If you were ever to look for the most significant bastion of male dominants in the world of commerce, it would be in the arena of technology, in particular the computer sciences. The irony is just that this was a field of originally dominated by women, but that men now drive the technology development of products and services consumed by the most powerful buying block that exists – women. If ever customer-driven design was needed, it is now, well that is if women continue to remain outside of technology design and development. It takes not only a great deal of unparalleled skill and leadership, but a unique form of chutzpah to make it in this professional arena as a woman. My guest today, Heather Wilde, has all of these in space. Heather Wilde, a once inspiring astronaut, a passionate student in all things aerospace, a self-taught programmer, turned her world-class capabilities as a techno-geek into an inspiring formula for success. As the former Director of Technical Support for Evernote, Heather navigated the company through one of its largest growth periods. In 2014, she left Evernote to join ROCeteers as their Chief Technology Officer. ROCeteer is a powerhouse for technology startups. It provides instant infrastructure in concert with executive coaching, mentorship, and business acumen to ensure speedy market and sustainable growth. If that wouldn’t keep most of us busy 24/7, Heather also plays the intriguing role of a Unicorn Whisperer. This is an executive coach and mentor to the technology industry’s billion-dollar club. I found Heather at 6:00am in her hometown of Las Vegas.
Lesley: Good morning Heather, this is your wake up call.
Heather: Good morning, Lesley.
Lesley: You know, you girls in the technology world certainly take hours of work seriously, don’t you?
Heather: Oh absolutely. I think last night I was working till 1, and then I got up this morning at 5 and started up again.
Lesley: Well I’m going to get you to think about what your secret to that is and then come back to that later in this show, because there’s got to be something magic there that we can learn from.
Heather: Sure thing.
Lesley: Okay, so I’m going to start with just a couple of numbers. Just take this in and then I’m going to ask you, are these still relevant and what do you think the reason is? And so here we go. In the last 15 years, the number of graduates who are female in computer sciences related majors, have declined and now they’re stagnated at 18 percent. The second figure is, in the first four years after women graduate, only one and four will actually get a job in a major organization or even a startup in terms of what they had wanted or aspire to. And even fewer, 28 percent stay in computing in the first four years after graduation. And that’s compared to the double number of 57 percent of men who remain in the field after they’ve graduated past four years. Are these numbers relevant in the world that you operate in?
Heather: Absolutely. The truth is that there are so few women that stay in these careers because they don’t see themselves in the jobs. And I think it’s really important when you go somewhere whether at school, or work, or even the clubs that you join to see someone that looks like you. Because if you’re not there then you really don’t have that rapport to help you get through the day.
Lesley: I think that’s it. I mean, we have to feel like there’s something familial about it, and then the culture seems to have some level of personal connection for us. And so, what is this actually mean in terms of the technology field and how it is not reflecting? And I mean specifically here computer sciences where we’re not getting the type of female player, are we suffering from that?
Heather: It’s always a bad thing, I think, when you don’t have all of the voices at the table, because if there’s no balance then you’re missing out. If you’ve got only men deciding the products that women should be using, then it’s a very skewed scenario.
Lesley: What’s really interesting to me is that the women in, you know, what we know as STEM – Science Technology Engineering and Math – they are increasing in the bio sciences in some of the other technological pursuits but not so much in the area of computer science. So, what is the cure for this? I mean, what do we do in terms of breaking this open?
Heather: One thing that I found was interesting, or actually a couple things is, computer sciences actually used to be a female career. Originally, it was only women that were programmers back when computers weren’t interesting to men. And that’s in the era of punched cards when it took months to just program one thing, one program. And men, as computers became faster, men were like, “Hey, this could be a job that was interesting.” And they took all the jobs away from the women, and women then became pushed aside. So all of the original programmers, all the original programs were done by women and it became less desirable for them. Now, women are like, “Okay, well, if there are all these men here, then why do I want to do it?” So when I was starting out, there wasn’t that stigma of “Oh women shouldn’t do this.” It was just at the end of the punched card era, so women were still part of it. And now it’s just all men, so I don’t know. I think it’s just seeing more women would help.
