Sharing with you the latest newsletter from APPCityLife, because it’s full of fantastic news:
Sharing with you the latest newsletter from APPCityLife, because it’s full of fantastic news:
After reading Joanne Wilson’s post on Gotham Gal about every woman choosing her own path, it prompted me to look back on my own meandering journey that led up to where I am today, running a high tech startup with loyal clients like the City of Albuquerque, the Mid Region Council of Governments Rail Runner, Media Matched, Roadrunner Food Bank and more. My own journey really does drive home the point that when we choose what is right for our own lives and for our families, we choose to thrive. I especially like this quote by Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, “It’s a ‘fool’s journey’ to try to achieve perfect balance between one’s professional and personal lives… (take) your entire life to find balance. You should have balance, on average, over time – not in a day or in a month.”
It wasn’t until my fourth pregnancy that I was able to carry a child to term, so when my daughter was born, I celebrated staying home with her while my husband pursued his career as an electrical engineer. I made his lunch every morning, had dinner waiting at night, and I didn’t feel at all like a woman stuck in the 50′s. I felt lucky. I watched my friends who worked – some by choice, some by necessity – and I was filled with admiration for how well they managed their time and how much sacrifice it took to run a family and home and a career. Our lives were so much simpler because I was home, and I wouldn’t trade a single day I had with my kids as a stay at home mom. I felt lucky.
Ten miscarriages and that many years later, we added two more children to our family. My days were filled with trips to the library – and literally a wagonful of books to drag home, visits to museums and parks, craft projects and plenty of time to explore my passion for cooking. And, looking back, I can confess that I was that mom when it came to PTA – I launched school newspapers, baked homemade snacks to stuff in teacher mailboxes, volunteered in the classroom, the school office, the work room, and chaired a boatload of committees. Heck, I created committees that I chaired. Even as a stay at home mom, I was an over achiever.
But when my youngest was born with health issues that meant I had to keep him away from crowds or even grocery stores, my world got very, very small and scary. I’d already spent months on bed rest trying to raise two other children. My brain felt like melting jello, and I knew I couldn’t take another day with nothing else in front of me except fretting over a sick baby, changing diapers, and catching sleep in two hour intervals. It was truly one of the most difficult times in my life.
It was actually my husband who suggested that I try something I’d always liked – writing. I could do it from home, and it would expand my world without compromising the needs of our new baby. With absolutely no formal training or understanding of the industry, I spent a day studying up on the local market, mocked up two business profile pieces, mailed them to the local newspaper editor and asked if the writing was good enough that he might want to work with me. To my complete surprise, I received a reply within days that simply said, “I’ll buy this one but not that one, and here are three more assignments. Articles should be 800 words and are due in one week.” I spent the next ten years learning the industry as I wrote for myriad publications locally and nationally, eventually teaching classes and writing articles to help others learn the ropes of freelance writing.
And when my youngest was finally comfortably ensconced in school, I was ready to dive full force into the professional world, launching my own tech company in 2009. I started out alone, once again with no formal training on how to run a company. My best tools were an indefatigable commitment to see through what I started and my passion which was driven by a belief that what I was doing would make others’ lives better. The first year was a huge learning curve, but with time I gained my first clients and determined through working with them that we had the right set of tools to meet a growing need in the mobile market. In the next few weeks, my first acquisition of another tech firm, my husband’s and his partners’ venture-backed startup Onqueue Technologies, Inc., should be final. Our combined team is moving into more permanent offices, and we’re raising a seed round of investment to grow our company quickly.
I have no regrets over the time I spent at home, and I have no regrets now for pursuing with full force the career path I’ve chosen. When we, as women, make the choices that are right for us, we choose to thrive. And we need to do everything we can to not penalize women for the choices they make, no matter how different they are from our own, because we all win when we, as women, can choose to thrive.
In the past month, a plethora of opinions have surfaced surrounding the recent news-worthy actions of Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook fame, who released a new book and website aimed at helping women better compete and succeed in the workplace, and Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, who summarily ended all work-at-home options for Yahoo! employees while building out a private at-work nursery for her own baby. The posts have traveled the gamut of scathing reprimands to supportive arguments.
