Monthly Archives: February 2015

Monthly Mentions: February 2015

This “Monthly Mentions” post recaps my publications and citations each month. My goal remains to share broadly my thoughts on women in technology leadership, cloud technology, entrepreneurship, and more.

In the press this month, I published:

Silicon Valley Thinks Women Equal Success on The Huffington Post

On my blog this month, I wrote:

 The First Programmers Were Women?! 

The Value of Decisive Leadership

This Month on HuffPo: Silicon Valley Thinks Women Equal Success

Tech Needs to “Woman Up”

I spoke on a panel at:

Business Leadership Council of the Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund: Israel’s Silicon Wadi Delivers for Silicon Valley

If you are interested in inviting Kira Makagon to guest-author a piece on your site or to speak to your organization, please contact Evie Goldstein, RingCentral’s public relations manager,  via e-mail, evelin.goldstein at ringcentral.com. Thanks!

Tech needs to “woman up”

Recently, I wrote of my delight at learning that the first computer programmers were women. I’ve continued to reflect on how women have held an historic role as true tech pioneers, and, yet, there still aren’t enough of us in tech right now. I’ve shared ideas before on how to increase the numbers of women tech leaders, but what about programmers? developers? UI designers? Walk into any tech company, and you’ll see rows and rows of men. Why is there not more diversity when we know that diversity is good for our companies? The answer to that question is something that companies cannot address even with the best of policies, because, unfortunately, too few women are pursuing careers in computer science. How do we address this issue?

This idea that tech needs to “woman up” isn’t mine alone. “We Need More Women in Tech: The Data Prove It” has stuck with me since its appearance in The Atlantic a couple of autumns ago. Among the statistics cited in that piece are: 57% of the workforce is female, but, in computing occupations, that number is only about 25%. 0.4% of female college students indicate a desire to study computer science (CS). The average wage in tech is 98% higher than the average private sector wage. That is an astounding number! Why aren’t women seizing the opportunity to advance financially as well as professionally in tech fields?

The data seem pretty dire, especially if you believe, like the article suggests, that, in 1985, 35% of undergraduate degrees in computer science were granted to women. Has the number of CS majors actually dropped over time? I’m not sure. I find that statistic a bit hard to believe, as most colleges didn’t even have an official CS major in 1985. My alma mater (UC Berkeley) was one exception. Berkeley had CS when I graduated in 1984, at a time when most schools’ CS remained in schools of engineering or in other departments rather than standing on its own. For certain, nowhere near 37% of us were women, and not a single woman instructor were found in my CS major – even at a time in which Laura Tyson taught economics and in which I had women instructors in courses outside of CS, math, and engineering. Regardless, the problem remains that, today, fewer than 1% of CS majors are females. That is just unacceptable.

How do we get to a place where women really do comprise 37% — or more – of CS majors? Here are some ideas:

Start young. The Atlantic mentions a program for high school girls called Aspirations in Computing. Another outstanding one is Black Girls Code for an even broader age range, 7-17. When faced with a choice of enrichment opportunities for our daughters, considering coding as easily as ballet will make a huge difference and is part of the gender-neutral approach that propelled my own success.

Making room for non-CS majors in the tech landscape will be healthy for us all. I’d love to see more women majoring in CS, but women can major in physics, math, or even philosophy and become great programmers or tech leaders. Some of my best developers have been physics or math majors.

Recognize the importance of creativity. One thing that all of those whom I consider successful developers have in common is how they combine science with art and creativity. A lot has to do with abstract thinking, pattern recognition, and associative thinking. Logic and philosophy courses and abstract math are excellent subjects to help develop those skills.

Note how CS has changed over time. CS is no longer a general field today anymore than physics is. There are common foundational concepts, but a UI developer needs to have a different skill set from an operating systems developer. That said, the fun in CS is its non-rigidity and ability to apply cross-disciplines to problem solving – something with which women are known to be great!

Now, it’s your turn: what do you think we can do “woman up” the tech landscape?

This Month on HuffPo: Silicon Valley Thinks Women Equal Success

This month on the Huffington Post, I take on what Silicon Valley really thinks of women. In response to this Newsweek article suggesting that the climate for women in tech is more hostile than I’ve found in my experience, I seek to share some of my own positive insights, including as a board member of an all-women venture fund, Illuminate. Indeed, there are a lot of type-A jerks in Silicon Valley (and on Wall Street, and really everywhere in business). There are also a number of women like Cindy Padnos of Illuminate and like me who are thriving in positions of leadership. The real story on what Silicon Valley and the business world thinks of women isn’t only what’s sensationalized in the media. There’s far more to our tale, which is one of success, including a study showing that women tech leaders are bringing in higher ROIs than men.

For more big-picture insights on the successful status of women in the Valley, click here to read my full piece on HuffPo.

The value of decisive leadership

As a seasoned entrepreneur, I give a lot of thought to advice and insights to share with aspiring entrepreneurs. I read a lot and sometimes come across something in industry publications that I save to share as a positive “how to” example. One such piece appeared last December in Business Insider: an e-mail exchange between Mitch Lasky, partner at Benchmark Capital, and Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat.