Lesley: Here’s the interesting thing. In terms of the work that you do with startups and supporting entrepreneurs, there’s a great deal of marriage between the technology expert and bringing that ability to life in something that they are in control of. So the blend between entrepreneurship and technology seems to have less gender bias or is there still a gender bias?
Heather: Oh there’s absolutely still a gender bias. Only two percent of the CEOs in the Unicorn Club are… Actually not just the CEOs, the Executive team of the Unicorn club are female, and that includes anyone on the C Team or the boards. And by Unicorn Club, I mean, anyone in the 150 companies with billion-dollar plus valuations currently. So there’s definitely a bias against women in these positions and it’s not that they aren’t around, it’s that they’re not getting funded.
Lesley: Okay that’s entirely an issue that is across sectors and obviously is very apparent in the technology field. I think you’re quite heavily involved with Get Girls in Technology?
Lesley: And I’m going to go along this route for a moment before we go back to sort of the bigger question of how do we breakthrough some of these… They’re not glass ceilings man, they’re cement walls. But it’s absolutely fascinating because it really does work with all levels of girls, women, professionals, executives, that are wanting to pursue some form of dreams, some sort of aspiration in the technology field by the kind of programming it offers.
Heather: Yeah. One thing that I like to say to people the way I start the conversation is, “Do you own an IPhone? Well if you do, you’re a girl in technology.”
Lesley: You know what, I can now feel like this is a possibility for me. I have more than a phone too, so a gay. Alright this is important. That’s a great premise, obviously a fantastic one to begin with. But, you know, the conferences that are run are really wonderful blend of those wanting in and those that are doing well in it in the field.
Heather: Yeah. The number one steam job across the board is marketing job, because there’s so much technology that you need to do those positions and people don’t even realize that. There’s so much education that Get provide, and I absolutely love all of the stuff that they’re doing magically.
Lesley: Well, we’re going to be posting about get during the airing of your show because they are… I was absolutely fascinated not only the conferences but about hackathon, the challenge competition about how to co-create product, and design, and development in a controlled environment. Those are incredible opportunities for people to learn to collaborate but also to show their stuff.
Heather: Oh yeah, I love running hackathons. My frequent co-collaborator, she’s excellent, Christina Aldan. I love her. She was the co-managing director of Girls in Tech here in Las Vegas. She and I often run hackathons, but we found that the most female participation we could get at a hackathon was 10 percent which is huge actually. 10 percent female participation in hackathon is huge. But we decided to run a designathon which was still hackathon, but we didn’t require YouTube code as part of this and we got 65 percent female participation.
Lesley: Okay. So that tells us something about where the familiarity, or the passion, or the interest lies is in the design aspect, or is it just that coding has been again a profession that’s been somewhat difficult to play in?
Heather: I think that the terms, the vocabulary is something that women are afraid of. The designathon was basically the same thing. Again, we were allowing women to be creative, to have a safe space to discuss what product they wanted to create. And then the men and also the female coders that came were able to create an MVP of this in a weekend, which was the same thing as a startup weekend. But it just allowed for more interesting products than the typical hackathon.
Lesley: One of the topics that get reversed to in its conference is the She-economy. So how do you define the She-economy?
Heather: The She-economy is the economy. Women have the buying power around the world. It’s like over Two Trillion Dollars of buying power, whereas the male buying power is like in the Billions. And that says something. Women are the ones that are buying the products. And it’s sad that men are designing these products, so I don’t understand, it’s such a disconnect.
Lesley: It totally is a disconnect. And so, what do they learn about how to leverage themselves inside of the She-economy?