The one consistent thread is that while women may present a single front on the us-versus-them challenge of combating sexism in the professional world, we fiercely resist being defined by other women. Whether we’ve decided to completely exit the work world to raise a family or go full-force ahead with a singular focus of climbing the corporate ladder – or something in between or completely different – we all want to protect our right to make our own decisions for our own circumstances and not have those options limited by the actions or choices of other women.
The truth for myself is that neither Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer accurately define my values or goals. And neither will likely move forward with an agenda that parallels my own, because both have defined their own meaning of success in very different ways than I want to. But because of their proximity to the limelight, I, like most women, tend to become invested in their success and to speak out when their own path deviates from what will support my own. When our icons deviate from our goals, we feel betrayed.
One of my goals as a founder of a woman-owned tech company is to promote a culture that helps women define their own roles and to build a network of support all along the path. I have definitely dealt with some pretty shocking sexism on my own journey, but just as I refuse to allow that to define me or my ability to achieve my own goals, I also believe it is just as important that I support the goals of other women who may define success very differently than I do.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the myriad reactions are a good thing, because it is evidence that as women, we don’t need icons. We need the right to define our own journey, and speaking out in favor or against those in the limelight. Just as a choir has more than one melody, and the harmonious blending of those voices is far more beautiful, our collection of opinions help us keep the road to success broad enough to encompass all of us.
This is my Great-Grandma Zelma Carder’s grand piano. It sits in my living room, not only as a beautiful piece of workmanship and antiquity, but also a daily reminder of the bar that is set before me because of her strength, courage, selflessness, love, and tenacity. It is my own personal symbol of the strength of one woman.
My great grandma didn’t found a company or manage a huge staff of employees. In fact, she didn’t get much of an education beyond what she learned in a one-room schoolhouse in Missouri in the late 1800′s. She didn’t march for women’s rights. She was never interviewed or quoted, as far as I know, about the biases towards women or how they had affected her choices or her life. And yet, she is my role model for not making a fuss or a loud noise about something but just choosing to make things different for one woman, one family, one event at a time.
This piano was the one thing that my grandmother took with her from her well-to-do childhood home in Missouri when she fell in love with a horse trainer with big dreams. Her family, disappointed in her choice of a spouse, sent her away with her childhood piano but not their approval. The young couple built a tiny adobe home amongst the tumbleweeds and wide open spaces of New Mexico near the Texas border. They had love, dreams bigger than the two of them and the willingness to work and sacrifice for each other. When her husband was hired to train thoroughbreds in California, she stayed behind to care for their tiny growing family and tiny herd of cattle and livestock on their homestead.
In her later years, when she was unable to walk without assistance, she would sit in an overstuffed rocking chair and tell me about those years – the heartbreak she felt when she said goodbye to a family who disapproved of her choice of a mate, the loneliness that drove her to name tumbleweeds as they rolled past her porch, the fears she had to face down like fighting a rattlesnake for tiny chicks she desperately needed so she could feed her family eggs for the winter or the time she chased off strangers up to no good with the help of a shotgun and a lot of bravado. Her stories made an indelible print on my young, impressionable mind. She was honest about the price she paid for her choices – and that she didn’t regret her choices at the end of her life. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever known.
When the Dust Bowl rolled through the Southwest, she carefully sealed her piano in plastic and refused to allow anyone to touch it – even on days the wind didn’t blow. And when the incessant winds and drought finally took too great of a toll of their land, she packed up the household, loaded the piano into a Conestoga wagon, and walked across the prairie with her young children and husband to find work in Oklahoma picking cotton. I picture her looking back on the tiny home she’d helped build with her own hands and saying goodbye to all of it except for her piano, and I cannot image the pain and defeat she felt. It must have ripped her heart and eaten at her courage to know that they couldn’t beat the odds and make their dream happen. She couldn’t have known then that they would make it through the next years and eventually come back to their home to finish raising their family. She would have only known the pain of letting go of a dream, and she did so with courage and grace.
