I’m the 24-year-old CTO of a startup that just raised $2 million. I built all of my company’s tech by myself for the first two years we existed. But, apparently, if I’m on your tech team you should [re]evaluate your life.
I’m a full-stack engineer, and I built a fully custom Ruby on Rails app that handles all of my company’s onboarding, training and analytics. I’m a WordPress developer in a world where many ‘good’ developers refuse to read the WordPress codex, and I built out custom content-sharing capabilities across the sites in our multisite network.
I studied Journalism and Religious Studies in college. Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, studied chemistry and music. Bill Gates didn’t even graduate. I’m not saying I’m Bill Gates, but I am saying that only 27 percent of college graduates end up doing work related to their majors.
And, in a world where Snapchat and Facebook were built in dorm rooms and attracted great engineering teams, I’m going to guess that having a boss in their 20s isn’t cause for serious life-questioning either. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the real problem is that I’m a woman, and I don’t look like you want a CTO to look.
If I were a dude, this commenter probably wouldn’t have looked me up on LinkedIn to check what I majored in.
I am proud to be part of a female-led company. I am proud that no one questioned my cofounder’s ability to be our CEO. Women have come very far. But we’re not there yet.
People often ask my cofounder and I if we ever experienced sexism while raising VC money. I proudly believe that we have never been refused anything that we deserved because we were women. We successfully raised money from fantastic investors, some of whom specifically support female founders, and many of whom don’t.
But I was sitting on a train coming back to NYC from Philadelphia — I had spent the evening judging a pitch competition at UPenn — when a guy came to sit by me on the train. He looked over at my computer and saw that I was coding, and he leaned over and said, “No way, is that code!?”
“Yea,” I said.
“Damn, you don’t look like a coder.”
I think this idiot thought that was a compliment.
I’ve spoken at several events recently with young girls who participated in Girls Who Code. They asked me if it’s necessary for them to study Computer Science. I don’t believe it’s necessary to study Computer Science to be a web developer. But I think that as a female programmer, the odds are not stacked in your favor. Any argument that someone else can use to delegitimize your skills should be avoided or mitigated, and the stamp of approval associated with a degree can definitely help with that.
But those programs aren’t inviting to ladies either. There are stories about female developers lowering their voices and not wearing dresses just to be taken seriously.
Maybe over time more girls will choose engineering, and those programs will become more inviting and supportive. In the meantime, girls in those programs need examples of what success looks like in those fields. Luckily, I have peers whom I look up to in that respect — women like Medium’s Katie Zhu. She inspired me when she chose to double major in Computer Science back in college, and she inspires me as she fearlessly forges her path today, her gender not even an afterthought.
So I’ll take my little successes in an attempt to draw attention to things that might otherwise get swept under the rug. Sometimes it feels like we’re there. But it’s important to remember when we’re not.
Sarah Adler is the cofounder and CTO of Spoon University. You can connect with her on Twitter @saraheadler. Note: None of the commenters are employees of Spoon University — they’re just people who commented on the TechCrunch article announcing our funding.