WWCode Turns Ten: CEO Alaina Percival and CPO Joey Rosenberg Talk WWCode History
Written by WWCode HQ
From left to right: Alaina Percival, CEO WWCode & Joey Rosenberg, CPO WWCode
Women Who Code Podcast — Episode 20 A | Spotify — iTunes — Google- YouTube
In the first part of this special Women Who Code 10th Anniversary episode, WWCode CEO Alaina Percival and WWCode CPO Joey Rosenberg discuss the start of WWCode, its mission, its early days, and how the company started to grow.
Women Who Code Podcast — Episode 20 B | Spotify — iTunes — Google- YouTube
In the second part of this special Women Who Code 10th Anniversary episode, WWCode CEO Alaina Percival and WWCode CPO Joey Rosenberg discuss how the organization handled its expansion to the global community it is today, as well as some of the more memorable moments they experienced along the way.
Joey Rosenberg, Chief Product Officer at Women Who Code, sits down with Alaina Percival, CEO and co-founder of Women Who Code to celebrate 10 years of community and discuss the organization’s journey.
Alaina, how does it feel to be celebrating 10 years?
It’s unbelievable to be at this point, to have this moment of reflection about everything that we’ve accomplished over the past 10 years. We were women in the tech industry at a time when the world started talking about the importance of teaching girls and women to code. For those of us in the industry, we knew we were already coming up against bias, having to prove ourselves, and being viewed as more junior than we actually were. This voice, this amazing voice of teaching women to code, teaching girls to code, really couldn’t be whole without elevating the needs of the women in the industry. That’s what Women Who Code has become.
Can you talk a little bit about when this big dream came about? What were you doing at the time? What did that transition feel like for you?
Women Who Code came out of my own personal career struggles. I had this strong career trajectory in traditional business but was having trouble translating that to the tech industry. I saw more and more that it was critical that you have a technical background to be a leader or an executive. Every industry was going through a digital transformation, whether it was finance, healthcare, shipping, or media. All of these industries were becoming technology industries. Women were under-represented in the tech industry and in leadership. It was clear to me that the path needed to be bridged. The fastest and easiest way to do it was by supporting the talented, ambitious women that were already in the industry.
This movement started as a community group in San Francisco, a couple of years later, you actually filed the paperwork to formalize the organization. What was that like and why was that really an important part of the Women Who Code journey?
There was a moment where we had this amazing community group that almost felt like our little secret. It became critical to form a non-profit and to begin expanding. We realized that women around the world deserve to have the support, the network, and the opportunities that Women Who Code was afforded to us. Women Who Code is now in 134 countries. We’ve stayed committed to having a global focus and supporting women around the world on their career journeys in technology.
What do you wish people knew about that CEO, that founder journey, especially the first couple of years? When you look back to all of those ideas being born, and decisions being made. What do you wish people knew?
We’ve gotten to be part of this journey together. It’s grown so quickly, in so many different ways. It almost feels like we’ve gotten to start a new start-up every year and a half. We have the opportunity, and are forced to reinvent ourselves as we grow, and as the needs of our members in the industry and the world have changed.
It’s also the stories. We had a Mexico City director who, in under one year, had a salary increase of 200%. There was a woman who walked up to me at an event that we did in partnership with Nike and GitHub. She let me know that she’d been part of our Python community and that she was now a senior data scientist, and was being flown across the country to give talks. She would not have found that path had it not been for Women Who Code. We see these things happening in real-time for these incredible, high-potential individuals in our community. We also see how they grow to become the most influential, most powerful women in the industry.
Can you talk a little bit about why it’s really important to have ApplaudHer in the industry and in our day-to-day practice?
ApplaudHer was a practice that we started to celebrate successes. It’s a little bit more difficult for women to talk about successes, difficult for society to hear us do it. Practicing it was to overcome a deep cultural barrier that women face. Every single day we are contributing to a project, receiving a promotion, giving advice, helping someone out, or doing our job well. If we feel blocked from championing these things, it is actually holding us back from our potential. This seemingly innocent and fun celebration is actually critical.
In our early days, as we moved around the world, seeing how much the world needed Women Who Code, what did you observe and learn?
That opportunity to experience Women Who Code in other cities and other parts of the world was incredibly meaningful and pivotal. Learning from our leaders around the world has helped to make Women Who Code such a rich community. One thing that really stands out to me is that there was this Women Who Code DNA that existed when we were in whatever city that we were visiting. Whatever network that we were visiting, it felt like a Women Who Code event. I would hear from the community that they could be part of Women Who Code in their own city, and then reach out to the Women Who Code community as they were travelling and feel as though they belonged immediately.
Our Connect Conference was started by volunteers. Volunteers had a vision for a conference, and now this has become a global theme that we are putting on every single year. We had people from 92 countries attend our most recent Connect Conference. There’s this thread, this similarity, but also, this opportunity for growth and learning.
What are some of the big moments that you remember from the first Connect Conference, learning moments, or things that stand out as highlights?
Some of the key things that kind of stand out to me are just the amazing community feel but at a bigger scale. It was so much put into one moment. We had people flying in from all over the country and all over the world to be part of it, to speak at it, to support it. That was something that stood out to me as an incredible game-changing moment that really has shaped the direction that Women Who Code has taken since then.
