I recently enjoyed chatting B2B SaaS, Customer Success, BuildingConnected, the origin story of Flatirons Tech, and tech diversity & inclusion in the Bay Area and Boulder on the Boulder Tech Cast podcast. This episode was recorded during Boulder Startup Week 2018 at Dojo4.
After a half-decade living in Boulder and three years (technically four if including the time I spent with Learndot prior to the acquisition) working remotely for Palo Alto-based technology company ServiceRocket, I am thrilled to announce I have joined SF-based technology startup BuildingConnected to lead the Content Marketing team. As I settle into my new role and Bay Area relocation, I feel called to reflect on the profound impact living in Boulder has had on me.
Five years ago I moved to Boulder, CO from the East Coast. Like so many Boulderites, my Boulder transplantation story was a mix of luck and fate. I had been to Colorado only twice before moving. The first time was in late April 2013. It dumped snow during the entire visit, rendering the streets slushy and the famous Flatirons completely obscured from view. As a native East Coaster familiar with fairly predictable seasons, I couldn’t quite believe it.
“What is this place where it snows in springtime?” I wondered.
I gave Boulder another shot a few months later in June of that same year and inevitably fell in love with the lush mountain trails and the welcoming and vibrant startup community. At the time I was working remotely for a LA-based tech company and after a wonderful weeklong summer visit I decided to move to Boulder instead of LA. I made the move that fall, just weeks before the infamous Boulder flood, which, incidentally, destroyed the apartment I was renting at the time and ironically connected me to my community far faster, I think, than if I’d moved at another time. Note to Bay Area fault lines: Please don’t feel the need to give me a similar naturally disastrous welcome.
Living in Boulder has been a true blessing. In Boulder I developed personally and in my career, becoming a member of a remarkable, active, generous, and innovative startup community. I have built lifelong friendships and experienced what it means to integrate “work” and “life”. In Boulder we take startups as seriously as we take being out in nature and taking time to be active, relax and enjoy our relationships, friendships, and community. There are too many amazing people I love in Boulder to name here, but if you’re reading this, know that you have touched my life.
Boulder is considered by many to be an idyllic place; it has gorgeous nature, an amazing startup community, and embraces laid-back sensibility. It is in many ways progressive, and yet, it is also a “bubble”. Like any place, Boulder has its limitations. Boulder’s lack of diversity, particularly in the tech and startup communities, is an issue I have spent a lot of time thinking about and working with others to improve. In 2014, disappointment in Boulder’s lack of resources for LGBTQ+ people and allies in the tech and startup scene compelled me to found Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, also known as Flatirons Tech.
Flatirons Tech, which is now more than 720 members, has partnered with Boulder Startup Week, NCWIT, Foundry Group, Twitter, Google, Sovrn, Galvanize, Kapost, Lesbians Who Tech, SimpleEnergy, SheSays Boulder, and other startups and local organizations to put on local panels, happy hours, and other events centered around increasing tech diversity and inclusion and building community since its inception. Growing Flatirons Tech has been one of the greatest experiences of my life and career. It has been a source of community, inspiration, love, and deeply fulfilling relationships. I am so proud of what we have built and of our amazing co-organizers who continue to grow the organization and community.
Working remotely for ServiceRocket was undeniably another cornerstone of my time in Boulder. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most incredible colleagues with whom I have ever worked doing some of the best work of my life. I am thankful beyond words for my time at the ‘Rocket and look forward to witnessing ServiceRocket’s continued growth and success from the sidelines.
As I move on to my next chapter in Silicon Valley, I am joining a company that addresses customer needs in a space I am new to: the preconstruction industry, which is a market that has been previously underserved by technology. BuildingConnected is the leading cloud based preconstruction bidding platform that enables owners, general contractors and subcontractors to communicate easily and efficiently throughout the bidding process.
BuildingConnected’s company values align with my own, and I am proud to be working alongside talented, creative, and kind colleagues who are similarly inspired to serve our customers and partners.