In their e-mail exchange, Lasky offers valuable advice to Spiegel on some important stuff, such as financing, hiring, and how to disseminate information to staff so that they’re not learning information from the nightly news. It’s a great exchange that illustrates a few key things, most especially the value of decisive leadership on Spiegel’s part.

Rather than go through the piece point-by-point, since much of it is self-evident, I highlight below what I think makes Spiegel stand out in this exchange and what aspiring entrepreneurs can draw from it as a lesson:

  • Spiegel articulates his position clearly with responses that are well thought-through, decisive, and to the point. He disagrees with some of Lasky’s advice, but, though Spiegel is firm on his points, he remains respectful. Maintaining a respectful tone in all business dealings is paramount and a way to garner more respect.
  • Spiegel is a step ahead of Lasky, his VC, on every bullet point – as Spiegel should be, for he is the one running the company. Spiegel listens to the advice and makes his decisions based on what he believes to be right for the business he is building. Leaders have to be decisive like that.
  • Spiegel focuses on the short-term while maintaining a long-term vision, and he shares his thinking on that clearly. He closes his note to Lasky with a reiteration of what he is focused on for clarity and emphasis. This is always a good way to end an important message, especially when it’s long.
  • Spiegel explains himself well throughout his reply. This is important. If a leader isn’t taking advice, especially from a VC who funded the company, they really do need to share why. Sharing his thought process in mature, determined, and confident tones assures Lasky and any other investor that he is in control of his company.

When I think of what good leadership looks like, it looks a lot like Spiegel’s leadership evidenced in that e-mail exchange: respectful, visionary, and decisive. These are traits any aspiring entrepreneur would be wise to embody as they lead.

What other traits do you think are important for leaders to keep in mind when leading a growing company?

The first programmers were women?!

Recently, I came across a delightful surprise while listening to the latest Walter Isaacson book, The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. In it, Isaacson reveals that the first computer programmers were women!

I had to learn more, so I did some digging and came across an interview with Jean Jennings Bartik, ENIAC pioneer. Bartik was among six recent college graduates, all women with exceptional math skills, who, in 1946, programmed the ENIAC – the first all-electronic, programmable computer – in a project run by the Army as part of a secret WWII project. These women taught themselves ENIAC’s operation from its logical and electrical block diagrams in order to figure out how to program it. They created their own flow charts and programming sheets. Then, they wrote programs and entered them on the ENIAC using a physical interface that involved hundreds of wires and 3,000 switches. It is hard to imagine any of this as I type on my comparably-tiny laptop!

When the Army revealed the existence of the ENIAC to the public, inventors Dr. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert received accolades, but the Army never introduced the groundbreaking women who programmed the ENIAC. No one gave them any credit or discussed their critical role! In her interview, Bartik discusses what it meant to be overlooked despite unique and pioneering work as well as what it means to be discovered at long last. I urge you to give it a listen.

My takeaways from watching Bartik’s interview are fodder for many blog pieces. In general, I am left with the sense that women have come a long way, and that we still have a long way to go. Bartik is a great storyteller with a great sense of humor, which is necessary when women remain underdog in tech, whether then or now. I note, though, that her drive did not come from a desire for recognition but, instead, came from deep intellectual curiosity as well as self-expression through innovation. This is necessary for both women and men who desire to push frontiers in tech. It’s also clear that Bartik and the other women knew that they were pushing frontiers at the time and that they appreciated a real sense of progress. They seemed to know that they could do anything as well as anybody, especially working as a team, which they found invaluable.

From a technical perspective, I find it fascinating what I didn’t learn in my computer science classes, not only about the first programmers being women but also about the major contributions to the field that they made. For example, the ENIAC had almost 18,000 vacuum tubes. Imagine how hard it was to find a problem in one of the tubes!  And then, once you debugged the code, you’d have to reload the entire program again, which took a ridiculously long time given all of the complex wiring of the ENIAC. These women came up with a stored program to address this critical issue. This is a fundamental invention in the history of computer science, yet no one ever told the story of ENIAC and its women programmers who were the first to create a stored program; the first time I heard of it was while reading the Isaacson book. To this day, if you look up “stored program” in Wikipedia, there is no mention of the women involved in inventing it.

There is more about Bartik to note, too, as an ongoing inspiration to women. For example, she took 16 years off from work to be a mother to her children. In these days of the “mommy wars,” it seems as though women have to choose to either be an at-home mom or be at work. Bartik shows otherwise. She mentions that women pursuing CS as a field of study today inspire her, and she urges parents and teachers to dispel the myth that girls can’t be as good in math as boys. After all, she was hired because of superior math skills in the forties and is a true pioneer of computer science because of it. When it comes to shattering stereotypes, Bartik’s success, and that of the other ENIAC women, really ought to give us all pause.

History teaches us many lessons, and I am so happy to have stumbled upon the lessons in Bartik’s story. Certainly all folks in tech can learn from the perseverance required to program that very first programmable computer. And we can also all learn from the success of six women who should have received credit for their work at the time and up to the present day.

But, how far have we women come? This is a subject that I will explore ongoing, including some more digging around in the history of women in programming. Chances are, there are many more lessons to learn.