“I’ve always been determined to turn hardships and setbacks into advantages. It’s like I’m training under water while everyone else is training on land. It’s hard at first, but ultimately I will come out stronger.
Who or what inspired your career in tech? How so?
My Auntie Greta (University of Maryland College Park, BS Computer Science 1984) was definitely my biggest inspiration. She took my mom in when my mom found out she was pregnant and needed a place to live, but soon thereafter she moved to Connecticut for a programmer job at Westinghouse. As I got older we used to visit her every year in Connecticut. I always loved visiting her because she’d have the latest gadgets and electronic. She’s the first person I ever knew to own a cell phone. She had such a fabulous lifestyle– she travelled the world on a whim. She got me involved in the Black Data Processing Association (BDPA) by introducing me to the high school computer competition. I wanted to participate years before I was eligible, but I ultimately started the summer before freshman year of high school. I was 13. The rest is history.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how have you handled it?
My biggest challenge has been gaining validation. Oprah made a comment in a speech she did at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. She said that amongst all the most notable people she’s interviewed, from Beyonce to Nelson Mandela, they all end the interview with the same question: “How did I do?” She noted the fundamental desire of all humans to gain validation. I think grades in school are the reason many women and some people of color are overachievers academically. Grades are validation. But when we get into the workforce and try to raise venture capital, it’s a rude awakening to realize you’re NOT being judged or compensated based on merit. It’s not even close. There are a lot of negative psychological effects to that that go unrecognized. I’ve handled it by allowing it to fuel my fire. I’ve always been determined to turn hardships and setbacks into advantages. It’s like I’m training under water while everyone else is training on land. It’s hard at first, but ultimately I will come out stronger and more qualified to face challenges when they arise.
What is your biggest career success to date?
Definitely the day I officially signed the papers of incorporation for Blendoor on April 1, 2015.
What’s your greatest hack?
I almost never pay for hotels or Airbnb. I keep a solid rolodex of all my friends, classmates and acquaintances, and anytime I’m planning to travel to a city, I hit them up and almost all of them welcome me into their guest room or couch with open arms. It makes for a much better stay, as well.
Another good hack is LinkedIn’s export feature. A lot of people don’t know, but through a click of a series of buttons you can export a ton of information about all your LinkedIn contacts to Excel. I’ve used this for many purposes, professionally and socially.
What advice do you have for college women interested in computer science and technology?
My advice would be to actively seek out a support network. Find other women who are also taking computer science courses, or create a club or study group. Honestly, many of us have that feeling of the “imposter syndrome”– maybe I don’t belong here; maybe I’m not good enough; maybe I’m missing something such that I can’t do this. You need to be around people who can understand and can relate to this, and who can support you. That’s something that helped me at Stanford. It’s something that helped me at Microsoft. At every point in my career, I’ve made an effort to find people that are going through the same struggle. Otherwise you just lose sight of reality.
If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
Don’t get married… ever. It’s not for everyone, especially not a woman like you.
What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
I love to travel, ski, eat, catch live music and indie films. I just got back from a four-day trip to Park City Utah for Sundance. It’s my 4th time going. Everytime I go people always ask me what I do in the film industry, and I’m like “Ummm…nothing. I’m a regular person that just likes good films.” Sundance does an awesome job at diversity, which totally counters Hollywood.
Flats, heels or kicks?
All three! Each day you can see me in a totally different look. I’m really digging the kicks I got for Christmas from a Chicago-based company Bucketfeet. They source designs from real artists. Think I’m going to buy another pair…I’m hooked!
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
Stuart Taylor, a close advisor of mine, told me, you can’t compare yourself to the success of your white peers and your male peers. You didn’t start on a level playing field. Your margin for error and failure is much slimmer because you don’t have a family safety net to catch you when you fall. Press forward knowing that you’re exceptional for that very reason. Also, my favorite quote that guides my personal and professional life is: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou