Marc Andreessen and Mike Schroepfer delivered keynote addresses today at the she++ conference, sharing their thoughts on women in technology and growing the pool of talented engineers.
Ayna Agarwal and Ellora Israni, two Stanford juniors who study Symbolic Systems and CS, respectively, founded she++ in January 2012 as a Stanford community for women in tech; Agarwal and Israni hope to spur girls in middle and high school to study CS, as well as their fellow Stanford students. Around 250 people attended the conference, half of which were Stanford students and about a quarter of which were high school students, according to Israni.
“There’s something to be said about this community that everyone’s going through the same things, has some sort of story to share, irrespective of their age gap or career background,” Agarwal tells me. “That’s what’s made the conference such a success.”
Schroepfer’s talk was unfortunately off the record, but I was able to catch up with him before it.
“If we’re building technology that the whole population uses, then we should have people of all backgrounds building that technology so that they build it for the audience that is themselves,” he told me. Read about Andreessen’s talk here.
Jocelyn Goldfein, a Director of Engineering at Facebook, presented and commented on the twelve-minute she++ documentary, in which she appears alongside Stanford students, professors, and alums.
“First and foremost, [my passion for she++] starts as an employer,” Goldfein said in her presentation. “There are not enough great software engineers in the world.”
Agarwal and Israni premiered the documentary to around 250 Stanford students on April 3; since then, they’ve received 60 sign ups to host screenings across the nation. They’ve also received requests in 8 different countries and are translating the documentary into 3 different languages.
Eric Roberts, a computer science professor at Stanford, says in the documentary that if every student at Stanford graduated with a CS degree, the Valley would hire them all.
The documentary, whose trailer you can see below, and conference shared many key themes, exploring why women don’t major in computer science in large numbers, and sharing personal stories from current Stanford undergraduates and women actively in the field.
“I tell a lot of people, men and women, to fake it till you make it,” Goldfein says in the documentary. “Someday you’ll look around and realize you aren’t faking it anymore. That game face of confidence is actually how you feel.”
Sandy Jen, CTO and Co-Founder of Meebo; Caroline Simard, Associate Director of Diversity and Leadership at the Stanford School of Medicine and Research consultant at the Anita Borg Institute; Debbie Sterling, CEO and Founder of GoldieBlox; and Donna J. H. Novitsky, CEO of Yiftee sat on a career panel at the conference. They shared how they decided to become entrepreneurs, challenges they’ve faced, balancing their tech work and personal lives, and their biggest failures.
Sterling said early in her process starting GoldieBlox she and her co-founder applied to a startup accelerator that was very male-dominated. They walked into a room of “about 80 19-year olds in hoodies” with their prototype hidden under a napkin, and another applicant asked, “Oh, did you bring us cookies?” GoldieBlox was not accepted to the accelerator and her co-founder quit, but Sterling kept after the company as a sole founder.
Agarwal and Israni organized the first she++ conference last April, which featured Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, Irene Au, head of user experience at Google, Julia Hartz, CEO and Co-Founder of Eventbrite, and Goldfein, among others.
“Last year we were just a conference and now we’re so much more than that,” Israni tells me.
Agarwal and Israni say they’ve worked this year to move the conference away from just their vision and incorporating their expanded she++ team’s and Stanford CS professors’ visions to make the conference more representative of the Stanford community. They’ve added smaller workshops and more one-on-one networking and mentoring this year in response to feedback.
The conference featured a student panel and workshops led by Snapchat co-founder Bobby Murphy and representatives from Box, Square, Microsoft, Udacity, Dropbox, Getco, LinkedIn, and Benesse on everything from “Computer Science in the Finance World” to “Acing the Technical Interview” to “Taking an App from Idea to Implementation.”