Driscoll

A recent EphBlog post reviewed “Lean Out,” the book by Elissa Shevinsky ’01 that is currently burnishing her reputation as one of the tech industries’ feminist thought leaders.

Shevinsky’s career has taken her through stops around the world, including New York, Tel Aviv, and Silicon Valley, and she presently maintains an itinerant existence with a number of home bases. Since this is EphBlog, we’re as interested in her time at Williams as we are in where she is now, and one of her own essays in “Lean Out,” titled, “The Pipeline Isn’t the Problem,” delivers on that subject.

The first part of “Pipeline” recounts key elements of Shevinsky’s career: from her first startup job, at Williams-incubated eZiba.com to her most recent product, Glimpse (an online dating app designed for women, by women). Then, she tells the story of her real introduction to tech as a freshman at Williams:

It was 1997 and I was taking CSCI 105: “The Web: Technologies and Techniques,” the Computer Science department’s most introductory class. It seemed like a lightweight way for a humanities major like me to fulfill the college’s science requirement.

Let’s hear it for divisional requirements — they’re not just how we turn biology majors into museum directors!

Led by Professor Tom Murtagh, the class covered the architecture of the Internet, along with html and Java programming. My teaching assistants were nerdy white guys (who I totally admired) but the class was mostly gender balanced. In 1997 we didn’t know that programming was for boys.

Computer Science 105 was more challenging than I had anticipated . . . I was so frustrated that a program could work on my machine and not work correctly on my website. At one point, the teaching assistant was confused as well! I’ve since learned that frustration is a basic part of software development. The best developers are persistent as well as smart, and simply don’t stop until the code works. Sometimes it takes days or weeks. At the time, I just thought that I didn’t have an aptitude for programming. But Professor Murtagh (aka “Tom”) was a warm and easy-going professor and the class was incredibly fun.

With Professors Danyluk and Bruce, “Tom” would go on to publish the valuable “Java: An Eventful Approach,” an influential redesign of curriculum structure for teaching Java.

Nerds were so uncool at Williams College that the section of campus where we lived was known as “The Odd Quad.” … We would get together on Wednesday nights for hot cocoa spiked with liquor, and play “Magic: The Gathering.” It was a gender balanced group. Actually, it was nearly equally men and women… My college memories are mostly of hanging out with this group of wonderful nerdy gamer coders. This included some college grads who were working at Tripod.

The Williams students choosing in the late 90s to live in row houses instead of Prospect might have chosen differently, if they’d known the opportunities on which they were missing out:

I got internships and job offers everywhere that I applied, ultimately working for Ethan Zuckerman [’93]’s startup Geekcorps… I remember being offered a programming job at twenty-one. I would have had to drop out of school, which wasn’t that interesting to me at the time. I turned the job down.

Probably a wise choice, given how her career – and her new book – have turned out. In a recent interview, she brushed off credit for the high caliber of her publishing debut:
“I was definitely really new to making books,” praising her editor as incredibly helpful in turning out a polished final product. Still, she acknowledges, “I had an intuition for what would be a good book,” and reading “Lean Out,” it’s hard to resist crediting her (and her Williams education) for the result.

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