By Meg Campbell (Founder, GirlHack)
Welcome to GirlHack Origins, a podcast celebrating women being geeky, girly or whoever they want to be.
Meg Campbell: Introduce yourself and what you’re up to?
Angie Chang: Sure, I co-founded Women 2.0 with three other women in the Silicon Valley in 2006. We started out with the Women 2.0 Conference — it was a play on Web 2.0 Expo at the time — and since then we’ve grown from mixers, workshops and panels for women entrepreneurs to a pre-incubator program to funnel women toward the Y Combinator and Techstars incubators since there are so few women applying for those. We provide them with a program that helps them find their team, validate their ideas and meet a lot of awesome mentors and advisors. We also hold global Founder Friday networking meetups.
Beside Women 2.0, my other hat is with the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners where I work with large tech companies like Google and Facebook as well as smaller startups like LOLapps to hold large parties for girl geeks where we have dinner, listen to speakers from women who are in tech, working on tech, working in tech — a variety of events for women in the Silicon Valley — that’s what I’ve been doing.
Meg Campbell: That’s awesome. That’s actually how we met. I attended one of the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners and think it’s really cool what you’re doing. What drove you to help create Women 2.0 and lead the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners?
Angie Chang: Women 2.0 was a no-brainer at the time. In 2006, there weren’t really many options for women who had just, like myself and my other co-founders, we were all 23 or 24 out of college — we didn’t have that network — we were in the Silicon Valley from Berkeley and Canada and we didn’t this built-in network that usually schools do or alumni associations — so we decided to create our own network and create our own new girl’s club to rival the old boy’s club. Since we were always the four women in the room of a hundred guys, we decided “wouldn’t it be cool to have just some events where it’s just women, so we could meet a hundred women at a time instead of going to all these events and meeting a handful here and a handful there.”
So that’s where Women 2.0 came about — we wanted to meet the other women in the room, at these Women 2.0-themed events! Of course, there’s so many more events that we all go to as well but if you ever wanted to meet twenty or thirty female founders of tech startups, you come to a Women 2.0 event to meet them.
And for the Girl Geek Dinners, I was surfing the web and heard about these cool London Girl Geek Dinners, and Netherlands Girl Geek Dinners, and Girl Geek Dinners happening all over the world but NOT in San Francisco which shocked me. So I contacted Sarah Blow in London and asked how to start a Girl Geek Dinner. She gave me the chapter in San Francisco so now I run the Girl Geek Dinners in the area.
We’ve hosted about 7 dinners in the last 3 years and there have been about 200-400 girl geeks at a time being celebrated by Google, Facebook, etc. We get a piece of schwag that’s co-branded so the girls get to walk away with a girl-sized t-shirt with a tech logo on it. It’s a fun event and very supportive of women in technology.
Meg Campbell: Which is great — I had a lot of fun at the Girl Geek Dinner I was able to go to. Stepping back to get to know a little more about you — what do you think led you down this path? Have you always been into technology? Was there a certain point growing up? Did you see yourself more geeky or girly?
Angie Chang: I’ve actually grown up more of a tomboy — I’ve played softball, and I’ve done practically every kind of dance and sport there is, but what really resonated with me was when I was in high school (in 1996-2000) my friends were leaders of campus organizations, and I was the shy one — so I was always the one on computers, and at the time I was on AOL and I really wanted to make websites for everyone. I learned how to do HTML and the very beginnings of CSS, Photoshop, took pictures, put them online, created newsletters… That’s my geeky start. Most people didn’t know how to make a website, so it was a great chance for me as a shy, tomboy-ish girl to get online and be a communicator that way.
Meg Campbell: That’s great — Was that your introduction to geeky stuff? You’ve kept up with it, but how have you kept up with it — and have you enjoyed it?
Angie Chang: When I went off to college, I wanted to be a computer science major like most people at Berkeley at the time. We all tried to get into the computer science major, it was really hard, and I eventually decided to major in the humanities — but at the same time, I was holding jobs as webmaster for campus oganizations. Once I graduated, I started working in startups. I actually didn’t identify as a geek most of the time, until I started working in the startup world and I realized I was sitting in engineering teams as the only girl most times at these tech startups, and they were all self-proclaimed geeks and it was “cool”. I never actually thought about the geek moniker until after I graduated college. It’s the Silicon Valley — we’re so into our geeks, we’re so into our founders, that with Women 2.0 and Girl Geek Dinners, I have to bring out my feminist side — here is the intersection of feminism and technology, and where women are in the Silicon Valley, trying to improve our status of women in technology. Kind of a weird story there, but that’s how I came to realize the organizations I helped co-found.
Meg Campbell: Now do you have girly sides to you as well?
