Women in Tech Part I: LA’s top techies on craft, culture, stock options and more

by Hannah Levy
November 20, 2018
Women in the Los Angeles tech scene
photo via tamara mellon

Maybe you don’t buy into the idea that being a woman in the workplace means something different than being a man. Over half of the world is female, after all, and the experiences of those multiple billions of women differ drastically based on an unlimited number of factors.

But being a woman at a tech company — and at a tech company in LA — well, that’s altogether more concrete. On that, we have numbers.

We know, for example, that as of two years ago Los Angeles ranked second in U.S. cities with the highest share of female entrepreneurs. But we also know that the city was — on more than one occasion — ranked one of the least friendly for women-owned businesses.

To better understand what it means to be a female leader — or a leader who just happens to be female, as some of our interviewees countered — we went directly to the source. We interviewed seven women who are pushing the tech industry forward, and this week we’re sharing part one of those interviews.

Here’s what four tech leaders told us about finding their careers, honing their craft and considering their stock options right here in LA.  

 

Recommended for you:Women in Tech Part II: Techies on opportunity, development and making sure your voice is heard

 

Kate Edwards
Co-Founder and COO

Kate Edwards is co-founder and COO at Heartbeat, an adtech and social media company based in Venice. As COO, Kate is leading the charge to revive a centuries old medium — harnessing the power of word of mouth marketing to advertise smarter and meet customers where they are (namely, on social media). Here’s what Edwards told us about crossword puzzles, ROI and building a career in tech.

 

Being a COO means maintaining an incredible degree of organization — are there any work tools you don’t go a day without using?

Yes! 1) Google Keep: It’s better than Evernote but nobody knows about it. 2) Crossword puzzles: It’s a form of meditation — they help me clear my head. Other crossword people here will get it. 3) My Dagne Dover backpack: Dagne Dover is the first company to make a backpack for women that’s actually cute and professional. Also important because I often Bird to work. 4) Muji pens: Everyone in my office is addicted to them.
 

Heartbeat has some pretty ambitious goals — what’s that like from the inside? Is this the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

Heartbeat is changing the way brands interact with their consumers, actually giving real people a voice in marketing. We’re tackling scalability issues with influencer marketing, and we’re the only company in the space actually focused on ROI and the value of working with consumers.

In a way, we’re democratizing the advertising space. And I love that.

I started my career at a massive ad agency in New York — very old school — and no one yet understood that you could market WITH consumers, rather than just AT them. It’s energizing to know that what we’re building at Heartbeat is based on what I saw going wrong in the industry over a decade ago. 

 

You should understand what your equity means, and how the direction of the company your work for could affect your potential earnings.”

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

Even if you’re not a founder, you should understand what your equity means, and how the direction of the company your work for could affect your potential earnings.

Many people get excited about having equity in a company, but don’t take the time to learn about fundraising, valuations and cap tables. I’ve seen several women get thrown under the bus with this stuff, and I’d encourage all young women to learn everything they can as soon as they dive into startups. Read Brad Feld’s Venture Deals to get started.

 

What’s the number one way a company can support an employee’s goals — and how is Heartbeat providing that support?

The best thing a company can do to support its employees is to listen. At Heartbeat, our team is our biggest asset, and I spend a lot of time speaking with everyone individually to understand what we could be doing better and to get their opinions on decisions we’re making.

I’m constantly asking people to poke holes in how we do things — so often our best ideas come from the bottom up, rather than the other way around. Honestly, that’s something I’m really proud of.

 

 

RJ Stidd
Director of Product Delivery

RJ Stidd leads a team of strategists, technical architects, product managers and user experience specialists to get projects done — and, perhaps most importantly, to get them shipped. Her team at Sidebench, a modern technology consultancy and development studio, works to create high-impact strategies and products for B2B and B2C clients that empower them to do what they do best. We caught up with Stidd to learn more about how she ended up at Sidebench, and the work that’s most exciting to her today.  

 

Your job seems insanely busy — any work tools you don’t go a day without using?

Every morning I use Slack to get a digest of our daily content and check scrum updates from our remote teams. Once I get into the office, I use Slack (again), my Google Calendar Chrome extension, Asana and JIRA.

Sidebench always has an eye toward optimization and automation, so we use Zapier integrations to make Slack as universal as possible. Big nod to Chase “Optimizing and Automating In His Sleep” Adams for that!

 

Sidebench is tackling some interesting problems right now — what’s that like from the inside? Is this the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

I’ve always been passionate about using technology to make change — and I’m grateful Sidebench has provided me that opportunity.

One example: Our teams have an incredible set of inclusive design best practices. Right now we’re working internally to define software design and development standards for the rest of the industry to follow. It won’t be easy, but it’s critical for tech to embrace the need for inclusive design.

 

No matter who we are or how we look, we have to respect the value of diverse perspectives.

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

Own it. Believe in the value that you bring to the table.

