by Renee Esses

In June, WiTNY kicked off the first “Summer Conversation” for this year’s interns. Each week the WiTNY interns come together from various work locations for an intimate conversation with a leader in the tech fields. Our first guest was Katy Kasmai. Katy currently works as a senior engineering program manager at Google. She is also the founder of Team Exponent, an organization that aims to solve the world’s largest problems.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that Katy was so inspiring and relatable. One of my favorite things about Katy was her honesty — hearing her say things along the lines of, “when I started taking computer science classes and working in the field, I hated it. There was no valuable interaction, nobody like me.”

That statement truly resonated with me. The idea of studying computer science only to find myself alone in a cubicle somewhere has always been a fear of mine. But I realized during the talk that, just like Katy, that fear is not an accurate portrait of my future. Katy served as a bold reminder that if you’re motivated, there are so many dynamic opportunities in tech — projects that can make a huge impact in the world.

I learned three more key lessons from Katy throughout her talk:

Embrace Teamwork

As a woman in the field, Katy was able to offer a lot of insight into what it’s like working with (and above) teams of mostly men. Throughout her career, Katy has witnessed many times that people will take advantage of you if you let them. Some people will often try to delegate administrative tasks to women simply because they’re women. But women are just as capable and valuable as men, and our ideas matter. Don’t be afraid to say no. Sometimes, you have to stick up for yourself in order to gain respect from your teammates.

Learn Confidence

Of course, a key factor in gaining respect from others is having confidence in yourself. If you portray your ideas with confidence, people will believe you. For many of us, however, this isn’t easy. Katy, a natural introvert, forced herself to attend meet ups in the tech field to connect with others. She had to become comfortable speaking to others, as English is not her first language. She forced herself to get out and learn both the technical skills and the personal skills that she is now passing on to others.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

With Team Exponent, Katy is encouraging others to think exponentially and come up with potential solutions to the greatest problems facing humanity. When asked if you should first try to be “qualified” or trained in the problem you’re trying to solve, Katy responded that sometimes it’s better to just jump right in. You’d be surprised by the solutions that young kids can come up with to problems they barely know anything about. Creativity is often just as important as the background knowledge that you can learn as you go. So don’t be afraid that you don’t know enough. Failing is part of the process.

We all left the conversation feeling empowered, like we as women can belong in this field, and together, we can make a difference. We were honored to have Katy Kasmai come speak with us and answer all our questions, and we look forward to the rest of the summer conversation series.

I earned my BS degree in multimedia computing from Macaulay Honors at CUNY Brooklyn College. This Fall I will be pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at Cornell Tech, and I am honored and excited to be receiving a generous WiTNY scholarship. I also now have a WiTNY summer internship doing research at Cornell Tech, providing me not only with work experience, but with the opportunity to meet a community of interns who are female CUNY students just like me.

Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) is a new initiative between Cornell Tech and CUNY that is aimed at facilitating, encouraging, and enabling a significant increase in the participation of women in the tech fields in New York.

Some ways WiTNY is going about this is by offering financial scholarships and paid internships, as well as facilitating opportunities for young women in tech to connect with each other. This allows the women involved to create a community with each other, learn from interesting professionals in the tech fields, gain some real world experience working for WiTNY’s partner companies, and expand their education without having to worry about financing it.