Tell your Women In Tech story in our Medium channel!

I had a stunning number of women volunteer to write chapters for Women In Techthe book we just kickstarted. I think somewhere around 150 women volunteered at last count, and I keep getting emails! I was honored and thrilled that so many women wanted me to help them tell their story, and I’m so proud to announce now that we’re launching a Medium channel to provide a platform for women to tell their stories in the same way that Brianna, Keren, Kristin, Angie, Kamilah, Miah, Katie, and I are. If you write a great story, you may get an email from me about future work 😉

We’re also looking for a publication editor on an ongoing basis, so please let me know if you’re interested in helping women tell their stories!


If you’re interested in telling your story, I have to make you a writer for the publication. Send me an email with your Medium username so I can add you, and then I’ll have you submit your essay to! I’m a little new at this Medium thing, so if you have any issues submitting your essay, just email or tweet me and I’ll get you fixed up.

If you follow this structure, more or less, you’ll get to the heart of your life and experiences. Vary or change this any way you see fit; this outline is just intended to give you a place to start.

  1. Growing up
    1. Where were you born?
    2. What was it like growing up as you?
    3. What is your family like?
    4. When did you start to have an interest in tech?
    5. Did you go to college? What did you major in?
  2. Early career
    1. Did you start out in technology? 
    2. How did your career start to grow more and more aligned with what you’re doing now—or did it?
    3. What early lessons did you learn as you started working in all your different jobs that helped teach you what you needed to know to get where you are?
  3. Now
    1. What are some of the times that you felt that you couldn’t keep going on?
    2. What made you push through?
    3. Are you happy doing what you do?
    4. Why?
    5. What will some of your next goals be?
    6. What do you do to help others succeed and what are your passions involving mentoring and volunteering?
  4. Reflections
    1. Is it possible for others to do what you did?
    2. If you could go back and change anything, would you—and why?
    3. What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t?
    4. What do you hope telling your story will accomplish?


  • Liberally sprinkle this whole essay with examples that focus in on how you felt at times when you were at decision crossroads and what made you make the choices you did.
  • Do not let your own modesty stop you from talking about yourself. Talk about yourself and your accomplishments instead of doing a general critique of the system.
  • Think of this autobiographical essay as an explanation of how you got where you are now. This is a moment to show what you did, not tell others how to replicate what you did. Huge numbers of women in tech (including me) did not have a computer science degree and came into tech through a side door faced with difficult decisions, self teaching, and life-altering moments. 
  • This is only about you, your story, and how other women can see possibilities for themselves through your story. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Kathryn Janeway, Startup CEO

Reposted from an edited version at WeWork Magazine.

A couple of weeks ago, WeWork Magazine interviewed me for a Spotlight article about me. One of my answers about which Star Trek captain I thought my management style most closely reflected betrayed how seriously I take Star Trek. So, they’ve asked me to expand on my thoughts about how Star Trek captains can be compared to tech CEOs. In this three-part essay, I’ll be looking at Kathryn Janeway, Jean-Luc Picard, and Benjamin Sisko as examples of CEOs at different stages of their careers: at a startup, in a mature company, and during transitional periods.

I was eight years old on the evening of September 26th, 1987. My dad whispered “Shh. Don’t tell your mom I’m starting you on science fiction,” and tiptoed with me down to the basement of our old farmhouse where the little 13” TV sat in his proto-mancave. He flipped the switch, put a little more aluminum foil on the antenna, and I saw the blue letters on the screen as the Alexander Courage & Jerry Goldsmith music played for the first time ever at the beginning of Encounter At Farpoint. Dad choked up a little, remembering when he was nine years old and watched The Man Trap with his father. We bond with these stories. We tell and retell them. We vary the details, but the core myth remains the same: a diverse crew explores the boundaries of space and other civilizations while learning more about what it means to be human.

The most important part about Star Trek captains isn’t which one you admire most, or which one you feel most closely reflects your management style. The most important Star Trek captain is the one who inspires you to be a better leader, and though I think I have the most in common personality-wise with Picard, the truth is that Kathryn Janeway is the closest ideal to what a startup CEO should be. She has no shame or pride, no false sense of ego, and a single, unwavering, certainly monomaniacal goal: to get her crew home. In the course of seven years on the way back from the Delta Quadrant, she uses everything she has and more to succeed.

