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Why changing the face of the “superstar developer” matters

October 7, 2019
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Neha Narkhede began her career as a software engineer, working at Oracle and LinkedIn. She was a co-creator of Apache Kafka, a popular open-source stream-processing software platform that was created at LinkedIn. She spoke on a panel Girl Geek Dinner while she was still in engineering there. She saw a big opportunity with Kafka and convinced her fellow Kafka co-creators to start Confluent as a B2B infrastructure company in 2014 – Kafka’s event streaming is used by 60% of Fortune 100 companies today.

Changing the face of the “superstar developer” matters for all of us

Confluent founders Jay Kreps, Neha Narkhedee, Jun Rao

With only 2% of venture capital going to women entrepreneurs, Neha beat the odds and demonstrated that it’s possible to thrive as a technical leader. She served five years as the company’s Chief Technology Officer, and recently became Chief Product Officer to continue growing the brand. Confluent’s founders recently raised Series D venture funding for the company at a valuation of $2.5 billion, and they employ over 900 people.

Silicon Valley needs more Neha’s

In the 21st century, tech companies have made entrepreneurs cool again – an acceptable career path with ambitious MBAs heading to tech instead of finance. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff have started billion-dollar companies, with press coverage of their every sentence. Hospitals are named after them. NVIDIA’s Jensen Huang’s name is on the newest Stanford engineering building. These highly visible entrepreneurs impact the next generation of inventors and engineers.

The women of Silicon Valley haven’t made the same impact, with the exception of famous spouses. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has a strong chance to make an outsized impact outside her current professional role, we shall see what she does in the future. Many accomplished, super-smart women of Silicon Valley don’t gloss nearly as many magazine covers or present as many conference keynotes. What is the story behind Amazon’s MacKenzie Bezos and her hand in building the world’s biggest business?

It’s time to stop hiding behind humility and enable the mechanisms to lift up technical women leaders, entrepreneurs and investors. That means, have a marketing/PR budget to power the promotion of your women leaders and ensure their press coverage. We need more buzzy business magazine covers with diverse faces:

Meg Whitman, Limor Fried, Yoky Matsuoka, Katrina Lake, Audrey Gelman, Arlan Hamilton
Magazine covers starring (from top left): Meg Whitman, Limor Fried, Yoky Matsuoka, Katrina Lake, Audrey Gelman, Arlan Hamilton

Neha is tracking to be the next cloud computing leader. VMware’s Diane Greene sat on Alphabet’s board (she’s also on the boards of Intuit and Stripe) and led Google Cloud as CEO until 2018. In her final Google blog post, she wrote: “I want to encourage every woman engineer & scientist to think of building their own company someday. The world will be a better place with more female founder CEOs.

The adage “You can’t be what you can’t see” means we need more women leading at the highest levels, and more technical women in the spotlight, gracing magazine covers, giving talks and interviews. We need to invest in their startups, buy from women-led businesses, and hire and retain more women in male-dominated industries.

Shining a spotlight on women in tech

Just as Grace Hopper Celebrations fill employers’ recruiting university pipelines, we need technical women to succeed at mid and senior levels as well – to be retained in addition to being hired, encouraged and recognized, paid fairly and promoted.

We need to fix the leaky pipeline in addition to hiring new grads.

Melinda Gates recently told Harvard Business Review: Go to your company and say we’re going to open more internships at different levels. How do we create pathways in?”

Angie Chang and Sukrutha Raman Bhadouria, co-founders of Girl Geek X

At Girl Geek X, we have been putting women onstage for over a decade at their companies’ dinners for networking and learning.

We love watching women progress in their career journeys, whether it’s working in big tech company, or at a startup.

Join us at an upcoming Girl Geek Dinner!

Sponsor a Girl Geek Dinner to organize one at your company / employer!

Watch the video from Confluent Girl Geek Dinner featuring Neha Narkhede, Bret Scofield, Liz Bennett, Priya Shivakumar, and Dani Traphagen on YouTube. Please subscribe to our Girl Geek X channel on YouTube for videos from our events.

This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse by Angie Chang.

(Top Photo by: Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X)