Succeeding in Silicon Valley

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Insights from Digital Diversity Network’s Night at the Tech Museum

“No one cares about your career, but you.”

With this statement, Ken Coleman, Chairman, Saama Technologies, advised attendees of DDN’s “Succeeding in Silicon Valley” event to “take charge of their own careers by asking the tough questions (e.g., “Why was I not considered?”); and making it easy for your boss to give you negative feedback. You need to hear it in order to be promoted and to be successful. Your only job security is your reputation and your skills.”

More than 150 people from companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, PayPal Salesforce.com, Wells Fargo, and the Black Chamber of Silicon Valley–as well as a host of entrepreneurs–were on hand for the networking reception and conversations on Thursday, October 9, 2014 at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California.

Given the recent spate of media attention to the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, the DDN event was focused on providing solutions and a view from diverse leaders who have cracked the Silicon ceiling and/or are opening the pipeline for people of color and women.   They shared insights from their personal career experiences and offered advice for getting in, getting connected and getting ahead in Silicon Valley.

Coleman, an iconic advisor and mentor in Silicon Valley, was featured in a one-on-one conversation with Michelle Fisher, Founder & CEO, Blaze Mobile and a DDN board director, during the opening segment of the event program, which also included a panel discussion with diverse tech executives who are leaders within their organizations.

Prior to founding Saama Technologies, a pure-play data and analytics services and solutions company focused on solving the business insight challenges of the world’s leading brands, Coleman’s storied career in Silicon Valley included stints with ITM Software, Silicon Graphics (SGI), Activision and Hewlett Packard. He also currently serves as a special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz and advises Pinterest. Ken is a member of the board of directors of AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah Insurance Exchange, City National Bank, United Online and Entertainment Partners. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Ohio State University Business School.

While maintaining that “there is a little bit of crazy in shifting to entrepreneurship”, he advised those who are starting their own businesses to “remember who pays the bills. It’s the customers. Above all else, you have to take care of the customers.”

The panel discussion was moderated by Mark Horn, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Telecom, Media & Technology (TMT) Practice, and included: Laura Gomez, Co-founder, Vyv; Monica Pool Knox, Sr. Director, HR, CBS Interactive; Brian Patterson, Partner, Business Attorney, Gunderson Dettmer, LLP; Tyler Scriven, Chief of Staff & Head of Corporate Development, Palantir Technologies; Laurence “Lo” Toney, Partner, Comcast Ventures; and Robin Washington, EVP &CFO, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Following a brief overview of some of the recently released Silicon Valley workforce demographic data, the panel cited some of the reasons for the lack of tech industry diversity and made suggestions for addressing the issue . Among them were:

  • A lot of tech companies think they are diverse because they are global. If you peel back the onion on some of the recently released diversity numbers and look at job levels and functions, the numbers are probably even more startling.
  • The tech industry had been given a pass on diversity until someone (i.e., Jesse Jackson) shone a media spotlight on the issue.
  • Having a better understanding of the customer will be the impetus for driving tech diversity.
  • Adversarial approaches to driving diversity will not motivate a community of innovators.

Key career advice from our panelists included:

  • “Be a continuous learner. Take a risk and try something different. Ask for help. Manage your brand.” — Robin Washington
  • “Use your social capital. Network! Other entrepreneurs are your best allies.” — Laura Gomez
  • “If you are interested in working for a company, use their product. Companies like to know that you use the product.” — Laurence “Lo” Toney
  • “Believe in yourself, regardless of what is going on around you. Find your path within the organization.” — Brian Patterson
  • “Seek the truth in yourself and your work environment.” – Tyler Scriven
  • “Use your difference to your advantage. You might be the only one, but you will stand out.” — Monica Pool Knox