Innovators at work: How 5 women leaders in LA tech are changing their industries

by Michael Hines
June 26, 2019

Technology companies often talk about “moving fast” and “disrupting” the status quo, but the reality is that it takes a bit of time, a lot of hard work and diverse perspectives to truly effect change across an entire industry. Los Angeles is filled with tech companies that have committed themselves to driving change, and though the products they’re building may be wildly different, the following companies all share one thing in common: visionary women leaders who are changing the game.

We recently caught up with five of these local leaders to learn more about the biggest challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve successfully navigated them.

 

Ecosense Los Angeles tech jobs

Technology and lighting company Ecosense builds solid-state LED luminaries and complete lighting solutions. The company holds over 140 patents, and its products have illuminated everything from the Hotel Royal Macau to the headquarters of HarperCollins and Dubai’s Mall of Emirates. 

Senior Systems Engineer Sana Ashraf said that while the lighting industry has historically been a boy’s club, she’s been able to play a big role in the design and development of game-changing products.

 

How are you driving a change in your industry through your work?

Lighting has historically been a very male-dominated industry, but I have had great luck and have been able to play a pivotal role in designing industry-changing products. I started my journey at Ecosense by working on Rise, which won the “Red Dot: Best of the Best” award, a very prestigious global contest highlighting the best product designs in the world. Over the years, I have been able to take a leading role in higher-level design decisions that not only drive new product development and technology but also have a huge impact throughout the lighting industry.

Being a female engineer in a male-dominated field, there was the huge potential for me to face greater barriers that have nothing to do with technology. But I have been very fortunate that the challenges I faced were only technology-related. As a consequence of this, I have become even more focused on making sure that other women engineers get a platform as great as I did and I am mentoring those who want to grow and become leaders.

One important lesson I learned along the way was to never question one’s own intelligence or capability but to question the approach if it’s taking too long to solve a problem.

 

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how have you overcome those challenges?

From the very beginning of my career, I’ve had to jump into very complicated technical design implementations without a lot of industry background to rely on. This meant that I had to learn all the technology and rules on how to execute good design decisions while also doing the work.

I overcame these challenges by sheer dedication, determination and by not being afraid to ask questions. One important lesson I learned along the way was to never question one’s own intelligence or capability but to question the approach if it’s taking too long to solve a problem.


Spring Labs Los Angeles tech jobs

Spring Labs is a young startup — the company exited stealth a little over a year ago — yet it’s already changing the tech community. Co-founder and General Counsel Anna Fridman shared a few of the ways the company is empowering and equipping local women to find success in tech.

 

How are you driving change in your industry through your work?

I’ve always been a steadfast believer that real change starts from the ground up. I know that may sound cliché, but, in my lifetime, I’ve found that monumental shifts in societal views have been the result of generations of improvement, not necessarily a single event.

At Spring Labs, we make a concentrated effort to empower women in technology as early and often as we possibly can, whether it’s hosting a meetup at our office teaching women of all ages to code, mentoring children at schools throughout the Los Angeles area or providing lesser-experienced employees with opportunities typically reserved for veterans. We’re doing everything that we can to empower women of all generations to succeed in this industry.

We’re doing everything that we can to empower women of all generations to succeed in this industry.

 

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how have you overcome those challenges?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a co-founder in the blockchain and financial services space is recruiting and building an early-stage team that reflects a corporate culture of diversity and inclusion. Competition for top technology talent is fierce, especially in California, and it’s more difficult when you’re a startup that’s less than a few years old. Therefore, one of the first projects I helped lead here at Spring Labs was the organization of an internal diversity committee, which is comprised of every key member of our hiring team, in order to ensure that diversity would be, and would remain, a key focus from day one.

 

CCC Los Angeles tech jobs

The auto insurance industry is experiencing a tech revolution, and companies like CCC are leading the charge. Lead Product Designer Jan Hardisty plays a key role in the development of the company’s products, which help simplify complex processes, like estimating the damage to a vehicle from a crash. Prior to becoming a designer, Hardisty was a business analyst at CCC, and she said the company fully supported her professional interests as they evolved.

