It’s no secret that there is a lack of women in tech; but Product Management grad, Mia Otte, always wondered if a “room full of women could talk about something other than the lack of women in tech for more than 5 minutes.” To test her theory, Mia started Techfest Club, a monthly event hosted by General Assembly where female professionals in the tech industry come to network and talk tech.
1. What were you doing before taking a course at GA?
I was (and still am) a product manager at Ann Inc., working on the e-commerce sites for AnnTaylor.com and LOFT.com.
2. What brought you to our campus?
Coming from a design background, I was never formally trained in product management and I wanted to prepare myself with the tools to be a great product manager.
3. Tell me about Techfest Club.
Techfest Club is a meetup for women in tech. Each session includes one speaker or panel that focuses on one aspect of the tech industry. The women who attend leave having learned something new and met some cool new people in the same industry.
Topics have included user experience design, product development, navigating change, storytelling, and we’ve got some exciting topics coming later this summer and fall!
4. Have you always wanted to start your own business endeavor?
Not necessarily. I’ve always enjoyed being an organizer and a leader, so I’ve had a lot of fun. Techfest Club uses a different part of my personality and brain than my day job at Ann Inc. I was looking for an outlet for that energy so I’m happy I was able to get Techfest Club off to a flying start this year.
5. Where did you inspiration for the event stem from?
I wanted to introduce some of my girlfriends who work in tech to create a knowledge share, plus I thought they’d all like one another. I began planning a monthly brunch and intended to invite a guest of honor to each session to share their experiences and advice.
At the time I was also attending tech conferences and found I was consistently disappointed in the format – the content was frequently irrelevant or too introductory, and the events too long or too expensive.
I combined the breakfast idea with the gap I saw in tech events and created Techfest Club. I was sick of the “there are so women in tech” discussion, so I set out to create a place to learn, build a community, and provide events that are accessible to the busy women of NYC.
6. How do you spread the word about your event?
On a practical level, I send email blasts to my email list and group on Meetup.com. Techfest Club is also listed on General Assembly’s events page each month.
However, the most exciting promotion requires no effort on my part at all, and that’s word of mouth. The women in tech community is thriving in New York and I find the fact that women are not only participating in the events but are actively building the community themselves very inspiring.
7. Since launching, have there been any challenges that you didn’t expect?
Finding great content for the talks is always top of mind for me because it’s the reason everyone is coming. It’s my job to make sure the time these women are taking out of their day to attend is worth it!
I’ve had the pleasure to bring in some amazing speakers so far. I’m always listening for what people want to hear about and on the lookout for people doing interesting people in the tech world who may be good speakers.
8. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself?
Turns out, I love networking! I wouldn’t have called myself a “networker” before I started working on Techfest Club because I considered networking to be something of a dirty word (read: schmoozing).
Once I was committed to making Techfest Club happen, I needed to find speakers and spread the word to attendees, so networking became a job requirement. I started out by going to some events at GA and then branching out to anything I could find. It’s second nature now and I really enjoy it.
9. Any advice for aspiring event organizers?
Don’t waste time thinking of reasons not to pursue your project; think of how you’ll feel in five years if all you have is a memory of an idea you never acted on. I continually pictured that future when I realized I had been talking about starting Techfest Club for a few weeks but hadn’t taken a real first step. I knew I would regret not doing it, so I dove in and sent the first emails to get it going. Sometimes an email or a phone call is all it takes to start.
10. Events can be unpredictable at times. Any fun stories you can share with us?
At our second event we had a surprise guest in the form of a sweet little bulldog who wandered into the session halfway through. At first, all we heard was snorting and the speaker paused and looked over and this roly-poly little guy ambled in. Just saying “hi!”
11. What’s your guilty pleasure?
You should never feel guilty about things you enjoy – live it up!
Sound interesting? RSVP to the Techfest Club’s next event on August 21, 2014.
Brianna Plaza is a Digital Marketing graduate. She now works on General Assembly’s content marketing team.