Angie Chang: Actually I only own one pair of jeans — I can’t find them right now. I mostly live in skirts and dresses just because they’re more comfortable for me. I like wearing skirts with tights in the Bay Area, and I’d go to all these events with guys that wear t-shirts and jeans and I’d feel distinctly different but at the same time I just don’t like to wear jeans anymore! I’m trying to stick to what I feel looks good and feels good, but at the same time people wear jeans because they think it looks good and feels good. It’s something I have to play with every day — “Should I just put on a pair of jeans that I don’t like to wear because I want to blend in, or can I go ahead and wear that skirt and tights because I actually feel comfortable in them?”
Meg Campbell: I think the skirt is awesome. I also love skirts, and that’s how GirlHack started was, “Do I buy skirts or video games?” So going back to Women 2.0, and one of the reasons I also started GirlHack was the lack of girls in tech field — and I’m obviously trying to encourage the culture so women aren’t so scared of it, if you will… What can you say that you’ve learned or gleaned from running these Women 2.0 events for anyone out there who is trying to start a tech startup, and maybe is a woman on her own?
Angie Chang: What I’ve learned with Women 2.0 is — we come across these problems that society has put upon us, such as “we have to have kids” and “we have to find childcare” so we can work on our startups and put in these hours that are needed of us to move forward. It’s a big picture problem where we don’t have childcare, and we don’t necessarily always have the Jack Donaughy’s of the world being supportive of women leaders. We really should hav emore of them. As we are modernizing, we are getting more of them but we still need more Jack Donaughy’s for the Liz Lemon’s and more support for women who want to “have it all”. Ambitious women are finding all these challenges to get to the next level, but I believe we’ll get there — it’s just going to take a bit of time and a lot of hard work.
Meg Campbell: So I know it comes up over and over again, these articles of less women are going into science or math or technology and there is always five different answers for why that’s happening — What do you think it is, and do you think the two efforts you are behind is helping change that?
Angie Chang: We actually don’t work at the high school or college level — there are a lot of great organizations that are, and I believe the consensus is that classes can be taught differently, and computer science and the hard sciences can be taught differently in a way that is more engaging. For example, when I was learning computer science in college, I found it overly technical and didn’t see the purpose of writing a compiler at the time (my first class, I was told to write a compiler, and I didn’t even know what a compiler is!). If it was made more relevant and framed different, there will be more women taking these classes and seeing the end goal to it. That takes a lot of effort — in education, in K-12, high school and college — to make computer science and programming classes more applicable and less foreign.
For Women 2.0, our cohort is post-college so we can’t do much there, besides — if someone comes to us for speaker recommendations, we are happy to make them — but we are focusing on the post-college, twentysomething set, thirtysomething set, and the second career people who are lost — that’s our cohort and we don’t have the power in the schooling system right now to change anything, unfortunately, but I believe the Anita Borg Institute is doing some great things with supporting women in engineering and you should definitely check them out if you are interested.
Meg Campbell: Yeah, I will! Even if some of the same papers and articles I read on the topic also say that a lot of women will enter the field but they will leave, and I’m curious to your solution or viewpoint on that.
Angie Chang: Affinity groups are really great — the Society of Women Engineers, and companies like Google putting money into supporting all these organizations for women in colleges is great — and gives women the bigger picture so, they’re slogging along in college, but hopefully when Google steps in and gives money to the Society of Women Engineers, the women will hopefully stay because they have a road and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Meg Campbell: When I worked at a tech company in the Bay Area, I met some women engineers and it was interesting to me that one of these girls was putting her husband through his Ph.D but as soon as he got it and got a job, she was fully planning to quit a very well-off tech company and — go home and just be a housemaker, which is great, I hope one day to have both, but it was interesting that she was so willing to leave her career path so soon, and to go back to your earlier point about schools and the way that some of these classes are taught, it seems like so much of the geek culture and programming, they go hand in hand — You have to have this total love for it and want to be immersed in it, versus learning how it’s a tool and a tool that will help improve your life continually
Angie Chang: Right, social entrepreneurship is great because it’s attracting a lot of women into technology and entrepreneurship. When I was in college, I hated business majors — we called them “Haas-holes” at Berkeley — and now, I am more interested in business and I think it’s a way of framing the situation. So for women, if you put the frame around “technology as you’re to use this to help people and create great social entrepreneurship causes like Samasource and Catchafire — maybe women would stay in computer science because they see these great products being created using technology to help people, instead of helping large corporations make money.
Meg Campbell: Speaking of that, can you share good stories from Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners?
Angie Chang: I was surprised by the outpouring of support I get from large companies in the Silicon Valley and smaller startups. They are looking to hire and they would love to hire women — and that’s why they come to Girl Geek Dinners and sponsor these events.
Google in 2008 hosted 400 women at their headquarters, gave them an open bar, sushi, and schwag — lots of cool mugs and tshirts were given out. Onstage we had a panel of women working in all aspects of technology: the Google Director of User Experience with kids and she talked about juggling and having it all.
