Celebrating the Accomplishments of Hudson Valley Women in Tech

On January 28, Hudson Valley Tech Meetup—including co-organizer Shauna Keating, our very own digital artist and designer here at EMN—invited the community to their second Day of Women in Tech, a celebration of all that underrepresented genders have accomplished in the technology field here in the Hudson Valley and beyond.

Co-organizers Shauna Keating and Sabrina Schutzsmith with Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul and AT&T New York President Marissa Shorenstein.

Speakers and guests included Kate Bradley Chernis, CEO and founder of Lately; Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T New York; Eileen Uchitelle, senior engineer at Github; Didi Barrett, New York Assemblywomen; Sue Serino, New York State Senator; Kathy Hochul, Lieutenant Governor of New York; Manuela Roosevelt, chair of the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership; Teresa Garrett, professor of biochemistry at Vassar College; and Amanda Kievet, front end web developer at Ibex Outdoor Clothing.

Throughout the engaging and inspirational program, speakers returned to a few core themes: the importance of confidence, persistence, community, and support for young people, and the way that Eleanor Roosevelt—who once lived on the very land where this event was held—represented the best of these qualities.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of Tech

When Paul Sparrow, director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, welcomed the crowd, he told us that Eleanor would be “very proud” that an event like this was happening. (He also joked about how great it was that he was the only man on stage that day.) Eleanor, he says, believed that one of women’s most important qualities is adaptability—an important skill in today’s world, especially in tech. “Most of the jobs young people will have don’t even exist yet,” he reminded us. So women, he says, are perfectly suited for the tech field.

Manuela Roosevelt echoed these sentiments in her talk about Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy in tech and politics. Telling the audience that Eleanor was “an activist at heart,” dedicating herself to projects like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, she reminded us that the First Lady was also a controversial figure, unusually outspoken, and quite modern for her time.

Chair of the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership Manuela Roosevelt talks about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and legacy.

This modernity was exemplified in Eleanor’s wide use of the technology of the early twentieth century. She used airplanes to fly all around the world and become one of the most well-traveled women of the time—even when her closest advisors deemed it unsafe. She used radio to communicate with the American people, and in fact it was the First Lady who addressed the public via radio on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was even what Paul and Manuela call the first “blogger”; her My Day column, published six days per week in 90 newspapers for over 20 years, became a platform for some of Eleanor’s political causes. “I wish she had a Twitter account today!” Manuela mused.

“Star” Qualities

Eleanor Roosevelt exemplified confidence and fearlessness, even in the face of FBI investigation. Those are some of the qualities highlighted by speaker Kate Bradley Chernis in her talk about her journey as CEO and founder of Lately.

Lately is a marketing resource management tool. Kate developed the idea after working in the marketing world with “spreadsheets, endless spreadsheets,” and discovering that a. marketers lose around $83 billion per year due to disorganization and b. many in the field lack the technical skills to use more advanced programs. Her idea with Lately: to make marketing as easy and seamless as possible.

Just by entering a website URL into the program, marketers can test the consistency of their brand messaging; the program will generate a key messaging “cheat sheet” as well as a brand style guide. Lately solves many other marketing problems as well, including serving as a place to hold up-to-date graphics and helping users easily leverage their written content, such as blog posts, in social media marketing.

Kate Bradley Chernis demos Lately.

As of late 2016, Lately had raised almost $1 million in capital and secured a place in a competitive start-up accelerator program. How did Kate get there? She gave the audience six tips that have worked for her:

  • Be focused
  • Be shameless (she says she has lost any and all embarrassment associated with asking people for money to invest in her company)
  • Be disarming
  • Be (a little) ruthless
  • Be confident
  • Be memorable (she reminds the audience that investors are really investing in you, not just your product or company—and points to her signature green cowboy boots as a way she tries to stay memorable)

Amanda Kievet spoke to many of the same qualities that lead her to success on her “Unlikely Illustrated Journey Into Tech,” as she titled her talk. Though she came from a “craftsy” background and majored in liberal arts, Amanda made her way into graphic design and eventually web design, progress she credits to a sense of “desperate persistence” that got the attention of mentors and employers—similar to the shamelessness Kate described. Confidence, too, was important to Amanda; having the confidence to call herself a designer led to some of her first gigs.

