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Katie Szczepaniak Rice: Watch New Mexico Rise

Katie Szczepaniak Rice

 

The first time I met Katie Szczepaniak Rice, I was more than a little intimidated. She is trained as an engineer – a graduate of MIT with an MBA from the University of Chicago, no less – and is head of the New Mexico office of one of the largest venture capital firms with a presence in New Mexico. It didn’t take long for me to compare my own background with hers and come to the conclusion that we were not at all on equal footing. I’m pretty sure I stammered through much of our first meeting when I met with her to talk about our tech company.  It didn’t take long, however, to discover that along with her incredible drive and accomplishments, Katie is also one of the most approachable women leaders within our community.

Katie’s background is nothing short of inspirational. She is a first-generation immigrant, arriving in the United States as a young girl who had already spent time moving from one country to the next as her family made their way to their eventual home in America. She spoke no English when she showed up for her first day of third grade and credits one of the first girls she met at her new school for helping ease her assimilation into a new culture. Katie says she has remained close with this childhood friend and that their families sometimes vacation together all these years later.

After graduating from MIT, Katie worked in the field as an engineer in an industry which was predominantly male. She not only held her own but quickly rose to the challenge. She then transitioned from engineering to management consulting and gained early experience which allowed her to eventually shift her career to assessing high tech firms for a venture capital firm. In 2004, she jumped at a career opportunity to move to New Mexico and work for a startup, and in 2005, she started her career in venture capital.

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Katie Rice and Lisa Abeyta talking about Women in Tech and Investing on the Morning Brew with Larry Ahrens.

As part of the investment community, she is an industry that is even more male-dominated than her first career. In fact, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in September of 2014 that the number of women partners in Venture Capital Firms actually dropped to a paltry 6% nationally, down from 10% in 1999. Katie brings a rare and refreshing perspective to the investment community in New Mexico – as well as serving as an inspiring role model to other women following in her footsteps. In addition to her role as a venture capitalist, she also serves as president of the Coronado Ventures Forum and as a board member for ABQid, an Albuquerque-based incubator focused on high-growth early startups. One of the initiatives she’s working on ABQid is a Ski Lift Pitch Contest in an effort to showcase the beauty of New Mexico, encourage young entrepreneurs to dream big and connect startup founders with investors and industry leaders in an environment conducive to making a lasting connection.

Despite the demands of her busy life, she still manages to volunteer her time mentoring and advising several tech startup founders within the community. It is not uncommon to receive an email or phone call from her when she is in search of a solution or connection for one of the founders she is mentoring. And while the capital she has helped invest into New Mexico through her venture firm is deeply needed, the less noticeable, but highly valuable, contribution she makes on a regular basis is that of her own time and knowledge to help others become successful – whether they are a company she has invested in or not.

Beyond this more public side of her career, Katie is also a devoted mother to two young toddlers as well as an outdoor enthusiast who loves taking advantage of New Mexico’s phenomenal access to the outdoors. An avid skier and hiker, she also enjoys running frequently in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. She’s lived, worked and traveled all over the world but says she found her true home right here in New Mexico.

“After living in ten different cities,” Katie says, “I will proudly tell you that there’s no place I’d rather live than Albuquerque.” She adds that her passion about the expansion of the entrepreneurial ecosystem within her adopted home is not only driven by the desire to give promising young people a reason to stay and be successful here in New Mexico but because she wants those opportunities available someday for her own children.

I have to admit that there are still moments when I am completely blown away by Katie’s brilliant mind, but as I’ve grown to know her better, it is her curiosity and visible joy when learning something new as well as her generosity and passion for helping others that has caused me to grow to deeply respect her. Katie is doing more than her part to help watch New Mexico rise.

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Inaction is Tacit Approval: Why I Deleted My Uber Account

I cancelled my Uber account – not just by deleting their app from my phone but also going through the painful, hard to find process of requesting that they remove my account completely (more about that in a moment).

Just to be clear, I didn’t cancel because I disliked their ride service. I loved using Uber. I talked my friends into trying it out. I celebrated their scrappy disruption of the archaic taxi industry. I was whole-heartedly rooting for the success of their company.

I have made the decision to not use Uber because I am holding myself accountable to no longer support companies that, through inaction, show their tacit approval for badly behaving executives – on or off the record.

