Alongside the tales of the newly, minted, young male billionaire tech entrepreneurs, another narrative is bubbling: The absence of women.
The data speaks for itself. 80 percent of people graduating with computer science degrees are men. By some estimates, up to 90 percent of the engineering teams at start-ups are men and 97 percent of the companies in Silicon Valley are started-up by men.
To break in, women are starting to learn the tech industry’s rules of engagement, and that’s on display at the Hackbright Academy, a coding school for women.
I visited the school on ‘Recruitment Day,’ where tech companies conduct speed interviews. 24 year old Jee Kang, who just finished the Academy’s 10-week crash course, was showing off a photo app she built to recruiter Paul Sri, who works with online-textbook company Chegg.
Kang explained that her app is modeled on Japanese photo booths. “Have you seen Google Hangouts, where you can try on a scuba masks and like a hat? Well, that’s actually my next thing,” Kang says.
Kang didn’t study computer science in college, she was a middle school teacher. A lot of women you find at these academies sprouting up all over Silicon Valley work in tech, but mostly as product managers, marketers and researchers. Instead of playing what some of them describe as “support roles,” these women want to make stuff too.
In the past, women felt they needed to take the traditional route and get an engineering degree. This sort of self-training can be a new concept for women, but Sri says men have been doing it this way since the beginning.
“Most people who I know who do programming did not study computer science, and really no exposure to programming at all,” Sri says.
Silicon Valley is infamously male dominated, but Cindy Padnos says that doesn’t mean women have to behave like one to get ahead. Padnos founded Illuminate Ventures, a high-tech venture capital firm. She’s part of a growing number of women, who lead funds that are trying to identify women founders and advisors.
“I really don’t want to go out there and encourage women to be like men, I don’t think that’s a good answer either,” says Padnos. She says women have a lot to offer when it comes to running a company. They’re often more collaborative, and generally more open to ideas.
“When I see a pitch from a male entrepreneur, it’s typically much more aggressive in terms of their revenue plan, so I’m busily discounting, well they’ll do half of that,” she said. Whereas, more often than not, Padnos says women are more realistic.
For now, Padnos says that blind spot is turning into a competitive edge. 20 percent of start-ups Illuminate Ventures backs are founded by women, significantly higher than the industry average.
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