Girl Geek X

Girl Geek X

3 Book Recommendations From Women Executives At Khan Academy

August 10, 2017 – Mountain View, Calif — Khan Academy CEO and founder Sal Khan welcomed over 200 girl geeks gathered at Khan Academy for a Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner. He introduced Ginny Lee, Khan Academy President and COO before the panel of women executives took the stage.

The panel was moderated by Alice Pao, Khan Academy Software Engineer, who shared a story about how she got her job! About a year ago, she was wait-listed for the Khan Academy Girl Geek Dinner but appealed by email for a ticket. She did get a ticket and met a recruiter at Khan Academy, who told her about the engineering fellowship opportunity at the time. She applied and got the fellowship, and after the fellowship, she became a full-time software engineer at Khan Academy! This year, she’s moderating the panel of Khan Academy women at the Girl Geek Dinner.

Nancy Lee, Khan Academy VP Marketing, recommended the book The Confidence Code, backed by research on how external criticism feeds on internal criticism. She underlined how important finding support – friends, counselors, guides, mentors – to help gain perspective and build confidence. She urged the audience of girl geeks to “lean on each other and external people, either professionals or your personal network, to provide you that support. It will help you balance out the critics externally and internally.”

Another book recommendation by Nancy was Playing Big by Tara Mohr. Her book in particular gives tactical mitigating ideas and exercises to deal with the inner critic.

Katherine Morris, Khan Academy VP Content, found her network in school – a group of girlfriends and herself formed a “career club” – women with slightly different trajectories in marketing, product, etc – and meet together semi-regularly to chat about what’s currently on their professional radars, which has been very helpful and supportive.

She offers advice: “To my younger self, I would be looking for those people who provide more than advice but who can bring me along. I encourage people in leadership positions to not just be mentors but also sponsors.”

Katherine recommended a book People Styles At Work to manage a diverse team. This book helps you learn about people’s different styles and to “flex” to those styles in a productive way.

Self-care is important! Katherine meditates (or at least, tries to) five times a week. She explained that helps that inner voice to get stronger. “Deep down inside of us, we know what we want, and we know what the right thing to do is. That voice doesn’t get a lot of air time naturally, so mindfulness help see amplify that voice to have more clear personal navigation which helps bring some of that confidence.”

Annie Ding, Khan Academy VP Product Management, confessed that from a career-ambition perspective, she was on the low side and never had “plans” to be in the position she is in now. Her “north star” was to ask (1) how to make the biggest impact, and (2) what will help you learn the most. When she joined Khan Academy, she started as an individual contributor product manager because it was the role available at the time. Her moving jobs was was a step down from career standpoint, as she was the head of product at another place.

Girl Geek Q&A

In addition to the prepared questions for the panel, girl geeks in the audience expressed a range of questions from how to find support, to advice for dealing with the current news cycle:

How to react to the current situation at Google?
Panelist: “If we don’t talk about it, it won’t get better. That’s the only way it’s going to get better, even though there will be some very tough conversations.” “The more we speak up about this, the more people pay attention. When you are not a woman, it’s hard to imagine being a woman. For a large part of it, it’s not any kind of ill intent on their part, it’s just that they aren’t aware. I almost see that it is our responsibility to some extent to educate the leaders, because unless leadership gets on board, you won’t have any real change.”

How to find mentors, or your support network?
Panelists: “Chemistry… Corporate mentorship programs have not been very successful. Leap on opportunities to find chemistry in working with coworkers.” “What’s awesome is when mentees come to me, and ask me to be their mentor, and in return, will teach you something. A girl on my team was a social media expert, and myself – as a product of the 1970s – I leapt on this opportunity, because it felt like a bilateral agreement so in addition to chemistry, it can be a winning formula.” “I recommend finding people you haven’t worked with, so the four women and myself were all in business school, and that’s how I found women who were in the same area and had the similar career interests as myself.” “I recommend finding people from school, or in this room!”

How to break into a new industry – for example, from teaching to ed-tech?
Panelists: “Find a position in a company you want to be at, and get in the door. It’s easier to move around once you are in a company once you get to know the people and positions.” “Building a portfolio of work is important.” “Mine your LinkedIn network. Many times your second or third degree connections will be more useful than those first degree connections.”

Recommended Books


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Key Takeaways From The Atlassian Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner

BizeeBee’s Poornima Vijayashanker suggested that “women need to get more comfortable with making the ask.”

By Emily Gonzales (CTO, Bookigee)

The panel at the 29th Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner hosted by Atlassian was an impressive mix of admirable women drawn from the online media, venture capital and SaaS sectors of technology.