Janeway is put in impossible situations with untenable choices, and yet she creates humor, freedom, and a shared sense of purpose. She’s by far the wittiest and funniest of the captains, and very free with a joke or a tension-relieving pun. I like her sense of humor a lot, but there’s one thing she does which I try very hard to emulate. She understands that her promise to her crew to get them home is the only thing she’ll ever be judged on, and she sacrifices her personal comfort, her friendships, and her privilege time and time again to make it happen. Barring morally despicable options, there’s nothing she won’t do to achieve her goals. Over seven years, she adopts the roles of a mechanic, a prostitute, a governess, a merchant, a general, a killer, a janitor, an exterminator, a referee, a teacher, a programmer, a scientist, a pool shark, and many, many more. When the time comes for her to play a low-status person to aid in her goal of getting her crew home, she doesn’t hesitate.

Janeway strikes a careful balance among the tight and dramatic relationships that form in the crew when there’s a limited amount of choice for who to socialize with. The greatest CEOs I know worry about their people, not their status. Janeway invests in her people and builds them up instead of tearing them down to maintain an artificial hierarchy, and in return, they achieve more than they could imagine in a crew that will support them.

I love that Janeway has two heroes that I can think of in Voyager; one is Amelia Earhart, and the other is her own ancestor, engineer and architect Shannon O’Donnell Janeway. Perhaps this is where I feel closest to Janeway; she too has mentors and heroes that inspire her that she’s imbued with personality and hope, that she uses to get her through tough decisions, and that she believes in. She’s never met them (well, she meets Amelia Earhart, but this is science-fiction, people), but she knows what they’ll say when she needs their advice. She uses their accomplishments to hold up a mirror to her motivations. There’s not much of a difference between the inspiration of an ancestor you’ve never met except through stories, and a fictional hero who dares us to achieve more. When we need heroes that are more than human, we create our own legends to give us strength, and Star Trek is a rich source of hope and mentorship to me.

Captain Janeway, you’re my hero.

Ladies, you’re not the chief-cook-and-bottlewasher. You’re the damn CEO.

Why are women so uncomfortable at acknowledging that they have power and authority?

I went to Founder Friday on the 15th of November here in Seattle. It’s an event put on in multiple cities by the amazing people at Women 2.0. The goal is to network women in technology by creating a friendly space and relaxed atmosphere with notable speakers. The amazing Mary Jesse, CEO of Ivytalk, and inspiring Nadia Mahmud, co-founder of Jolkona Foundation, were the keynote speakers.

It was a networking event, so I clutched my better-than-usual-grade Riesling (thanks for the hospitality, Facebook Seattle!) and started the business-card-shuffle in the pregaming part of the evening. There were maybe 25 women there.

“Hi! I’m Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, and I’m the CEO of Fizzmint, an HR automation company. What do you do?”

“I am part of a cool startup that does X.”

“Oh really?” I say. “What do you do there?”

She blushes. “I do the business stuff. My co-founder, he does all the technical stuff.”

“Wow, that’s awesome! What do you call yourself there?”

“Sorry,” she says. “I’m just the chief cook and bottlewasher. My co-founder, he’s an awesome CTO.”

You have a technical co-founder, and you handle all the business, marketing, hiring, and tax matters. What the devil do you THINK your title is, woman??

I move on to the next person, thinking that this might be an aberration. It’s really, really not. Out of 25 women at the event, I met two people who had the audacity to put a CXO title on their business cards. Yet, every one of them was a co-founder of an up-and-coming startup.

We know the insidious, vicious effects of impostor syndrome. I won’t pretend that I don’t feel the impulse to soften my speech, to not intimidate the people to whom I’m speaking every once in a while. When you do an image search for “CEO” on Google, the first seventy images have only 3 women in them–and one of them is CEO Barbie.

However, if you’re creating a startup, and you’re handling the business end of your company, have the respect for yourself and your employees to call yourself the CEO. No one starts out as a CEO. It’s an unnatural job title. You still have to learn. I am the CEO of a 9-person startup, and I am constantly learning. I am never NOT taking a class to improve my communication, to better my listening, to increase my business financial savvy, and to add to my human resources skills. It’s uncomfortable–even unpleasant–to grow personally and emotionally this rapidly. I am in a class now that is intended to improve my listening skills, not only for Fizzmint, but also for Hack The People, the mentoring charity that I and my CTO Liz Dahlstrom co-founded. I have a wonderful coach who is working with me on how to handle the very different style of communication that men in business use from my usual compatriots in the hacking world.