That piano weighed over 1,000 pounds, and she told me that there was one moment she was afraid it would have to be left abandoned when the burros refused to pull the wagon through a dry, sandy creek bed. But my great grandfather was patient and worked with the animals until they once again pull in unison onward to their destination. I remember tears welling in her eyes every time she told this part of her story, and as a grown woman who has faced a few sorrows, I understand those tears came from the understanding of the price her own husband paid to not allow her dreams of a better life, a place where the piano belonged, to die in the middle of nowhere.
Grandma Carder didn’t dwell on the pain of that event or of burying two of her children and her parents during a flu epidemic. Those events were pieces of the fabric of her life – woven amongst the joys and happier moments. It was all one fabric, and the sorrow wasn’t separated out from the rest of her life. It didn’t define her, and it didn’t keep her from pushing forward and daring to dream again.
The piano stool is held together with baling wire, a can-do repair made with what she had available, and to this day, I refuse to remove the wire and fix it properly. It reminds me of her willingness to make do, to make the best of whatever life dealt her. The wire stays as a reminder that I come from a long line of strong, brave women. When I feel like giving up, I remember my great grandmother, my grandmother who started her married life in a box car while her husband built dams for the WPA, and my own mother who faced down cancer not once but three times. They taught me what it means to continue living life to the fullest no matter what.
When I founded my own company four years ago, I had no idea how hard it would be, how many obstacles would make it seem impossible or how many times I would doubt my own abilities – and sometimes my own sanity at launching out into the unknown with a belief that I could make something that changed others’ lives for the better. I’ve faced my share of bias and closed doors because of my gender, but those things only discourage if we allow them to. I could focus on that. Or on this – I’ve found an amazing network of men and women who have all generously helped me around the road blocks. I read a question this morning asking what we would do if weren’t afraid. I do what I do because I am afraid – afraid of letting the women down who sacrificed so much, who pushed on through hardships I can only imagine – all so I could have a better life, a better chance to make things different for one woman, one family, one event at a time.
In the interim, executive chairman Eric Lefkofsky and vice chairman Ted Leonsis are in charge, and the board has appointed them the newly created "office of the chief executive."
The news is no surprise, and rumors have been circulating for weeks.
Today I received an invitation to connect from a someone who said she’d first heard of me when she listened to a speech I gave two years ago on being an entrepreneur and about my company, APPCityLife®, Inc.. It never really occurred to me that something I said so long ago might still be remembered. It brought home the lesson of just how important it is for us to take seriously the influence we have and to use it to inspire, encourage, and help those around us. This past week, strong reactions have arisen in response to the actions of women with the power to evoke great influence on a national, and even international scale. And as I’ve pondered the intensity of the backlash and what would cause someone to become that vehement over the choices of a complete stranger, my own experience has made it clear just how much we count on those with influence and power to use it for the greater good – and how disappointed we are when that doesn’t happen.
Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook, recently launched a new website encouraging women to create “lean in circles” which follow several prescribed steps to help women become better equipped for the work world. Response to the circles and the concepts promoted have been mixed, and some of the reactions have been downright angry. In the same week, news broke of an internal memo sent to Yahoo! employees notifying them that the company was rescinding the current remote working option. Employees were given the choice of finding a way to work on campus or quit. The memo was sent from Marissa Mayer, the company’s CEO who gained international celebrity when she was hired to fill the role of CEO while five months pregnant with her first child. Whether she wanted it or not, she became an icon for equality in the workplace. The backlash to her memo has been strident, with many viewing her choice as a severe blow to working families in general and, more specifically, to working mothers.
As I’ve read numerous reaction essays on both of these women, it struck me that this national hew and cry is mostly coming from people who don’t know either woman and likely will never come in contact. Why then, this strong reaction and fierce judgment of their choices as being “anti women”, “elitist” and several more not-so-printable descriptions? We often have a tendency to immediately pass judgment based on how we believe their choices will the bigger picture. We throw out the specific circumstances of an isolated decision or action and instead extrapolate out our own theories to how those choices will advance or hinder the goals we see are common. The reaction becomes about the ripples created in a very big pond, ripples that others fear will rock the boats for many more as the ripples move out in wider and wider circle.
