Invisibility Can Be a Superpower, T-shirts Matter, and More Insights From Women in Tech | AI

Illustration of a woman whose shadow is that of a superhero.
Illustration: iStockphoto

Could a small group of women in tech tell me anything about what it’s like to be a woman in tech today? Earlier this month, IBM’s San Francisco team invited me to give it a try. They set me up on a dinner date with three women—one in her 20s, one in her 40s, and one in her 50s. The three hadn’t met before. We had no formal agenda, just a general plan to talk about their experiences. It was pretty bold of the company to suggest that the experiences of three women could coalesce into anything meaningful—but I think it did.

Here’s who I met and what I learned.

The women:

  • From the Baby Boomer generation, Angie Krackeler, who goes by the lengthy title of worldwide developer and startup technical enablement advocate. Basically, Krackeler says, she helps startups use IBM technology. Krackeler has an M.S. in electrical engineering, and started her IBM career 30 years ago as a chip designer.
  • Representing Gen X, Erin McKean, a developer advocate. McKean’s role, she says, is “everything API,” including one of her favorite parts of her job, building demos for developers. Prior to joining IBM, McKean spent 20 years as a dictionary editor (she has an M.A. in linguistics), and took a number of coding classes along the way. McKean says the step from dictionaries to computers was a small one: “A dictionary is a database on paper, and JavaScript is a lot easier to learn than German.”
  • And from the millennials, Anamita Guha, a product manager for IBM Watson developer labs and AR/VR labs. Guha’s job involves creating tools for developers that help them use Watson. She came to IBM a year ago after, she says, hopping through a number of intense tech startups. Her B.A. degree is in cognitive science, and she started and sold her first tech company while still in college.

My takeaways:

can be a superpower

Women in tech often talk about being overlooked or ignored. At events, they are regularly assumed to part of the support staff instead of members of the tech team. Some describe it as feeling invisible in an industry dominated by “tech bros.” But invisibility, it seems, can be a superpower.

Says McKean: “Invisibility is fantastic. People say things in front of you when they shouldn’t. I’ve been in a coffee shop a number of times, and seen two dudes sitting at the other table look around, thinking, ‘Oooh, we are going to have our strategy discussion now.’ They see me and are like, ‘Oh, that middle-aged mom doesn’t care about our venture strategy.’ And I’m like, ‘Wrong, dude.’ This was particularly interesting when I was raising venture money myself.”

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