This morning’s post by Fred Wilson inspired me to finally articulate exactly what was bothering me most about the entire Uber debacle: Somewhere along the line, we – as a culture – started glorifying the cut-throat, winner takes all behavior in entrepreneurs that make investors wealthy – and then have the audacity to be shocked when that same mindset seeps out in these wunderkind entrepreneurs’ personal lives. If we don’t want jerk tech, bro-culture, or bullying as a culture in startups, we need to decide that we won’t glorify or support those who are clawing their way to the top in a brutal anything-goes melee. We have to believe that no amount of talent, skill, vision, brilliance or drive is worth overlooking this kind of behavior.

As a woman entrepreneur, I definitely have my own share of exposure to bro-culture and sexist comments. Some of it I dismiss as unfiltered ignorance by well-meaning folks who are basically good but still holding on to some exclusionary mindsets. Some I ignore because it isn’t always my battle to fight, and tilting at windmills isn’t nearly as effective or productive as it may feel in the moment. But sometimes something is so over the top or happens often enough that it cannot be ignored.

For me, Uber hit that point over the weekend. It’s not like Uber didn’t already have a reputation for embracing underhanded, mean-spirited tactics against their competitors which crossed far over the line of being forgiven as guerrilla marketing tactics. Even though I hated to see what I perceived as a social good company stoop to bad behavior, I was willing to look the other way. It was simple and easy to use and made getting around in Los Angeles or New York City so much more fun than the uncomfortable back seat of a cab. Somehow when I watched for my Uber driver to arrive, I felt like I was part of an underground system (Is that you? Pssst? Do you have the password?) It was kind of fun sneaking around and breaking the rules of what the system said I had to do to get a ride in a city. It felt cool, kind of hip. I liked it, so I forgave the team this naughty way of gaining marketshare from their competitors.

Uber skimmed the headlines briefly from time to time with other stories of bad behavior or underhanded business practices, and even when news broke about  violating their users’ privacy as a very creepy party trick, I only shook my head in disgust. Oh, grow up, I thought. Stop acting like a bunch of middle school boys spying on the girls from behind the fence. It seemed immature and reckless but not something that I thought they couldn’t get beyond once their team matured into more thoughtful leaders.

But yesterday all of that changed for me. When the second most powerful individual in a company with a valuation nearing $4 billion lays out a ratherdetailed plan of how the company should spend $1 Million of their capital investigating the lives of any journalist – and their families – who have the audacity to actually write a negative piece about the company, I think it’s a pretty good indicator that Uber’s executive team has lost a bit of that hunger that gave them the early edge and landed firmly in the land of arrogance. When they can joke about blowing that much investment – other people’s money – on something so predatory, that’s just disgusting.

Now Uber wants us to forgive it all as a mistake since, poor guy, he had no idea he was on the record. Here’s a news flash for any entrepreneur who maintains close friendships with journalists: true news hounds will almost always be a journalist first and buddy second. Don’t ever assume you’re off the record when you’re sitting at the table with journalists – no matter how many bottles of wine or cases of beer have been consumed in the name of camaraderie. If you start laying out a road map for your own planned creepy behavior – whether its in theory or with true ill intent, don’t be surprised when it’s in the news the next day.

If Uber’s CEO had immediately stepped into the public eye and addressed the issue, it might have helped. Had he said – at a news conference or press release instead of his eventual tweet storm of half apologies, half justifications – that he was appalled, offended, or whatever emotional word he chose to use, it might have helped. He could have even had his colleague’s back. None of us want to CEO willing to hang one of their own out to dry without investigating fully what actually happened, so even if he had asked us to be patient while he got to the bottom of the issue, it might have been enough. But when there was silence, it was more than easy to fill in the gaps – with all of the news stories that had been building on each other over the past few months.

