Spotlight: Women in Tech for Women’s History Month

Wanderable celebrates Women’s History Month with a spotlight on Jenny Chen, our co-founder, and her experience being a woman in tech.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 8.01.26 AMJenny and Marcela, our amazing co-founders

March is Women’s History Month , and what better way to celebrate than catching up with our amazing co-founder, Jenny, on women in tech (a topic close to our hearts). In such a male dominated industry, she shines some light on how she first got into the field, how her parents were an integral part of her experience, and shares advice she has for girls trying to break in to the industry.

Wanderable: How and when did you first get into technology? How did you decide this was the field for you?

Jenny: Summer of 1996, I was 13 years old and really into Sailor Moon – I wanted to build a website for my favorite Scout, Sailor Mercury. I asked my dad for help on how to build a website.  He had no idea and gave me a book.  I forget the title, but it had “HTML” emblazoned across the cover.  Learning markup was pretty weird for me, given that I hadn’t had prior experience with programming.  It’s like this strange game you play, where you’re given an instruction booklet and you try to figure out all the rules of the game in order to get to the goal you want.

At Stanford, I took the usual CS core classes. CS107 was really difficult for me, causing me to doubt whether I was cut out for this.  I really liked learning and building projects, but I felt that I was really slow compared to everyone else.  My grades in other courses were much higher – if I’d gone with my grades, I’d be a Chinese philosopher right now. I spent a couple quarters poking into other majors, but then in my last quarter sophomore year, I took CS193i (Internet Technologies) and decided that I may be slower, I may have to budget my time better, but I can figure this out and this is what I really enjoy doing – building things for people to use.

 

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W: What kind of tech exposure did you have as a kid? Did your parents help guide you in any way?

Jenny: My parents got me a Macintosh when I was 11, and they’ve always encouraged my curiosity to learn programming.  I think it really helped that both of them were programmers, so working with computers wasn’t a “boy” or “girl” thing – it was just a thing that was important to learn.

W: Tech is a male dominated industry. What kind of advice would you give to girls looking to break in?

Jenny: Back in the 1960s, programming was actually a female-dominated field.  It just happens to be male-dominated right now.  Trends and society may change with the times, but your own innate curiosity and ability to learn is driven by you.  If you want to break in, then do it – start picking up a language to learn, build a project, talk to people.  You will go as far as you drive yourself.

W: What kind of roadblocks have you experienced (if any) being a female founder/engineer? 

Jenny: Oh, pretty much the usual: having Impostor Syndrome, being the typical shy-mousey-quiet girl, hearing the off-hand sexist remark, etc.  Most of these roadblocks are internal – they’re only blocking you in your head.  Building confidence can be difficult, but as you start to figure things out, you realize that you have this ability and you can trust in it.  I really like Randy Pausch’s brick wall quote: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

W: Did you have a mentor? If so, who was it and how did that affect your career/goals?

Jenny: I’ve always picked people, doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, who had qualities that I admired and wanted to achieve.  You ask them for help, you learn from them, you express your gratitude.  You go through life being helped by those before you and turning around helping those that come after have an easier path forward.

Women Who Wander

A Q&A with the Wanderable co-founders Marcela Miyazawa and Jenny Chen on how they went from college roommates to entrepreneurs, and why they are changing the gift giving industry.

How did you meet?

Jenny: I met Marcela on my first day at Stanford—she was my freshman year roommate.  I was unpacking my stuff when she came tumbling in through the door.  She’s just as bubbly and energetic today as she was that day 11 years ago.

Marcela:  When we were first assigned as roommates we weren’t sure why, because we didn’t have any of the similarities that they mention when pairing people up—we had completely opposite sleep schedules and tastes in music. Yet throughout our years at school we became really close. Computer Science wasn’t something that existed in Chile when I was growing up, so it was only after seeing Jenny’s excitement about it that I finally enrolled in a class. I ended up loving that feeling of possibility, of being able to build anything I could think of by simply knowing how to code.

How did the idea for Wanderable come together?

Jenny: After graduating, I went off to work as a software engineer at Amazon in Seattle and Marcela worked as a product manager for Microsoft in the Bay Area, but we kept in touch and went on trips together to Portland, the San Juan Islands and Alaska. About two years ago, as we were talking, we decided that it would be a pretty awesome adventure to start a company together.

Marcela: We didn’t initially start with the idea of a honeymoon registry, but after the experience I had at my own wedding, we decided to build one because we saw a need for it.

What is your vision behind Wanderable?

Marcela: As we learned more about wedding registries, we realized that something key was missing. You’re inviting close family and friends to celebrate with you, but the current gifting process feels impersonal. I’ve noticed if I put off purchasing a gift for too long I am suddenly stuck buying something innocuous like a pillow or an expensive bowl with no meaning behind it. However, with the opportunity I’d be excited to purchase china that reminded someone of family dinners, or something that enabled someone to have an experience they wanted. We wanted to bring back the “why” into gifting, where both the giver and the receiver are sharing the possibility of new memories and not just another physical item on a list. 

Jenny: When you ask someone what is truly important to them, they talk about their family and friends. And when you give your friends and family gifts, you want to give them something meaningful that they’ll appreciate and remember.  Technology has evolved to the point where it’s simple to share our lives and experiences with our loved ones. Wanderable makes gifts meaningful again by transforming them to be about experiences and the memories that they provide.

Marcela: We want to make the online gifting process feel like it is part of the real, elaborate, emotional events that weddings are. We want gifting to not feel like a chore, but something you want to do because it’s exciting to provide new experiences to your family and friends—the kind of experiences they’ll think fondly of for years to come.

Favorite destination:

Marcela: I’d be hard pressed to choose only one, but I really liked the optimism of Bhutan and their cultural values, such as the importance of measuring Gross National Happiness. I also happened to go at a really interesting time politically, because they were transitioning peacefully from a monarchy to a democracy.

Favorite trip memory:

Jenny:  Getting caught in a rainstorm while we were exploring a riverbed in Alaska. It was miserable, cold and wet on the way back up to the visitor’s center, but being able to dry yourself off afterwards and then eat something warm makes you feel so happy!