Meet Vanessa Palacios Sharma
We are often told it requires a leap of faith to realize your dream. Trust the Universe, or your Instinct, a friend will say. But what if reaching your goal requires several leaps of faith? Would you stop when you reached the first obstacle? Or the second?
We recently spent some time with Vanessa Palacios Sharma to learn how she conquered multiple life transitions, taking that leap of faith several times and landing at PDXWIT along the way.
We’ll let Vanessa take it from here:
“Two years ago my husband and I moved from San Diego, CA to Portland, OR because he got a job as a developer at startup. I didn't think too much about what a leap of faith it would be. I had recently finished my psychology degree and was thinking of joining a Masters program. When I got to Portland, I started working at an Alzheimer's center in Lake Oswego, but I found it really hard to disconnect from my patients at the end of the work day. It created a lot of anxiety for me. Ultimately I decided I could not continue on that path.
My husband reminded me that it's never too late to find your passion. At that same time, he was teaching himself Ruby, a programming language that was foreign to him. When he would get home, he and I would sit down and start learning together.
I found myself revelling in the world of programming and decided to learn some things on my own. I had always loved science. I was just never encouraged to pursue a career in it.
One day my husband came home talking about how some of his coworkers had attended a code school in order to become developers. I decided then that I would give it a try. I took an intro class and immediately felt something click. I took a leap of faith and quit my job to enroll full time in code school. Once I finished code school and while interning for a small startup in Beaverton, I started to look for jobs. I found it very difficult to break into the tech industry. Interviews were intimidating.
I spoke to a friend who asked if I had ever attended a meetup. I created an account on Meetup and RSVP’d to one of PDXWIT's events. I remember being horrified. I thought the women at the event would be so far ahead of me that I wouldn't even be able to carry a conversation with them. As a natural introvert, the PDXWIT event was an embodiment of all my fears. But I took the leap and attended the Happy Hour.
I ended up attending the PDXWIT event at Simple. That day they had a panel of women with different positions, experience, and backgrounds. I was amazed and inspired. Once the panel ended, I came up to one of them and shared my own story with her. She never made me feel awkward. She never made me feel less knowledgeable. She only encouraged me and told me that if I worked hard for it, I would find a position soon. That day my mentality changed.
I started waking up at 4 a.m. every day and studying concepts: algorithms, design patterns, OOPS concepts, internet security, modern frameworks, etc. My hard work paid off and I landed a job as an Android Developer at AltSource. I applied even though I thought I had no chance, since someone inside the company had already warned me they didn’t hire code school graduates.
That was my ultimate reward and vindication.”
Meet Mary Anne Thygesen
On Joining PDXWIT
Mary Anne joined PDXWIT when the group was just getting started, back when the group met in hotel bars. Mary Anne has many years of experience working with math and computers. She recently designed the survey for PDXWIT and would love to share how her use of questions and data will nurture community and chart future goals.
On Math and Computing
“I am a curious person always asking why; I cannot remember a time when I didn’t like math. My dad is an engineer and he made sure I knew my math facts.
I was always in trouble in school, and my dad backed the teachers — except when it came to math. I got in trouble for reading the back of my first grade math book, the second grade part, asking what the division symbol was. My dad didn't scold me; instead, he taught me division. When I was in junior high they tried to track me out of math. He went to the school and told them to put me back in algebra.
I also got into trouble for arguing with the teachers, spending my short time in school vexing them. I graduated early. When I moved on to community college, I soon ran out of math and science classes to take, so I went to Oregon State.
Although I felt like a kid in a candy store at OSU in terms of my choices to study math, I wasn't prepared for the sexual harassment that came with being a woman in a field of study dominated by men. This is why smart women's groups are so important to me. Together, we help other women cope, deal with the bias and discrimination we face, and get back in the game.
When I started my career, computers were the huge, clunky computers that you talked to with punch cards and tape. Math was done on slide rules and eventually HP programmable calculators. When the first personal computers came out, I didn't like the early PCs because they didn't have enough power for math. Then the Macintosh came along and changed everything — enough power for math and desktop publishing. Things just took off from there. Today, even our phones are amazing.”
On the PDXWIT Survey
“I spent years designing questionnaires for medical research, mostly in the area of epidemiology (the study of how disease spreads and can be controlled). For the PDXWIT questionnaire, I started with the answers we needed and then chose the questions, guided by the gentle techniques used in social science to get information. The first section asks for the person’s job title in three questions. The survey results from the community will help me determine whether “creative,” non-standardized job titles—which are everywhere in tech companies these days — are subtlety discriminatory. By matching job titles to SOC classifications and comparing results to census data on wage gaps, we can begin to see if women in PDXWIT are being paid fair wages. The second part of the survey looks at how well PDXWIT events programming is meeting the needs of the group, while the 3rd section assesses how well we are treating each other. Asking the women of PDXWIT for their input allows our leadership to better fulfill the PDXWIT mission as we grow.