And so, despite how much I enjoyed using their service, I have cancelled my account. By the way, if you decide you want to do so as well, don’t spend any time hunting around in the app for the magic button that gives you the power to remove yourself from their system. It doesn’t exist. And don’t search through pages on their website, either. Uber doesn’t let you remove your own account. Then again, they’ve already proven to be poor stewards of data privacy, so we shouldn’t be all that shocked. What I had to do was send in a request for help. It went like this:

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Just like many of the ‘bad boys’ who are the darlings of the entertainment world because of their redeeming qualities, Uber was able to get a pass from me for far longer than they should have. But I’ve realized that when I give my money to companies that not only ignore the negative effects of unchecked bro-culture but actively embrace dirty tactics to get the advantage, I have become part of the problem that I am working to eradicate. Even if it’s inconvenient, and even if I don’t get to feel like I’m part of an exciting, hip movement disrupting a stodgy old industry the next time I need a ride in a different city, I’m okay with that. I really, really am ok with that.


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Jessica Eaves Mathews: Watch New Mexico Rise

Jessica Eaves Mathews

 

 

Of all the individuals, organizations and companies inspiring us to watch New Mexico rise, Jessica Eaves Mathews – who actually coined the phrase and hashtag #watchNMrise – is right up at the top.

I first met Jessica at the Santa Fe Business Incubator for the launch of New Mexico’s first Startup Weekend. It was a Friday night, and I’d driven up to Santa Fe with my husband, Lawrence, who is a cofounder and COO in our company, APPCityLife. While he planned to spend the entire weekend at the event as a technical coach, I’d come up just for Friday’s kick off since I would be serving as one of the judges of the final presentations at the end of the event. Jessica was a keynote speaker, and as we chatted for a few moments until it was time for her to share a few words of inspiration with the participants, I knew immediately that Jessica was a force to be reckoned with.

At the time, I had no idea just how much Jessica had already accomplished. A native New Mexican, she left the state after graduating from UNM to practice law in the then sleepy town of Seattle. She spent several years working for major law firms in the midst of the major economic boom in the city as Microsoft expanded into a powerful corporation, starting her family and launching her first private law firm while still in Washington. She served as lead counsel for Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft.

Rock the World, 2013

Rock the World, 2013

But her love for her home state and a desire to raise her daughter nearer to family resulted in a move back to New Mexico a few years ago, bringing with her a valuable high level business acumen which she has used to launch several startups including Grace and Game, a golfing clothing line for women (she has designed all of the clothing herself – you can find a few of her creations locally at Runway Apparel) and Untoxicating Beauty, an online cosmetics company highlighting organic lines developed by women entrepreneurs. Jessica was named by Albuquerque Business First as the Top CEO of 2013 for her innovative and lucrative approach to building a virtual law firm, Leverage Legal Group. Despite running multiple companies and, until recently, homeschooling her daughter, Jessica still finds time to volunteer for several nonprofits as well as donating hundreds of hours of her own time providing legal advice, services, and mentoring for entrepreneurs in New Mexico. She is also the best-selling author of Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save The World and a highly sought-after keynote speaker.

After our first meeting, I knew I wanted to know more about Jessica. We met for lunch and even before the entree arrived, she and I both knew that we wanted to work together to help other women entrepreneurs in our state. By the time the check arrived, we had a verbal agreement in place to launch a business together. Within 24 hours, we had a name (Hautepreneurs), our LLC in place and a trademark filed.  It has been, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve made. Our monthly design thinking sessions with several successful women entrepreneurs have inspired all of our members to think bigger, including myself as I continue to grow APPCityLife towards a global expansion. Hautepreneurs has flown in national experts to allow local entrepreneurs access to high level training not readily available within our state. And on December 11, 2014, we’ll host our first Haute Honors Awards Breakfast honoring women in New Mexico who are outstanding as entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators.

Cofounders Hautepreneurs, LLC, and HauteHopes: Lisa Abeyta, Jessica Eaves Mathews

Cofounders Hautepreneurs, LLC, and HauteHopes: Lisa Abeyta, Jessica Eaves Mathews

As is often the case with Jessica, her compassion – and passion – drives her and those around her to expand upon ideas to embrace higher causes to help others. Jessica came to me a few months ago proposing that we consider taking on a far bigger mission than when we launched Hautepreneurs. Long aware of the poverty and difficult living situations affecting many women in New Mexico – as well as the additional challenges women of any background face to launch successful business – she saw a way to empower the women who needed it the most. Because of her vision, HauteHopes was born, a scholarship fund focused on helping underprivileged women gain financial independence through a strategic blend of goal-based scholarship funding paired with mentoring from successful entrepreneurs and business owners within the state. She has completely immersed herself in the immense work needed to launch something this ambitious, including planning Haute Night Out, a black-tie gala fundraiser slated for February 21, 2015. She has even already gained support from companies like Tesla, who has committed to running a test-drive station featuring several of their high end electric vehicles during the gala.

