Tech Careers and Families: The Perfect Pairing

Posted by · April 13, 2012 4:24 pm

In the wake of the epic spat between Ann Romney and Hillary Rosen, the hair on the backs of stay-at-home moms and working women everywhere is up. (Oh, come on ladies, don’t act like you don’t have back hair.) The questions of whether raising children is a full time job (it is) and whether you can have a career with young kids at home (you can) are once again being discussed in the public forum.

To me, the debate about staying at home to raise kids versus having a career is somewhat passé.  If a woman wants to stay home full time to raise her children, great.  If she wants to have a career instead of kids, that’s fine too.  The real problem is when we start to think that raising children and having a family are mutually exclusive.  Given this week’s political kerfuffle, it’s clear that many Americans still think they are.

I’ve talked about the issue of women in the workforce–specifically in technology– quite a bit on this blog, and just a few weeks ago, Microsoft Access genius Miriam Bizup and I chatted about how women can balance their personal and professional lives.  Today, I’d like to go on record as saying that I think working in technology–specifically, starting your own tech company– is actually more conducive to having a family than working in any other industry.  Ladies, here are a few reasons why you should consider a career in tech and little guide to get you started on your entrepreneurial journey.

Charting your own course

Earlier this week, the folks at Startup Genome released a report comparing how the world’s top tech hubs (namely Silicon Valley, New York and London) compare in terms of startup success.  The report contained more than a few interesting tidbits of information.  You ladies in New York will be pleased to know that NYC has almost double the rate of female founders compared to Silicon Valley and London; but according to the research (as well as what was said at SXSW), a start-up’s location is becoming less critical to its overall success these days.

That means women in almost any country with the right idea have the opportunity to start and scale their own business.  The key is to be able to network with the right people (angel investors, venture capitalists and talent) and define the competitive advantage you have over other companies in your space.

If starting your own company sounds like a scary thought for some of you, I have two words for you: flexible hours. When you are your own boss, you can set your own schedule.  That being said, many tech companies adopt the 37 Signals work principles and allow employees to work from home at least part of the time.  Since transactions at a tech company don’t happen in a brick and mortar building, tech employers are often more comfortable with allowing people to work remotely. 

But I don’t know how to code

The Startup Genome also had some good news for all of us ladies out there without a programming background.  Research shows that NYC entrepreneurs are nearly five times more likely to consider content their primary competitive advantage and 40 percent more likely for it to be their niche focus.  Case in point: the ladies at The Daily Muse.  The website has won numerous awards and is rapidly becoming the go-to site for young, female professionals; and as far as I can tell, almost everyone on the team, including founder Kathryn Minshew, comes from an editorial or management background and has minimal programming experience.

Often, I think that when women think about starting or working for a tech company, we think we need to learn to code and while yes, I will be the first person to tell you that programming knowledge is a huge asset when working in this industry, it is not a prerequisite.  If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

 Where to begin

The most difficult part of starting a company is well, actually starting it.  Here are a few suggestions for making your dream of starting your own company—and setting your own schedule—a reality:

  • Do your research– Before you get started, it’s important to know who your competitors are and how the product or company you’re looking to launch is different—and superior—to others in the market.
  • Find a mentor– You’re going to need advice as you navigate the start-up journey.  Find a local entrepreneur who can share her experiences with you.
  • Get connected with investors and talent– Chances are, there’s a college or university somewhere close to where you live.  Email a professor in the computer science department and ask if one of her students would be willing to work with you as part of a senior project.  Talk with someone in the business department about where to find local investors.
  • Generate quality content– Even before you’ve launched your web app or product, you need to establish yourself as an expert in your subject matter.  Start a blog (if you don’t know how to do that, we’ve got a great WordPress tutorial for beginners on Experts Exchange) and then start writing.
  • Know your rhythm– This is a suggestion I stole from Google VP Marissa Mayer.  The idea behind it is to figure out what you need to do or not do in order to avoid feeling resentful about your job and the amount of work you do each week…and then work your butt off in between.

Above all, pick something you’re passionate about.  Starting a company is hard work, but if you’re doing something you love, it won’t seem like work.  Ultimately, this will leave you with more energy for spending time with those kids who are waiting for you at home; and wasn’t that the whole point of this post in the first place?