Data clarifies what we see and experience, sometimes surprising us along the way.
It is especially important to me that PDXWIT grows into the most welcoming and accepting place it can be, which is why I want everyone who is part of PDXWIT to understand that completing the survey is important to the future of PDXWIT.
Meet Elana Silverman
How did you initially get involved with PDXWIT?
I heard about the organization through an informational interview with Tanna at CrowdCompass. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to meet more women in the tech industry and find avenues to further my professional development. The first event I attended was a happy hour, and it was so much fun! I loved meeting so many energetic, positive, intelligent women. It was really inspiring to hear everyone’s stories and explore all of the possibilities. How have your connections at PDXWIThelped with your career path?
How have your connections at PDXWIT helped with your career path?
The PDXWIT community is so incredibly supportive. It’s a positive environment where we all want to see each other succeed. I’ve learned about career paths I hadn’t been aware of, such as community management, which is really interesting to me. I met Kristina King, community manager at Jama, through her speech during the Lightning Talk segment at happy hour. Hearing about what she does as a community manager has sparked a lot of interest in me and I’ve gone on to have other informational interviews to learn more about community management. Now, I have a clearer sense of how I want to enter and progress a career in the tech industry. I’m looking for a position in customer support to prepare myself for community management and to understand the industry more. I frequently check the PDXWIT job board for opportunities, and I’ve had some lovely people pass on contacts or alert me to job openings. I am so thankful I’ve found such a supportive and caring community to help me develop my career!
How do you continue to be involved with PDXWIT?
I love going to PDXWIT events and staying active on the Slack channel. It’s a good resource for continuing the conversation and fostering relationships with community members. I try to attend at least one or two events per month and check up on the Slack channel for announcements, satellite events, new members, and job opportunities. Being an active member is important to help organizers make meaningful content, so I’ve also provided my input when asked for feedback. I’m also completely open to volunteering someday!
Do you have any tips and advice to others?
Don’t be afraid to come out to events and chat with people! Networking events can be daunting, but I always look forward to coming to PDXWIT events because I know everyone will be welcoming, the conversations will be inspirational, and the food and environment will be gorgeous. The volunteers and leadership are excellent at making events fun and helpful. Also, definitely join the Slack channel! It’s an excellent resource for hearing about jobs, helpful events and meeting even more people. Overall, it’s important to put yourself out there to foster inspiring relationships and find the resources you need.
Meet Maarika Krumhansl
What’s your name, where do you work, and what do you do?
Maarika: My name is Maarika Krumhansl, which is a mouthful, and I’m the release manager at Jama; I’ve been there about a year. My day-to-day activities revolve very closely around the release cycle. We release monthly and there are milestones that we meet and hit every release, so I often think of myself as a project manager for releases. So, I set the dates and hold people accountable to the content.
What in your background led you to the point of becoming a release manager?
My background is in math and theatre, and believe it or not, that is a great combination, because I have always been really analytical and detail oriented, but at the same time doing theatre is a great practice for being able to get in front of a room full of people and lead a retrospective, or discuss the contents of a release. I’ve never felt very nervous or awkward in front of a large group of people because of that.
What do you find most challenging in building your career?
Finding other release managers. I know of a couple, but release management is pretty niche role. It is as technical as you want it to be or as project management-y as you want it to be. So there’s not really a template for where to take your career as a release manager. You can kind of become a release engineer or do like a dev-ops-y kind of bent to it or you can get a [Project Management Institute] certification for project management, and go down a more formal agile or implementer kind of route with it. My career path, like everyone’s, is a little bit like half chance, half goal setting and a little bit of magic. I never really question that I was going to have a career in STEM. My dad was a software engineer, and I was always really drawn to science, so I knew it was going to be in that realm. Math was what I decided to do in undergrad, and in grad school, because it was the common denominator. So I was in school for a long time because I didn’t quite know where I wanted to go with that in STEM. Essentially, I ended up going into tech support out of school, which was great for me, and led me into a dev-ops position, which read to release management/account management position, which is how I got to where I am.
What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started your career?
Depending on whether you’re more interested in doing one the more technical or dev-ops-y stuff, or the more project management-y stuff… find a mentor. Work for someone who has been around the block -- who knows how things are supposed to work, or go work for a big company yourself and see what a working mature company and process looks like, so that if and when you want to come back to a startup, you have a little bit more individual agency. You’ve see it working before, or you have spoken with someone and worked with someone who has seen it working before, so that you have a little bit more authority, and can make informed decisions.
