Women In Tech In Seattle: 5 Amazing Women Setting The Scene
Although Microsoft and Amazon rest firmly in the Seattle area, it hasn’t always been a tech mecca like its distant Silicon Valley neighbor. And when it comes to women in tech, they weren’t necessarily flocking to the former grunge capital. “When we started over five years ago, it was very difficult to find other women founders, and the startup community in general was far less organized and accessible,” says Martina Welke, CEO and co-founder of Zealyst. Today the landscape has transformed. It not only sparkles with possibilities, but women are leading the way. “We have a world-class institution in the University of Washington … (and) a whole host of accelerated training programs and groups dedicated to providing access and opportunity to women …” Rebecca Lovell, the self described “Startup Yenta” says. Here are five standout women who are blazing tech trails in the Seattle startup, corporate and entrepreneurial worlds.
As the Director of Entrepreneurship and Industry for the City of Seattle, Rebecca knows firsthand why Seattle rocks for women in tech. “Not only do we have a world-class institution in the University of Washington, but a whole host of accelerated training programs and groups dedicated to providing access and opportunity,” she explains. Rebecca’s leadership role includes supporting high tech companies and finding dynamic career options for women and people of color. She says she is, “delighted that the White House has designated Seattle as a Tech Hire community, (connecting) candidates to accelerated training programs and internships/apprenticeships.” The city’s education and employer communities also support that mission. “Look no further than Tune House, an eight-bedroom house with free rent for women entering the UW Computer Science program,” she adds. Rebecca also points to allies, such as angel investor Jonathan Sposato, who has committed to only invest in startups with at least one woman founder.
Prior to her director position, Rebecca became Seattle’s first Startup Advocate after a decade of running and supporting tech startups. During her dynamic 18-month stint, she met with over 300 entrepreneurs and evaluated the impact of the city’s growing number of startups. “That enabled me provide support to community-based organizations and programs, more so than offering prescriptive, top-down solutions,” she recalls.
Outside of work, Rebecca has mentored entrepreneurs through Techstars for nearly six years. “Being a great mentor and teacher requires being an active listener and asking probing questions; asking people to explore, versus telling them how to think…I’ve taken these lessons to heart.” As an advocate for women in tech, Rebecca also has a secret for combatting gender bias. “I’d rather stand out than blend in, and have faith that whatever assumptions inform perceptions at the beginning of a meeting will be melted away by the substance and experience I bring to the party.”
Based in Seattle, Martina Welke is an enterprising startup CEO whose business is impacting workplaces globally. She, along with her business partner Britta Jacobs, cofounded Zealyst, an app that uses data and gaming to strengthen company culture by facilitating collaboration and employee interaction. Martina says that they came up with the exciting concept after evaluating their passions, market opportunities and how technology could make it happen. “At the time we saw many solutions that offered a superficial level of connection, but not much that was translating into relationships in the real world,” she explains. “We started layering games into the experience because we realized we needed a fun way to facilitate the connections we were seeding.”
Martina admits that it was challenging to find other female founders in Seattle when they first started building Zealyst about five years ago, but the tide changed. “Now there are many more opportunities to meet other founders, find mentors, and connect with resources,” she says. “Seattle is not perfect, but it is filled with amazingly generous and knowledgeable people who are willing to help.” As she focuses on growing her business, internationally, she stays plugged into the local tech scene, as a Board Member for Women in Tech (WiT). Martina says that her role has encouraged her to think beyond the scope of gender. “I’ve come to appreciate how complex and diverse the challenges facing minorities in the workplace are,” says Martina. “I firmly believe that the industry will be stronger if there are more voices contributing, and that will only happen if we can build organizations where individuals feel welcome and safe.”
When you write your first computer program at the age of five and start your first web company at 14, it’s no surprise that you will become a standout tech leader. Renée Hendricksen wears many hats as a software engineer for Travis CI, the Founding Board Member of Northwest Independent Ruby Development (NIRD LLC) and a co-founder/lead teacher of Seattle RailsBridge. All of her roles circulate back to her personal mission: “Helping people use technology in whatever industry they are in.”
With a diverse resume that ranges from business consulting and physics simulation to financial forecasting, Renée found her niche in entrepreneurship. She founded NIRD, a technical consulting business, in 2011. According to their LinkedIn page, NIRD partners with companies to help them build dependable, customized software. As head of the board, she now focuses on long term strategy, after promoting two employees to serve as CEOs. “A big part of my starting NIRD was to build a company I wanted to work for, that did great work for clients, but not at the expense of its people or diversity, says Renée. “It’s so wonderful to start a company that grows beyond yourself.”
She says she also finds joy in teaching Ruby on Rails workshops to new tech enthusiasts, through RailsBridge, an organization that supports diversity through coding. She and co-founder Elise Worthy, started the Seattle chapter after meeting Sarah Allen, one of the original RailsBridge cofounders, at a Ruby conference in 2010. “My students are typically people who have not had the advantages I’ve had in my life in terms of access to technology,” she says. “I’ve been lucky to have had a number of strong women who have encouraged me throughout my life to become a builder of technologies and founder of a company. I want to play that role for other women.”
According to her Twitter bio, Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack “has no chill.” She juggles many tech leadership roles as the co-founder and CEO of Fizzmint,an automated human resources service, founder of the Women in Tech Council and the leading author of Women in Tech.
Tarah decided to write Women in Tech, released in March, simply because it had never been done before. “The book is geared toward women who are considering getting into tech, or those already in a tech job who want to take their career to the next level. It combines practical career advice and inspiring personal stories from successful female tech professionals,” she says. Tarah also broke ground by creating the Women in Tech Council, to meet a need in the tech speakers circuit. “Often, the common excuse conference organizers use for not booking women (speakers) is that they couldn’t find a woman in (a particular) area of expertise,” she explains. “I created the Women In Tech Council to fix this problem and remove that excuse.”
The candid problem solver describes being a CEO as “inspiring, but not exciting.” It’s all about paperwork, vision and leadership, she says. “As the CEO, you must ruthlessly remove obstacles in the path of people you are leading, so they can achieve what they want to.”
With 20 years of experience in the industry, executive Carey Butler now leads the technology department at The Seattle Times. The family-owned, Pulitzer Prize-winning media company is the largest daily news source in Washington. According to Carey’s LinkedIn profile, she spearheads “all aspects of enterprise technology including mobile and digital product development, enterprise infrastructure and data center operations. Prior to her CTO role, the self-described liberal humanitarian was the Senior VP of Technology at Outerwall (formerly Coinstar), the company responsible for the Redbox movie and video game rental kiosks.
Carey, who supports workforce development, recently spoke on a women in technology panel at the annual Subscribed conference about how being a mom impacts her career. According to a recap of the event on Tamara McCleary’s blog, Carey’s practical advice focused on being just as intentional in your family life as in your professional life:
…be to be aware of the resources it takes to have a family and the importance of factoring resources into your timing. Secondly, she shared that despite working extensively, she and her husband made a commitment early on to be home and recreate with their children every weekend without fail. She extorted, “Don’t save weekends for housework!”
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