I deeply resonate with this statement on BuildingConnected’s career page:
“We reject the status quo. We challenge the norms of tech and construction, and we believe that both industries benefit from a more diverse workplace that includes talented women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.”
I am proud to be part of a team that is committed to ensuring everyone who joins can be themselves at work. By the way: We’re hiring!
It hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m not on a work trip and that I actually live in the Bay Area again. With each passing day the move is feeling more and more real. The transition has definitely felt easier knowing I now have an official excuse to return to visit Boulder: I am pleased to announce that I am joining the incredible Techstars family as a mentor for the next Sustainability cohort. I can’t wait to meet the companies and get the opportunity to help them innovate to make the world a better place to live.
So long, Boulder. Hello, Bay Area.
It’s Saturday morning in Boulder, Colorado. I am sitting on my couch in my striped blue-and-white pajamas, staring at two emails in my inbox inviting me to speak at tech events–one in the Bay Area, where my employer is located, and one in Boulder, where I currently live. Normally I would be thrilled to accept these invitations right away. I want to accept them. “Say yes to challenge” has become my motto throughout my career. This motto has undeniably served me. Outside of the office, pushing myself to be more visible, do more public speaking and share my ideas with the world has led to incredible opportunities, promotions, and career upleveling. But today, I can’t bring myself to hit “yes” in the reply fields. The duo of invites sits there another day unanswered.
On the coffee table next to the couch sits a bottle of prescription medication, one of a few meds I’ve been taking these past few weeks to heal from an illness. Being sick has meant that I can’t currently drink alcohol or coffee, dine at most restaurants, and that sometimes I don’t feel awesome. Thankfully, I am still able to work at full capacity, read, write, and organize Flatirons Tech events (come to our next event at Google in Boulder!). But I’ve become less social while convalescing, and networking has taken a backseat. It wasn’t until I got sick that I realized how much of tech networking is organized around imbibing caffeine, alcohol, or being “on” at an event. I know I am not alone in abstaining from drinking caffeine and alcohol, but it can sometimes seem that everyone in tech is throwing back either a Nitro coffee or a craft beer siphoned from a keg.
Around when I first started feeling under the weather, I gave a brief talk at Twitter Boulder. During the talk I smiled, trying my best to seem warm and inviting. Immediately after I got offstage, I slipped out of the event. I normally would stay and mingle with the audience, but I simply couldn’t. You may have seen the picture I tweeted and Instagrammed at the event, but you certainly didn’t see the reality of how terrible I was really feeling that day.
And that’s just it: in our current social media-driven world, we see only what others allow us to see. I see my colleagues and peers “crushing it” online, speaking at conferences, being out there in the industry, and they likely see the same of me. I feel pressure, as I’m sure others do, to always be “on” and constantly grow, innovate, and become a bigger force in the industry. But I frequently don’t know others’ private struggles, pains, illnesses, and challenges. And they don’t know of mine unless I share.
Being sick has brought up a flurry of doubts: Who am I in the tech world if I can’t have a drink at a tech meetup or enjoy a normal business lunch? How long will it take before I’m back to “myself” and am able to say yes to every career opportunity? What if I turn down opportunities and then people stop inviting me to speak at events–and what would that mean for my career?
These doubts spring from a dominant startup narrative of “keep growing and crushing it at all costs,” which is harmful to all of us. The “crush it” mindset means constantly seeking opportunities to be in public–public speaking, networking, conferences, as well as taking on so many challenges at work that we’re burning the midnight oil more often than not. Where does the pressure to “crush it” come from? Perhaps it is from the illusion that everyone else is crushing it, and if we don’t too, we’re going to miss out. For some of us, being a minority in tech adds another layer of constantly feeling a need to prove ourselves.
Tech is an incredibly important part of many of our lives, but it isn’t our whole lives, and we need to remember that when we’re feeling pressure to “crush it” no matter what.