Who are your biggest influences?
The managers that I’ve had in Portland have been really wonderful for my career. For teaching me the content of my job, and how to be a voice of positive change in a company, and being able to protect me if I do something that upsets people outside of my department, or inside of my close group of people that think like me. They’ve been really good at flying cover, so to speak. The managers that seem to have worked out best for me are the ones that don’t always make people happy, but they make the right decisions. So the question that I would ask the manager that you’re applying to work for is to ask about the conflicts they've seen or worked through at their workplaces, and what their management style is in terms of leading upward. [How they encourage] and influence change in the levels of an organization above them.
Meet Michelle Levine
How did you initially get involved with PDXWIT?
I initially got involved with PDXWIT from finding a happy hour event on Meetup.com. I enjoyed the event and especially getting the chance to meet so many other women in the tech field. I've continued going to various events and had great experiences at all of them.
How have your connections at PDXWIT helped with your career path?
Every job I have had in tech since moving to Portland has come from someone I met at or through a meetup. I happened to meet someone at a recent PDXWIT event who ended up hiring me about a week after the event. I now work at a pretty cool startup, where I get to write code every day.
How do you continue to be involved with PDXWIT?
I go to as many events as I can and continue to network, make contacts and build relationships. I spend a lot of time going to various events (PDXWIT and other groups). It is a two-way process, not only do I meet others to my benefit, but I also try to help any new developers that I can.
Do you have any tips and advice for others?
Meetups are super important. Going out into the community and making connections can be difficult, but it is totally worth it. You never know who you might meet and who might have an opportunity for you. PDXWIT has a great community full of people who want to help you succeed. All you have to do is reach out and you will be welcomed.
Meet Elisa Binette
How did you initially get involved with PDXWIT? I've been a LinkedIn group member for a while, but my previous role didn't afford me a lot of time to participate in networking activities as frequently as I would have liked.
How have your connections at PDXWIT helped with your career path?
It's been inspiring speaking with all of the women who either work in or are interested in tech. It's also helped me connect with other diversity-related organizations and events. I find it fascinating and motivational to hear how people found their way into tech through unconventional career paths. Many have educational backgrounds that were not a STEM curriculum but are still incredibly creative. Initially, I didn't apply for the role I was hired into at New Relic. Based on the job description I felt I had gaps in my skill set. I participated in an event that had a few companies there informally recruiting. Caito Scherr was an intern at the time and was so energetic and encouraging, I decided it couldn't hurt to call the recruiter at New Relic. Full disclosure: I had worked with him in a previous role, so that helped.
How do you continue to be involved with PDXWIT?
I'm focused on settling into my new role but want to stay an active participant in networking events. In the future I hope to participate on behalf of New Relic — we'd really like to become a more diverse engineering organization.
Do you have any tips and advice to others?
Clarify in your own mind what you want to be doing and what type of company you want to be doing it for. Be confident in your abilities. Apply for that job even if you don't think your skills cover every bullet on the job posting!
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to work with a group of such amazingly brilliant and talented individuals, for an innovative and socially conscious company that looked beyond my black and white job history and valued the talents and transferable skills I've developed throughout the years.
MEet James AIMONETTI
I initially found PDXWIT through a random chain of blog posts that I was reading. One of the authors mentioned PDXWIT and I was curious what the organization did. Seeing the job board, I tried my luck at posting an engineering position at 2600Hz to see if anyone would respond. We typically see few, if any, applicants when posting to traditional sites, so I was curious to see the results of posting to a board for a narrower audience.
Through that post, Megan and I started to chat via email and, once our schedules aligned, met in person to see how PDXWIT could help me and 2600Hz (and talk about our kids, of course!).Though the initial post didn't generate any leads, a second round of posts resulted in several applicants and one hire!
While working with PDXWIT on a satellite talk, I was introduced to a woman with connections to tech and business leaders in the Portland area. We are discussing how to tell the story of 2600Hz and what we do for a more general audience. I've also talked with the PDXWIT team members about building a message that resonates with more than telecom nerds. The hope is to describe what 2600Hz does in a more accessible, concise way that a wider audience can understand and get excited about — and hopefully build new applications on top of the platform!
In conclusion, I think maintaining an open mind about where quality folks can be found and what backgrounds they might have is key. Be honest about what your needs as a company are for the position you are hiring and find ways to connect to the human behind the résumé. Foster an environment where people are intrinsically motivated, and personally empowered to effect change, and they will amaze you.
