While the presence of a "glass ceiling" for women in tech is debatable, you can’t argue with the facts: The ratio of men to women actually working in the industry is very skewed. But then there are women like Angie Chang, co-founder of Women 2.0 and Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. This San Francisco entrepreneur, Web designer, product manager and passionate advocate for women in engineering has a CV that’s incredibly impressive for anyone. Along with two startups under her belt, she has worked for VentureBeat, Zinch, and she currently she serves as the Director of Growth at Hackbright Academy. Chang has based much of her career not only on the tech industry itself – Web design, product management etc.- but also on looking for ways to support other women who might otherwise be the only other female in the room.
So what led her to that gig? We asked Chang about her work.
Techopedia: What does a typical day look like for you?
Angie Chang: When you work at an early-stage startup, there is no typical day – we adjust our sails every few days/weeks/months in the pursuit of our vision. When you work at an education startup that is running several tracks of courses, you must constantly energize and improve processes based on metrics and feedback. There is much noise these days on social networks and media, and the tech industry is in a bubble (you can go to a different networking/industry every night), so it’s important to focus on what is important to you and your business and make sure everything you do affects that bottom line and your personal goals. What is the signal, and what is the noise? The trick is to filter the noise and work on your signal, your vision, your startup. What is the change you wish to see in the world? OK, now go do just that – and keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t be distracted by what everyone else is doing.
Techopedia: What does a great day look like?
Angie Chang: The best days at Hackbright Academy happen when a connection is made. We have a poster from Facebook hanging on a classroom wall that says "People Over Pixels," which I think sums it up nicely. When Hackbright facilitates a successful connection – a Hackbright student with a new job, a Hackbright student with a Hackbright mentor, etc.- that is a great day at Hackbright. A good day for me is when we get to announce a new course or event that will hopefully be life-altering (or at the very least, incredibly beneficial) for the attendees.
Techopedia: OK, what about a terrible day?
Angie Chang: I don’t like to hear about people giving up or being resigned. Learning to code and getting a job as a software engineer is hard. I admit it’s not easy, I was a computer science major dropout. Women going into software engineering face impostor syndrome and a myriad of other social/industry factors that compound the reality of leveling up in an industry synonymous with "brogrammers" (not programmers) and libertarian men. This brings to mind Kierkegaardian concepts of the Knight of Resignation and the Knight of Faith … you need to believe you’re going to make it, because that’s when you will make it. There’s a Post-it in the Hackbright that reminds you that "failure to succeed is not failure to progress." Also, you will not fail if you keep trying; it just takes time and an entrepreneurial, proactive spirit. There is no failing, there is just giving up. Don’t fear failing, fear giving up. (Read more about the challenges women face in We Asked Women In Tech: Why Aren’t There More Of You?)
Techopedia: What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done or achieved in your career?
Angie Chang: I was invited by the State Department to speak to entrepreneurs and students in the West Bank recently, and the experience was hugely inspiring for me. It was eye-opening to see how many restrictions Palestinians live with. For example, did you know there is no PayPal? If there’s no easy way to transfer money, how is your Internet business going to make money? I hadn’t realized that the state of travel, shipping and receiving are all extremely laborious processes in the West Bank and Gaza. All these restrictions shape a situation ripe for change with huge potential for growth, and I’m excited to see the emerging tech startups mature and transform the economic landscape in the Middle East.
Techopedia: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Angie Chang: Be curious. Learn new things. Get to know new people. Follow your gut and delve into the unknown. Google things. Ask around. Pitch your startup idea to anyone who will listen, then improve your pitch. Find like-minded people to surround yourself with, and then find some people who are nothing like you so you can learn to anticipate and deal with them. Do the hardest thing. Think big.
Techopedia: What’s your workplace pet peeve?
Angie Chang: A common mistake is the unnecessary gender assignment. By this I mean the job listing that says "coding rocks tar guy wanted" and the email that says "the IT dude". This happens all too often where it hurts the most – job postings and listings on company websites – and it’s a poor misrepresentation of the company and technology industry. This is what tells women they are not welcome or "normal" in the workplace. (Get one woman’s perspective on breaking into tech in Why, As a Woman, I Almost Wrote Off a Tech Career.)
Techopedia: What’s your productivity secret?
Angie Chang: Ruthless prioritization coupled with a strong bullshit filter 🙂
Techopedia: What technology do you rely on the most?
Angie Chang: NFC technology, I suppose. I take public transportation every day and my Clipper card is invaluable to me. I also enjoy using my NFC-enabled Zipcar key card to wave at the car and unlock the doors – that’s magical. I do look forward to when NFC technology is more mainstream. (I have terrible luck getting credit card readers to work).
Techopedia: How do you use social media?
Angie Chang: I have always enjoyed keeping an ear to the ground, so I keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook all day. I like to share things on Google+ because there is a unique community there, and I enjoy distributing ideas and news to LinkedIn groups. I explain to people all the time how I use Pinterest, and I’m a prolific Foursquare and Yelp user because I love and believe in user-generated content (and I love food).
Techopedia: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve been faced with on the job and how did you solve it?
Angie Chang: As an introvert with a productive streak (and history of starting successful organizations), I have to gently let down people’s preconceived notions about me who know me from my Internet presence. [They tend to think] that I’m bigger, brighter, louder, outgoing, bubbly. The reality is that I hate small talk, so I get dinged on likability. But thanks to publications like Harvard Business Review and the ever-flowing stream of women-in-the-workplace news and studies, I know the facts around women in the workplace, and I can correct my natural inclinations for behaviors that better achieve the results I want.
Techopedia: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Angie Chang: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an oncologist. When I was in high school, I liked the shiny sciencey glossies that advertised colleges’ biotechnology departments. And then when I got to college, the reality of attending the No.1 public university in the United States shamed me and I just wanted to graduate. I was never ambitious, but once I worked my first job out of college as the only woman on the engineering team of a venture-backed startup in the Silicon Valley, I drank the Kool-Aid and decided I was going to be an entrepreneur and CEO.
Techopedia: What’s your dream job now?
Angie Chang: My dream is to advance women in high-growth companies as board members, senior executives, technical leaders (i.e. CTOs and directors of engineering) and also as startup investors. There’s no better place to start than a high-growth tech startup with plenty of brand recognition and a reputation as a boy’s club. Sometimes I wonder how to convince a company like Twitter or Dropbox to enlist me as their global head of diversity to make needed change happen …