When I was in my 20s I would hide anything that could be perceived as feminine about the way that I thought. I realize now that I was selling my products and teams short by not representing my perspective.

No matter who we are or how we look, we have to respect the value of diverse perspectives. Embracing diversity is ingrained in Sidebench’s DNA and I think it’s a big part of why our products are successful.

 

What’s the number one way a company can support your career goals — and how is Sidebench doing that?

Sidebench provides a growth-focused environment that empowers members to drive and define their own momentum. All employees set OKRs (objectives and key results) focused on growing in their current role, as well as future aspirations. Everyone — from our apprentices to directors — has a set of goals we’re passionate about achieving.

 

 

Nancy Vitug
VP of Engineering

Nancy Vitug is the VP of engineering at one of the city’s fastest-growing foodtech startups, ChowNow. As the person behind ChowNow’s platform and app, Vitug makes it possible for more than 10,000 brick-and-mortar restaurants to compete in the digital age. The engineering leader shared advice she’s been given (good and bad) by other female engineers, and why it’s important for companies to create an environment where employees are encouraged to ask questions and even — yes — fail.

 

Your job seems insanely busy — any work tools you don’t go a day without using?  

Definitely Slack. I probably don’t go more than 15 minutes without using it. Maybe even five minutes…

 

ChowNow is making big moves in a really competitive space — what’s that like from the inside? Is this the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

Our team has so many things happening right now — from redesigning some of our core products to building our data infrastructure team from scratch.

When I started my career, I didn’t know exactly where it would go, or what I wanted to do. Right now, I’m exactly where I want to be, and the experiences I’ve had throughout my career have shaped the direction I’ve taken.

 

Ultimately, I think the best advice anyone can give is to forge ahead as the person you are.”

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

When I started out as a developer, there wasn’t a lot of conversation about women in tech, but I was really lucky to work on a team with several awesome women.

I think the best thing is to find some trusted peer mentors who you can really talk to. I’ve received advice specifically related to being a woman in tech over the years — from being told not to display emotion, to being given the advice to smile more when dealing with conflict.

Ultimately, I think the best advice anyone can give is to forge ahead as the person you are.

 

What’s the number one way a company can support your career goals — and how is ChowNow doing that?

The best way to support a team member is to let them try things. Give people a chance to wander a bit outside their comfort zone but give them a safety net. I’ve found that if you give someone a chance to try something new, they’ll almost always grow into it.

I don’t believe in micro-managing people’s career paths, but rather letting it be an exploratory process. ChowNow is very supportive with training and conference opportunities — and works to be an environment where you can learn from others without fear. That’s super important, too, having the freedom to ask questions safely.

 

Jill Layfield
Founder and CEO

Jill Layfield’s company is breaking all kinds of rules. Her direct-to-consumer women’s luxury shoe brand, Tamara Mellon, makes shoes for women and by women — and is dead serious about disrupting the fashion world in the process. Layfield’s company prides itself on being an approachable luxury brand in a fast-paced, startup setting. Here’s what the serial entrepreneur told us about shoes, brick-and-mortar stores, flexible leave policies — and why she doesn’t allow gender to define her.

 

As CEO you probably don’t have much time to spare — are there any work tools you don’t go a day without using?

I spend a lot of my day on Slack because it’s much more efficient than email. I also don’t go a day (or should I say an hour) without using Metabase. Metabase is an open source, self-serve reporting and visualization tool that lets me drill down into hundreds of millions of rows of data across marketing, sales and operations to build easy-to-understand dashboards, graphs and tables.

 

What are some of the big projects Tamara Mellon is working on right now? Is it the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

We’re working on a new offline retail experience right now. There are many things that need to be improved to make the offline shoe buying experience more seamless, so there’s a lot to do. We just opened a new store in the Palisades Village and hope it’s the start of continued innovation in offline retail.

I definitely didn’t think I’d be working on making brick-and-mortar better when I was starting my career because I was convinced I’d only ever work in e-commerce.

 

My gender doesn’t define me and I would remind other women that it doesn’t define them either.”

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

I honestly can’t think of something I wish I’d been told. My gender doesn’t define me and I would remind other women that it doesn’t define them either.

The best work advice I’ve ever had was, “you won’t always be the smartest person in the room but you can be the hardest working.” More commonly put: work hard!

 

What’s the number one way a company can support an employee’s goals — and how is Tamara Mellon providing that support?

Flexible time-off. As a working mother, I need flexibility. The flexibility means I’m happier, more balanced — and that I can do better work. Paid time off and set work schedules are archaic. If I’m going to stay happy and focused I need to juggle work and home in a way that’s specific to what’s happening in my personal life.

 We understand this at Tamara Mellon and focus on goals in order to give employees the flexibility and freedom to manage their personal commitments alongside achieving those goals.

 

Jobs from companies in this blog26 open jobs
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