We had a woman venture capitalist. We had a woman developer. We had a woman startup CEO, and a woman entrepreneur, so it was a great well-rounded panel onstage at Charlie’s Cafe. It was great because all these women in the audience was seeing the diversity of women in technology succeeding, hearing their stories, and feeling this overwhelming support from Google to women for their different endeavors. This outpouring of support from large companies does help with retaining women.
Meg Campbell: Explain how you deal with guys wanting to be involved with either of these two organizations, and how many of them are actually interested in the organizations versus thinking it’s a great pickup place.
Angie Chang: I often do have men requesting to come to Girl Geek Dinner events, and I simply tell them — “You can come, but you have to find a girl geek to bring with you and she can sign you up as her plus one.” And usually they say, “Aw man I don’t know any girls…” and I say “Of course you have to know at least one girl who might be interested in coming to learn and — you can convince her to try on technology if she’s not in the tech field — to just come and try it out. And I think that’s good for the cause overall. We’re not discriminating against men really, we’re just saying “Hey, put in a little effort and find a girl to come with you.”
Also, for Women 2.0 events, we do have men attend and they are invited to all our events. For example, the Women 2.0 Labs program is about 80% women and 20% men — and it’s not like we’re excluding men — we specially market to women to try to up the percentage of women in our programming. For example, most tech events around Stanford will be 20% women, 80% guys — we’re just flipping that ratio, and nobody is excluding anyone, but it’s just we’re marketing for women because we are a bunch of women at the helm.
Meg Campbell: That’s great. Again, I applaud you for both of these events. I’ve been to both of these before, and I was just at one the other night which I really enjoyed, the first networking event since moving back to Los Angeles that I cared about and made good connections at. More power to you, and I hope to see both of them continue well on into the future.
Angie Chang: Thank you!
Meg Campbell: So before we get going here, I have these fun, rapid-fire questions I like to ask — an homage to Inside the Actor’s studio — so are you ready?
Angie Chang: Yes!
Meg Campbell: What was the first video game you owned?
Angie Chang: I owned Super Mario Brothers 1, 2 and 3 — and Tetris!
Meg Campbell: What was the first CD you bought?
Angie Chang: Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt.
Meg Campbell: What is your favorite workout?
Angie Chang: My favorite workout is simply going to the gym and using the stairmaster and elliptical. I used to be a long distance runner, but I do like to go to the gym three times a week and release all that stress from reading too emails every day.
Meg Campbell: PC, Mac or Linux?
Angie Chang: I have a Macbook right now, and if I had a desktop, I’d definitely have Linux on it.
Meg Campbell: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte or Samantha?
Angie Chang: I like Miranda. It’s actually quite funny because at one of the Women 2.0 events we had name tags, and someone had thought to have this game where we write down the name of the Sex and the City character we were. And in the middle of the event, we turned around and realized that almost every woman in the crowd had a “Miranda” on. It was quite amusing.
Meg Campbell: Chocolate or sugar candies?
Angie Chang: Sugar.
Meg Campbell: Diamonds, pearls or neither?
Angie Chang: Neither.
Meg Campbell: Guilty pleasure TV show?
Angie Chang: I love Parks & Recreation, and 30 Rock.
Meg Campbell: Microsoft, Google or Apple?
Angie Chang: I’m personally a fan of Google and I hope they one day dominate the social space so we can all get off Facebook.
Meg Campbell: Last question — skirts or video games?
Angie Chang: I like my skirts as I wear them every day, and I would love to play my Super Mario Brothers on my Ninetendo once again, but as I realized earlier — it takes so much blowing on the cassette and slamming it around to get it to work, I don’t think I can do that anymore! But if my sister had her Katamari, I would definitely play that with her for many hours, every week.
Meg Campbell: I love that game…
Angie Chang: So I think you can do both of them at the same time, you can wear your skirt and you can play your Katamari!
Meg Campbell: Good answer, good answer, I like it. Thank you again Angie! Where can people find out about you day-to-day, or either of your organizations?
Angie Chang: I usually stand behind the Women 2.0 website at women2.org and the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner website at bayareagirlgeekdinners.com. There is a Twitter for Women 2.0 at women2 and I am on Twitter as @thisgirlangie.
I should probably make myself a website — I am hoping to go to business school and I’m sure every MBA student has their own home page, it’s probably a requirement or something — and that would be my impetus to finally getting around to doing that. You should definitely have your own blog and I am guilty of not having that. I should go make that tonight….
Meg Campbell: Just go to GoDaddy, register thisgirlangie.com, forward it to a Tumblr and you’re all set.
Angie Chang: I do have a Tumblr! I have so many accounts on so many different platforms that I just tested out or use for different things, but they’re not aggregated! So, I should do that…
Meg Campbell: You’ll get there… Thank you so much again and good luck to you in the future!
Angie Chang: Thanks! Thanks for your time!
Editor’s note: Since this interview was aired, the domain thisgirlangie.com has been purchased by the interviewee.