Rather than focus on a specific issue facing women in technology today, the panelists discussed various topics and provided insightful advice for the 100+ women in attendance.

Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner organizer Sukrutha Raman Bhadouria kicked off the night and gave us an overview of the growing women in tech community and reminded us that “Everybody has that inner engineer in them. You just have to find it!”

The panel was moderated by Rebecca Buckman, an award-winning journalist, formerly for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and is currently a communications consultant and writer based in Silicon Valley Her questions were based on survey results asking how satisfied we are as women in tech.

Here’s what I learned from the Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner:

On Funding For Women-Led Startups

  • Poornima Vijayashanker, founder of BizeeBee and former founding engineer of, told us the story of how she talked to VCs but preferred dealing with angels since her company was pursuing a slower growth strategy than most venture-backed businesses. She found angels through her own networks and raised $500k. She suggested, “women need to get more comfortable with making the ask.”
  • Sarah Lacy, Founder of PandoDaily, raised 2.5M with a baby in her arms during her meetings on Sand Hill Road. She said, “I never set out to pretend I wasn’t a new mom, never hid the fact that I was planning on having another kid soon. I didn’t experience any sexism. Lots of startups don’t get funded – to say that it’s because you’re a woman is weak. I don’t have patience for women who say they didn’t get funding in the Valley for sexist reasons.”
  • Patricia Nakache, Partner at Trinity Ventures, advised that getting introduced to funders through your network is best. She also cites less women applying for funding as one reason for less women getting funded. She agrees that although women receive less funding, it’s not because of the quality of our ideas. Other reasons include the confidence, credibility or qualifications of the founder. She advises women founders to “have more confidence.”

On Opportunities For Women In Larger VS. Smaller Companies

  • Audra Eng, VP of Product Management at Atlassian, stated that at smaller companies (less than 100 employees), “There are more opportunities to make a larger impact.”
  • Catherine Norman, Director of Corporate Communications at Atlassian, added that at larger companies, “It’s political. Can you get the right people to agree with what you want to do?”
  • PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy told us, “If you are really passionate, there is no better place to be than a high-growth company, if you can absorb lots of pain and take on more and more stuff, you can get anything you want. You’ll leapfrog in ways you never could in any other industry. If you’re lazy, go work at a big company.”

On The Importance Of Having A Mentor

  • BizeeBee’s Poornima Vijayashanker noted that “It’s hard to find a mentor because everyone is busy.” Her advice is to pick a few people you can rotate through who can provide what you need in different areas (engineering, entrepreneurship, etc). She admitted that it’s hard to find a woman mentor and advised to just figure out what you need help with and don’t necessarily look for a woman. Her advice is to “build a support network that will help solve a lot of your problems.”
  • PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy reminded us that we have a “massive responsibility to give back and actively mentor, especially if you’re a woman. Be willing to take that phone call.”

On Female Role Models In Tech

  • Although we are fortunate enough to have pioneers inspiring future generations of women in technology, PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy told us that “just because Marissa Meyer didn’t take maternity leave, it doesn’t mean everyone else has the resources to do that.” She is also a big fan of total integration between her work and family life. She brings her baby and nanny to work and doesn’t try to pretend she’s not a mom.
  • Trinity Ventures’ Patricia Nakache takes a different approach and advised us to “Know your boundaries.” She talks about how even Sheryl Sandberg prioritizes being home to spend time with her kids at night. She goes back to work after seeing them, but she has set that boundary. The panelists all agreed that every woman has to do what’s right for her specific situation. While we have role models to admire, we have to take a look at our own lives and make the right decisions for ourselves.

On Sexism In Silicon Valley

  • According to the survey, 20% of respondents think sexism still exists in the Valley. PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy had a fantastic response to this finding: “Of course there’s sexism but there’s a difference between sexism existing and sexism being an issue. You have to choose if it makes you a victim or if it makes you stronger.”

Photo credit: Courtney Mayeda

About the guest blogger: Emily Gonzales is the CTO of Bookigee, an early-stage startup that builds online analytics and marketing applications for the Book Publishing Industry. Prior to joining Bookigee, Emily was a Director at Expense Reduction Analysts. Before that, she was a Senior Design Engineer at Motorola. She holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Miami and writes for TechFemme. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyshere

Inspiration From Women Leaders In Tech From SurveyMonkey’s Girl Geek Dinner

Women are the buying power of the economy, and are increasingly moving into leadership positions in tech, but what helped them achieve their success, and what did they learn about scaling a business?

By Courtney Mayeda (MBA, UCLA Anderson)

From candied apples to the photo booth to the cute stuffed monkeys serving as centerpieces, the event was a delight. However, it was the panel of women leaders at SurveyMonkey’s Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner that absolutely stole the show.

