Girls in Tech San Diego and Building Local Communities
Chelsea: All right, so I’m here today with Lisa Rosenfelt who’s the co-founder of Ivy Street Cowork and the co-managing director of Girls in Tech San Diego. Welcome.
Lisa: Thank you.
Chelsea: And full disclosure, Lisa and I have known each other for many years. In fact, she was in my wedding. And so we’re really happy to have her here and talking about girls and technology and the community and how she’s gotten involved with technology and is helping the community grow and do some pretty amazing things.
Lisa: Thanks, yeah. It’s fun, it’s always fun to talk about it, so I’m excited to be here.
Chelsea: Cool. So why don’t we start out with you telling us a little bit about how you got into technology and your journey towards running a co-working space and being the managing director of girls in tech.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s definitely not a linear path. I started my career in academia, I went to grad school, I got a doctorate, I went on to do a post-doctorate. And really that whole time that I was in that field my husband was working in technology as a programmer, as a UI/UX designer. And he was doing a lot of community organization around technology, specifically with the languages he was coding in and with other kind of like fun science tech-based communities. That’s actually how Chelsea and I met.
And so that was great, I really loved kind of being a small part of those events. But it was really clear to see that there was some diversity issues in San Diego around that time, not that it was anyone’s fault, but just that the people who were gravitating to those events were all looked and acted and sounded a certain way, and so it was one of those things that as I went on in my career and I lost some of that passion for academia, and I was looking for something new. That’s when I came back to San Diego and moved away from my post-doc, and really started kind of looking into what was going on in the San Diego tech community.
And that was the exact time that Chelsea and Rob were starting LEARN Academy, so I was able to come on in those early days. I’m not quite sure I remember my title, but it was something around community manager for LEARN. And I was able to start growing the community not just at LEARN but also outside of LEARN in that San Diego tech space. I was bringing our group of more diverse students from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds and previous work histories, and just this whole richness of life was starting to come to user groups and we were going to companies and letting them staff now with this kind of just more diverse group of people. So that was really exciting, and it’s really what drew me into it.
Chelsea: Yeah, Lisa was probably … I don’t remember what number employee you are, but you were definitely like one of the first people that we brought in to LEARN Academy and really helped us to kind of build that community. And I think that you were an integral part of making it what it is today in such a supportive and collaborative learning experience, but also like the way that you brought what we were doing at LEARN like outside, that really helped to kind of shape the diversity of some of these groups out there, which is a really powerful, powerful tool.
Lisa: Thanks, yeah. And it was really part of what I love so much about working there, other than being with you and Rob all the time, which was that a lot of our students didn’t have that typical background of a four-year university. And so they were just bringing different perspectives to these user groups, and then through the internship program having companies that would take our students on as interns and then end up hiring them and just bringing that diversity into their companies. And so that was really great.
Chelsea: Yeah, one of the things that I think really helped to shape the picture, the bigger picture, was that we got to a point where not only were our students going to all the meet-ups but they’re now organizing them. So the people that are now organizing these events are a more diverse group of people, which just helps the groups do more things and reach a different audience. And so that I think took a few years before we got to that point, but I think that that first step of like just bringing our students to the different groups really helped to kind of shape the community as a whole.
Lisa: Yeah. So it was a great experience. And when I was working at LEARN I was getting to build the community both inside of LEARN and also bring our more diverse, more inclusive community to San Diego at large. And that meant going to these user group meet-ups, and it also meant going to companies directly and being able to provide them with a workforce that was more diverse, and which would have better representation than what they were seeing previously come out of four-year universities in programming and engineering.
So that was really exciting, and it really opened the door for me to community organizing in tech in San Diego. And so while I was still with LEARN I started to get involved with Start-up San Diego and the different events that they put on. And I just really started being active in the local tech community.
And once I left LEARN I was helping … I then transition to actually running a start-up myself, also with my husband, and so I was finally getting to like be the small start-up entrepreneur and I just became even more involved in the community, kind of strengthening my role with Start-up San Diego, I went on to spend about a year and a half as the managing director of community for them.