Amanda and “My Unlikely Illustrated Journey Into Tech”
Count On Your Community

The other takeaway of Amanda’s talk: finding a supportive community, such as the one she found at Rice Creative in Vietnam, Momofuku in New York City, in a web design bootcamp group, and later at Stride consulting, is imperative for women looking to break into the tech world. Eileen Uchitelle felt the same—she called community involvement the “single most important thing” she’s done for her career.

Now a senior engineer at Github, Eileen started as a photography major and self-taught web developer in 2009. As she honed her coding skills (including taking a position on the dev team here at EMN!), she started blogging about learning code, and sharing her journey connected her with others in the same community. Her blog got her a job at PhishMe, and then the team there encouraged her to get involved with speaking at conferences. She overcame her intense fear of public speaking and gave her first talk in 2014, and her participation in that conference led directly to her involvement in the Ruby on Rails online community. Eventually, she began contributing to Rails, which landed her a job at Basecamp and eventually led to her current position at Github. Eileen’s entire career has been a cause and effect of her involvement in online and offline communities.

Eileen explains ways to engage with your community.

She described three categories of community involvement. Participation, like through social media, forums, or attending Meetups and events, can allow you to gain access to a network and make important connections. The next step is sharing, which can be done via blogging or speaking about your work. Then comes collaboration, which she sees as the intersection of participation and sharing. Like Amanda, she specifically called out the importance of mentors—both having one and being one. “Much of my professional development has been due to my engagement in the tech community,” she concluded.

Supporting Students and Young People

Forums, blogs, and conferences aren’t the only tech communities out there. Speakers Marissa Shorenstein of AT&T and Teresa Garrett of Vassar spoke about the importance of fostering nurturing tech communities for students and young people, especially if you want to engage women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups in the STEM communities.

As Sue Serino said, “discounting half our population’s brainpower is counterproductive”—and, as Didi Barrett remarked, “we need to make sure girls girls growing up today understand all of the opportunities available to them.” One way to do that is through programs like those developed and supported by AT&T, include the Aspire program, which supports organizations implementing interventions focused on improving high school retention rates and preparing at-risk for college or career, and Girls Who Code, a free summer immersion program for girls interested in tech.

“STEM must become as second-nature to our students as reading, writing, and arithmatic,” Marissa stated, because “the tech industry needs a pipeline of capable and innovative people… equipped with tech skills”—and that includes women. Programs like Aspire and Girls Who Code are just a few ways that AT&T is “moving the needle forward” toward equality.

Teresa Garrett underlined that point that, as she said, “the power of women and underrepresented groups is vast.” A biochemistry professor at Vassar, she explored how to go about diversifying the student (and employment) body in STEM fields—and why it’s important.

Unlike baseball fields, she joked, “it’s not ‘if you build it, they will come.’” Bringing more women, people of color, and other underrepresented communities into STEM schools or workplaces takes “multiple, sustained comprehensive efforts.” One of the most successful techniques is, again, mentorship—and it doesn’t need to be a woman or a person of color doing the mentoring, Teresa emphasized. It could certainly be a white person or a man, as long as they are willing to have conversations about race and gender in their field. “We all need to do this work,” she concluded.

Looking forwarD

We’re so proud to be hosting events in collaboration with companies like AT&T and government officials—it’s so important that these entities want to help create an environment that encourages diversity in STEM. Our big takeaway from these talks? A supportive community is absolutely vital for women who want to develop their careers and for women who want to support other women, a fact that motivates us to continue with our work at Hudson Valley Tech Meetup and beyond. We want to be part of the solution. Join us!

Photos courtesy HV Tech partner Eberhardt Smith.