My current health condition, I am told, will likely resolve within a few months. I know I am extremely lucky. Many people in tech silently deal with serious and/or chronic health issues, some of which take a long time to heal or will never fully heal. Others struggle with balancing careers and being a primary caregiver to parents, children or an ailing family member; dealing with a divorce, death or loss; a personal illness, or another significant life challenge. No matter our life situation, each of us will go through a period at some point that won’t enable us to follow the “crush it all the time” ethos. As an industry, we need to think about how we can build a tech culture that is more inclusive of everyone throughout the ups and downs of our lives.
Summoning my courage, I regretfully decline the invitations. I know there’s a lot more “crushing it” ahead–even if that isn’t right now.
Is it really June already? Here is a recap of what I’ve been up to in early 2017.
Spoke At Lesbians Who Tech Conference 2017
Received Top 100 Customer Success Strategist 2017 Award From MindTouch
In May 2017 I received the Top 100 Customer Success Influencer award from MindTouch for the third year in a row. I am proud to have been named among so many people whom I admire in the Customer Success field, and enjoyed celebrating with MindTouch at their Pulse Conference Happy Hour. Check out the list.
Featured With Helping Sells Radio Co-Host Bill Cushard by Successly Live at Pulse Conference 2017
Organized and Moderated Boulder Startup Week Panel On Growing Your Career In A Non-Technical Role At A Startup
A lot of Boulder Startup Week is focused on helping founders or aimed at folks in technical roles. This year, I worked with the Boulder Startup Week team to organize event aimed specifically at helping employees who are in non-technical roles at technology companies level up their careers. I moderated the panel including career experts including Analiese Brown, Director of Talent & Culture at CampMinder, Rachel Beisel, VP Marketing and Communications at CableLabs, Tamara Hale, PhD, Lead UX Researcher at Effective and Teri Keller, Director of People at Sovrn, who shared valuable insights aimed at folks in operations, finance, marketing, HR, and other roles that aren’t focused on coding. Learn more about the panel.
Performed With Boulder Improv Collaborative
One of my mentors, ServiceRocket’s VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, got me into improv, and I’ve since seen the benefits of saying “yes, and” throughout my life. My Boulder Improv Collaborative class performed in May, and we had a total blast. Many of my classmates also work in tech, so you can imagine the fun we had when the audience gave us the word “unicorn” as a prompt for one of our montage scenes.
Passed the 40th Episode Milestone of Helping Sells Radio Podcast
I co-host Helping Sells Radio, a podcast about helping customers discover, adopt, and thrive using your software. My co-host Bill Cushard and I celebrated hitting the 40 episode milestone at The Business of Customer Education and Pulse Conference.
Here are a few of our latest episodes:
Thank you for reading!
Connect with me on Twitter @SEBMarketing or email sarahbrownmarketing [at] gmail.com.
This year I cultivated a community garden plot in Boulder, CO, for the first time. I had previously never gardened before, and this experience has been an immensely rewarding one due to both the bounty of fresh homegrown veggies that have come from it as well as other less-tangible rewards reaped. I made a lot of mistakes and have learned a lot from this process and those who have helped me through it. As the summer growing season winds down, I have noticed striking parallels between gardening and startup life. Many garden-variety lessons are very applicable to working at startup. Here are a few of them.
Lesson: You may be unwittingly cultivating a weed.
