS at Cal Poly is growing. So I stepped up and took the job, and am now actively building a mentorship network for the CS Cal Poly women.

#3 – Fun activities are sometimes productive.

There are always going to be interesting engineering events on the weekends in Silicon Valley, such as hackathons. These can be great fun, but you have to be careful what you commit your time to. I think it is important to maintain good balance in your life, so I’m very choosey of the hackathons and other weekend activities that I might attend.

When I heard about the LinkedIn DevelopHer Hackday held back in July, I knew it would be a unique event, so this was one that I decided to compete in. I got to hack on a side project with a close friend of mine and a mentee, and I met some talented, inspiring women.

One of those women, Julie Choi, was later hired by the Yahoo! Developer Network and when she was tasked to interview startup CTOs she gave me a call.

I didn’t think the hackathon would lead to more visibility for my startup. But it did, and now you can read that full interview on the YDN. I gave Julie a very honest and real description of what my day-to-day life is like at WeddingLovely, including the current technical challenges we face and how we are solving them.

Bottom Line: The more picky you are about events and activities, the more you’ll get out of the select few that you do attend. But regardless of what events or organizations you decide on, make sure you choose to be present and visible in the tech community.

This industry not only needs more technical female leaders but it is important for development organizations everywhere to know there are kick ass technical women doing great things!

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Julia Grace is Co-Founder and CTO of WeddingLovely, a 500 Startups-backed company that is transforming wedding planning into a stress-free, personalized experience. Previously she was an engineer at IBM Almaden Research in one of the world’s top user experience research groups, then joined a mid-stage startup as product manager. She holds both a BS and MS in computer science, is an active member of the Python community and writes code everyday. Follow her on Twitter at @jewelia.