10614109_10205039478689389_4448981142250507093_nAnd, just in case you might think she is all work and no play, Jessica is also an avid golfer, accomplished horsewoman and dressage competitor. She owns several of her own horses on her farm in Corrales. This past summer, when she heard of a horse hundreds of miles away that was being sold after surviving a series of bad situations, she hooked up her horse trailer and drove almost twenty-four hours straight to rescue the horse. She brought the horse home and worked patiently with the horse for months before the newest addition to her family was ready for her to take to its first show. It is this kind of compassion, this kind of belief in the goodness and gifts in others – and her willingness to expend her own efforts and time to bring that promise to reality that makes Jessica such a vital part of what will allow the world to watch New Mexico rise.


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In Gratitude of a Father’s Service to His Country

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I likely won’t get through this without crying, but Veteran’s Day was never about celebration anyway, so I’m okay with that.

Every Veteran’s Day, I’ve known exactly whom I wanted to honor. Stationed behind enemy lines as an Air Force aircraft mechanic during the Korean Conflict, my father was the bravest, most stoic man I knew – and while he spoke very little of his time in combat, his commitment to his country was of paramount importance to him. He firmly believed that his time in the military turned him into a man with discipline and strength of character and often voiced his opinion that there was little wrong with the young men in our country that couldn’t be sorted out with some time serving their country. He spent his entire career working for the Air Force, first as an enlisted airman and then as a civilian. He was part of the 4950th Division, serving as the lead mechanic on experimental air craft, meaning that he could rarely talk at home about the top secret projects he worked on. There were times he left in the middle of night to catch a military hop halfway across the world to repair an aircraft just enough to for its crew to hobble back home. When a blizzard shut down most of Ohio in the late ’80’s, my father spent several days with his men at the base. And when an aircraft needed to land without the benefit of any landing gear, he was one of the first to be called as a consultant to help the aircraft and crewmen land safely (they did).

But it wasn’t until his last years as he fought valiantly against the encroaching loss of memory and speech to Alzheimer’s that I learned things about my father’s service that I’d never known. One day when my mother dropped him off to visit me, he brought along a box of mementos. I expected him to share a nice collection of rocks or old silver dollars he’d collected over the years, but, instead, he opened the veil for a few short moments on a career that was mostly shrouded in secrecy.

I discovered my father was a consultant to NASA. Who knew? I didn’t. He never bragged about it, despite the prestige and respect it would have garnered. He didn’t care at all about those things. He cared about people, about helping others and doing the right thing by those he encountered. Fame and accolades were never an attraction for him.

I also found a small card tucked away in the box that stated that my father was an essential emergency responder and should be allowed passage and support when the card was presented. Again, I had no idea.

My father died this past summer, and even now, I sometimes feel completely adrift when it hits me that this man – the rock of my childhood – is no longer here to tell me everything will be okay. I miss him terribly, and I am so grateful for every memory he was able to share before it was too late.

And so today as I remember my father and the life he gave in service to his country, as well as the pride he took in quietly contributing where and how he could, I honor not only his sacrifice but the kind of man he became because of his service to our country. I am deeply grateful for so many who, just like my father, contributed and continue to protect the freedom I enjoy today.

I can’t call my father this Veteran’s Day. Oh, how I wish I could. If it isn’t yet too late for someone you know, take a moment this Veteran’s Day to thank them for their sacrifice. One day it will be the memory you hold dear when, like me, the gratitude simply resides in the heart because the words have nowhere else to go.

Also published on Huffington Post.


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Why You Must Find Your Passion to Find Success

I was helping my daughter box up things in her room as she prepared to move to an apartment near the university. Buried in her closet was an old backpack covered in stickers and stuffed with purple ribbons. I set it aside, certain she wanted to keep over a decade of memories from climbing competitions all over the country. She was an intense youth athlete. From the time she was about nine years old until she graduate high school, she spent most of her time training and climbing. She earned an invitation to compete at the national level almost every year and eventually gained coveted sponsorships from several national companies. Climbing was a big part of her youth, so I was certain that she wanted to save the memories tucked away in her old backpack.

