Why is there a dude on stage?
Last week I had the unexpected and unique honor of hosting the technical track at the Women of Silicon Valley conference. This was my first time hosting a track, which turns out to be fun and terrifying in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. A speaker drops out with one day to spare. Slides get mixed up. Audiences need to be warmed up for Q&A. It all really kept me on my toes throughout the day.
More importantly, it was a special honor to be one of the few male attendees at this event targeted at women in tech. A common question is why I was asked to host and why I said, “Yes” (you know, not being a women and all). There are two reasons:
First, I’m a black male VP of Engineering in Silicon Valley. As far as I know, there are only about 4 others in existence. Although I can’t speak exactly to what women go through day to day in Silicon Valley, I think I can relate to many of the same feelings, particularly the need to find connection and inspiration in a world where I see so few others like myself. So I jumped at the opportunity to host a track at WoSV because it brings so many talented women together and shines light on their accomplishments.
Second, I personally believe that executive leaders in tech have a responsibility to support diversity. Our industry, and Silicon Valley in particular, continues to be the fastest growing, most transformative, most opportunity-rich environment on the planet. As leaders we have a responsibility not just to ourselves, not just to our companies, but to society as a whole. To me, that responsibility means creating a world that is equitable, diverse, and fair. So I attended WoSV because I am an ally and supporter, not just for women in tech, but for all underrepresented groups.
Reddit’s D&I Approach
Now I work at Reddit. Reddit, for those who don’t know, is a collection of hundreds of thousands of communities for any topic or interest you might be passionate about. We aspire to bring a sense of community and belonging to everyone in the world. And look, if that sounds too fancy or high highfalutin, Reddit has a lot of funny cat pictures and you can vote on the ones you like.
At Reddit we have been very public about our support of diversity and inclusion in tech. Four speakers from Reddit attended Women of Silicon Valley as presenters: myself as VP of Engineering, the exceptional Katelin Holloway our VP of People and Culture, and two of our stellar data scientists.
Like many other tech companies, Reddit is still trying to figure out what works when it comes to improving D&I but I think one thing we’ve nailed is that change this big must start at the top. If you look at the Reddit exec team you’ll see it’s perhaps one of the most diverse in the Valley. Women are well represented, blacks, Latina, Muslim, and we even sprinkled a few white guys in for good measure.
But in all seriousness, I think we’ve done a good job at the exec level and because our diversity starts at the top we are able to set the tone throughout the rest of the organization. We talk about D&I regularly, we plan, we take action, most importantly we see real change.
That, in particular, is the reason I was so excited to chair the technical track of WoSV because this track is about more than just talk and planning, it is about action and results. Attendees got to see women of Silicon Valley who are experts in their fields, women who are successful, women who are getting it done, and women who represent the change that this industry needs to see. I was both proud and honored to be able to introduce them.
Here’s the Lineup:
Scaling Facebook to Two Billion People
Presenter: Fernanda is a Director in the Production Engineering team at Facebook, leading the engagement with Ads. Her teams work on projects related to reliability, efficiency, performance and scalability of their Ads products and infrastructure services. Fernanda is originally from Brazil, and has been at Facebook since May 2012. Prior to that, Fernanda worked at Google Zurich, IBM and other smaller companies in Brazil.
Data Science At Reddit, aka Finding Meaning in Cat Gifs with Math
Presenters: Kritika is a Data Scientist at Reddit, where she works on building user behavior models and forecasting to help accelerate product growth. Prior to Reddit, she worked as a Data Scientist at Hipmunk, where she worked on the analytics platform and built several models for marketing and product teams. She was the first female Data Scientist at both Reddit & Hipmunk. She has a Master’s in Economics from University Of San Francisco, where she specialized in applied mathematics for predicting financial market variables.
Katie Bauer is a Senior Data Scientist at Reddit, where she works on improving recommender systems, using NLP to understand comments, and measuring time on site. Previously, she’s worked in ad tech on audience segmentation and in natural language search on query parsing. Her academic background is in sociolinguistics, and she continues to be fascinated by how online language use reflects information about a user and their identity.
How To Successfully Implement Open Source Projects
Presenter: Rebecca is a Senior Software Engineer at New Relic, where she spends her days building prototypes and deciding which open source projects to use. Her favorite open source project is Rails.
Global Insights, Global Growth
Presenter: Molly Stevens has 15+ years of experience working in user experience design and research across a variety of domains. She’s an advocate for the advancement of diverse voices in all aspects of the development of their modern tools and services. At Uber, her team focuses on developing local and global insights about people to innovate on current and future technologies.
My Journey to Push for Accessible Hearing Technology
Presenter: Diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of three, KR has spent the last two decades as a technology executive and disability advocate. KR spent the last two years as Vice President of Advocacy and Accessibility at Doppler Labs, where she developed their accessibility go-to-market strategy on hearing health. This lead to her collaborating with Senator Warren’s team on new legislation called the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, which was signed into law on Aug, 8th 2017.
Currently, KR is on the Board of Directors for the Hearing Loss Association of America, Deaf Kids Code, the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, and World Wide Hearing Foundation International (Arm of the WHO). She has been awarded a U.S. Congressional award; Silicon Valley’s Top 40 Under 40; 2017 Women of Influence; and 2015 Women on the Move by Women’s Business Journal for her advocacy work in hearing health and technology.
D&I is an issue that will be with us for many years to come. Events like WoSV give the underrepresented a place to find community and to be inspired by those who have found a way to succeed. I’m proud to have taken part and am optimistic that feelings of hope and possibility will endure long after.