Cougar coders (or grayhairs need not apply)
Originally posted 6 August 2010.
I had an interesting experience yesterday at the TechStars Boulder Demo Day. Pardon me while I attempt to process this publicly.
I joined the 200-odd community rabble in the balcony of the Boulder Theater excited to see the most recent labors of 11 new startups supported by Tech Stars. For the uninitiated, it’s a fantastic seed capital and mentoring program that just concluded its summer 2010 season. Demo Day is an opportunity for the newly launched software and application project teams to pitch angel investors and venture capitalists on the theater floor.
Inviting tech nerds to view the pitches, Tweet reactions and generally cheer on the project teams is just one aspect of the overall forward-thinking of TechStars. [Twitter stream from the cheap seats here]
Which leads me to the “incident.”
I grabbed a balcony seat at the end of a row near where a TechStars intern was standing to direct people to open seats. We engaged in a bit of small talk before the show started as others slowly filtered in.
Then, he dropped the bomb.
"Are you here to support a family member who’s presenting?"
WTF?! I was just dumbfounded that a few gray hairs — well earned, may I add — somehow renders my life to the bleachers to live vicariously through the successes of what he assumed was my child on stage. Whoa.
After a long pause I regained my composure and explained I was there to evaluate whether to apply to TechStars or Y-Combinator after completing my Knight fellowship at Stanford next year. The intern nodded, seemingly unimpressed, and wandered away.
Listen, I’m not naïve. I’ve battled being the first woman hired for a job more times than I care to count. I’m a proud but not angry feminist (and yes, there is a difference). I realize I’m entering another field long-dominated my men, particularly young men. But the exchange was a jarring reminder of the assumptions we all make in our lives based on antiquated notions of gender, class, race and age.
I’m especially appreciative of those in tech industry leadership positions who are using their bully pulpits to move the conversation beyond the pablum of “quota” arguments to explore the more fundamental criteria of diversity and meritocracy as predictors of entrepreneurial success.
Foundry director Brad Feld, a prominent supporter of TechStars, Lean Startup creator Eric Reis and others are actively encouraging a more substantive discussion about how to remedy the paucity of women tech entrepreneurs. Encouraging girls and young women to study math, science and engineering is a worthy goal and one I wholeheartedly support. Ask my 24-year-old daugther whom I hound near-daily about taking programming classes as she completes her Bachelor’s degree.
But may I add another critical element necessary to the long term success of American ingenuity and enterpreneurial ventures: stop assuming mid-career women don’t have value except cheering from the bleachers.
Image: Steve_Caddy, Flickr