Heather: It’s such a difficult question. Because as a gender, women don’t have the same confidence level that men have and it’s not a knock on the gender. It’s just that men have a certain swagger and confidence where they’ll come in and they’ll slap their money down and be like, “That’s the thing that I want.” Whereas, women take the time to research, and do things, and buy stuff. And if they decided as a whole, to say, “No more, we don’t want these things” then it could really turn the market on its head.
Lesley: Well, you obviously have them but you are someone of a different kind of chick—let’s put it this way—because the first computer you bought you spent time unscrewing every bolt and taking it completely apart, so that you could figure out how it went together. Most of us look at it and say, “Isn’t this pretty? I’m going to now touch the keys.” Okay, so, you’ve always been this kind of “Get in there and get my fingers and hands dirty.”
Heather: Absolutely. I’m definitely a rare bird in that way. I like to know the origin of things. I like to know not only how they work but how I can talk to it, how to speak its language. And as you said when I got my first computer, I wanted to know it. I wanted to understand it from all aspects, and I do that every product, every person, everything that I do.
Lesley: So, when you went on and you said something interesting in this interview I was listening to was that you went to school to learn what you didn’t know about. So you didn’t go to computer science because your brain was automatically thinking in that direction, and so you took other subjects. What is it about school that where you actually focus your attention and where you didn’t?
Heather: I actually had started out in Aerospace Engineering, and all of the classes were just too easy because it was stuff that I already knew. Every class I went through, I was bored because my brain just kind of grafted already. And so I called up, and I was like, “This is a waste of money. What I want to do is learn how to make my brain learn more things, rather than learning stuff that other people want to put in there.” I decided to go to school called Saint John’s College in Annapolis which is absolutely excellent. I cannot rate it more highly because they teach you a classical education of all of the origins of stuff like Euclid, and Copernicus, and Ptolemy, and Herges, and Aristotle. And they teach you the elements of how to learn, and that has enabled me through the rest of my career. And whether it’s work, or life, or whatever to ask the questions, I need to find the answers.
Lesley: Well, you obviously have done a broken job with that, which brings me to the notion of you being a Unicorn Whisperer. Now, I know you don’t go around with my little pony… This is we’re talking about the billion-dollar players in the technology field, what does a Unicorn Whisperer do?
Heather: The main thing I do is actually help people focus. I have had the immense honor to train with amazing coaches like Tony Robbins, and Michelle Duval, and my mentor Mark Rowland. To become a coach, I’ve gotten certifications in a bunch of different methodologies to help teams and individuals focus on what’s important to them, to get themselves, their companies, their teams to communicate, to grow, to scale, whatever it is that will get them to the goals they want to reach, whether it’s to become a Unicorn company or even just to get to the next month.
Lesley: And so, this is where the way in which, again, you go back here learning in the classics and how your brain actually works in moving information around, and then applying it to the types of problems that these folks are facing. There’s a quite a marriage between those talent basis that you bring to these folks.
Heather: Absolutely. Because a lot of people, they ask why and that’s a surface question that makes you defensive. As soon as you ask somebody why, the main answer is because. You start defending yourself and it’s terrible. But if you think about Socrates, like the main question of Domino was, “What if you could be taught?”
Lesley: I have debated that one for days, let alone hours. It causes your mind to work in places until for you to listen so deeply to the other person, in terms of what their brain to the story as well. Yeah, I think that’s a very powerful illustration of the art of the perfect question, and how it really brings us inside to an exploration that we otherwise would not go on.
Heather: Yeah. And for the people that I coach, my intake form for them, like to know if I’m the right coach for them, I ask them to give me the greatest hits album of their life. So it’s a whole big thing that it really makes them look inside themselves to think about what are the songs that would make up their life.
Lesley: Are these real songs or their songs that they can create the title of?
Heather: It’s however they want to take it. And then when they hand it to me, then I’ll learn about them as they’ve learned about themselves.
Lesley: Absolutely phenomenal. So here’s my question then. You understand the business of how these organizations work. You see the problem which is how we’re not getting the kinds of numbers of women. And I mean that strictly from the point of view is that we are different, and we need to see that reflected inside of the products that we’re using. If you’re whispering to this economy, what would be the question you’d be asking?
