Top 50 Women in Technology
running a traditional survey.” People use SurveyMonkey for event planning, quizzes and tests, HR feedback – any place where you need to gather structured data, she explains. “The fact that our customers feel comfortable enough to create all these different ways to use the product is a testament to the simplicity and friendliness of the tool. That’s what sets us apart,” she comments.
Competition for Talent Hiring people has been the main challenge in her role, as “competition for talent is tough in Silicon Valley. And, we’re not looking for just anybody. We’re looking for people that are a good fit for the team at-large. This means finding someone that has both start-up and big company experience so they understand how to scale a business. It’s pretty hard to find.” At SurveyMonkey, almost half of its executive team is female. However, this is not the norm, she says. “If you look at the numbers, there hasn’t been much change in terms of women going into computer science. Actually, the percentage of women graduating with a computer science degree has decreased in the past 15 years.” A change she has witnessed is women technology leaders encouraging more women to join the field and programs helping women get into tech. One example is Hackbright Academy, where they take very talented, smart women and put them in a 10-week intensive computer science program. “We’ve hired a few of their recent graduates, and we’ve sent an employee to take the course. They’re fantastic,” she says. The challenge that the technology sector faces in encouraging and employing more women is, at its core, a pipeline challenge, she believes. “With fewer and fewer women getting a degree in engineering and computer science, we have fewer women entering the ecosystem and even fewer in leadership positions,” she comments. Tobaccowala believes we have to start encouraging girls early and at a young age to get interested in engineering. “We need to develop their spacial skills and problem-solving abilities. I was
programming at the age of eight or nine because my father encouraged it. It made a difference in my life,” she reveals.
Women in Leadership Asked whether women bring different styles of leadership, she says every person brings a different style of leadership to the table. “I do think there are some skills that come more naturally to women. One big advantage that women bring to the table is much better communication skills, and the ability to have a social read on people. As a manager, that becomes really important in terms of
“When I started, SurveyMonkey was only in English and could only accept US dollars. Now, we have sites in 14 different languages, accept 29 currencies and offer customers the ability to create surveys in over 55 different languages.”
understanding people, what motivates them, and also being able to communicate effectively across an organization.” On her role models, she describes her father as “a close friend and mentor to me. I talk to him every day. He started as a punch-card programmer at EDS and made technology a part of our household. We had a computer at home before we had a television.” “My father has always helped me focus on the big picture. When I was still in college working on Evite, I remember talking to my Dad about all the companies recruiting on campus. I asked him if I was crazy to pursue this start-up idea and not take a job at one of the companies. “My Dad listened and asked, ‘Are you excited about what you’re doing? Do you have any reason not to take a risk right now?” When I said no, he encouraged me to put my ‘whole heart into the start-up and work on it completely and fully.’” “I hope someday to be able to give my children such sound advice,” she adds. Silicon Valley Global | 97
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