“Say, ‘Yes.’ Don’t wait until you are ready. Just say yes and figure out the details later.”
Abigail is the cofounder and CEO of RaceYa, a line of customizable, radio-controlled race cars that teach girls and boys the principles of STEM. The cars were featured on Good Morning America this week in a segment about the “smartest gadgets for girls” and Geek Girl Rising.
Years in industry
3 Who or what inspired your career in tech? How so?
I like to make things and break things, so when I wanted better toys for my kids I figured it was better to make the thing I wanted than to wait around for the toy industry to make it for me. The “tech” was a result of being able to ask “Do you know what would be cool?” and then deciding to build it.
What’s been your best hack ever?
I made a communicator for my daughter, using a wifi chip and an old ring box. She’s not quite old enough for a phone, but she is responsible enough to walk herself and her brother the two blocks to school. I made the communicator to text me her location so I could keep an eye on her without needing to tail her to school like a 3rd rate spy.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how have you handled it?
I came from the world of academia so it’s been a very steep learning curve moving from anthropology to hardware. Luckily, the hardware community in NYC is amazingly supportive and my research skills work just as well for learning about supply chains and logistics as they do for phenomenological categorizations.
What is your biggest career success to date?
Building a product that I know girls (and boys) love. We’ve tested RaceYa at schools, science camps and playgrounds and the best part is when kids make the connections from the physics of the car to the physics at work in their everyday lives. There is nothing that beats seeing the “Aha!” moment on their faces.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to women who are starting out in the tech industry?
No one is going to steal your idea so talk about it as often as possible. That’s is how you will build your network, find your team and raise the money.
Say “Yes.” Don’t wait until you are ready. Just say yes and figure out the details later. I was once at a meet-up where one of the scheduled speakers cancelled. By the time the second speaker had finished, the organizer got up and said that 5 people had emailed him to offer to fill in. The guy (why is it always a guy?) got up with a few slides, talked about his work and suddenly had a room of 300 new people excited about his product and able to make connections for him. So take the opportunities that present themselves.
Do hardware. Hardware people are more fun.
Who are your role models?
When I’m struggling I continually go back to my favorite book, A Busman’s Honeymoon by my favorite author, Dorothy Sayers. Not only was Sayers one of the most important mystery writers of the golden age of detective fiction, but she was a highly accomplished Dante scholar. Being able to do many things, and do them well, is something we tend to associate with “Renaissance Men” but women, without even meaning to, are constantly mastering multiple roles. I love remembering to celebrate that.
If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
The same advice my mother always gave me – “Choose the option that closes the least number of doors.”
Also – Do the reading!
What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
I just started taking Krav Maga and I love it. Getting your work frustrations out by literally kicking someone’s butt is insanely satisfying. I also make robotic cakes.
Flats, heels or kicks?
Flats to get from A to B. Heels when you get there.
Best career advice book?
Uncle Tungsten – not a career advice book per se, but an amazing lesson in curiosity, perseverance and man’s inhumanity to octopodes.
Who are the women in tech that you most admire and why?
Someone once asked Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she would feel there were ‘enough’ women on the Supreme Court, and she said ‘When there are 9.” That perspective, that there aren’t just one or two lady-seats at an otherwise masculine table, is what I admire most about the women in tech who continually lift as they climb. Natalie Diggins,Susan McPherson, Susan Danzinger, Rachel Sklar, and Jane Barratt are just a few examples of women who embody this spirit.