While organizing our fourth Django Girls PDX workshop, we were a little low on applicants and were looking for channels to reach out on. We both had attended PDXWIT events in the past and thought that the Women in Tech happy hour would be a great avenue for potential applicants. We reached out to PDXWIT and Megan (Co-founder & President) offered us some speaking time in front of the group.
We gave a quick two-minute speech during the announcements and then spent the rest of the night speaking to women who were interested in the workshop. This was huge because we saw a flood of applicants come in after the happy hour.
Unfortunately, just a few days before the event we had a lot of unexpected cancellations. We decided to reach out to the PDXWIT community through their Slack and Facebook group. We had an awesome response and were able to fill the remaining spots even though the event was the next day! Because of the cost and effort that goes into putting on a workshop, it’s ideal for us to be at full capacity. That wouldn’t have been possible without PDXWIT.
In addition, Amanda (PDXWIT Board Vice President) gave a lightning talk at the workshop about PDXWIT. This was awesome because many of our attendees are looking to enter the tech industry and PDXWIT is a great resource for them to know about.
Django Girls is an international non-profit that helps enable volunteers all over the work to organize free one-day programming workshops for women. The workshop aims to provide a safe space for women to get their first introduction to web development in Python and Django. We work to remove obstacles and help enable women to explore programming in addition to giving them tools and resources to continue learning on their own after the workshop.
We’re super grateful for PDXWIT!
Meet Andrew Brennwald
About a year ago, my brother came out with the long-hidden intention to become my sister. Over the past year I watched and heard about her transition and the hoops she had to jump through for basic acceptance. Since then, I have become fully aware of diversity issues facing all kinds of minorities in many industries, especially STEM fields.
I attended Epicodus and got exposed to more and more perspectives surrounding gender issues, specifically in the tech realm. Something needed to be done and I wanted to help. I started a little mentoring in my spare time, but I eventually wanted to be part of something bigger. In June of this year, I went to the PDXWIT networking event at Vadio. I decided to join the Mentorship Program, and the rest is history.
I've gained so much more understanding about the industry at large and the cultural challenges it faces. I've met amazing and inspiring women from all corners of tech. There is an energy in this group that I just haven't found in other tech groups in town - I've channeled that energy into my own life to great effect. I've become a better listener and gained many helpful skills to contribute to inclusive cultures in my own spaces.
I am proud to say I am a part of the PDXWIT Mentorship Program and the Event Experience team. I've been mentoring various demographics for years now. Helping women thrive in the tech industry is a fulfilling place for me to be. I'm also an extrovert through and through, so helping people feel welcome at the events is a natural fit. In addition, I'm on a mission to attract more men to the cause so they can become informed and help move the dial closer to the kind of inclusion that we all want.
Some advice for the guys - really, all we want is a more diverse and inclusive industry. The benefits are clear and it's the right thing to do. It's not about stealing jobs or scorning men for some grave injustice, it's about rallying together and solving a problem that affects all of us.
If you approach someone here (PDXWIT) and ask how you can help, you will get a wealth of actionable information. The events are some of the most positive Meetup experiences I've had, and I can't recommend them enough.
Meet Kathryn Brown
I was invited to a PDXWIT Meetup at WeWork by a friend. From the moment I walked into the room, I knew that I was in a very special place. The room was buzzing and filled with the who's who of the Portland tech scene. I just knew I was surrounded by people who "got me". I've been coming to every PDXWIT monthly meetup since to catch up with new and old friends.
At the first meetup I attended, I was invited to announce my new startup, ScoutSavvy. ScoutSavvy is the smart diversity recruiting platform. I told the audience that I am super passionate about helping companies tap into a wider pool of talented workers from marginalized groups. The response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive. Some of my earliest and most enthusiastic supporters first heard about my company at that PDX WIT event.
PDXWIT has been tremendous in helping me source beta testers for my app by sharing my app on social media, and in their newsletter. My company's mission is very aligned with both the organization and the members of PDXWIT. I am a first-time startup founder, and the support from my connections has really revved up my confidence and accelerated the growth of my vision for ScoutSavvy.
I am a mentor with the organization's new mentorship program. If you are interested in launching your own software startup, I'm your gal!
We live in a time where we have access to tools and technology that help up us reach billions of people. As technical women, we have the responsibility to shine as bright as possible, and to use these tools to change the world for the better. Seek out organizations that work on the causes you care about, and help them achieve their goals with technology. Don't you dare build another food delivery app :)
Have confidence in yourselves, because you are super rad. You are all majestic unicorns who can change the world, so get out there and do it, sisters!