Heather: What can we do for the schools to ensure that our upcoming generations are best prepared when they enter the workforce?
Lesley: So we have to start right at the gecko inside of our school systems. And I think there are some pretty powerful examples that you have in the states of different educational boards that have taken technology and girls on as a fundamental platform, but we have to make a much greater effort at how that gets broadcast and applied across the board.
Heather: Absolutely. Because there’s research that has shown, if you don’t have people with this mindset by the time they’re 14, it’s too late.
Lesley: Well, you know, actually, just in terms of the human development, by 14, we are now in the midst of proving again in a second cycle what we already knew in the first cycle. So we are clocked in so many ways by that point even if we have breakthroughs in other arenas, our major cycle of development has really been embedded.
Heather: Exactly. And so, what we really need to do as adults, take our time to sponsor children to want to do this thing. And that doesn’t mean that it’s too late for us to do things.
Lesley: I agree. I mean, at my age I’m hoping there are still a hell lot more to come.
Heather: Of course. But the main things that we can do, the main efforts that we can focus on are the children. As I’d like to point out, when I was born, it was only 10 years passet the height of The Beatles. And right now, like it was 20 years ago that it was the height of Britney Spears. So, if we focus on the children that are in school right now, those kids, it’ll be 20 years passed the height of Taylor Swift for them. It goes by in an instant.
Lesley: It’s like lightning speed, it really is, and I think that’s the challenge I find. Well, being an anthropologist is that these cultural frames of reference, the value systems that we have to confront in order to really put in place the seeds that we need to be sown, have enormous amount of work to do. Because as fast as that time goes, it takes so much effort to shift back ship in order for you to start take a turn in a different direction.
Heather: Yeah. It really doesn’t take long.
Lesley: And that’s I think when you talk about education, we’re in a whole different place than we were 40 years ago or 20 years ago in terms of the awareness of just how we have to rethink the way in which we learn, the way in which we acquire knowledge and skills. And so this is obviously been a big part of your success is that how you figured that on your own. But there are some of us that probably could help. I have somebody else having ideal about how we might do that better. So let’s just do a couple of quick things before we wrap. I want to know in terms of this whole issue around funding for women, what needs to be thought about when we think about funding for women in this whole area of technology?
Heather: It’s shown that if you have a female VC on boards that are helping to think the groups that are being funded, then more female companies get funded.
Lesley: Yes. No question about it.
Heather: However, getting female partners in VC funds isn’t always going to be great. But that’s one solution has to go. Another is, there’s not that many female companies that actually go for funding that way. It may not actually be as much of a problem as it seems because men seem to be more apt to go down the “I want other people’s money” route, and women seem to be more “I’m going to try to do this myself.” So it just could be a difference in the way women and men do business.
Lesley: And actually, there are some pretty good researches about how women approach the whole funding issue compared to their male contemporary, so good point on that one. My second to last question is one that I ask you at the top, what is it about you and how you operate that makes it possible for you to do these short circuit nights and long circuit days?
Heather: When I am in my focus mode, I just keep working until I’m done. I don’t stop and I don’t notice the time. I don’t notice anything else. I will just wake up, start doing work, and I don’t sleep, I don’t, I don’t see anything. And then I’ll notice when I’m done, there’s something I was supposed to eat at some point. I’ve trained myself to be focused to the exclusion of everything else. And it’s not just one day, I can do this for like 72 hours in a row, and I’m not the only one that can do this. If you enter a focused state, your brain can do an amazing stuff, and I can actually train people how to do this. I’ve been able to train people how to do that, it’s not healthy to do it all the time.
Lesley: No. You know, it’s like any tool, any skill, it’s used when it’s most needed. I’m going to tripwire the second question a part B, what is one technique, what is the sort of starting technique that you would use to help somebody understand this whole notion of focus?