And then I started getting involved with Girls in Tech, and they were doing exactly the kind of thing that I wanted to see in San Diego. They were providing events and opportunities for women who were just starting their careers in tech, to network, find mentors, learn something, elevate their skill sets, and really just find that networking community that was going to get them not just to enter technology but to stay there. And that was something that was really an eye-opener to me was seeing how a lot of women may start in the tech industry, but they quickly get discouraged because they don’t have the right mentors and role models and path to success, and so to be able to provide that so that even if a woman isn’t working with someone directly who’s their mentor but they have that outside network.
So I started getting involved here, helping put on events, and pretty soon we were kind of reshuffling the leadership team. And I got brought on board as one of the board of directors.
So all of that was kind of starting this community journey for me. I just loved being able to organize these kinds of events that brought people together that furthered the community.
And I guess it was never like a life goal to open a co-working space, but what was interesting was that it became this thing that I wanted. I lived in this great neighborhood in San Diego called South Park, for those of you who are South Park fans, and I was a freelancer and running my own start-up and been doing all this committee organizing. And I was realizing that there was just really no great place to work around where I lived, there were a couple coffee shops but they were loud and crowded, and you never knew if you were going to get a table or if the Wi-Fi was going to go down.
And then actually the biggest and best of them in South Park ended up closing, and so there were days where I just really wanted a great place to work without having to drive downtown and park and all of that nonsense.
And so kind of in the middle of everything that I was doing an office space became available, this great corner in South Park, and my husband and I kind of looked at each other and thought, “Huh, a co-working space would be great there.” And then that thought kind of took a couple days to go, “I think we could actually do that.”
And so we started talking about what that would take for us to turn that space into a place where we would want to work and where we thought that the neighborhood would want to work. And I’m sure we’ll talk more about that, so we can kind of transition that like only a short four months later we opened a co-working space.
Chelsea: Well, why don’t we go back and talk a little bit more about you started doing work with San Diego Start-up Week or Start-up San Diego and then transitioned into your current role with Girls in Tech. Can you talk a little bit more about what Girls and Tech is doing and what their mission is both like local and national? Because they are a national or a non-profit organization.
Lisa: Yeah, that’s a good question. So Girls in Tech is a global organization headquartered out of San Francisco. And we are the local chapter, which means that we have a lot of great connections with the global organization, but we also set our own goals and then put on our own events to achieve those goals.
So locally we are looking to be a source of empowerment and education for women in tech and entrepreneurship. And the way that we achieve that is mostly through events, and we have different types of events that put on, one type of event is just a straight networking event – women can come and meet other women in these industries, you can talk about what you’re going through, you can find a mentor, you can connect and just really find that support system so that you’re not alone in the industry, which a lot of women find they are in their specific job.
The other thing we’ll do is a speaker series, these are one speaker or panels, but opportunities for women who have either dealt with a certain situation or have a certain skill set to come and talk to a group of women who maybe are just starting out or just wanting to learn about what it’s like to be in the industry, and they can share that knowledge and advice. And they’re usually very empowering, there’s lots of kind of like sharing not just from the speaker’s side, but also the audience being able to share their stories and get advice and ask questions, and so they provide a really great experience for everyone who attends.
And because we’re women in tech, we know that a lot of the barriers often to women being able to come to events are that they have families and a whole full life that they can’t put on hold. So for instance, for our learn to code workshop we’re going to be offering free all-day childcare along with the ticket, so you can come, you can bring your kids, and you can tear down those barriers to having that day learning with us.
And then the last kind of event that we do are the events that are more in conjunction with the global organization, so they’re kind of these flagship events that Girls in Tech does globally, around the world. And we as the local chapter will occasionally put them on. So every year we do an event called Hacking for Humanity, which is an awesome way to have a hackathon while also giving back, because we have all of our hackathons be centered around social causes and ways that we can provide help for those causes.
So we do that, and there may be a couple more coming in the New Year, but I’m not going to spill the beans quite yet.
Chelsea: That’s awesome. So with these like events that you do, what kind of support are you seeing in the community by different organizations or corporations?