I found a PDXWIT networking event listed on Meetup.com. This was shortly after I had moved to Portland, and I still felt very new and raw, so going to these events took a lot of energy. I almost skipped the event, but I knew I needed to get out and meet people so I gave myself permission to try it out and then leave early. Needless to say, I didn't leave early. From the moment I walked into the room, I felt a sense of openness and welcome that put me at ease, and at that very first meeting I made several connections that are still important to me now, almost a year later.
I met my recruiter, Amanda Brooks, at that first PDXWIT event. She very patiently cultivated a relationship with me, not based on "getting something" from me, but on discovering who I was and how we could help each other. Over several months, she helped me figure out what I really wanted from my career path and then move in that direction. Once I got clarity (and a lot of practical help from Amanda), things moved really quickly and I ended up in a job that I now love.
Most recently I participated in an event alongside PDXWIT's fearless leader, Megan Bigelow, to address the gender gap in tech. And I always keep an eye out for the superb networking events (and encourage every woman I meet in the tech industry to participate as well).
Prioritize connecting with other women in the field. Whether we're facing systemic issues in overt ways, like power struggles with a manager or more subtle ways we can't see. We need to address the problems. We need to be having conversations with other women who can relate to our experience and help us navigate.
Meet Caito Scheer
When I first decided to transition to a different career, I spent about a year researching Portland's tech scene. My spouse recommended joining PDXWIT to learn about other people's paths in the industry. After a couple meet-ups, I had already picked up (or dereferenced, haha) a few pointers that made the process much less daunting.
Beyond receiving multiple job interviews directly through PDXWIT, my connections here have helped me conduct the thorough, intentional career change that I was hoping for. Getting to know a variety of technical women in a supportive and engaged environment enabled me to determine what my needs and wants were in this new field.
I am thrilled to have recently signed up as a PDXWIT mentor. I am looking forward to having a more defined route for sharing knowledge and passing along the helpful tips and guidance that others here have given me.
In finding the best fit for myself in the tech industry, the three most helpful actions have been networking, informational interviews, and coding events.
If you're reading this, you've likely already seen some of the benefits of networking. Additionally, attending these events in different tech offices can provide helpful insights into each company's corporate environment.
The informational interviews that I set up with my new peers have been one of the strongest factors in shaping my career path. Don't be afraid to ask! I am continuously, pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic people are about spending time discussing their workplace with an interested stranger.
Coding events are a great way to grow regardless of skill level. As a n00b, attending hackathons, workshops and study nights were an invaluable opportunity to gain certain skills that they "don't teach in school" as they say. For instance, how to think and talk about code, best practices, & gaining confidence in your skills. For experienced programmers, I've seen mentoring lead to increased competence and career advancement through gaining visibility in the tech community.
Meet Meg Aul
I initially got involved with PDXWIT last year when I started working for inDinero. One of our core values is “learning and self-development”. I was encouraged to get involved with the community and attend networking events. When I went online to do research I found PDXWIT; a few people from work had gone before and said it was a great group. The first event I went to was in November 2015. One of my passions is photography so, naturally, when I attended events I was taking photos and posting to twitter. I went to LinkedIn to connect with Megan Bigelow and she sent me a message saying she had seen my photos and wanted to get together for lunch. When we met we talked about my experiences at the events and how we could make things better. I threw out the first thing that came to my head — an adult zen coloring table! She loved the idea and we put it to the test. During the April event I ran the coloring table and was able to get people who would normally leave a large event to stay and make conversation.
With PDXWIT, I am learning so much about the world of tech in Portland and beyond. I get to talk to people about what projects they are working on and what companies they work for. I’ve met people from my alma matter Portland State (sometimes from the same department!) and we have a great time chatting about classes or professors we loved. I know that PDXWIT will always be a great resource for finding work and staying connected with the community.
I plan to continue to stay involved with PDXWIT by continuing to run the coloring table! I think it’s a great way to encourage introverted extroverts (like myself) to find easy ways to engage in conversation. I still consider myself relatively new to the community so I still have a hard time walking up to a group of people who are already engrossed in conversation. The coloring table allows people who would normally go and find a chair in the corner (or leave immediately after arriving) to sit down and ease their way into a conversation.
My advice to others would be “never stop learning.” One of the greatest aspects of networking is the sharing of information and knowledge. I have learned so much from the women (and men) I have met at PDXWIT events, and that is really inspirational.
