In the high-tech arena of Silicon Valley, “techies” and “geeks” are a dime a dozen. So how does one stand out above the white noise in a city so abundant with tech-heavy ideas, industries, and people? Well, one way is to be a girl geek and then gather all the women around you to create a network to support each other professionally. Now that will get guys’ heads to turn…
I recently sat down with Angie Chang, co-founder of Women 2.0, a San Francisco Bay Area organization committed to increasing the number of womenentrepreneurs in the tech industries. Its vision is “to be a catalyst for change, mobilizing a global community of ambitious women entrepreneurs seeking to advance the world through technology.”
I’m a little intimidated to be honest. But Angie is a cool girl, quite chic, and not what you imagine a “geek” to be. Here, I share a little of our conversation.
H: Hi Angie! It’s great to be able to meet up with you today. You are one of the co-founders of Women 2.0, which aims to bring together techie women in Silicon Valley. Tell me how the idea got started.
A: I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004 and my first job out of college was at tech startup YouSendIt in Palo Alto – I was hired as their web producer and employee number nine. I was new to the Silicon Valley and its entrepreneurial lifestyle, so I began attending seminars and lectures on the Stanford campus on business, technology, and entrepreneurship. For every room of 50 guys, I would find 1-2 other young women in the audience. The co-founders of Women 2.0 were doing the exactly same thing I was — working in tech startups, feeling the lack of community in the female entrepreneurial community, and wanting to network with the women of the burgeoning web 2.0 movement.
A: Yes, our first event was the Women 2.0 conference in April of 2006 featuring a panel of startup founders that happen to be women: the list includes Elaine Wherry and Sandy Jen of Meebo, Emily Chang of eHub, Joyce Park of Renkoo. We received so much support for our mission of networking current and aspiring women entrepreneurs that we continued to hold events monthly from then on — from meeting up at bars to hosting panels on the Stanford campus and in downtown San Francisco. We even started an annual business plan competition (“Pitch 2009: Startup Competition) for women entrepreneurs, and run workshop series for women entrepreneurs (“Jumpstart Your Startup”)
H: How is the organization going? Is it growing strong?
A: Absolutely, our team has grown organically from four co-founders to a team of over a dozen women who take on various tasks from event production to business development, from managing the business plan competition to managing the members of the Women 2.0 community on college campuses. Beside having a strong team of incredible individuals, we see a diverse set of new and returning Women 2.0 members at our events. I hosted a wine and cheese at my apartment once, and I had never seen a hundred women in my apartment at one time. We frequently reach capacity at our venues, but we also try to hold our monthly meetups at venues that are intimate and fun to facilitate networking.
H: Angie, you also launched Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners in early 2008 so that guys would essentially “come as the +1 for once.” Tell me about your perspectives as a woman in this male-dominated field and your ideas behind the Dinners.
A: Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners is basically an extension of the Girl Geek Dinners which originated in London. Most geek events (tech, entrepreneurship, Battlestar Galactica meetups, etc) are so male dominated we joke that the only women present are working the registration table or someone’s “plus one”. When I started Girl Geek Dinners in the Bay Area, I wanted to make the Girl Geek Dinners special for geek girls — and the events so lucrative that guys who want to come have to come as the “plus one” of a girl geek. This way we keep the events female-centric and it’s always fun to see the gender ratio of a geek event in the Silicon Valley reversed! The first Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner was sponsored by Google and drew 800 girl geeks, and a mere handful of male guests. Topics at Girl Geek Dinners range from building credibility and reputation in technology and business, to engineering Facebook applications.
H: Wow! Eight hundred women. That can be quite intimidating for those “plus one” guys! Haha. So, career-wise you are into web design and marketing. What motivates you? What do you love about it?
A: I love how the web is viral and open 24/7 to the public. I started web design in high school, when my sister was KEY Club President. Because we had so many awesome events and pictures to show for it, I learned to hand-code websites with Notepad and to Photoshop scanned pictures, arranging them stylistically on webpages that would be viewed by 10x more people than had actually volunteered. I really believed in showing how much fun the KEY Club members had at their volunteer activities, as a way to grow membership and promote the club’s mission statement of helping others. Every website I design and produce is a marketing vehicle for a cause — KEY Club promotes community service, Women 2.0 promotes networking women entrepreneurs, etc. I love to make it easy for any random person on the Internet who stumbles upon my website to 1.) realize the community and potential in the organization and 2.) find out how to participate or join. When I build websites for businesses or corporations, it’s a very similar thought process but instead the goal is to encourage people to spend money on a product or service.
