Innovator to Innovator: Apple Senior Director, Women Entrepreneurs, and High School #WWDC19 Scholar Anne Li Find Solidarity in Discussing Inclusion in Tech
Apple and NCWIT present a series of personal essays and stories of innovation, as told by NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community members by way of conversations with Apple executives. Below is the fifth edition of “Innovator to Innovator,” where AiC Community Member Anne Li talked with to Apple Senior Director of Worldwide Developer Marketing Esther Hare and four women entrepreneurs (Kim Azzarelli, Jhanvi Shriram, Ketaki Shriram, and Kyuhee Keogh) who participated in Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp about creating inclusive work environments, utilizing diversity to make a positive impact on innovation, finding strength in overcoming obstacles, and more.
As a mobile app developer, attending the 2019 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was inspiring, especially as a WWDC scholar. Alongside fellow NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community Members Kayla Kasprak, Nithi Narayanan, Jothi Ramaswamy, and Ariana Sokolov, I had the opportunity to interview Apple Senior Director of Worldwide Developer Marketing Esther Hare and four women entrepreneurs who double as an author, professor, CEO, CTO, and a UX Designer, and who also participated in Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp. We discussed everything from promoting inclusion in the workplace to overcoming barriers. Here are the highlights.
Creating a team environment that fosters diversity and inclusion is a process that starts “at the top of the funnel in recruiting,” says Jhanvi Shriram, CEO of Krikey — an Augmented Reality (AR) mobile gaming application that enables users to play and share videos featuring 3D AR games that interact with the real world. “We want to make sure that we’re looking at a diverse pool because the funnel only gets smaller. And, if we don’t start with enough diversity at the top, we’re not going to have it when we get down to actually hiring.” This approach has resulted in a startup team comprised of 48 percent women!
Team activities also form a large part of Krikey’s culture; according to Kyuhee Keogh, UX Designer at Krikey, employees are encouraged to interact with people across teams. As an example, Ketaki brings up the Krikey Award (which is “like the Oscars but way better”), a peer-nominated award given once a week.
Hearing Kyuhee and Ketaki talk about Krikey’s team environment reminds me of my own experiences on my school’s programming team. Over the course of the year, we’ve developed both as a group and individually, due in part to our positive and open-minded dynamic. We’ve strengthened our teamwork too, allowing us to exchange more ideas and efficiently develop solutions under pressure during competitions.
Esther Hare also offered her perspective on hiring as the Senior Director of Worldwide Developer Marketing at Apple, cautioning, “It’s very easy when you’re hiring to get drawn to somebody” that’s ‘like you.’ But, “the more diverse a team becomes, the more we end up looking for someone that’s different. And, that’s really the one thing that makes the team grow and be better.”
I recall attending a lecture by Dr. Fei-Fei Li during the Stanford AI4All 2017 Program who presented similar insights on how diverse teams impact technology development for the better. To put it bluntly, technology often embodies the biases of its creators. But, by involving people of different backgrounds, we can better ensure the apps, games, and robots that we design best reflect the variety of humanity with positive impacts.
Every journey has its obstacles, but every obstacle is an opportunity for growth. When asked if she would change any aspect of her journey in computer science, Kim Azzarelli, Co-Founder of Seneca Women, described her earliest experiences in tech as somewhat of a shock. But, while “internally it was very hard” for her, Kim believes that “there’s something...to learn [in] everything that happens to you.” As it happens, those hardships inspired her to advocate for women in tech.
The same has been true for many of my experiences in tech – recognition of the gender gap in artificial intelligence was part of the reason I decided to co-found Allgirlithm with two other Stanford AI4All alumni. It is an organization dedicated to making artificial intelligence education more widely accessible to women and underrepresented minorities. (Fun fact: Allgirlithm is a pun on “algorithm,” incorporating “all,” which embodies the organization’s mission of encouraging everyone, especially girls, to try computing.) Since established two years ago, Allgirlithm has steadily expanded its reach through local chapters and workshops, and to date has impacted students in 15 states and five countries outside of the U.S.
A sense of solidarity was one of the most immediately striking elements of this roundtable discussion. Though we all took different paths and presented unique perspectives, our experiences as women in tech brought us together. Most importantly, however, we each had something to contribute and something to take away from the discussion, whether it was inspiration, advice, a shared excitement about the future of artificial intelligence and augmented reality, or a greater appreciation for the women-in-tech community.
About Anne and AiC
Anne Li is a rising high school senior from Little Rock, Arkansas. She first became interested in computer science towards the end of middle school, when she and two friends developed a medical helper desktop app as part of a national, all-girls Computer Science competition; she later ventured into mobile app development, gaining recognition in the Congressional App Challenge. One of her first iOS apps, an allergen checker, was recently published to the App Store, and she is currently working on her second: a trip-planning tool. Aside from app development, Anne is involved in competitive programming — she is a member of her school’s CS team, which recently won a statewide programming contest. And, she develops educational AI materials for Allgirlithm, the tech organization that she co-founded.
Anne is a 2018 National Award for AiC honorable mention, a 2018 Arkansas Affiliate Award winner, a 2017 Arkansas Affiliate Award winner, and a member of the NCWIT AiC Community — an expansive network of more than 11,500 technical women who receive engagement, visibility, and encouragement for their computing-related interests and achievements from peers, volunteers, and NCWIT Alliance member organizations.
AiC is supported by Apple’s lifetime partnership and commitment to change the public perception of who creates technology.