 

How are you driving change in your industry through your work?

Here at CCC, we build apps for the automotive insurance and repair industries. Our customers range from your local auto repair shops to the largest insurance companies. My role is to design products that are intuitive and beautiful while delivering against functional requirements.

For example, we recently released CCC Smart Estimate, the world’s first vehicle damage estimating software powered by AI. This product uses AI to generate predictions about the vehicle’s damage using photo analytics. It also has an integrated AI assistant that guides the end-user through the vehicle damage estimating process. So far, our customer reaction has been fantastic, because CCC Smart Estimate immensely simplifies a complex process. For me, that’s the reward, since my passion is designing products that people love to use. 

As CCC’s product lines expand, I find that I am challenged each day to learn more about new approaches, technologies and practices.

 

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how have you overcome those challenges?

My journey is probably different than others. Prior to becoming a UX designer, my role was as a business analyst at CCC. This background afforded me the benefit of learning about the business, customers and product lines. But it also meant that I had a lot to learn about user interface, user experience and design processes. CCC has been encouraging and supportive of my career progression.

Today, my focus is not just UX design, but also continuously improving our agile processes and tooling around UX/UI. As CCC’s product lines expand, I find that I am challenged each day to learn more about new approaches, technologies and practices. It’s been said that the only constant is change, which is certainly true at CCC as the company grows and evolves.

 

BlackLine Los Angeles tech jobs

Doing something that’s never been done before is exciting, but it can also be scary. BlackLine’s Director of Machine Learning and Data Science, Sapna Nagaraj, has built a long career in tech and knows how fear of the unknown and failure can hold a team back from reaching their full potential. To ensure her team is successful, Nagaraj encourages them to take things one step at a time.

 

How are you driving change in your industry through your work?

Technology is changing faster than ever. We have to innovate to stay relevant. However, it is very difficult to successfully innovate. There are a lot of unknowns and a general fear of failure. As a leader, I try to bring about change by innovating in small steps while keeping an eye on the big picture. This has helped us move forward and effectively bring about change.

As a leader, I try to bring about change by innovating in small steps while keeping an eye on the big picture.

 

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how have you overcome those challenges?

It’s well known that the tech industry has been male-dominated. Although we see more women taking up STEM these days, women have historically shied away from leadership roles. All it takes is a few strong role models to inspire the rest of the women in an organization to step up. BlackLine is setting an example here. As a driver of change through innovation, it is hard to promise results. I have learned to accept the risk and uncertainty that comes with innovation because it’s all worth it in the end.

 

SoLo Funds Los Angeles tech jobs

The fintech industry is full of companies that are trying to change lending. Not many take the approach of SoLo Funds, whose lending exchange connects borrowers and lenders — real people who either need a bit of help or who want to lend a hand — for loans under $1,000. COO Dari Grant said that for her, making an impact is a daily goal.

 

How are you driving change in your industry through your work?

I begin my day with a question: How can I have an impact today? Working at SoLo, I am positively impacting the 78 percent of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck and preventing thousands of them from entering predatory perpetual debt cycles daily. My goal is to place lending into the hands of the community. SoLo leverages technology and financial collaboration to fulfill our social impact mission by providing educational courses on financial literacy, removing the negative connotation of asking peers for money and empowering people to lend financial support to those in need while potentially earning industry-leading returns. 

Working at SoLo, I am positively impacting the 78 percent of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck and preventing thousands of them from entering predatory perpetual debt cycles daily.

 

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how have you overcome those challenges?

I approach new challenges as opportunities for growth. Recent challenges that were turned into opportunities have provided eye-opening insights that have prepared me to lead my team in a tactful manner. One challenge I took on as an opportunity was changing my industry of work from something I went to school for, to something that I am most passionate about. There was a learning curve from ops manufacturing to fintech, but I realized that I’m still able to leverage my expertise using lean and agile methods to create lasting and efficient team processes.

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