PASS Summit 2015: Women in Technology Luncheon

November 3, 2015 — On Day Two of PASS Summit, we welcomed Angie Chang, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Hackbright Academy, as keynote speaker of the 13th annual PASS Summit Women in Technology (WiT) luncheon. PASS VP of Marketing Denise McInerney sat down with Angie in front of hundreds of luncheon attendees to discuss Hackbright and its role in training women and promoting gender diversity in technology.

Hackbright Academy is a Bay Area engineering school for women; its mission, to “increase female representation in tech through education, mentorship, and community.” With hundreds of its alumni successfully entering engineering jobs, Hackbright boasts more female graduates per year than Stanford and UC Berkeley. The school’s rate of job placement is impressive, as are the companies with which its students find employment—among them, Uber, Eventbrite, Pinterest, Facebook, Dropbox, and SurveyMonkey. Hackbright graduates are well trained not just to enter the engineering field, but to lead it—several have gone from nascent coders to managerial engineering positions within the span of just a few years.

Angie, whose first involvement with tech was making websites in high school, went on to engineering and technical positions with UC Berkeley, Hightail (formerly YouSendIt), Azureus, SquareTrade and more before co-founding Women 2.0, a media brand that aims to connect, inspire, and educate the next generation of technology leaders. Angie joined Hackbright after spending more than 7 years as Women 2.0’s Editor-in-Chief. She is also founder of the Bay Area incarnation of Girl Geek Dinners, which offers education and networking for women in technology fields.

Denise spoke with Angie about Hackbright’s purpose, the necessity of offering coding education to women of all ages, and the benefits for companies who hire women engineers who are coming to coding from past careers in a variety of other fields.

“Our students come from a wide array of backgrounds, running the gamut from former teachers to lawyers to cancer researchers,” said Angie. These women join the school for its full-time 12-week accelerated software engineering fellowship or its part-time courses, such as Intro to Programming.

Angie noted several important aspects that make Hackbright particularly successful:

· Mentoring of students by women in the industry

· Graduates who return to reinvest in the community

· An encouraging, energetic environment

· Training and career services that goes beyond coding to interviewing, management, and more

Graduating students create final projects, which range from visual, interactive reporting dashboards that help educators turn standardized test results into better instruction to an app that delivers safer walking routes to pedestrians, based on rasterized crime data sets.

Opening questions to the audience, the discussion covered many of the issues that face both women in tech as well as companies searching to diversify their workforces:

· The benefits of networking with fellow women in tech

· The best ways for parents to encourage their young daughters to get excited about coding and data

· How to create a workplace that welcomes gender diversity and inclusion

· The myth of the “pipeline problem”

“It’s important that we let younger women and girls know that it’s okay to fail, stub your knee, break things,” said Angie. “That’s how we learn and something that’s important in this field.”

She also noted that gender diversity offers benefits for hiring organizations as well as the women who work for them. Diverse teams have better results and provide a more realistic reflection of consumers and the way they think.

When asked about her thoughts on the “pipeline problem”—an oft-heard response of companies that claim their teams lack diversity because of a lack of qualified diverse candidates—Angie noted Laura Weidman’s theory that the problem with the pipeline isn’t that it’s narrow, but that it’s leaky, with too many women missing a successful transition from education to employment. For this reason, Hackbright focuses on this period, giving graduates the opportunity to participate in Career Day, which includes partner company introductions, speed interviews, lunch, and optional networking. And many graduates return to teach, mentor, or even recruit new classes of Hackbright students.

The full interview can be viewed on PASStv.

Wendy Pastrick,
VC Director