Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners Pursues Gender Equality in Silicon Valley

The male-dominated tech industry is an age-old problem. How many tech events have you attended with women as the obvious minority?

The lack of gender balance in the tech industry has always been an issue I identified with. When studying at USC, I was a board member of the University chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE). So when I started working at a tech company after college and found out about Bay Area Girl Geek dinners, the idea of combining women in technology, networking and fun – all in one night – sounded too good to be true! Was there really a network of girl geeks like me out there?

Girl Geek Dinners started in August 2005 in London and are now there are chapters of Girl Geek Dinners all over the world. Women 2.0 co-founder Angie Chang noticed that there was no Bay Area chapter, and promptly started one in 2008. It was received with an overwhelming response right from the first dinner, which was hosted by Google and drew 400 attendees.

I found out about Girl Geek Dinners on Facebook, and I felt I had to get involved! I work for Citrix, and HR was looking for some new and interesting ways to promote the San Francisco office. I suggested we host a Girl Geek Dinner, and what a success it was! Meanwhile I had emailed Angie asking if I could help her out in any way with the organization. When I finally met her at the dinner, we agreed that the first place I could start was by working on the website. A few weeks later, I began helping Angie with organizing the dinners. I didn’t know it at the time, but that event changed my life!

What do these dinners entail? Companies buy dinner and drinks for geek girls. This allows for networking  amongst the attendees and recruiting by the sponsoring company. There’s also co-branded schwag given out at the dinners to make the dinners more memorable.

The planning for a Girl Geek Dinner starts when a representative from a company shows interest in hosting an event. Some companies need more help and ask us to find them a venue, suggest talk topics, and even find speakers. Bigger companies have facilities on-site, and have employees from VPs to engineers who form the speaker panel to talk up their products and work culture, so don’t need hand holding in that regard. We stay in constant touch and two weeks before the event, we create a Eventbrite invite for attendees to register for free.

The format of these dinners has varied, from panel discussions to lightning talks. The talk topics and speaker bios are posted in the Eventbrite invite we publish via our mailing list, Facebook fan page, Twitter, and the website. The dinners usually fill up within a few minutes of opening the event for RSVPs! Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch called us “One of the toughest tickets to get in Silicon Valley”

What draws people to Girl Geek Dinners are the talk topics, the hosting company, and the opportunity to mingle with other attendees over dinner and drinks over the talk topics, which range from programming languages to career development in a tech company. These dinners have been very successful in connecting people together and in helping companies get their name out.

When I graduated from USC and began working, I wasn’t able to find an organization whose work excited me as SWE did. Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners does that and more for me. To say it has benefited me personally and professionally is a thorough understatement. I had always been too shy to let myself standout in a crowd, and now I am finally coming out of my shell as a co-organizer of Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. I especially love interacting with the interesting girl geeks I meet at these dinners. Through these dinners, women in tech can get together and encourage each other (and other women who want to get into the tech field) without being afraid, because this industry needs more female power!

To stay in touch about future dinners, sign up for our Mailing List, “Like” us on Facebook, and Follow us on Twitter!

This post was originally published in India West here

Profiling Female Engineers at Citrix on Lady Ada Lovelace day 2012

Lady Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer was a 19th-century mathematician who collaborated with Charles Babbage on his theoretical “Analytical Engine,” the world’s first computer.

October 16th is celebrated as “Ada Lovelace Day,” on which women  in Science, Tech, Engineering and Mathematics are celebrated for their work, whether contemporary or historical. The day to honor her began in 2009, when nearly 2,000 people pledged to blog about women in technology, using Oct. 16 as a marker.

Shirley Chiu, (Sr Prinicipal Sw Test Engineer) recognized her love for technology in Grade school, because she always loved puzzles, computers and Math. While she doesn’t have a single defining moment that explained her entry into the tech industry, her interest was mainly due to her parents influence. They were very keen she do something practical out of college.

She believes her biggest accomplishments have been largely through the success of all the people she influences in and beyond the QA department at Citrix OSD. Her advice? “Just feel that you have to love learning new things all the time and constantly share the knowlege you have gained with others. “

Amanda Helman, (Staff Sw Engineer) was the first female Software Engineer at OSD. She says her mother was her biggest role model as a woman in tech. She taught Amanda how to program and ran the computer lab in her school. Amanda very quickly found her calling when she figured out she could write programs to do anything she wanted; including talk back to her! She would have scripted conversations with them instead of imagining her stuffed animals talked!

Amanda wanted to be in the Tech industry, instead of her original choice of Art, when she took her first Computer Science classes in High School. It was just as much fun as Art, but had much clearer parameters for sucess! Having a big brother who was a programmer was a major plus as well. Her advice? “Speak your mind – sometimes I’m tempted to censor myself because I fear the things I say will be taken differently just because I’m a woman, but you can’t let such hypotheticals control you.”

Kimaya Mittal, (Principal Research Engineer) fell in love with programming when she took her first Computer classes in High School.  The subject being a natural fit for her, she realized immediately it was what she wanted to do!

She recognizes her biggest achievement is her work over the last three years designing, analyzing and continuously improving the bandwidth management technology that powers GoToMeeting HDFaces.

Her advice? “Do what you love and what best fits your interests and talents. To me, that is the only way to be truly happy – in technology or otherwise.”

On Ada Lovelace day I encourage you to think about which woman in tech inspires you? What do you think you can accomplish in order to be a role model to younger girls?

Six takeaways from Microsoft’s ‘Your Office Your Terms Panel’ 2012

Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion about women entrepreneurs at Microsoft’s office. Representatives from Women 2.0, Astia, 85 Broads, Women in Public Policy (WIPP) and National Association for Women Business Owners (NAWBO) talked about best practices and practical advice for women entrepreneurs at this “Your Office, Your Terms” cloud event. Sepideh Nasiri represented Women 2.0 on the informative panel.

I learned a lot about the challenges a woman could face when starting her own company, and how to be prepared for it.

Here my top 6 takeaways from the event:

  • Talk about your company and products in the present, not in the future – right from the start! Your company exists from the moment there is an idea. Literally fake it until you make it.

  • Thoroughly research the VCs you plan to approach. Find out whether they fund businesses like yours. Perfect your pitch before you meet them. There’s definitely a learning curve on how to craft your pitch well, but it’s not rocket science.

  • Research your potential competitors in detail. Find out what makes them successful. Your biggest customer might be your biggest competitor one day and vice versa.

  • Don’t be afraid to pitch your idea to anyone who will listen. The more you pitch, the more feedback you will receive. Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea – you will only improve your pitch with practice.

  • The biggest challenge for women entrepreneurs is themselves. Learn to sculpt your language to be positive, and start a healthy pattern early.

  • Get the right people on the bus. Technology has to be your friend if you want to be competitive today. Make sure someone on your A-team is the technologist if you aren’t.

The panel also shed light on their respective organizations and what they do to help women entrepreneurs:

The Q&A session that followed exposed typical problems women entrepreneurs face when they approach VCs, and how to handle them.

Above all, I learnt that if you really want to start a company, there are various organizations that can help you through the process. Aim for the stars, dream big, and believe in yourself!

 This post was originally published in Women2.0’s blog here