Did you think you could become a CEO without acknowledging that you are imperfect? That you would simply start out by looking and acting like a CEO? Don’t make me laugh. The job of CEO is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it means confronting my own weaknesses every day. CEOs are made, not born. You can be the CEO of your startup, but it means acknowledging your weaknesses, and it means acting to compensate for them or eliminate them. You already have the responsibility for your people, whether your “people” are your family, or your employees.

Don’t push your authority and power away. It doesn’t “soften your image.” It makes you powerless and ineffectual. Have the respect for the people you lead, like it or not, by accepting that they trust you, and that it is your obligation and joy to learn as much as you can to serve them as best you can.

Give thanks for open source software developers

They make the world go round.

Open source developers and plugin devs are the people that make small technical businesses possible. They’re the folks who spend their time working hard to make obscure pieces of software that most of us will never see into something that is beautiful and usable. Without the major CMSes, many startups would have no way to get a company up and running rapidly.

Today, I will thank three of them by name.

Joost de Valk and his team make Clicky By Yoast, a spectacular plugin for WordPress that absolutely kills on analytics. He’s a major WordPress core developer as well; I am deeply grateful for his work. His analytics have contributed time and again to how I run my site. Thanks, Joost!

Jonathan Riddell is the lead dev for
Kubuntu, the fork of Ubuntu that uses KDE for a native desktop environment. I owe much of my daily happiness to this person; Kubuntu is easy to use, stupid simple to configure, and requires little to no knowledge of Linux for a n00b, while being configurable enough to entertain someone like me. All I’ve done is write a plasmoid or two; Jonathan, I seriously raise my glass to you. Thank you for your hard work and devotion to this project.

The Sarahs: Sarah Mei and Sarah Allen are the two women who started RailsBridge. OSS is notoriously short of women developers, and these women have not only pushed major Ruby work, they’ve also single [double?] handedly increased the number of women at OSS conferences. Thanks for being inspirational as well as technical, ladies.

go eat some of that tasty Thanksgiving turkey!


GeekGirlCon is coming up soon in Seattle!


I will be proposing a panel on women coders. This panel is specifically for younger women to ask about what it’s like to work in coding, how to act, how to get a job, and how to deal with colleagues who may not understand their unique gifts and perspective when it comes to writing beautiful code.

I and three women I know will be on the panel (one of whom will be the lovely Liz Dahlstrom over at Athena Geek); we are also open to the notion of additional members. We will look at ladies who want to join us and ask a few questions; essentially, are you making a living as a coder? While we’ve been approached by some ladies in college looking to join, we want to present a panel of women with experience and full careers as programmers.

If you’d like to know more, ping me at @cowgirlcoder on Twitter, post to The Cowgirl Coder Community on Facebook, or send me an email.

A response to “Nine Traits of a Veteran Unix Admin”

Paul Venezia over at InfoWorld sent me a valentine last week in the form of his entertaining blog post Nine Traits of the Veteran Unix Admin. His post is witty and rings of truth, but the points of conflict we have are places where I tend to think that Venezia has a strong opinion and anecdotal experience instead of any real metric for success in identifying a *nix vet.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 1: We don’t use sudo

Venezia has a point. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be in /etc/sudoers anyway.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 2: We use vi, not emacs, and definitely not pico or nano

Here’s where a personal opinion jumps on into Venezia’s argument. I happen to be a KDE fan, and as a result, I tried out Kate several years ago. I am a HUGE fan. Kate is slim, has tabbed file access, syntax highlighting, and just barely enough features to be functional and tiny. I write almost all my code in Kate now. I think the real question Venezia should be addressing is whether a *nix vet uses an IDE or writes their code hardcore. I can and do write scripts or styles or for-loops on a beer-stained cocktail napkin; why on earth would it matter what interface I use to get my code into a compiler?