Meet Catherine Azzarello
I initially got involved with PDXWIT some years ago when it was a much smaller group. I was working from home in Tualatin, and trying different meet ups for tech and social purposes. In many of the other tech groups, I was clearly out of the ordinary. These were rooms filled with various versions of my son…20-something, bearded, white men in plaid shirts. Conversation weren't easy in those groups. Not so with PDXWIT. What a welcoming group of women! I found my people. ;-)
PDXWIT hasn’t directly affected my career path–I’m still self-employed. That said, it’s been great for getting out and meeting new people as well as exploring other companies. (I’m open to new opportunities and would take a *real job* for the right fit.) But the best part is making new friends and connections. I truly enjoy attending the events, catching up with my *old* friends, and meeting new members.
My involvement in PDXWIT has -- well honestly -- been lazy. I attend, but really need to step up and offer some help. I’m thinking about mentoring…
Tips and advice…gosh, it’s so different for young women now than my generation. I threw in the towel and quit the work force for years when my kids were small. I tried working from home, but it wasn’t yet feasible in graphic design. (The world was still on dial-up!) High-speed internet changed everything. Remote & flexible work is a parent’s best friend. Embrace it!
Meet Jen Davidson
I attended my first PDXWIT happy hour in March 2012. Wow, 4 years ago! At the time, I was a PhD student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR. I decided that I wanted to start building a network in Portland, and that I was ready to take action to get more girls and women interested in tech. So I did what anyone would do, and found a happy hour to attend!
At that very first happy hour, Janice Levenhagen-Seeley was there handing out business cards and asking for help with her new idea for a non-profit, an event she wanted to run for high school girls. I took a business card and got in touch with her about volunteering, and the rest is history. I spent almost 4 years volunteering with ChickTech, doing everything from workshop creation and teaching to grant writing to sitting on the board. My experience with ChickTech gave me the confidence I needed to know that I could teach my field. It also inspired the last part of my dissertation where I ran a workshop to teach older adults how to contribute to open source software. I've met a ton of great women and made connections to many companies through volunteering. Being involved in ChickTech strengthened my community of supporters. So, through PDXWIT I found Janice and ChickTech, and through ChickTech I found confidence and a valuable community of technical women.
I moved to Seattle in August 2015, so I'm no longer living in Portland. In Seattle, I've found a UX Happy Hour, which is almost as exciting as PDXWIT. It's great to network in a laid-back environment. I did make sure to attend the women in tech holiday party in December 2015 though, and it was great to see all of the women in tech organizations come together to put on a fun event.
My advice to others is that even if you're like me, and networking just takes it out of you, put your 'networking face' on once in awhile and meet people at events like PDXWIT Happy Hour. You may find out about the next opportunity that will change your life, or maybe even meet lifelong friends.
Meet Lisa Mutchler
I found PDXWIT on the Meetup app. I'd never used anything like that before, but a friend had recommended it to me because she had found good connections through it here in Portland.
The experiences I've had at PDXWIT were a huge part of inspiring me to believe I had the capability to really succeed as a woman in tech. For a long time, I thought I was on a track to quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom one day. But over the last couple years, I've really found a love for what I do and found that I can have a positive impact in an organization. I relocated here to Portland last fall and was looking for a job, and being surrounded by other successful women through PDXWIT really helped to give me confidence to aim high in my job search. I found a job in November that is a huge step up from my last position, a significant pay raise, and a lot more opportunity for growth.
I've attend the events monthly, meeting more people and making new connections each time. Recently I've been reflecting on how easy it is for us to give in to cynicism and negative thinking, and I'd just say that we need to work hard to avoid that -- both in our personal lives and our careers. The first step toward improvement is believing that it is possible.
Meet Sejal D'Souza
I started attended the networking events at WIT and thought it was a great way to make connections. When I attended the November event at Smarsh, I ended up making great connections that led to a job opportunity! I stay involved with PDXWIT by continuing to attend events. I enjoyed the holiday event that recently took place at Puppet Labs. My advice to others is to always have an open mind to meeting new people and learning about new opportunities. It will give you a new perspective.
Meet Melody Dawn, lighting talk speaker at our October 2015 event
I've had so much success meeting and connecting with wonderful people in Portland through meetups since moving here in 2014. When I found PDXWIT on the Meetup app, I thought it sounded like another positive, supportive group and was interested to talk with techies about my educational ideas. My first meeting was beyond my expectations. Welcoming, comfortable, and full of kind faces and open minds.
More than anything else, the people I've met at PDXWIT meetings have given me confidence and empowerment both my career goals and the abundance of feasible solutions to my various tech needs. I've got big ideas for changes in education and I'm widely interested in all the possibilities that technology may provide.