Lisa: Support has really been outstanding. There are lots of local companies that have been really eager to reach out and provide everything from a space to hold our events in, speakers who have that right experience that they want to share, mentors, partnerships in terms of let’s share events, let’s get all of these women kind of knowing all of their opportunities and options here.
And then sponsorship, we are an entirely volunteer organization, and we are a non-profit, and so having some pretty big companies like the local Amazon office who’s going to host and feed us all day tomorrow at [unclear 14:58] learn to code workshop, so shout out to Amazon – awesome sponsor. But other local companies too, Helium for instance, LEARN Academy, who sponsor us by both providing locations as well as food and entertainment for these kinds of events.
It really makes a difference; it allows us to keep putting on these really high-quality events for women.
Chelsea: That’s great. So now that you’ve been doing Girls in Tech for a while and moving into these different kinds of events with opening your own co-working space, like what kind of community have you been able to like rally around that?
Lisa: Yeah, so that was one of like the biggest perks to me about opening a co-working space, was being able to have that space to provide to the community for whatever we wanted to do, because I know personally from doing these events how many times you’re like, “I want to throw a meeting, where can we do it? What’s going to be free? What can I do?” And then also just worrying about logistics and things like that.
So I was really lucky I’ve made these contacts in the San Diego tech community through all these things I’ve been doing, and so I just put it out there like, “We would love to host you. We’d love to be that space where you bring communities together to create new ideas, to organize, to just do awesome stuff for San Diego.” And so we’ve had a lot of different groups come and take us up on the offer. Girls in Tech has certainly had a few meetings there. Louis Martinez is putting together some great groups, one is called The Plug which is really focused on Black and Latino entrepreneurs, and Tech Workers, and they get to come and meet up and just spend the evening talking through ideas.
And then what’s also great is being able to foster and promote our own Ivy Street community. So we have a fantastic co-worker named Jill Felska, and she runs a company that’s all about bringing the right culture to other companies. And so she does a culture workshop every month straight from Ivy Street. So anyone who’s interested in company culture can come and hear some speakers, hear our panel, ask questions and really kind of dig into some really interesting topics on culture.
And so being able to provide that space and just bring all of these different communities together has been really awesome.
Chelsea: So, okay, what would you say to somebody who maybe shows up to one of the Girls in Tech events or any of the events at Ivy Street, who’s new to the technology scene and doesn’t really know where to go and what to do?
Lisa: Yeah, I mean, I think that showing up is a really great first step. There is so much support in San Diego that maybe people don’t see. And as soon as you kind of do the first step and start getting involved, it’ll all start to unfold for you. So I really think that a lot of people feel like, “Oh, I may not know someone there or maybe I don’t belong.” And so many biggest piece of advice is just (1) yes, you do, and (2) make that leap, you’ll be glad you did.
Once you’re at an event just really being open to meeting people and seeing who they are, what their story is, sharing your story – you are automatically going to find some connections and some things that you have in common. And then you can kind of move forward based on that, maybe someone’s in your dream job and you want to take them to coffee and hear about how they got it, or maybe you hear about three other resources or events that are available to you that now you have like somewhere to go next and that next step to do.
I know for us with Girls in Tech, every event we do, we’re always promoting our next one next, so that it’s not just a one-time thing, we want to keep you in the community, we want to keep you engaged and make sure that you’re getting that support so that when you have those tough days and when tech and entrepreneurship is hard – you know who to go to, so that you don’t get too discouraged.
Chelsea: So let’s talk about women going into these roles and working in these workspaces and having some of the struggles that we’ve come across, because the diversity isn’t where it should be at this point, and we want to be able to create those kinds of communities and spaces where everyone feels like they have a voice at the table and things like that. What would you say to women coming in and walking into a room that maybe isn’t as diverse as we want it to be yet? And how they can feel good about being there?
Lisa: Yeah. And I think … So part of why this question is hard is because we all know everyone is different, and I think Chelsea maybe wouldn’t mind if I even use us as an example.