There were two big plants growing in the east side of my plot I convinced myself were eggplants. I tenderly watered them, weeded around them, and ensured they got plenty of light. Once the “other” eggplants in the west side of my plot starting bearing real eggplants, while the east side eggplants still remained barren, I asked a knowledgeable fellow gardener about the situation. My fellow gardener politely informed me that I had been spending significant time and resources on…weeds! I felt very silly. I didn’t know these were weeds when I so gingerly cared for them. And once I learned the truth, I had no choice but to pull them. Startup leaders: recognize that you may be putting a ton of energy towards a project, campaign or other resource you think is going to yield a return, only to realize down the line you have been growing a weed (or, in my case, two of them). The key is to remove that weed as soon as you find it; don’t let sunk costs of the various investments you have made in keeping this weed-in-disguise alive hold you back from removing it quickly once you see it for what it really is.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
I don’t think any of my plants would have grown without the help of incredibly knowledgeable and generous gardener friends. The same is true for startups: finding mentors (board members, dedicated accelerator mentors, industry peers, and other entrepreneurs) along the journey is crucial for success. Asking for help all the time is key–and ideally, you’ll help others with what you’ve learned, too.
Lesson: Unfortunately, many weeds are hard to identify until they are big.
Many weeds, when small, look just like the things you are consciously trying to grow. Or, they are just too small to notice. Is that a kale sprout or a vine weed that’s going to one day grow to suck the life out of your melon plant? Is that actually an insidious pocket of “bro” culture happening in your engineering department masquerading as playfulness? Is it going to grow into a full-blown problem? Pay close attention to things that may or may not be weeds, and then address them out at the root as soon as you realize what they are.
Lesson: Weeds are much harder to pull once they are mature.
Another reason to address potential problems at your company as soon as possible: once weeds have grown, they’ve got much deeper roots and are that much harder to remove. Suddenly, what would have been an easy fix two quarters ago now becomes a much bigger (and usually more expensive) problem. Fix problems early to save a lot of pain.
Lesson: Place many bets, then ramp on what is working and jettison what is not.
I planted a lot of vegetables that did great this season—and a few that did not do so well. The melon plant only made one tiny, tasteless melon and then shriveled into a brown heap. But the cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, and squash have done brilliantly. So I focused on those and tried not to worry about what did not work. I made sure to pull out the melon plant when it turned brown and clearly wasn’t working rather than let it take any more nutrients from the garden.
Startup growth is all about experimentation. You are placing many bets across many channels, and then need to ramp on what works well, and then cut the resources from what is not working.
Lesson: Recognize when something isn’t working anymore—and be willing to move on.
Related to the previous lesson, sometimes something is working well for a while, and then one day no longer does. I harvested lettuce from the same plants for much of the season. I cut back the lettuce leaves, and then, miraculously, they would grow back where the stumps were. Then one day, a fellow gardener came over to my plot and said, “did you know your lettuce has bolted? You won’t get any leaves from it at this point.” I had not realized this, but once I discovered it, I felt a little hesitant; was it really time to let these go? A flood of memories of the bounty from the summer came back. I had to face a fundamental truth about gardening and startups: sometimes things work amazingly and then, when the season or other conditions change, no longer do. So I pulled out those bolted lettuce plants and composted them. Lesson learned. What at your startup once was working but now longer is? Be willing to do what Ben Horowitz calls “the hard thing about hard things” and move on.
Lesson: Planning ahead is everything.
The importance of this cannot be overstated: you really need to plan ahead for a garden or a startup to function properly. On a startup marketing team, for instance, annual planning ensures the maximum number of sales-qualified leads are created by budgeting and allocating the right amount of resources. By planning what goes where in your garden, you can ensure the right plants work together, and know ahead of time when things will grow.
Lesson: Control what you can and let go of what you cannot.
You can put a fence up for deer. You can cover the leaves of your tomato plants with diatomaceous earth to prevent aphid attack. You can water and weed diligently and properly cage your tomatoes. And sometimes, though you’re certain you’ve done everything you can to create the right conditions for growth—you still lose. It happens. Control what you can, move on from what you can’t.
Lesson: Assemble a great team and embrace community.
