“I knew I wanted to be part of a small team,” she said. “And I knew I wanted to be working with super smart people.” The quest led her to Stripe, the buzzy payment startup that boasts some of the original PayPal Mafia as backers. Last fall, acting as both lead engineer and product manager, Feng launched the Stripe Connect API, featuring tools for merchants to enable payments and for users to export and share their data. It works with apps like Shopify, which is like an all-in-one desktop publishing tool for online shopkeepers.
Feng’s love of code goes back to her dad, a software engineer who got her started with the basics of HTML and CSS in middle school. She took every computer science classe offered at Homestead High School, Steve Jobs’s alma mater in Cupertino. At Berkeley, she co-created a class teaching fellow undergrads the nuts and bolts of web design, something not covered by the theoretically oriented CS department. In its final year, the course had 300 applicants for 40 spots. At the beginning, “I didn’t know anyone else who was a woman who did this,” she says.
Now that she’s in a highly technical engineering role at a fast-growing company, Feng has turned her thoughts to the practices that are most and least likely to attract other talented women to the CS in general and to startups in particular.
At Stripe, “We do want to have a diverse team. We make a large effort to keep our eyes open and do active outreach,” Feng says. “I think in terms of being able to hire women, our culture has played a large part in that. As a woman engineer myself, I’m very turned off if, when I’m interviewing, it’s very bro-y.” Without naming names, she says that even some job postings, when they’re packed with bro-y terms like “epic,” can turn women off.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but women engineers are people, too, and they tend to prefer especially people-friendly places to work (something that Etsy, for one, has also stressed). “Stripe’s culture is very upbeat, open, and transparent. Our hierarchy is very flat. It’s not elitist,” she says, citing policies like CC’ing emails cross-team, and bringing any engineer who signs up along to board meetings.
Long-term, she sees beginner-friendly online resources like Codecademy, as well as meetups and networking groups, as helpful resources to attract more interested women to the field. “If you’re a beginner, it can be really intimidating to learn. Getting comfortable with concepts anonymously, online and through blogs, can really help.”
[Image made with a photo by paulo-barcelos on Flickr]