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