It may come as no surprise that community is the key to a community garden. I travel for work sometimes, and throughout the growing season have gone away for multi-week stretches, leaving my sweet garden behind. Luckily, I have great relationships with fellow gardeners—in particular, my amazing neighbor Rachel, whose plot is perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Rachel helps keep my garden alive (and thriving) when I’m not there. And the times when Rachel has been out of town, I have been honored to help care for her beautiful plants, too. Our community garden team has taught me so much about how to care for the plants I’m growing. We share our knowledge and produce with each other, and help weed and water each other’s plots.
Startup leaders need to know that their team can back them up in case of absence or absence of attention. They also need to develop superb relationships with other companies, including their partners and customers, but also other companies within the ecosystem. Cultivate startup community and adopt what Brad Feld calls a “give first” mentality. That means watering other people’s plants without expecting them to do the same for you–knowing full well one day it all comes back around.
Lesson: Take pleasure in the process.
Many mundane garden activities have become a pleasure. I now look forward to removing weeds (obstacles), spending time watering (investing energy and resources), and deciding which squash blossoms to harvest when in order to maximize a few mature squash returns from the plant (analyzing the landscape and taking appropriate action). These basic tasks all bring me a lot of satisfaction. As startup leaders, we participate in and also get to watch our proverbial gardens grow—with pride. It is not always a joyful experience to be “in the weeds” of a startup, but there can be a lot of satisfaction gleaned from the effort. Where can you take pleasure in the process of running a startup?
Lesson: Share the glory
Arguably the best part about gardening is getting to share the bounty with those around you. Great leaders acknowledge how the efforts of their teams contribute to the wins. What are some fruits of your startup labor that you can share with your team, your customers, your partners, and your community?
It is important to note that I have been growing the garden for fun and supplemental food rather than for subsistence. Things may have been different if I had been counting on the veggies to feed me and/or my family and it hadn’t worked out. Many founders put everything into their companies, and it’s hard to cut losses when everything is riding on your company succeeding. I’d be really curious to hear if this metaphor resonates with others in the startup world. Thank you for reading! Sarah
From client acquisitions to speaking on several panels for the first time, to stepping away from my consulting business and becoming a full-time, proud Rocketeer, to helping grow the local diversity in tech group I founded in my home city of Boulder, CO, Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, to over 225 people, plus hosting and participating in a dozen local events in Boulder and beyond, 2015 has been a year to remember. Best of all, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some truly amazing people, companies, and mentors. To close out this memorable year, I thought I’d share some of highlights.
Three of My Clients Got Acquired–And Then One Of Them Acquired Me
Perhaps the biggest professional news of my year involved the extraordinary success of my clients. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success-driven businesses sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line. Read more about the acquisitions, and how thrilled I am to now be a Rocketeer at ServiceRocket.
Named One of MindTouch’s Top 100 Customer Success Influencers To Meet at Pulse
This year MindTouch listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was honored by the mention, and enjoyed connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserved to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.
Customer Success Twitter Chat Thrived
In 2014 I launched the first-ever Customer Success industry Twitter Chat (#CustomerSuccessChat) while consulting with Frontleaf (acquired by Zuora in May ’15). Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English were totally on board, and together we launched the chat back in 2014, and in 2015, it really took off. The monthly twitter chat brought together Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners to talk shop, share best practices, and discuss overcoming challenges.
The chats consisted of lively real-time discussions including a series of questions on one topic (onboarding, sales and customer success, etc.) leveraging the #CustomerSuccessChat hashtag Twitter. We asked subject experts to mark their calendars to guarantee a high-level discourse, and others from the world of software adoption and customer success were also invited to weigh in on. After the chats, the Frontleaf team and I compiled chat recap blogs highlighting the gems from each one. This one on Customer Success as growthhacking is my favorite. At the moment I’m not running the chat, but maybe some form of it will return in the future.