H: How do you see the face of the tech and web changing?
A: Well, I graduated college in 2004, so I grew up with Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, LiveJournal, Xanga, and AOL chat rooms… In the last few years, I have seen the web attempt to really monetize from “social media” applications. Yelp sells advertisements to local businesses and has built an amazing community of Yelpers. The advent of Facebook’s platform (both paid advertising and Facebook “fan pages”) along with the popularity of Yelp have convinced many small and medium-size businesses to hire young professionals as “social media strategists” to help them understand the youth market and leverage the Internet (namely Facebook and Yelp, maybe even this “Twitter” they read about in the Wall Street Journal).
H: Even TaiwaneseAmerican.org is on Twitter now!
A: I am waiting for web 3.0 to emerge — that will be when all these discombobulated simple web 2.0 applications and endless “social media” websites finally level out to reveal a cohesive and functional web 3.0 world that unites all disparate applications. We just have to wait and see.
H: So as a Taiwanese American, what was it like for you growing up? Did you feel the pressure of going into the sciences?
A: I grew up in Orange County where there was a relatively large and diverse Asian population. I don’t remember identifying things as Taiwanese — my parents spoke Taiwanese to each other, but Mandarin to my sister and myself. In the vein of the Taiwanese way, my mom put me through 11 years of classical piano training, and a few years of Chinese school. Thanks to her persistence in my growing up as a well-rounded individual, today I can play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, op. 13 (commonly known as Sonata Pathétique), and read the Chinese words for things like cow, sheep, and fish — very useful for reading Chinese food menus.
A: My mom also encouraged me to build leadership skills and get into a good college, so I was a Girl Scout for years and earned my Silver and Gold Awards. Surprisingly enough, my mom never pressured me to go into the sciences. She knew I was a bit of a web geek, so even though I couldn’t get through the pre-req computer science classes at UC Berkeley, I had plenty of work experience in web design and marketing coming out of college. My mom’s current pressures on me are to buy a condo/townhouse/house (build credit by paying off a mortgage), have a full-time job (preferably in the government, of course), and get married (so she can stop worrying about me and retire happily to Taiwan). I try to keep her Taiwanese ideals for my life in mind, but we also recognize that I was born and raised in California so the view of the good life in California today is not the same as it was in the 60s and 70s in Taiwan.
H: Oh, Taiwanese moms. We all have them… Speaking of Taiwan, when was the last time you visited Taiwan?
A: I participated in the first Taiwan Tech Trek in the summer of 2005. I hadn’t been back to Taiwan for maybe 10 years prior to that, so I was super excited to go with a bunch of other ABTs (American-Born Taiwanese) my age and do something technical while having fun on the Formosa island. My internship was at the Taipei Zoo so we prototyped an English website for their Conservation Project. Between days of coding webpages, we made friends with animal keepers and went behind the scenes at some of the exhibits. It was a great experience, both the internship and simply being in Taiwan for the summer — navigating the MRT (Taipei Rapid Transit System), shopping and eating at night markets, and checking out the Taiwanese scene for young professionals.
H: Yes, the Taiwan Tech Trek is an excellent program I hear, and it’s great to connect with other Taiwanese Americans and explore the common heritage and culture together. So Angie, what are your future plans and big ideas?
A: Currently I am on the hunt for full-time employment as a web designer or marketing manager. I’m also open to contract work and special projects. My resume and cover letter are online.
H: I have no doubt you’ll be hired soon. You are definitely talented and quite visionary. Let me ask you this: If you could give advice to young people out there, especially the Taiwanese or Asian American young women, what would that be?
A: If you have a vision or dream for yourself, you can execute on it. Think as big as you possibly can! How can you make the most of yourself, for yourself and/or for the greater good? Don’t hesitate to broach your ideas to other people, especially to those who can help you achieve your dreams. To start, you can buy me a cup of coffee and tell me all about it…
H: I’m buying your next cup of coffee!
Women 2.0: http://www.women2.org
Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners: http://www.bayareagirlgeekdinners.com
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/thisgirlangie
Hire Angie (because she is awesome): http://www.visualcv.com/thisgirlangie
Ho Chie Tsai is the creator of TaiwaneseAmerican.org and loves meeting people who are out to make a difference in the world. He also has a soft-spot for “geeks” because he was an electrical engineering major back in his college days.