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5 questions with HDC keynote Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack

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Author, consultant and entrepreneur Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack will be the keynote speaker at this year’s HDC conference on September 7-9. She is co-founder and CEO of Fizzmint and the author of Women In Tech. SPN caught up with Wheeler Van Vlack last week over the phone.

SPN: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as co-founder of Fizzmint?

TWVV: I think anyone who starts a startup sees that there’s a market need. I learned that one of the greatest parts of being a startup founder is the humility that comes from tackling all the problems nobody told you about before. There’s a lot of joy bringing something into the world that people haven’t been able to do.

Second, in terms of personal growth, there’s nothing like being the CEO of a startup to make you take a long hard look at yourself to figure out who and what you are.

SPN: You often talk about security issues. For a startup that’s strapped for cash with a very small team, what’s your best advice for them when it comes to security?

TWVV: My best advice is to find someone on your team who is going to champion security issues that are implicit in what you are creating. For Fizzmint, we were protecting personal information and we felt a personal responsibility to make sure that personal information was safe. Start will feeling the responsibility for the information and take the next logical step from there.

SPN: In a lot of your work, you’re helping tech professionals navigate the social side of their careers. Is that a unique challenge for people in the tech?

TWVV: I found there was a disconnect between really amazing successful women and their ability to demonstrate that to people they were interviewing with. The reason I got into so much work with diversity and technology was that I was seeing the expectation [from hiring managers] for a very brash, arrogant style when interviewing programmers and developers. There’s education to be done from both sides.

SPN: There’s been a lot of discouraging news lately for women being attacked online when they are explicitly or implicitly identifying themselves as feminists. Where’s the good news about women in tech?

TWVV: I think the good news is that more and more attention is being paid to this issue. I’ve certainly had my fair share of being attacked on the Internet. The good news is that we’re starting to talk more openly about what is the cause of the problem. Typically, women who have been experiencing these issues have felt very alone.

SPN: What’s your best advice for a developer who’s been a developer for a long time but wants to become a leader?

TWVV: The best advice I have to anybody who wants to from engineering to leadership is to understand that the people that surround you now become the way that you develop software. You no longer lay your hands on code everyday. Instead it’s about maintaining the relationships with the people who are making the software. Your technical knowledge is the backup and credibility that you have.

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