• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Lessons of the She ++ Conference

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A treasure trove of tips, predictions and insight from the conference’s keynote speaker, Marc Andreessen, in conversation with Ruchi Sanghvi, co-founder of Cove and first female engineer at Facebook.

by Salem Kimble (Manager, Online Strategies, BetterWorld Telecom)

Women 2.0 is leading the charge in the world of technology for connecting women with opportunity and each other. But the timing is ripe for this conversation everywhere; including at the Stanford Computer Science department, where two female undergrads, Ellora Israni and Ayna Agarwal looked around and thought – where are all the women in engineering and computer science majors? How do we connect female high school students and undergraduates in college with the inspiration and encouragement to go for a career in this field?

Held at Stanford’s campus Saturday, April 20th, the She++ conference focused not just on strategies and encouragement from inspiring women mentors, but also on the bigger story, the urgent need within industry for more trained and qualified candidates in general. (Want to read the play by play? Check out a full conference transcript from learning to fish.)

Mike Schroeper, CTO of Facebook’s spoke about how women engineers both enhance the quality of the products they help to create and balance and strengthen the dev teams they join. Jocelyn Goldfein, director of engineering at Facebook highlighted that even if you put women’s unique contributions aside, without more women in computer science, there simply won’t be enough qualified candidates coming out of the U.S. educational system to support the companies of the future.

Marc Andreessen, the keynote speaker for the day, shared a treasure trove of tips, predictions and insight. Here are a few of the gems from his conversation with Ruchi Sanghvi, co-founder of Cove and first female engineer at Facebook.

  • On the biggest recent innovation: The Facebook Social Graph and Google Glass are two underestimated innovations that will change the world.
  • On Google Glass: It is wide open for startups across verticals, with a Google Glass API, Explorer version available for qualified entrepreneurs and Glass Ventures funding opportunities.
  • On innovation adoption: Innovations are usually mocked when first created and their ultimate use unclear – phones were originally designed for phone operators to replace morse code, phonographs for listening to famous sermons, cars were dysfunctional, expensive hobbies requiring a mechanic to ride alongside. All these inventions were underestimated and ridiculed when first released.
  • On the future: Software has the potential to eat whole industries, we’re just scratching the surface – “Software eats: education, retail, finance, etc.”
  • On startups: Most startups are miserable experiences – the typical life of a startup entrepreneur is hearing “no” 40 times in a day. Successful entrepreneurs have ideas that are so personally compelling, if they don’t do them they will hate themselves for the rest of their lives.
  • On technical vs non-technical founders: The main output that successful startups are producing is innovation. Companies of the future have to be innovation factories. Just producing a product will not cut it. Innovators are what is needed, so product visionaries, designer-led companies CAN definitely succeed. But – recruiting a technical person will not solve the innovation need, the product founder needs to be the leader.
  • On Startup Weekends: They aren’t nearly long enough to start anything meaningful, the 10k hours of expertise are what fuel real innovations in respective industries.
  • Most annoying thing startups do: Underestimate the importance of having realistic and tangible distribution and marketing strategies and talent on their team – No, “it will go viral” and “word of mouth” is not a marketing plan. Not having Google ads testing done ahead of time undermines your startup. The industry needs a Z Combinator to teach entrepreneurs how to market their product so people will buy it.
  • Free word association: The year 2020 – “More people with smartphones than running water.”
  • The secret of Silicon Valley’s success: great research universities (notably Stanford and UC Berkeley) with a culture that encourages business and information flow; accountants, lawyers, landlords etc. who understand and support entrepreneurs (ever paid your rent with company stock?), decades-strong business network of industry leaders

Other highlights of the conference included mentorship lunches (to connect young women/students with successful women engineers), a dozen or so breakout workshops on topics like “Mastering the Technical Interview” and “Learn a Foreign Language” coding instruction.

There was also a screening of the She++ documentary that uses a mix of hard data and personal stories to tell the story of women (and the lack of women) in tech jobs and degree programs. At 12 minutes, it is one of those rare short films that tells the story so well, it feels like a two-minute video. If you haven’t seen it,check out the trailer or go catch a screening!

Altogether, She++ was a concentrated dose of encouragement, experts’ stories, and inspiration from women excelling as computer science majors, developers, engineers and founders. The future of tech is being built at events like She++.

About the guest blogger: Salem Kimble is manager of online strategies for BetterWorld Telecom, a nationwide, sustainable telecom carrier serving nonprofits and mission-driven businesses. She is a founding member and past president of Hubmasters, a Toastmasters speaking club. Previously, she served as operations manager for Bay Area Green Tours, providing tours of local sustainable businesses. Salem has self-produced two albums of original music, available at salemkimble.com. Follow her on Twitter at @salemkimble