Helped Launch The World’s First Customer Success Podcast
When Frontleaf asked me to devise a new channel to reach their target audience, I researched and created a plan to launch the Customer Success industry’s first-ever podcast exclusively dedicated to that topic. In early 2015, Customer Success Radio, the first-ever podcast about all things Customer Success and the cloud, hosted by Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English launched to great acclaim. The show served as a phenomenal source of leads and buzz for the company. The podcast archives are really worth a listen. While the podcast is currently on hiatus, Tom and Rachel tell me they will hopefully continue the podcast in some form at Zuora.
The experience of creating a plan for a podcast from soup to nuts was invaluable, and the lessons learned along the way have been very helpful in the creation of the brand-new podcast Bill Cushard and I will be co-hosting through ServicerRocket Media. Look out for “Helping Sells Radio” podcast in the first quarter of 2016.
Grew Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup
In May 2014 I founded Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in tech in Boulder, CO and beyond. In 2015, with the help of epic co-organizers, we hosted a dozen local events, became a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance Member, and continued to be supported by our amazing sponsors SendGrid, Pivotal Tracker, Galvanize, and more. We even got a shout-out in the Denver Post and hosted an official Boulder Startup Week event. I’m so proud of the community we’ve built and are continuing to build here in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. I look forward to working with more local companies and organizations and to hosting and participating in more events in 2016.
Moderated ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” Webinar Series
Throughout 2015 I co-hosted the webinars in ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” series alongside ServiceRocket’s Head of Training and Director of Marketing, Bill Cushard. This year we interviewed industry leaders talking about customer education, customer success, software adoption, and more. Guests included expert GitHub trainer Peter Bell, Behavioral Design (Gamification) Expert Yu-Kai Chou, ClientSuccess Founder/CEO Dave Blake, and many other industry thought leaders. You can check out the archives and look out for more great webinars featuring all-star guests in 2016.
Spent A Month At ServiceRocket’s Office In Santiago, Chile
This year I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month working out of ServiceRocket’s office in Santiago, Chile. ServiceRocket is a major contributor to the growing startup community in Santiago, and it was a blast to join the team there to host and participate in events and work on projects together.
Was A Panelist At S-Factory Event In Santiago, Chile
In October, S-Factory accelerator, which is run out of Start-Up Chile, invited ServiceRocket’s Chief Operating Officer Erin Rand, accountant Noelia Rio and me to speak on a panel to discuss how we’re “rocking it”. I was honored to speak to the entrepreneurial audience about growth marketing, our company values, and how we approach software adoption and customer success. S-Factory Executive Director Patricia Hansen was an engaging moderator, and I enjoyed participating as well as listening to and learning from insights shared by colleagues Erin and Noelia.
Participated In NewCo Boulder Diversity In Tech Panel
In November, I was a panelist on the “diversity and inclusion” panel at NewCo Boulder, hosted at Quick Left in Boulder alongside Quick Left’s VP of Engineering Chris McAvoy and Executive Leadership Coach Gerry Valentine, moderated by Rachel Beisel. I loved being a part of the discussion and getting to chat with people after who wanted to continue the conversations about “bringing your whole self to work.” I shared personal stories as well as lessons I’ve learned from working with Silicon Valley Women of Influence, ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand and VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, both of whom do amazing work to increase inclusion in tech. It was cool to hear that people enjoyed the panel and that QuickLeft may want us to recreate the panel again.
Interviewed Hooked Author Nir Eyal With Bill Cushard
I helped crowdsource edit the book Hooked by behavior engineering expert Nir Eyal and have been a huge fan of his work for a while, so it was a big honor to get to interview him and Bill Cushard for ServiceRocket Media. It was an amazing discussion about behavior psychology, customer education and software adoption. Listen to the interview.
Looking Forward To 2016
I’m grateful for the amazing people and companies with whom I had the privilege of working in 2015. Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a special year, and for being on this journey together.
I’m excited for what’s to come in 2016. In the first week of January, I’m headed to ServiceRocket’s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for team building and to work on projects with our team in KL. ServiceRocket Media has some awesome projects in store including a brand-new podcast, epic webinars, and much, much more. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. Sarah
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be out in tech.
