This week, I am excited to announce that I will be joining Hackbright Academy as CEO. Co-founder David J. Phillips will be transitioning to the role of active chair. I will remain on the Boards of Directors of my ScaleVP portfolio companies, where I also remain a Venture Partner. Both David and I are excited to work together and to work on changing the ratio of women in software engineering, Hackbright’s meaningful mission.
How This All Began
I first met David and Hackbright when I was researching women in engineering for this article on how to hire more female engineers. I met with David to discuss the issue and, after a mind-melding multi-hour coffee meeting together, I thanked David for all his helpful input and asked how I could return the favor. He said, “We need people who are passionate about our mission; we are growing like crazy. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” I nodded yes, thinking of some friends who’d just rolled out of their jobs. But then my mind started spinning.
“I want to work there,” I thought as I got in my car that afternoon. In 14 years of venture capital I probably looked at 8,000 companies (yes, about 150 per quarter). Hackbright was the first company where I walked out of the initial meeting thinking I wanted to be there myself. I met with David again the next day to offer to advise the team, and that began a relationship that we plan to continue for a long time. I have been an active advisor to Hackbright Academy since 2014 and have enjoyed working closely with the leadership team since January 2015. Given my experience, we both agreed that this was the perfect time to expand the academy’s leadership team. Today David and I flip the advisor and CEO roles.
A company that provides these types of opportunities for women was something that I wanted to be part of.
With high quality technical education and a strong focus on student outcomes, Hackbright Academy teaches women professional computer science and software development skills, which they take directly to the workforce. Hackbright’s flagship service is a 12 week full-time Fellowship, after which many of the graduates are recruited to work as software developers for companies such as Eventbrite, SurveyMonkey and New Relic. Hackbright also offers introductory classes to help women learn enough to judge if they want to become full-time engineers. In January we will also launch online learning. A company that provides these types of opportunities for women was something that I wanted to be part of.
David co-founded Hackbright to “#changetheratio” and the school has already accomplished so much: hundreds of women trained as software engineers and placed at leading companies. Every year, Hackbright graduates more female software engineers than Stanford and UC Berkeley combined. He and the Hackbright team have changed the trajectory of women’s lives. The school is prominent among new education startups; David has been active with the White House in its job training initiatives and chaired NESTA for its first year. Hackbright is now at a size and growth phase where my experience with scaling companies complements the team’s expertise in teaching women computer science. Hackbright has grown its impact dramatically in the past year and we will continue to do so together.
Hackbright is growing rapidly to address the need for talented female engineers.
“Sharon has great hands-on experience to lead us as we continue to grow the team and impact of Hackbright Academy. She has been a leader in high growth startups, and worked closely with numerous startups at our growth stage in how to build their organizations for lasting impact in the long run,” said David about me joining Hackbright’s leadership team. “We have an important mission: to empower women in technology and to help companies recruit, retain and promote more women. With Sharon’s leadership, we can have an even greater influence on the industry.”
Hackbright exists to address significant issues in the American economy and society. As all industries evolve to encompass software and technology in their business models, the need for software expertise has outstripped traditional educational and occupational training methods. The U.S. faces a skills gap of over 1 million software engineers by 2020. Compounding that problem, the ratio of women graduating from colleges with computer science degrees and employed as software developers has slid consistently since the 1980’s. This means that the broad base of American enterprises have fewer option to have their technical teams reflect their customer base. And, more diverse teams make better decisions and generate more profits. Hackbright is growing rapidly to address this need for talented female engineers.
What Motivates Me
I should be the poster-child for the transformative value of education. My parents married and had three kids as teens themselves, then quickly divorced. Their parents hadn’t gone to college either and I grew up without “professionals” as role models, even while my parents strongly encouraged me to excel at school. Luckily my high school guidance counselor encouraged me to think much more broadly than my local state schools, and I ended up on a large scholarship at Harvard. Worried about money, I raced through my undergraduate degree in three years, then completed a Masters degree in my fourth year, all in engineering. That launched me as a professional, and set me on a trajectory to land today at Hackbright Academy.
My two daughters are now in college. I hope that our efforts to #changetheratio will create more opportunities for them as they launch their own careers.
Meanwhile, the ratio of women in technology has hardly budged since the days when I was lonely in my engineering classes. The guys who confronted me in grad school as “clearly unqualified for this 300-level class because I spent too much time on my makeup” now are in charge of hiring in businesses where women make up about 15% of the technology teams at software companies. My two daughters are now in college. I hope that our efforts to #changetheratio will create more opportunities for them as they launch their own careers.
“Kudos” is a tradition at Hackbright team lunches; we shine a spotlight on a colleague and say how she or he helped the team that week. The talented Hackbright team deserves many kudos for changing the career trajectory of hundreds of women who have graduated from Hackbright’s programs, and for building a strong program and culture. I have spent the past 14 years coaching CEO’s, investing in high growth companies, and championing women in technology – today I couldn’t be more thrilled to join this talented team and to lead Hackbright into the future as Chief Executive Officer.
I’d like to take this moment to offer my kudos to the management teams and my partners at ScaleVP as well, from whom I have learned so much about how to scale a business from small high-growth startup to big, long term companies that matter. At ScaleVP we back companies “early in scaling” and then try to help them grow to realize their full potential and impact. Rory O’Driscoll and Kate Mitchell taught me how to be an effective Board member. I’m proud of how ScaleVP has consistently led the venture industry in the number and involvement of women investors working to #changetheratio. My portfolio companies also have impact. Everyday Health started in a Brooklyn kitchen; this year, Ben Wolin and his team help millions of consumers with their health decisions. Doron Reuveni at Applause and others have similar growth and leadership stories. As an investor, I was “involved” in their growth like the chicken is involved in breakfast, while those company leaders were highly committed, like the proverbial pig and the bacon on the plate. I missed being part of the committed executive team, and, with my new empty nest at home, I have the ability to recommit to an operating role and in particular to the Hackbright team and our social mission.
Being an advisor over the past year, I fell in love with the passionate team working at the company as well as the massive impact this organization was having on the industry. It’s an honor to be in this role and I look forward to changing the ratio together.
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