A roar of applause rose up when an attendee noted how inspirational it was to see so many women in leadership positions in a tech company. In fact, many women work and help lead SurveyMonkey; we had the pleasure of hearing from four: Selina, Ashley, Elena and Kate.

Selina Tobaccowala, Senior VP of Product and Engineering at SurveyMonkey, mentioned how important it is to support more girls in pursuing science and engineering. Thus, we still have a long way to go.

Seeing Tobaccowala’s success with, Ticketmaster and SurveyMonkey inspired many women in the audience who love technology, and want to remain in the industry. Specifically, she spoke about the challenges of scaling a business, and the things she wished she had thought about earlier on in the process.

Key takeaways on how to scale a business:

  • Data: Extreme importance of having sufficient data to back your decisions.
  • Modularize code: How will you scale your code base once you grow?
  • International: Think about differences in your business should you approach global expansion. Can you support multiple languages and regulations?
  • A/B testing: Iterate and test constantly. What do your customers really like?
  • Ensure app is built with right APIs: Integration is important. Understand your customer group.

Scaling a business is extremely important, while achieving success as a woman in tech is even more fundamental to what we talked about during the panel.

Kate Brennan, Senior Business Development Manager at SurveyMonkey, spoke out on how she succeeded in tech, and in the business world in general.

  • Analysis: “Needed to put her Excel model where her mouth is” and show a solid business case for her proposals.
  • Communication: Communicate analysis effectively and efficiently – Be ready to defend your stance and to hear “no”. It’s important to “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes,” as said Maggie Kuhn.
  • Transparency: Set expectations and be honest with your team, (or they won’t trust you).
  • Team: Be humble, admit your mistakes, and build good relationships with your team. Especially important to build “street cred” with technical folks when you don’t have a technical degree.

Through following these principles, Kate has moved up the ranks in a tech company as a non-engineer – something that inspired many women in the audience with a similar background.

This panel demonstrated that women can succeed in tech, and that more and more women are reaching higher levels of leadership. Considering women for leadership positions is vitally important since women have emerged as the buying power in today’s economy. Paying attention to, and understanding, women’s voices and viewpoints are essential, and represent part of how SurveyMonkey succeeds.

Here’s hoping that more tech companies will follow suit…

About the guest blogger: Courtney Mayeda recently graduated from UCLA Anderson with her MBA in Technology Management/Marketing, and moved back to the Bay Area. Previously, she worked for Apple and Wells Fargo’s Online Sales and Marketing division, following graduation from Scripps College with her bachelor’s degree. Follow her on Twitter at @courtneymayeda

Key Takeaways From Intel’s Inaugural Girl Geek Dinner

Add value. Don’t “act like a boy” and shout out. But don’t just sit there and raise your hand either. James tells us: Adjust how you’re showing up, but don’t stop showing up.

By Emily Gonzales (CTO, Bookigee)

At Wednesday’s Intel Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner, there was no shortage of sensory overload for the tech geeks like myself who were present. From exciting demos of future products to fascinating facts in the Intel museum, there was plenty to take in while enjoying delicious food and great drinks with like-minded professional women in tech. Without a doubt, the highlight was hearing directly from the speakers, the female technology rock stars of Intel themselves.

Here’s what I learned from them:

  1. Diversity means much more than just differences in race and gender.When asked ‘Why is diversity in IT important and how will Diversity help innovate in the future?’, Kimberly S. Stevenson, Vice President, Information Technology Group, Chief Information Officer says: If you don’t represent the customers you support, it’s difficult to understand what you’re representing. Like in applications, if you develop like a developer, your application will not sell. You have to develop like a user. You must be diverse from experience base, cultural base, and gender base.Vida Ilderem, Vice President, Intel Labs, Director, Integrated Platform Research added: Besides gender and race, you need people with different views, who’ve had different experiences. Once you’ve built this team, Senior Vice President Renee James, General Manager, Software and Services Group advises to: go into your organization and talk to everyone at every level. The lower level people know things that you don’t know and all the people between you think that you don’t need to hear these things. You’ll learn so much.
  2. Surround your self with people who are different from you.Tammy Cyphert, Vice President, Intel Architecture Group, General Manager, PC Client Group Operations seeks out people who have a different opinion than hers. She explains: One person alone can’t know everything. I look for people who disagree with me the most because I learn the most from them. Stevenson says: Think about the people that astonish you. Being astonished almost always comes from someone who just saw the problem differently. According to James: In tech companies, details matter. If you’re going to lead a tech company, find smarter people and listen to them. Figure out how to lead people smarter than you and how to get the best out of them.
  3. Make yourself heard in the right way.When asked how to coach women to make their voices heard in all-male groups, Stevenson tells us: It’s common for women to say: I’m going to work hard and they’ll recognize my work. You do have to work hard and deliver results, but that isn’t enough.You need to have a voice. Often, if you are the only women in the room, you can say “You know what I heard you say…, also to add to that…” Add value. Don’t ‘act like a boy’ and shout out. But don’t just sit there and raise your hand either. James tells us: Adjust how you’re showing up, but don’t stop showing up.
  4. Don’t be a victim when slighted by male tech counterparts.Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for us to be put down by our male colleagues from time to time. When this happens, James puts things in perspective: If you become victimized by that, and you focus on that, then you’re all about you and what you feel – not about what you’re trying to accomplish. Remember what you’re trying to do and be persistent. Don’t take it personally, focus and keep going.
  5. Moving up in the ranks does not mean you have to sacrifice time for a family.Stevenson reveals that: It gets easier as you go up. At the lower levels as an individual contributor, you learn to manage your time differently. As you move up, yes, there’s a ton of demand on your time, and you can’t create more of it. But you can get more work done because you can give more direction. The toughest time is when you have many choices. But remember that no choice is forever. Every person will make different choices. Follow your passions and you’ll end up contributing in significant ways.

James left us all with action items to take with us as we continue to learn, develop and grow as women working hard in technology: To become a leader, you have to earn it. Say what you’re going to do, do it, and do it better than people expect.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: Hong Quan on Tiny Review.

About the guest blogger: Emily Gonzales is the CTO of Bookigee, an early-stage startup that builds online analytics and marketing applications for the Book Publishing Industry. Prior to joining Bookigee, Emily was a Director at Expense Reduction Analysts. Before that, she was a Senior Design Engineer at Motorola. She holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Miami and writes for TechFemme. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyshere.

Notes from the Citrix Girl Geek Dinner

By Yvonne Lai (Network Engineer, Cisco)

Staying connected has never been easier. It is amazing to see how our world has evolved from the PC era to the new Cloud era. No longer are we bounded by the rigidness of the PC but we are transitioning into borderless networks where we are given the freedom to stay connected, anytime, anywhere and on any device. The notion of social networking and the tools that make this possible were the recurring theme at the 18th Girl Geek Dinner hosted by Citrix in Santa Clara. During the course of the lightning talks and as the product line of Citrix unfolded, there was no doubt that the company was centric on improving the way people work and play.

Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace and industry leaders must adapt, react and innovate in this fluid market to stay ahead. The Citrix Dinner brought women in technology from all over the bay area together in Santa Clara for an event that would combine networking and company presentations from the perspective of female leaders.

Sarah Pavlick, Sr. IT Support Generalist, mentioned during her talk about her experience transitioning to a remote worker. She highlights her challenges commuting to work and demonstrates how Citrix products like HDFaces, GoToMeeting and GoToAssist have facilitated her job working from the home office.

Minoo Gupta’s, Sr. Director of Engineering, Cloud and Networking Division, stated, “We believe the exceptions of the PC era are the new assumptions of the Cloud era” during her presentation. The drawbacks of PC’s are being replaced by mobile work-style solutions which are enabled by cloud services. Minoo also shared her experiences working at a startup vs. a large company and the challenges start-ups face, such as financial constraints and faster work pace.

Kathy Chill, VP of Business Development, articulated valuable key points on developing strategic partnerships. Alignment is essential to developing strong partnerships because when road blocks occur and if the core pillars of the two businesses do not align, then something has to give way. Purpose, plan, alignment and accountability are essential to developing an effective roadmap.

Janine Lai, Director of Product Design, gave a captivating talk about her journey in product design. She spoke about the challenges her team faces such as designing a unify look and feel for the Citrix Receiver product.

Diane Gonzalez, VP of Engineering, detailed market transitions and how companies that adapt to changes are more likely to survive technology evolutions. It was quite interesting when she gave Kodak as an example. She then went on and talked about how she handles changes and how she makes decisions. Her rationale on her decision making process was both easy to understand and logical.

Ashi Sareen, Sr. Manager of Product Development, closed off the session talking about the Citrix CloudGateway.

It is not every day that you get to be in a room full of inspiring woman and hear them share experiences and talk about technology. But this is indeed the privilege you get to have every time you go to a Girl Geek Dinner!

In addition to the wonderful presentations, the event allotted time for guests to network and were served an assortment of appetizers and decadent desserts including some enormous chocolate covered strawberries!