You were able to activate some really big players. Our board from early on, our partners from early on were influential leaders in the tech space with a lot of experience. What was that like, how did you put together that first board and start to get people to say yes to this work?
From the time we started moving forward with the non-profit, I have found it very easy to explain what the need is, what the goal is, and what role we are playing. Being positioned in the Bay Area, we had access to so many huge partners in the area.
I would love to kind of call out two particular women who brought huge founding partnerships to Women Who Code. One is Julie Feldberg, and she was CIO at Capital One. I was blown away by her. She was exactly who needed to be elevated as a role model, she was a game-changer.
The second one is Lily Chang, who is an executive at VMware. She came and said that she was interested in supporting this community. Year after year, she has gotten the backing of her company. She’s helped integrate VMware employees and initiatives with Women Who Code’s mission and vision in profound and meaningful ways.
Amongst all of these successes, there are definitely some moments to learn from. How do you learn from mistakes and stumbling blocks and keep moving forward?
One thing that I say all the time is that it’s okay to make mistakes. Living life, running a company, being a human without mistakes is not possible. One of my favorite phrases that comes from Kim Bennett on our team is to move imperfectly forward. How do you recover? You learn. You own up to the mistakes. You make the changes that you need to make.
If there are any co-founders reading, is there anything that you would have done differently if you could do it all again?
I would have brought in people’s support earlier. We have 600 volunteers. When you think of the size of our organization, we have a lot of people to support. Having that structure in place earlier is what I would say is critical to do earlier.
We’ve talked about some of our firsts. What about ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange? We did that twice. Talk about that whole experience.
Ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange was a lifelong dream. To have that opportunity was just incredible. I had one of my pivotal moments when we were on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. We had just gotten to ring the bell and we’re there on the ground taking photos, high-fiving, and giving each other hugs. I look around and as we’re taking photos and ask if we should take a professional photo. One of our board members at the time, Lisa Calhoun, said to me, “Alaina, you are changing the face of leadership. Be yourself.” And that those words have stuck with me and I live that now.
What is it like to be a woman in leadership?
I struggled with it in the early days. I forced myself to say, hi, I’m Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code. It was incredibly uncomfortable until one time, the audience, as soon as I said it, clapped. I said, oh, maybe they’re okay with me being up here. I also had to tell myself, if you’re willing to take a step forward, we’re bringing all these people, this mission, all of these things that are incredibly important, forward with me. If I don’t do that, I’m holding myself and everyone else back. And it was absolutely true. The minute I was willing to take that step myself, everyone else was able to take the step as well.
Is there anything that you, in your personal life, would have done differently if you weren’t busy co-founding and building an organization?
One of the benefits of being part of Women Who Code, you and I get to help make decisions around the way things are inside the organization, is having the opportunity to really support other aspects of our lives. I’m deeply passionate about our full international community and not being either Bay Area or US-centric with our community. That’s part of my core values as well, and having a global perspective.
I would say, if I wasn’t doing Women Who Code, all of the other ideas that I come up with are mission-driven. They’re often inclusion-focused, supporting diverse women. All of these are part of the path, the career, and the steps that I’ve taken and really chosen in many of the opportunities that I’ve had in my career.
Since COVID hit, we’ve had to completely transition everything. What’s that been like, from your perspective?
Women Who Code in January of 2020 was an organization that did 2000 in-person events per year. At the beginning of March, that came to a dramatic halt. We were able to completely digitise our programming. We’re producing the same number of digital technical events that we were previously in person, but now you can join in from anywhere around the world. We are recording these events and putting them onto our on-demand database on Women Who Code’s YouTube channel. If you weren’t available at that moment, you’re still able to go back and access these incredible resources for the Women Who Code community.
What do you see for the future of Women Who Code, and the impact that you envision for this organization going forward?
Women Who Code will continue to do what we do best in the world, which is community. A community providing technical programming and focusing on accessibility with our programming. All of our events are either free or scholarship accessible. We are also leaning in on leadership. Women are often promoted based on their experience, men are based on their potential. The first level of leadership creates a big gap in gender representation. What we look to do over the next five years is, give space for women to practice leadership, to overcome this bias that exists for them, so that we can see that gap start to close and see more women make it into that first level of leadership, and continue to excel throughout their careers.
We are going to be introducing a rebrand for Women Who Code. It’s a refresh, but it’s also just leaning into our core. Inclusion is one of our core values, it’s always been there. Over the next 10 years we will be elevating our advocacy voice. If you do not feel safe in your life, you cannot focus on your livelihood. Bridging that is going to be an important element of Women Who Code’s voice and support over the next 10 years.
How can people get involved if they wanna support this movement if they wanna support this mission. What can people do?
Visit us at womenwhocode.com. We have incredible programs. As I mentioned, all of our events are free or scholarship accessible. We are celebrating 10 years and we’re celebrating with our first ever major donation match. Art Blocks has offered to match the next $100,000 in donations to Women Who Code. It only costs $27 for us to provide free programming for an entire year for a Women Who Code member, so every $27 that you donate to Women Who Code helps us to be able to keep a woman in the tech industry and make it to more senior positions. Help her to live leadership, to have inclusion at the core, and to focus on Women Who Code’s vision of seeing diverse women better represented as engineers and technology leaders.