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 3: We wield regular expressions like weapons

My favorite use of regex is to identify files where two words appear within a certain character distance of each other. I have a very associative memory, and if I am looking for a file in the depths of my memory as well as a hard drive, I will often use
the proximity of two words as the key in the KV pair of my mind DB. I do agree that regex works like a charm, but specializing in it can be just as isolating as Venezia suggests.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 4: We’re inherently lazy

He’s dead on the money. Venezia’s claim that we will take days or weeks to solve a problem in order to never have to deal with it again is blindingly accurate. However, I think he hasn’t gone quite far enough. ‘Lazy’ is a good word for it, but ‘insatiably curious to the point of distraction’ would be a better way to put it. I tend to think that solving a problem is a two-pronged process; writing the bash script is the second part. The first step is LEARNING what you didn’t know before. I wrote scripts to divide text files with very specific logic, but writing the script in the end only took a minute. It was learning what I needed to do and debugging, as well as committing the process to memory, that took five days.

nVeteran Unix admin trait No. 5: We prefer elegant solutions

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 6: We generally assume the problem is with whomever is asking the question

“Many think that this is a sign of hubris or arrogance. It definitely is — but we’ve earned it.”

Venezia is right in what he says above, but again, he hasn’t gone quite deep enough. We DO assume that the problem is with the person asking the question, because barring hardware failure, computers do not err. That means that if something isn’t working and we can’t figure out why, we believe the problem lies with us and our lack of knowledge or experience in solving that problem. The right to believe that the problem lies with the person asking the question does NOT come with the right to belittle that person, or 97% of the time, we’d be self-immolating over our keyboards. Instead, this statement is a comprehensive acceptance of
responsibility for learning the answers ourselves, and helping n00bs in the same way we ourselves were helped on the Yellow Brick Road to *nix guru-hood.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 7: We have more in common with medical examiners than doctors

No. We have more in common with medical researchers than doctors. We want to know why things work, and to come up with new solutions no one has ever seen before. We do need to know the whyfors of the problems we’ve already solved, and there are very few things that irritate me more than making a code change that resolves a bug…but not knowing WHY it fixed the problem. I will spend days trying to learn why my code change worked, and barring direct instructions to do so, I will not put that code into production, because if I don’t know why a code change worked, I cannot guarantee that there will not be secondary issues that arise from my use of code I don’t fully understand. sudo rm -R /home/tarahmarie/.kde may
fix my SQLITE problem with Amarok, but it creates more problems than it solves, to say the least.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 8: We know more about Windows than we’ll ever let on

Slight disagreement here. I have no problem knowing Windows. Getting inside the guts of a Windows box is harder than a nix box, but there are a few tools that absolutely rule on Windows. Absolutely number one is PowerShell. PowerShell is completely integrated with the .NET architecture, and you can instantiate classes directly from the command line without wrapping them in a script. This is one powerful hammer in the toolbox. You can actually pipe fully instantiated objects rather than passing a character stream that’s then interpreted, as you would in bash. Regardless of that, I want to use the best tool for the job. Call it ‘OS zen’ or whatever you like; I’d rather just get the job done, and that may involve me learning more
PowerShell rather than trying to change the institutional inertia that causes no other option than Windows to be considered.

Veteran Unix admin trait No. 9: Rebooting is almost never an option

sudo service apache2 restart

Who needs to reboot?

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

I don’t need to tell anyone who Ada Lovelace is. The world’s first computer programmer was, strangely enough, female. Today is Ada Lovelace Day; it’s celebrated on March 24th each year.

Actually, I’d like to focus on her presence in fiction. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling used Lovelace as a character when they wrote “The Difference Engine,” arguably the first Steampunk novel. [As if Gibson hasn’t done enough already, what with inventing Cyberpunk in his masterwork, “Neuromancer.”]

Lovelace is presented as a gambler, genius, and historically significant figure in “The Difference Engine.” She’s the first person to have developed code for Charles Babbage’s difference engine. In the novel, she and Babbage go on to develop analytical engines, and the IT revolution happens rather a lot sooner. The world begins to operate on steam engines, and as a result, the political,
military, and social history of the world to now is substantially altered.

Ada Lovelace is historically significant, but like so many other characters who have been plucked from obscurity by the force they wield in our imaginations, her true value is her inspiration to the daughters of the digital age.