Cal Poly, Sans Luis Obispo – Major, Business Administration with Marketing Emphasis; Minor, Graphic Communication
Vanessa Slavich likes to tackle her life with eyes wide open.
After spending her senior year studying abroad in Copenhagen, Vanessa realized, “The world was big, and I needed to go see it.” So, after coming back home to the States, she was itching to leave again. This time that itch took her to London for a year. Through a work abroad opportunity she discovered before graduating, Vanessa was placed at Deutsche Bank.
With little job flexibility, the world of financial banking proved to be less than the kind of fit Vanessa was. After coming back to the States again she heard about a job opportunity at Apple through an old college friend. Vanessa worked at Apple in recruiting for iOS for nearly two years before an opportunity opened up at her current company, Square.
“My boss had left for Square and pinged me saying I should check out the company,” Vanessa says. “I did and they were doing something cool I wanted to be a part of.”
Now as diversity and inclusion manager at Square, Vanessa oversees Code Camp, a program that helps women learn more about computer science and has helped more than 100 women to date.
When she’s not working on her mission to get more women involved in CS, you can find her on her bike (a love she found while studying abroad) or training for her next triathlon.
Women can definitely be advocates for other women. That’s something I think we are learning to do a lot better.
What is the culture at Square like?
Square is very entrepreneurial, so that's the coolest thing. I came to Square from a big company where everything was set and structured. During my first day at Square I asked my co-worker in human resources about the company’s process for offer letters and hiring candidates. She said it was up to me, so in my second week at the company I started the orientation process, which we called Square One.
I had a similar experience when starting Code Camp. We wanted to do this college program, and then we got a budget so we thought, “ Let’s do it!” That spirit exists across the company.
What was the inspiration for Code Camp?
We saw the need to get more women in technology, which is an issue across the whole industry. So, we started brainstorming about how we could inspire and engage the next generation of women in technology.
We piloted the program in January 2013 after coming up with the concept of doing a Code Camp where we would bring 20 women in computer science to our office for an in-house, five-day immersion program focusing on leadership, technical skills and community building.
As we got more and more involved in Code Camp we thought, “Well, we have to keep women in computer science. That's the goal of the college program.” Then we started wondering, “How can we get more women into computer science and engineering in the first place?”
We looked to high school and started doing research in San Francisco and around the country. During one panel with our interns we found out all of them had taken AP Computer Science, and we realized that there must be some sort of correlation between taking that class and going into the field as a career. We then found that only a couple of schools offered the advanced class in San Francisco – right in our backyard. It was surprising!
So, one year after launching the Code Camp college program, we launched a high school program.
Are there any particular stories of Code Campers that stand out in your mind?
Two Code Campers from different generations of the program attend Scripps College (a Claremont School), which is an all-women’s college. Their school had no computer science classes – zero. So, the girls were taking classes at the other Claremont schools. So, while they have access, by going to another campus it’s just one more barrier to get women involved. Last fall we had a call and discussed launching a new club called Code Literacy.
Code Literacy is based around this idea that coding is like a foreign language. And, like French or Spanish, coding is a language that helps you think in another way. It develops another skill. If you’re not at least becoming literate with coding, you’re being left behind. I’m not saying everyone has to be a computer science major, but it’s important to learn coding so you can begin to think in a new way.
With all the work you do to help others, how do you manage to find time for yourself?
I fell in love with triathlons when I was at Apple. I’ve done probably 15 and then one Ironman last May in Brazil. It took me 12 hours, but I finished, and in a Superwoman costume, too!
I’ve gotten more and more involved in triathlons. What I love about it is how it teaches me discipline and scheduling. If I want to get my workouts in, then that means I have to leave something early or go to bed. It also helps me prioritize and I ask myself questions like, “Is this event really that important? Can I send someone else? Can I go next time?”
Being really diligent about things like this help me squeeze everything into my week that I want to get into it, and for me, that’s a lot of workouts, but I also need sleep and to work!
What advice do you have for other women who want a job like yours?
Start meeting people. There’s an organization called Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. Almost every tech company in the area hosts them, including Square. It’s an opportunity to mix and mingle over dinner with people from all different companies. It also features tech and inspirational talks. They have Girl Geek dinners in other parts of the country, too. I’d also suggest meetups and attending conferences where there are all of these epicenters for networking.
Women can definitely be advocates for other women. That’s something I think we are learning to do a lot better. And as we take over more and more of these organizations we can support one another in the process.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I would hope that diversity in tech is no longer a problem and that I can be an engineer myself.