How better to kick off our Women In Tech season than an interview with Roxanne Varza, founder of Girls In Tech UK, former editor of TechCrunch and Microsoft’s Startup Lover? Roxanne is all sorts of great and inspirational, and does SO MANY THINGS in the tech world? Today we talk start-ups, the future, and post-blogger syndrome…
For those of you who don’t know, Girls In Tech is probably one of the most influential organisations we’ve got for, er, girls in tech. It’s an international (US, UK, China, Greece, France, Chile, Romania, Portugal, &c. &c. & so on) network of women who code, and it aims to “provide women in technology with more visibility. Twitter loses its collective mind at least once a week over the horrible regularity of conferences where every speaker is a man- Girls In Tech is simply an attempt to make up for that. “We do not get together to talk about why life is unfair for women,” says their website, “We aren’t bra-burners or man-haters. In fact, we encourage men to attend and speak at our events as well- [but] a majority of our speakers – unlike other tech conferences – are women. That’s all.”
Seems pretty fair to us, to be honest.
So how did Roxanne come to be involved with this excellent project? “I moved to Europe from the Bay Area in 2009, and was rather surprised when I arrived in France to find so few women working in the tech space” she explained to us by email.
Now, there’s reportedly only a 2.2% difference between the numbers of women in tech in Europe and the US, but our very own Michelle, developer at Enternships, tells us that the situation seems much more dire over here.
“I had already been in touch with Adriana [the initial US founder of GiT], and the Girls in Tech team in the US before moving and I felt the initiative could really be beneficial to the French tech space as well. Therefore, I decided to launch the French chapter with Mounia Rhka. I moved to the UK, and launched the UK chapter with Ella Weston and Mihiri Bonney. As the initiative became more visible in Europe, more people reached out to us to launch chapters in their countries.”
Roxanne’s encouraging hundreds of young women to get into tech- but who encouraged Roxanne? She got into it all, she says, “by accident”, although it sounds to us like she always knew that tech was an option for girls: “my dad used to try to get me to build computers with him when I was little,” she tells us, “but I wasn’t patient enough. I grew up in Palo Alto, and was surrounded by tech and startups.”
Despite this early drilling, it took an international move to really spark her interest. “In 2007 I began working for the French government’s foreign direct investment agency (Invest in France), and I was responsible for working with tech companies (mainly startups) to help them expand into France/Europe.”
“This is when I discovered how much I loved tech and entrepreneurship. I loved meeting the passionate and creative people behind the different companies. I also loved seeing how tech could solve so many different problems. I felt it was really the most exciting space to work in.”
We mentioned above that she’s now the official Startup Lover for Microsoft- a title, she says, she “gave herself”. “It accurately describes what I do!” she tells us. “Essentially, I run two of our startup programs for the French market: Bizspark and Spark.”
“Bizspark is a program that has been around for almost five years that allows startups to benefit from our technology and support for free for a three-year period. We’ve had over 50,000 companies go through the program, including some big guys like ZocDoc or Xobni (who was just acquired by Yahoo).”
“Spark is a recent initiative we’ve launched in France – it’s a startup space and accelerator program to help entrepreneurs transform their ideas into prototypes. We felt this was one of the key areas where entrepreneurs needed support in France and also the time at which we could be most beneficial.”
Reading through the Girls in Tech “about” page, I note that there’s something that perhaps just seemed too simple to mention- the way that this visibility inspires not only the women allowed to speak, but the women who hear them. That the women who run the organisations are so successful in their own right- see above, obviously…- must inspire hundreds of young hopefuls to follow in their footsteps- what can Roxanne tell those girls about how she got to where she is?
“What worked for me was leveraging blogging and social media. I always tell people I owe a lot to blogging and Twitter. Simply getting your ideas and your voice out there can be a huge asset. And it will help you connect with people. I also love Twitter (and Quora) to get and share new information. I’m a huge Twitter fan. I go to loads of events too and talk to lots of people. One of my best ways to get advice or thoughts is simply talking to people. Maybe this is post-blogger syndrome?”
“AND LEARN TO CODE. This is one of the areas I will look into, because I don’t have a technical background. And I believe that in the future, understanding code will be like understanding English; everyone will need it. There are tons of great resources offering classes and whatnot for free or cheap, so now is a great time to learn!”
And lastly, she says, “Don’t stand on ceremony. If you want to launch something – DO IT!”
Go on then, girls. You heard the lady. Do it.
Name: Roxanne Varza
Company: Girls In Tech, Microsoft
Role: Founder, Startup Lover
Advice: LEARN. TO. CODE.
Where to find her: @roxannevarza
This interview is the first in Enternships’ Women In Tech series, as part of our ongoing commitment to supporting ladies who work in STEM sectors. Want to be involved? Email [email protected] for more information.
(interview written by Ella Risbridger)