I was wrong.

“Those? They’re “participant ribbons,” she said, the word rolling off her tongue like a bad word. “They’re worse than no ribbon at all.” The ones that mattered – from the competitions where she ranked at or near the top – those awards were carefully preserved elsewhere.

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I’m not really sure exactly when participant ribbons actually became a thing, but somewhere between my generation and my daughter’s, the value of winning was diluted to include just showing up. It seems that today there are dueling mindsets prevalent in society when it comes to how we view winning and losing. On the one hand, we tend to protect feelings by telling everyone they’re a winner whether they are or not. But we also support this notion that to win we must embrace an attitude of winner-takes-all and be eager to crush anyone and everyone else in one’s way. I honestly believe that both extremes of this pendulum are rife with problems that actually prevent the desired result.

Looking back to my own childhood, I don’t think I ever earned a participant ribbon. I learned that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being competitive or playing to win. I also learned that it was simply not an option to accept defeat or celebrate victory with anything less than grace.

In her later years, my great-grandmother was confined to a chair in the room where she lived in my grandparent’s home, and I spent much of my time playing card games and dominos with her. I was little – maybe five or six years old, and I loved to listen to the stories of her life as we played. She homesteaded a ranch in the remote, windswept plains of northern New Mexico, chased off intruders with a shot gun and killed snakes in the chicken coop with a shovel. She was, by far, one of the toughest women I’ve had the privilege of knowing.  She brooked absolutely no tears or bad behavior when we played games together – and she was certainly not one of those grandmothers who let her grandchildren win.

I clearly remember once when I started to cry after being soundly trounced at gin rummy. Grandma frowned down at me, and as she started to pack away the cards into their box, she scolded, “Dry it up. If you’re big enough to play, then play to win – and shape up your attitude when you lose. No one else is required to feel sorry for you, so feeling sorry for yourself is wasted energy. Everyone wants to win just as bad as you, so you better play because you love the game, not just to win. Now either dry your tears, or I’m putting up the game so you can go pout somewhere else where I don’t have to watch.”

Her words may sound harsh, but she’d lived a tough life. Her inner strength was something to be admired. She taught me that it was perfectly fine for a girl to be competitive, to want to win. She taught me to do something for the love of the journey, the excitement of the challenge, because sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but if you love the journey, it is worth it with either outcome.

Enjoying the heady thrill of a hard-earned win or tasting the bitterness of loss — and learning that neither experience is as important as who we become through either experience: how we treat others, what we do with our success or failure, whether we maintain our integrity and compassion — these truths are what shape us. Being protected from the pain of losing? That does nothing except make it harder to face the realities of life. And finding joy in the challenge of our own journey instead of focusing on our competition? That shapes the quality of a person like little else can.

Life is too short, too precious to simply coast. There are no participant ribbons in life. It is never too late to find your passion. Fire in the belly – the kind that creates enough drive to push through setbacks, gut-wrenching fear, stress, disappointments, and roller coaster successes and failures – that kind of fire doesn’t come from wanting to crush the competition. Passion like that only comes when we fall so in love with a problem that we cannot imagine doing anything else except jumping in with both feet to solve it. Don’t get distracted by others – their successes or failures. They’re not yours and in no way change what you need to have inside of yourself to find success. Don’t forget that. Instead of seeing others as the enemy, the competition, choose to learn from them. Build a network through your own generosity and good will that will expand your world far beyond yourself. And never, ever begin anything because you like winning. As a very wise woman told me, “Everyone wants to win just as bad as you, so you better play because you love the game.” Anything less will simply not be enough to carry you across the finish line.

Reposted on Huffington Post and on LinkedIn Pulse.


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Why We Should Stop Worrying if Other People Like Our Kids

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Here’s a thought:

It is not our job to make our kids likable by conforming to others’ expectations but to help them blossom within their own uniqueness.

Think about that.

Do you realize how liberating that is – how much guilt it removes when you’re able to do what your gut is saying is right for your child instead of what you know someone else is judging you for doing or not doing?