In the startup world, there’s a common understanding that we should bring our whole selves to our startup lives. When a well-known VC writes a blog about how he and his wife negotiate their partnership, we read it enthusiastically because we want to know about his whole self. Entrepreneurs who admit to and discuss their bouts with depression garner our respect and trust both for them and for their organization. I would argue that the “whole self” aspects of entrepreneurship are part of what makes this whole startup ecosystem so rich and exciting. As studies show, being our whole selves at work is also crucial for innovation. Being our authentic selves (and feeling comfortable and safe doing so) makes us more creative and engaged and better contributors at work. (Source)
But who gets to be their authentic self at startups, and who doesn’t? Which groups are still barely at the table, much less able to move through the startup world free to be themselves? As stats from tech companies brave enough to release them underscore, lack of diversity in tech is very much still a problem. While there are many aspects of this lack of diversity that need to be addressed (gender, ethnicity, age, disability status and more), for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about a particular kind of diversity that I personally come up against: being a woman and being gay.
For the past few years, I’ve been out to my startup clients. I used to ignore inevitable pronouns and questions that would crop up after a few months on a project, but I felt like I was hiding myself every time personal lives became part of a conversation and I neglected to mention it. I’m grateful to say that, so far, coming out on the job has never been an issue for me. I have felt only supported by the clients with whom I’ve worked. It turns out, being out at work has not been an issue for me personally any more than my being vegan and ordering tempeh Ruebens at business lunches. That has been my experience, but I know that for many LGBTQ people, coming out in tech brings substantial risk.
In the United States, it’s unfortunately still a privilege to be out at the workplace. A gay CTO in Salt Lake City may worry about telling his co-workers about his engagement, lest doing so get him fired. This may sound extreme, but in many states with vibrant tech communities, workers can still be fired based on sexual orientation. Other issues with coming out at the workplace include simply being treated differently after coming out–not get promoted as quickly, not getting the best projects to work on, having assumptions made about your work based on your orientation/identity, and on.
When Tim Cook came out, it mattered to our community and to young people and to the world. Being out in tech shouldn’t be an issue, but in today’s world, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it very much still is.
In May 2014, I founded the Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to create community around and bring awareness to a group who have been historically underrepresented in society and in tech. Since inception, we’ve grown to 100+ LGBTQ techies and allies, and have hosted diversity in tech-focused, dinners, panels, happy and coffee hours, and community networking events at local startups and technology hubs. The incredible people and co-organizers I’ve met as a result of this are now my friends and unending sources of inspiration (you know who you are).
Boulder, CO, where I live and have clients, has come under fire for diversity and tech issues. It seems like we can’t go a week without some council member suggesting that growing tech in Boulder is just going bring more “straight rich white guys”. I recommend reading Brad Feld’s blog on the subject if you want to read up. Our group stands in the face of those criticisms. Our members are exceptionally valuable contributors to Boulder’s technology economy. Local and international companies and orgs have embraced us, and we’re exploring new ways to partner with allies and companies working to make things better.
Our group is now an official partner of Lesbians Who Tech 2015 conference and we’re a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance member. Our Meetup membership has been generously sponsored by Pivotal Tracker for 2015. We do volunteer work and community service (a few weeks ago 11 of us met to upgrade Out Boulder’s website, for example). Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup has done events with Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software, gSchool and Galvanize and 500 Startups, Lesbians Who Tech, SendGrid, Trada, Quick Left, and more. And we’re just getting started.
Since I moved to this beautiful mountain town almost two years ago, a lot has changed. When I first arrived, same-sex marriage was illegal. Now we have marriage equality. We now also have a LGBTQ tech meetup.
These days, I do my best to bring my whole self to work. Every day I feel grateful for that privilege, and reminded of those who don’t yet have it, and the work that needs to be done.
Thanks for reading. – Sarah