Heather: The easiest thing to do is to turn off any external distractions like put your phone and do not disturb, lock yourself into a room. I myself don’t have any music or anything else playing and I make sure that everything that I have is lined up that I have everything that I need available for me, and then I set myself to do things in a particular order. The key is to remember that priority means one, so don’t go back and forth from one thing to another. And also, while I say that I don’t eat, I mean I don’t break for meals like I have everything that I need available with me within arm’s reach. So you’ll hear that like coders will have like five cans of red bull stacked up on their desk. I don’t drink caffeine. I don’t eat any stimulants or anything like that. In fact, I don’t eat red meat or pork either, so I have a very healthy diet in that regard. So it’s just, I’ll have tons of water, tons of everything right next to me so that I can just like automatically just have things right there without having a move.
Lesley: Yeah absolutely. Something tells me I’m a really good multi-tasker. I mean you do lots of different things at once. They’ll go, “Yes” and I go, “The human condition is that we can only do one thing really well at once, but you maybe have a good lineup on them.” But I really couldn’t say how much I underlined your last piece of advice, because it’s absolutely true in terms of what I’ve watched high-performers do versus people that are trying to get a lot done and not necessarily getting the results that they want. Last question, I always end my show with a song. So I’m going to ask you, given the fact of what are the hits of your life, what’s the song that you’d like us lead out with on this show?
Heather: The song that I woke up to this morning was “Hall of Fame” so how about that one?
Lesley: That one will be definitely on the hit list for this show. Okay Heather, thanks so much for taking with early bird call and letting us have this wonderful time together.
Heather: Absolutely. There goes my secondary alarm.
Lesley: Well you’re very much awake now, this wasn’t a dream. And so I want you to have a great day.
Heather: And you too.
Lesley: Okay thanks!
While I was doing my research for this show, I did indeed find myself a gasp at the numbers associated with men and women, and their relative positioning in the technology industry. What struck me the most however were the underlying rationales given for filling this figures. Women do not wish to hangout in environments in which they don’t see themselves and don’t feel a reflection of who they are. This speaks to the distinct cultural dynamics that appeal to men versus women. Females prefer collaborative environments, so much so that in simulation games they’ll position themselves with much greater force and strength when they’re representing other’s interests, compared to when they’re solely playing for themselves. Now much of the research suggest that this is a weakness compared to their male counterparts, but is it really? As Heather suggests, women also play the funding game differently from men. They will more often and not attempt to work with their own money and that of co-sponsors as supposed to going after venture capital. They prefer maintaining greater control over their company’s future than what AVC investment would require. So these raises the question, is bigger better? Well it depends, it kind of goes along with the statement that determining whether change is considered progress or not is a function of ones values. The same goes for our definition of success. Well, am I suggesting that women accept the barricades to the technology industry? – Absolutely not. What I am suggesting is that we become more vocal and aligned to what we truly value, and that we use as leverage the power positions that we currently hold. Here I’m talking about our consumer power. As a society, we’ve been using our buying power with alignment with environmental considerations. As a gender, can we not do the same with our consumer dollar? But in this case, in support of female creative products, we do have that power based in spades. So let’s use it to fund female technology design and development, which in turn will open the doors not only to products and services created with us in mind, but will fuel the types of startups Heather and her colleagues at ROCeteers are building. To find out more about Heather Wilde, go to rocketeer.com, that’s R-O-C-E-T-E-E-R-dot-com. On LinkedIn she’s under Heather Wilde, that’s H-E-A-T-H-E-R-W-I-L-D-E. And on Twitter, she is H-E-A-T-H-R-I-E-L. Well, as by request, here our lead out is “Hall of Fame” by The Script featuring Will.I.Am.
You know where to find me at lesleysouthwicktrask.com, at womenwholead.co, Facebook – Women Who Lead Radio Show, and on Twitter LSouthT. Remember this is your show and I am your host, Lesley Southwick-Trask. Thanks for listening, see you next time.