I remember when my oldest was a toddler. I wasn’t that far removed from being a kid myself, and so many of my decisions about how to raise my children were a constant vacillation between what my instinct was telling me was right and caving in under the weight of well-meaning advice and unspoken judgment of others who believed me to be in varying circumstances too harsh or too permissive, indulgent or strict, or too controlling or lazy in my parenting. I didn’t know it then, but my daughter is what is now called Twice Exceptional (and, no, that does not mean my kid is twice as wonderful as yours). A child who is Twice Exceptional qualifies for special education under at least two distinct and different diagnoses, with one of those exceptions being a gifted IQ (130 or above in most places) and the rest being some cocktail of learning disabilities.

Raising a Twice Exceptional child (or more than one) is usually a daily adventure into the unknown, especially when a child is young – because the exceptionalities are rarely identified that early, leaving parents a bit off kilter as they struggle to understand their child’s unique approach to life. All three of my children were on high speed from the time they awoke until they fell asleep – and they spent far less time asleep than did the children of my peers. They were intense, driven learners – and this usually meant that they wanted to do things that were far beyond their development level, which, in turn led to high frustration and meltdowns. I can say from first-hand experience that there is nothing  quite like a toddler’s meltdown in a museum (or zoo, store, or library) to entice complete strangers to negatively judge your parenting skills.

It wasn’t until I finally hit the wall with an exceptionally bad experience that I finally found my real footing as a mother.

I remember the day well.

My youngest – also Twice Exceptional – was in second grade and just newly accepted into special ed with a long list of learning disabilities including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder – although it would take three more IQ tests over four years to finally get him qualified for gifted as well. My son’s teacher that year leaned more towards the highly organized, rigid style of teaching, and it was a terrible match for my kiddo who failed miserably at helping her meet her self-defined goal of curing my kid of his ‘bad habits’. She spent many a day yelling at my son for his forgetfulness and messiness and sent angry emails home every Friday to report another failing grade in spelling. I was still a bit insecure, trying desperately to find ways to help my son learn to memorize his words and feeling guilty as a mother that I’d failed to find a solution that would work.

But in our last parent teacher conference of the year, with my little 8-year-old sitting beside me, the teacher began ticking off one complaint after another. She pointed out every one of his failings with great emotion. And as she detailed each failing on her list, my son sat quietly by my side, swinging his legs and rolling his little dinosaur over and over between his fingers. He did stop and listen as she reported his state test scores but never spoke a word.

When she finally ran out of breath and stopped, I looked at her and quietly asked, “This is all of your feedback?”

“Yes,” she said, still visibly upset.

“Nothing good to say about my son?”

She looked surprised for a moment and then, with a tight jaw, said that no, there wasn’t.

“Not one good thing?” I pushed her again to reconsider.

“No,” she said. “You son is difficult. He doesn’t do his work like the other students. And he says things in class that challenge my authority. He questions what I say – right in front of the other kids. He argues with the facts I share in science. And he is the student. He should be learning from me. Your son is a problem.”

I ignored her and turned directly to face my son. I put my hand under his chin and lifted his head until his eyes met mine. I said, “Do not listen to her. You are not a problem. You are wonderful and unique, and you will one day do amazing things because of your special gifts. Do not listen to her.”

We walked out of the meeting, and my legs were shaking so much I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the car before I broke down. I buckled my son into the back seat, climbed in our minivan and prepared myself for what I believed would likely be one of the most painful conversations I would have to endure – helping heal the wounds inflicted by his teacher’s words. I gently asked, “How do you feel about what your teacher said in there?”

“I was excited!,” he replied, much to my surprise. With a bit more prodding, he explained. “Did you hear what she said? I was at grade level in reading. Finally!”

It was in that moment that I realized my responsibility to my son. It would be my job to make sure that he learned the lessons life required of him, but that those lessons happened so that my son could embrace his own unique gifts to decide for himself what his contribution to this world might be.

My son is a teenager now. He’s already done some amazing things with his young life. He’s launched his first business. He helped his friend as she organized the first Teen Startup Weekend by teens for teens … the first in the world. He’s designed a plethora of mini games in Minecraft that his friends want to buy, and he’s created several of his own musical compositions. And yet his teachers, for the most part, continue to focus on the problems – his inability to conform to their specific process of turning in papers or his input in class which feels disrespectful or disruptive. One of his teachers recently sent an email asking about my son’s grip on reality – because the teacher just assumed that a child who still can’t spell a word the same way twice in one sentence – much less the correct way ever – could never  have the ability to launch a business at the age of 13 and must be bragging about things that didn’t really exist.