I was thrilled to give a short presentation at the October Happy Hour event, and after connecting with several new members, I'm looking forward to future meetings and opportunities to collaborate with women in the tech industry. You never know who you're going to meet at a PDXWIT event :)
PDXWIT is a community of brilliant and supportive women (and men) with open arms and encouraging words. It is unlike any other networking environment I have ever been in. I feel comfortable around these women in a way that I don't usually feel in other large groups. If you've got any interest whatsoever in the world of tech whether you've got questions, expertise or just like the idea of supporting a well deserving group of women, then you shouldn't hesitate to attend the next PDXWIT event.
Meet Kristina King, lighting talk speaker at our October 2015 event
I became involved with PDXWIT when the company I work for, Jama Software, hired a new Support Manager. Our recruiter at the time told us that Megan co-founded PDXWIT, and secretly bade us to attend. A handful of us showed up and were greeted with open arms by everyone.
At this point, my connections with WIT haven’t helped me with my career path because I’ve been happy with my position and company, so I haven’t been looking for a change. That said, I talk to so many inspiring women every time I attend a happy hour that I know I can always reach out to someone if I have questions or need encouragement. I love the breadth of experience and skill represented in this group.
I stay involved in WIT by attending the occasional happy hour and by being available if anyone needs me for anything.
Dispensing tips and advice is something I’m hesitant to do because I feel like a neophyte in the tech industry. That said, I feel like I have found success personally and professionally since entering the field, which is a stark contrast to my previous lines of work (teaching and financial services). The difference is that I’ve had bosses and teammates that are openly supportive and trusting. You don’t always know how things will shake out while interviewing, but now I know the kinds of questions to ask when interviewing for a job. What’s the corporate culture like? Do new employees get mentored in any way? What kind of relationship do you have with your boss? How often do you talk with your boss (direct boss, VP, whatever). How would you describe your team? Etc., etc. Some jobs may be more inherently interesting or fun than others, but if you work with good, supportive people, nothing seems like drudgery. In turn, you have to be openly trusting and supportive of your teammates and your bosses. Be generous with praise, because it makes giving and receiving constructive feedback way easier.
Meet Kasey Tonsfeldt, one of PDXWIT's original founders
I initially got involved with PDXWIT sitting at a coffee shop with Megan bemoaning the lack of community for women in technology in Portland. It didn't take very long before we decided to start one ourselves. And thus, WIT was born! Starting one January, we all met up at a bar once a month. By late spring, businesses were hosting us. The group has gone from 15 to over 1000 members on LinkedIn in about 3.5 years.
My connections/friends at PDXWIT have helped me by giving sage advice when I'm frustrated, encouragement when I feel stuck, and congratulations when things go well. PDXWIT has reminded me time and again to turn to my network when I need help because they'll help you much faster than simply scrolling through the job ads.
Unfortunately work travel, and now a summer with a broken foot, has kept me away from PDXWIT for a while, but I am the group's biggest fan, refer a ton of people there, and I'll see you all soon once I'm off crutches!
My biggest piece of advice is just go, meet people, and learn something. I love PDXWIT because attendees come from very diverse backgrounds, career paths, skill sets, and personalities. The events are never boring and it's always really rewarding to see so many women sharing, bonding, and helping each other.
Meet Jocelyn Bourgault
I migrated to the U.S. in 1992 to begin my studies and immerse myself in the American culture. Following my passion for science and math, I became an Engineer and began my career in the technology industry. My career has taken many turns, both geographically and functionally (within R&D, Operations and new products). My most recent move lead me to Intel Corporation in June 2015, working on/with new camera technology. My career has taught me to be proud of my roots and emphasize what my experiences bring to the table as a diverse candidate.
I'm a strong believer that education is the key ingredient to social progress. As such, I'm a strong supporter of STEM education for girls. I'm excited about the current focus of bringing STEM education to low income schools and into the forefront for girls in middle school and beyond. And I love attending the PDXWIT events in support of women in technology! After my first networking event, I knew I had found my tribe! I met incredibly smart, driven women who loved the tech sector and were looking for ways to connect.
My connections at PDXWIT have widened my perceived career path options. While my current move was not directly connected to PDXWIT, I have made connections with technical women in my neighborhood who share schools with my children. I have made connections with Hispanic women in tech who share a common culture. In fact, PDXWIT founder, Megan Bigelow and I found ourselves at a 5am yoga class in the 'hood' and immediately recognized each other and have formed a friendship. PDXWIT has allowed me to meet not just great women but great companies, some of which I had never heard of and inspired me to learn more about the possibilities out there.
I'm originally from Venezuela, but have lived abroad in Curacao, The Netherlands Antilles and Salvador, Brazil. I'm bi-cultural and bi-lingual in Spanish and English as well as proficient in Portuguese, and I'm familiar with other languages and dialects from places I've lived. I love salsa dancing and music. When I'm not working or furthering my education/career, I'm enjoying my family and home in NE Portland, and planning my next travel adventure.
