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Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders, or in management positions at major companies. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top women in tech in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today we speak with Becky Case, VP of engineering at the leading beauty retailer, Birchbox. When an accidental computer programing class in college led to a new found passion, Becky quickly excelled as a software engineer for Zappos, Bonobos and OpenSky, before moving into Birchbox in the early phases of the company. Rising from a software engineer to her current position as VP of engineering at Birchbox, Becky is not only and expert in architecting scalable ecommerce businesses but she has also been instrumental in serving as a role model for women in technology.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I have a nontraditional story from most engineering leads. I grew up taking voice lessons and dreamed of singing on Broadway. I went to college for vocal performance, but after the first year decided to change my major. I randomly fell into programming as it was the only computer class that fit into my schedule. I fell in love and the rest is history.
I moved to Las Vegas after school and worked for Zappos. After a few years I was tired of living there and moved to NY. I joined Birchbox almost six years ago as a senior engineer. Over the years as the company grew, I was given more responsibility. When we acquired a company in Europe, I started working as the Director of International, then Core Platform a few years later, then finally VP of Engineering.
One key advantage for women in tech is the support network. Because there are so few women, there’s a kinship that naturally forms. The relationships that stem from these shared experiences can be incredibly rewarding. Some of my closest friends are women I have coded alongside with in the wee hours of the morning. Women in tech tend to be more open and supportive of fellow women in their fields. We aren’t pulling the ladder after we’ve climbed it. If anything we’re creating an elevator to make the journey more efficient for the next group. This isn’t something you typically see with men in tech. Now whether this behavior changes as more women enter the field remains to be seen – but I’d hope not given it has created some of the more meaningful friendships in my life.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
I attend a lot of meetups that promote women in technology. Almost all of them have had the same conversations about the lack of diversity and the challenges that come with it.
Rarely is there a woman in tech meetup that celebrates the achievements we have made and discusses the interesting technology that we work on. Instead of focusing on why we are marginalized, why not empower women instead? We should be spending less time talking about victimization and more time focusing on the changes we are making. It’s important to acknowledge the issues, but it’s almost important to not get bogged down by them.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
To me, diversity isn’t just about gender or race or any other protective class. It’s also promoting the exchange of differing ideas generally from people who have backgrounds dissimilar to your own. An open and respectful exchange of ideas is key – especially in tech which is driven by merit. In companies with homogenous cultures tend to get the same ideas and solutions to their problems. In order to succeed, differing opinions and approaches are needed to find a stellar solution – especially one that’s different from your competitor.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
For starters, having women in more senior roles means there are more mentors and role models for younger women and girls just getting started. It’s important for young people, women in particular, to see the possibilities in their future career fields; not everyone wants to be a trailblazer.
In addition, studies have found that companies with boards or operating teams with women on them tend to perform better than their all male counterparts. It’d be a company’s best interest to promote and retain women who deserve it.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
In January, Birchbox partnered with the Flatiron School on a scholarship to promote more women in engineering. I loved meeting the students who were from various backgrounds that you wouldn’t normally see in Tech.
I also am a huge support of BitByBit, which is a Dalton-sponsored organization for high school girls interested in technology. I had the pleasure of being on their Engineering Panel this year and meeting so many inspiring young girls who were passionate about technology.
And HackNY will always have a special place in my heart for the work they do – not only in creating an amazing program for interns, but also in their support for female engineers. Plus my favorite interns from the past five years – all women – have come from HackNy!
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
The biggest thing men can do is mentor women engineers. Some of my best mentors throughout my career have been male. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for their guidance – from my very first boss to my favorite frontend engineer ever to my current mentor which I found via First Round’s Mentorship program.
The team at AlleyWatch believes it’s important to have an inclusive discussion around the challenges facing women in tech along with highlighting the work of the female entrepreneurs that have made NYC one of the best places for women in tech according to some recent studies. That’s why we are running this series that showcases women in tech in New York.
If you are a female founder in NYC working in tech and interested in participating in the series please visit this link or click on the image above.
Please feel free to pass this on to any women in NYC that you feel should be considered for the series. Thank you.