Posts Tagged ‘San Jose Mercury News’

So we’re going to put two and two together here, draw on some other stuff, come up with five.  Or maybe three.  Who knows.  It’s all about the math.  Or maybe not.  But it’s important.    There’s even a treat at the end.


Last week, the San Jose Mercury — located as it is in the heart of Silicon Valley — had a front page biz story on the lack of the XX chromosome in the tech field.  Specifically, when it comes to  being an entrepreneur.  Reporter Scott Duke Harris starts by recalling meeting Jessica Mah, a 17 year old whiz-girl at a TechCrunch gathering three years ago.  When she was 13, she had started a Web-hosting service.  (Hello, I’m not ever sure what that means.)  Now she’s 20, and she has a degree in computer science from UC-Berkeley, has funding from a start-up incubator, and is co founder of a Web-based money management service for small businesses.  And what she tells Harris is that despite the fact that her business is doing well, she wonders whether she is a good entrepreneur — or she is benefiting from a good market.   WTF.  She’s 20 years old.  About the same age as that other kid was when he started Facebook.

Let’s read what Harris has to say:

Today, I have another notion about my initial skepticism: Gender profiling. If this had been a geek named Jesse, not Jessica, maybe I’d be wondering if this kid might be the next Zuckerberg, instead of wondering whether to take him seriously.

With former Silicon Valley CEOs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina now running self-financed campaigns for higher office and Carol Bartz leading Yahoo, there is less talk today about the “glass ceiling.” But they prospered on the executive track, not as entrepreneurs. While dozens of valley startups have been launched by women — Judy Estrin, Kim Polese and Caterina Fake come to mind — hundreds have been launched by men.

Consider Y Combinator: Since its startup “boot camp” began in 2005, providing techies with shoestring budgets and a collaborative environment, about 450 people have been accepted to the program. The number of women: 14, including Mah and three others in the current class.

It’s tempting to think the Y in Y Combinator has something to do with the Y chromosome. But the name actually derives from a calculus term familiar to geeks. And geeks, it seems, disproportionately happen to have the male XY chromosome, not the female XX. The question is: Why?

Well, I’d beg to differ about what he says about the glass ceiling, and, okay, I don’t like either Whitman or Fiorina, but that’s beside the point. (And if you’ve been living under a rock, Zuckerberg is the kid who started Facebook)  So first, I’m pissed.  But then I wonder, too:  nature or nurture, as Harris asks.  Former Harvard president Larry Summers implied it might be nature — and lost his job because of it (though he landed on his feet in the Obama administration.) And we have suggested here that maybe it has to do with women just not being welcome at the party.

Recently, we interviewed Stanford economist Myra Strober, founder of Stanford’s  Center for Research on Women back in 1972, for our book.  We were talking about the strides women have made since the days when she started her career and became a pretty big name in women’s rights — and where we still need to go.  The first thing she said was that the pay gap had to go.  She’s an economist, after all.

Second, though, and actually related to her first point, was this:  “Opening up and making science and engineering more interesting for women so that they go into those careers is very important.  I think you teach it in a different way.  First of all, some of these science courses are taught so competitively because they’re trying to winnow out which people are going to get good grades in medical school.  Of course, women have gone into medicine.  But I think science other than medicine, I think women are poorly represented in those fields.  And I think it behooves those fields to figure out how to make those courses more appealing to women.  And the workplace, too.”

No kidding.  But back to Harris, who at this point in his story, is interviewing Adora Cheung, the 26-year-old founder of another tech start-up:

Cheung suggested that it may be a matter of social expectations: When math gets tough, girls are often told that’s OK and try something else, but boys are encouraged to work harder.

Cheung said she was pleasantly surprised to find three other women in her Y Combinator class. Contagion Health co-founder Jen McCabe, who has scant computing skills, teamed with an engineer on their startup, designed to use social networks to promote healthy living. The notion that Y Combinator discriminates, McCabe said, is preposterous: “I’m actually surprised more women don’t do this.”

And after talking to the women of Y Combinator — and thinking about my young daughter and her brothers — I’m thinking that Cheung is on to something. Maybe the paucity of female tech entrepreneurs has something to do with what has been called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Ya think?  And now, I’m kinda bummed  that I never stuck it out as a math major.  Not that I necessarily wanted to go into that field as a career.  But it would have given me some street cred to call out the likes of Larry Summers.

On the other hand — and here’s the toy in the Crackerjacks box — I never would have related to the Mad Men job interview.  Apparently, I’d make a good Accounts Manager.

And you?

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The San Jose Mercury delivered a triple shot of optimism to go with the morning latte on Saturday morning. The Page One feature, the seventh installment of a 12-part “Life in a Year” series, was all about that first paycheck. The subtext? Making choices work.

The story had me at Studs Terkel. But more about that below.

Early on, reporter Bruce Newman reminds us how rare it is for our first job — “the thing that provides us a living if not a life” — to be our last. No small consolation for those worried about choosing wrong at the gate. But better yet, he defines work via one of Studs Terkel’s greatest oral histories:


In “Working,” the oral history ode to the way we toil by the late Studs Terkel, The Job is described as the start of a search “for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash … in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

Combine those two thoughts — career choice as trajectory rather than destination plus Terkel’s reminder that any job can have meaning as well as dignity — add the way three newly employed twenty-somethings made their choices, and you’ve got some serious reassurance to spread on your morning bagel. Newman goes on:


Menial or magnificent, the first job — harder than ever to come by now — sets the tone for all the jobs to follow. It’s the first time we feel the weight of serious money in our pockets, and serious responsibilities on our shoulders.

And that, these twenty-somethings seem to show, is a good thing. The story profiles three young adults who seized their options: Gabino Lopez, Jr., son of a farmworker and first in his family to attend college, who a month after graduation started work as a financial analyst at Chevron, where he relishes everything from his paycheck in the high-fives to, yes, even life in a cubicle; Jose Luna III, following his dream — and his father’s footsteps — in becoming a firefighter; and Samantha Go, a poster child for the idea that career is a serial endeavor.

Go blitzed college, graduating from Santa Clara University with a degree in marketing two quarters early to beat the job-search rush. She figured out early what she didn’t want to do via a soul-less internship in a cubicle at a file-management company. That motivated her to find her niche — and apparently, her bliss — as an event planner at Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health at Stanford.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people who’s always changing jobs, or hates their job, so whatever job I got out of college was going to be it for a while,” she said. “But I really didn’t like my desk job at all. If I had to do that every day for the rest of my life, I don’t know what I would have done.”

She now gets paid to taste wine, sample food, and go to parties. She also looks forward to five weeks of vacation.

The moral of the story? First, there’s hope out there, even in this economy. But more importantly, the point is that having choices can help you find your passion. It just depends on how you make those choices work for you.

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