While I am all for teaching our children to respect authority, learn discipline and responsibility, I have also come to understand that it is so not my job to make my kid feel defective because he doesn’t fit in the right box. There are a long list of leaders across multiple industries who all rose to those heights in their careers by not fitting in a box, by not being the “easy kid in class”. While I won’t tolerate bad morals or bad behavior, I am completely over apologizing to anyone for my kid not being some bland version of himself so that he’s easier to manage.

When I stopped worrying whether someone else was comfortable around my kid or liked them, I discovered something pretty magical. I discovered I genuinely like my kid. Just as he is. So I’m pretty sure that I’m the one who’s ended up on the lucky end of parenting.

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Why We Must Change Our View of Who Belongs in Tech

I probably need to get a few things out of the way first:

I am creative – not artistic by a long shot, but most certainly far more creative than tech.
I love words – the nuance of emotion, the ability to convince, rally or even stir up simply by the choice of words.
I like to think big picture, to visualize the intricate web of interactions, choices, and steps required to get there.
I like people, and I like learning who they really are and what makes them tick.
I like to understand the motives behind a problem, because that’s where the interesting challenge lies.
I am passionate about leaving a positive mark in the world, about using talent to do good, to help others.
I have never seen myself as good at math.
Ask me to add two numbers in my head, and I freeze, my mind goes blank.
Ask me to estimate the bill of all the items in my shopping cart, including tax, and I can give you a fairly close ballpark without blinking.

photo-4This, if you got to know me, is just a tiny part of the fabric that makes up who I am, and it is precisely because I came into the world of tech through the back door, without the usual traits or talents that are suitable for technology-driven careers, that I am so passionate about helping to change who we, as a society, see as belonging to the tech world.

It matters who we, as a society, see as a good match for tech, because it affects not only how we see ourselves and how we talk to our children, but it brings diversity of backgrounds, talents and thinking styles to the problems we are solving via tech. When we make tech accessible – remove the steep learning curve and long list of prerequisites –  through tools that empower those on the edge of tech to dive in and get their hands dirty, to build stuff that matters, we change who is allowed to participate in the dialogue driving the entire industry.

Girls are often like me. They don’t see themselves as good at math, whether it’s true or not. For the women who do enter the world of tech, few reach the top levels of leadership. Far too often, instead of pushing against the system, women exit and find different ways to contribute that aren’t so emotionally draining and where the possibility of moving up the ladder is more attainable.

But it isn’t just girls. Many races and groups are under-represented as well. Because of limited access to tech and tech-oriented classes, children growing up in poverty-stricken areas enter the tech world at a far lower ratio than their peers.

This weekend, I, along with my amazing team at APPCityLife, are spending our weekend trying to change the perception of who is qualified to use tech and who is capable of helping solve problems through tech. It’s one small step, but it’s a powerful step in the right direction. We met several weeks ago with the team at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) tasked organizing this weekend’s Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam, a two-day event to generate ideas and solutions that can best improve the South Bay’s transit experience. I am proud that our company is a sponsor of the event, and that our participation will be in helping individuals who want to get hands-on with their solutions and who want to do so through our mobile platform. Up until now, we’ve used our platform only in-house. But if it is non-developer friendly enough for me, a non-techie, to build apps, then it just seemed like the right thing to do, the best next step for our company, to open our platform to others who might want to see their own ideas come to life, whether they had the right technical training or not.

imageNow I am certainly not proposing that this one platform is the be-all, end-all solution for making tech more accessible to under-represented groups. But I do believe that if each of us who believe that what we’ve created can solve a piece of the puzzle, then by working together, we can create stepping stones for more and more individuals to participate hands-on in the world of tech and help change the solutions that are possible simply through the wider diversity of experience and talent of those sitting at the table.

As I said, I like to think big picture, but I also know it takes one tiny brush stroke at a time to get there. We start painting a new canvas this weekend, and I cannot wait to see the outcome.

 

 

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