Surprisingly, it is quite difficult to find a role model in tech who is a regular person. The only real people who have visibility are already famous and have a ton of money to do whatever they please. I am just another newbie trying to make it out here. I find that the prominent female leaders in my immediate view are white women who don’t actually have to deal with how startup life can be for women. Sure, many women look up to the Marissa Meyers and Sheryl Sandbergs of this world, but I cannot actually relate to them. I struggle with the idea of being a good mom and equally professionally successful in the future. I just don’t have the privilege they do. They don’t know what it’s like to work for a small company trying to make it. They don’t know what it is like for normal women to afford living here.
How I see it, most of the titans of the industry are not real role models. Take Steve Jobs for example. If I treated my employees like he did, no one would work for me. Sure, he was brilliant, but it doesn’t mean he was a real role model. He was an icon, immortalized by the products he created. I am not just looking for a role model that is successful. I am looking for a role model with character. The kind of character that helps make the world a better place and inspires the people around them to be their best. There are some people I know working on projects that help the greater good, and they have my complete admiration.
Recently, I have been finding inspirational people everywhere I look, who aren’t tech giants, but just regular people. On my way to a company event two weeks ago, I had an Uber driver who exemplified what I am talking about. A homeless woman was standing at his window asking for money. He rolled down his window, grabbed a water bottle and said, “I am sorry I have no money, but please take this water.” This guy, who I don’t even know, cared enough about people that he was willing to give something, as he was trying to make a living for himself. In that moment, I looked up to him.
There are plenty of people doing great things in this city, like teaching kids how to read, or working to clothe the homeless or fighting to make sure people have a place to live. These people are some of the most undervalued in our microcosm of a society. While all the tech founders are writing on Medium about “How I launched my startup,” or “10 things you need to do when pivoting,” there are people saving lives and bettering the lives of others.
I am not saying that everyone in tech is unconcerned about the world around them. I have written quite a bit about giving back, however you can, whether it is money, or food, or donating your time. But the sad part about all of this is that these places do not have enough volunteers, money or recognition. They hang in the balance of needing government assistance or being shut down. It is an honest reality that no one wants to face. Rather, we lock ourselves in the renovated warehouses in SoMa, or the cushy campuses of Menlo Park.
Not everyone can be Larry Ellison or Bill Gates. It takes a lot of money and a lot of power to be able to build your own personal charities. While I would like to say that some of you have the potential to be one of the greats, there is a 99 percent chance you won’t. So, be a role model for others. Lead by example and do the right thing. Because if you don’t, I don’t know who else will.
With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.