And as I considered the reaction to the ripples created by both Mayer and Sandberg, it brought to mind one of the worst days I’ve had as CEO of a startup. It was fairly early in my company’s history in the midst of a pivot and a decision to continue bootstrapping instead of seeking early investment. It meant changes in staff (translate: back to bare bones) to stay as lean as possible while we proved our concept and gained traction. In a painful moment, someone I liked and admired told me that I was bad for women, that I didn’t help them but hurt them in the work place. And I think they believed that about me, and it crushed me more than just about anything else that I’ve ever been accused of. I deeply regret that my unintended actions caused someone else to come to that conclusion.
I deeply care about the opportunities and barriers in front of women and have invested a great deal of time and effort to try to reach out to women in our community through internships, public speaking engagements, and mentorships. There are a lot of should’ves and could’ves in all of our closets, but that particular moment will always be a landmark for me for the day I realized just how careful I had to be with my choices, words and influence so I never, ever made another woman feel that way because of her experience with me.
I recently asked Joanne Wilson what inspired her to co-found the Women Entrepreneur’s Festival. “The big mantra then was there was not enough women in tech. I wanted to celebrate the fact that there were.” The ripples from that inspiration have carried far and wide, as women from across the country converge each year to enjoy the positive support, encouragement and sound advice about how to move forward with their dreams. Those are ripples that do good long after they’re started.
The thing about ripples is once you start one, you don’t decide when it stops or where it goes or what is affected by it – for good or for bad. I was glad for the reminder in my inbox this morning that some of the ripples I started quite some time ago are still moving on and having a positive effect.
Since the early 1950’s, the concept of open data has been around. But until recently, open data remained mostly in the scientific world. But with the introduction of smart phone technology, the opportunities to utilize data collected and distributed, especially those produced by government agencies, has become a world-wide phenomenon. To date there are over 200 open data catalogues for local, regional and national entities.
Growing Initiatives, Growing Demand
Despite the willingness of government agencies (21 cities and counties in the U.S. as of 2012) to produce open data sets and the admirable, growing initiatives of such organizations as Code For America, a nonprofit tasked with ”helping governments become more connected, lean, and participatory through new opportunities for public service” as well as “creating the relationships and network for lasting change”, and the Kauffman Foundation, composed of “engaged citizens, contributing to the improvement of their communities”, the effective utilization of open data is still in its infancy. With data feeds not yet following standard protocols, feeds are produced using a wide variety of formats from CSS to XML, making it difficult to streamline or automate implementation of the data into easily developed website, web apps or mobile applications.
More importantly, while citizens are clamoring for more mobile access to things like knowing exactly where their bus or train is, most government agencies are still struggling just to manage the data being produced, let alone understand how to effectively deploy or manage the data feeds. In fact, a study released in February, 2013, indicates that over three fourths of government workers recognize that ready access to data could generate new services and jobs, but even more workers did not know what data was available, how to understand it or how to best deliver it.
On top of grappling with the challenges of creating open data, most cities have been hard hit with shrinking budgets, yet the demand to produce reliable information continues to grow. Thus, a new set of problems are facing governments and communities not only in the United States but throughout the world.
Problems Surrounding Open Data
While this is not a complete list, one problem is how to make open data meaningful for developers, users and for the agencies generating the data. How do we create standardized requirements for open data feeds without inhibiting the creativity of the developers using the data and without piling on additional work for already overworked IT workers? How do cities harvest analytics from the data they’re generating – and how do they then use those analytics to best serve the public? Additionally, what other uses can be discovered beyond the data once the feeds are being used in websites, apps, and other tools? Are there ways to engage the community beyond accessing the data feeds? And then, once that data is in use, how does the community give feedback?
Solutions and Opportunities
Open data initiatives have opened up a Pandora’s Box of opportunities, but it hasn’t come without an additional set of new challenges. As we’ve worked with our clients in city government to produce mobile applications utilizing open data, we’ve begun to develop strategies to provide solutions for some of the problems facing cities who have opted into open data. And we think the problems we’re solving are going to create opportunities for developers who are grappling with these challenges worldwide. We’ll be sharing our vision during our presentation at the upcoming Deal Stream Summit hosted by Technology Ventures Corporation based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.