Lisa: Because Chelsea and I couldn’t be more different in how we would approach the situation. For those who may not know I’m pretty loud and like I walk into a room and I’m just like, “Hey, how’s going? I don’t know you. Let’s do this.” Where Chelsea would walk into that same room and be like, “Hey, I don’t want to.” But then she would totally warm up and meet a bunch of awesome people and be awesome.
Chelsea: So you were definitely my wing woman for many events in the beginning.
Lisa: So I think that’s a great dynamic though, because not everyone can just walk in and be like, “I’m here, let’s do this.” So I think there are different ways to make that happen, right? I think that if you are shyer, walking into that room is like the biggest first step you win, you’re awesome, that you can possibly do, right? Because I know it wasn’t easy to get there. And so just give yourself that win that you walked into that room, you’re awesome.
And then I think listening can be such a great tool, because if you maybe don’t feel like you belong somewhere or you’re feeling overwhelmed – the more you listen to what people are saying, the more you’re going to feel that like, “Oh, yeah, I do that too or I know that too or this is something I’m really interested in.” And so the first place to start can always be about asking someone what they’re working on and what they’re interested in.
I mean, people love to talk about themselves, and if you’re in a room that you want to be because you are interested in that topic and what they’re talking about – chances are if you’re asking those questions there’s going to be interest there, there’s going to be shared interest and connection and so you can start to find that foothold of like, “Hey, I belong here, and I know what I’m talking about, and like we’re all in it together.”
Because once you’re there and you get the rhythm of it, you no longer are going to need the buddy, you’re going to be able to stand on your own two feet just fine.
And I think then there’s just this idea that like you just kind of keep doing it, right? It’s really hard and scary, and the more you do it and the more you meet people in that group and the more you talk about the things that you’re interested in – the easier it’s going to get.
Chelsea: Yeah. So yeah, like as somebody that walking into that room it’s really hard, and that I would much rather be home in my pajamas and on my couch doing whatever than going to these events. But I also know that like that’s where I’ve met some of the greatest people in these communities.
Chelsea: And I think that one of the things that I would also add to that, that for me when I go to these events I feel like I want to feel like I belong. And so the easiest way to do that is to volunteer, because then you go to these events and you have a role, like even if your role is just like setting up the food or whatever, like you know that you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to go to this event, I’m going to set up the food, and will probably meet a couple people, and I’ll be able to say, ‘Yeah, I’m here, I’m volunteering.'” And then that like gives you a place at the event, that for me that was always so much easier than just showing up and trying to talk to people, which was for me the hardest part. And yeah, I don’t know what I would do without like partners like you going to the event and helping me talk to people when I didn’t want to.
Lisa: Yeah. No, I think that’s great advice, the volunteering, absolutely.
Chelsea: Cool. Okay, well, tell me what other … what events you guys have coming up at Ivy Street? Do you want to talk about … I know that we talked a little bit about the Girls in Tech events, but is there anything else that …
Lisa: Yeah, let me whip out my calendar. Yeah, so like I said we’re kind of really lucky that some of our awesome co-workers are putting on events. And so we do the culture catalyst speaker series workshop that’s coming up on May 21st, and we’re going to be talking about employer branding and its importance in bringing awesome talent to your company and organization. And when I say we I really mean Jill and Ivy Street will be hosting it.
And then as we move into June we just have a great set of kind of monthly series that come. We do like a money workshop. And then we host a bunch of meet-ups, The Plug being one of them. I don’t know what else. I think that might be it for our planned calendar for now.
But yeah, I think also people can keep checking in, we post all of our events through social media like Facebook or Ivy Street Co-working and Instagram, we’re IvyStreetCo, so you can keep a tab on everything we’re doing.
Chelsea: Cool. What about Girls in Tech, how can we find out more information about that?
Lisa: Yeah, so Girls in Tech also has a really big presence on social media, we are @GirlsinTechSD – Instagram, Facebook, those are the best ways to see our events and know what’s going on. We also have a mailing list, so if you go to our website which is I think sandiego.girlsintech.com, then you can join our mailing list and see what events we’re putting on.