Meet Adrienne Barnett
I got involved in PDXWIT about a year-and-a-half ago on my quest to get into IT. At one of the meet-ups, I became friends with Betsy Reed (former Business Development at Copious, current Director of Business Development at McClenahan Bruer) after she dropped some highly coveted cheese on the ground. I had come to PDXWIT to find a job, making a friend was an added bonus. About a year later, I landed a job at Copious as a Strategist/Producer - now Betsy was stuck with me as a co-worker and a friend. I love my job and I have PDXWIT to thank for it! I continue attend the meet-ups because I enjoy hearing other people’s stories and learning more about the ever-changing world of IT. (I also attend the meet-ups for the cheese.)
Meet Hope Wyss
Hi. I write your PDXWIT newsletter and happy hour invitations. I'm a software technical writer by trade. I moved to Portland about a year and a half ago, and became involved with PDXWIT as a way to meet new people and network with women in the IT industry.
Much to my surprise, there are very few tech writers in our group, and I'm usually the only tech writer at any of the Agile meetups I attend. Tech writers bring so much more to the dev team than simply writing documentation. Because we have to see products from the macro level, we're a very good resource for calling out inconsistencies across product lines. And, because we have to write everything from the end user's perspective, we're a consistent voice for the end user to the dev team and a constant reminder of who the target audience is. My goal is to get more tech writers involved with PDXWIT and to promote the value of our skill set.
After searching for a year and a half, I finally landed a permanent job in The Pearl. We just bought a house (literally, this week!) on the Northeast side. And, we'll be moving our daughter from Oklahoma to Portland next month. In my spare time (lol), I make quilts and weave baskets. What do I like about Portland -- public transportation, all the parks, friendly people, bike lanes, food, microbrews. I will say it has taken us much longer to get settled in Portland than any other place we've lived, but it's definitely worth it.
Meet Margaret Yovan
I got involved in PDXWIT when a good friend dragged me to a meeting last February, after listening to me complain about wanting to go back to working in the tech world. Everyone there was so friendly and welcoming, I didn’t have time to feel out of place.
I had come to PDXWIT to find out what kinds of jobs are out there, given that I hadn’t been in tech for over 10 years. Susan (Robinson, CEO of Tech Talent Link) and I had conversations over the course of several PDXWIT events in which I expressed an interest in trying something new. Then at the May Happy Hour event, she presented me with a proposal to train as a technical recruiter. Tech Talent Link is very active in supporting PDXWIT.
I continue to attend PDXWIT to continue working on my skills at interviewing people, and of course meeting new attendees and sharing my story. My advice to others is not to let job titles get in the way—they rarely describe the entirety of a job’s responsibilities. In other words, explore every opportunity you can, because you can’t know if it’s the right one for you if you don’t take the time to investigate.
got involved with PDXWIT when I was new to Portland and was pursuing a career change or shift. My husband had moved into technology from design and I was also looking into it as a new industry for my sales career. Being new to town and new to the industry, I knew I wanted to meet people personally and professionally. Networking through this group accomplished both of objectives.
Through PDXWIT, I have had the chance to meet fantastic women in various functions within technology. You learn about companies you never knew existed, plus you learn the inside scoop on things like pending hiring. While there seems to be a number of women-focused technology groups in Portland, what I like most about this group is that the representation is so wide open. You meet women who are developers as well as others who work in marketing or operations.
My best advice on getting the most out of WIT is to try to make an effort to consistently attend the monthly happy hours. Through consistency, you start to recognize faces and form connections. That's where the networking pays off -- over the long term. Also, by attending each month, you have the benefit of checking out new cool technology spaces around the city. It's exciting -- a lot is happening!
Ever wonder how this all got started? We asked Megan Bigelow
Four years ago, Kasey Tonsfeldt (now Jones) and I went on a coffee date after I attended the Grace Hopper Women in Computing event. The event left me feeling incredibly empowered and excited about being in tech, though frustrated that it took a conference to bring women like us together. Within an hour, Kasey and I had decided to form our own group to ensure women had a platform on which to gather on a regular basis!
In the early days, PDXWIT met at a local bar for a no-host gathering. By the end of the first year, companies were offering to host our meetings in their office spaces. This year, our entire year is booked and we have nearly 850 members!
The best part about PDXWIT is that it has changed lives in ways we never imagined. Our members have told us that the group has helped build their confidence through meeting new people on a regular basis, created opportunities that often lead to new jobs and/or careers, and many have forged new friendships! I personally have landed my last two jobs through connections I've gained through this group and have met countless women who have shaped my life.