Ain’t We a Start-up?

If you’ve never read Sojourner Truth’s wonderful speech, “Aint I a Woman” given at the Women’s Convention in 1851, you have missed out. Here is my favorite part:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Sometimes when I hear talk about bro-grammers and the sexist tech culture and what you have to do to fit in, like this sad post I just read about sexual assault at a tech conference, or the fiasco at Tech Crunch which led to this in the comments (I swear to God I am not making this up!)

” I go to tech conferences. I expect that no one is going to get on stage and pretend to masturbate.”


I think,

And aint we a start-up?

We have no bro-grammers. Some of us in the company drink but the closest we ever got to body shots was when my sister-in-law brought jello shots to the party on Christmas Eve. They were very tasty, too. I founded 7 Generation Games and when I needed someone to share the development work and someone to take charge of marketing and I could not afford market rates for either one, I offered Maria Burns Ortiz (our Chief Marketing Officer) and Dennis (who does all the 3-D programming), each a share of the business as well as a salary.

We go to conferences often in our various fields, statistics, mathematics education, ed tech, Native American education. We used to go to start-up meet-ups but we didn’t actually meet too many other developers, mostly people looking for developers.

Yes, there is sexism in the tech industry. Since I honest-to-God programmed with punched cards using Fortran 77 when it was new, I’ve seen plenty of sexism. It used to be more explicit, like when I was told that I wasn’t going to get a job because, “We had a woman engineer once and it didn’t work out.” (I actually ended up getting that job and the guy who said that later admitted he was wrong. Story for another time.)

Now sexism is more subtle. The meet-ups I attended, people just assumed I was in sales or marketing. It’s amusing to see people’s eyes slide right over me and notice some 19-year-old guy, then go talk to him about programming. It’s amusing because I don’t need their money. If I did, I’m sure it would be infuriating, but it would still be a good litmus test of people I don’t want to work with.

Still, we’ve made it this far without venture capital funding. Successful Kickstarter campaign, beta test completed with $100,000 in seed money. Started on Phase II, funding for the next two years of development already in the bank, beginning to see revenue. We do work a LOT of hours, but the work hard, play hard mantra doesn’t describe us too well. We don’t hit the bars after working 80 hour weeks. We did go wine-tasting for a couple of days up near our youngest daughter’s school, when the doctor said I should take a couple of days off work and rest my elbow.

Oh, yeah, that whole thing about being young, single and spending your life at the office? I’ll admit that we work a lot – I’m writing this post near 1 a.m. , waiting for the updated installer I just created for Spirit Lake: The Game to upload to the server. We needed modifications for Maria, who is giving out licenses as part of our sponsorship of the Ed Tech Camp in Minneapolis. While she was flying to Minnesota, I was flying back from Oregon, which is why I’m updating the game files at this hour.

Maria and childrenOn the other hand, Dennis and I have four children. The youngest is a sophomore in high school.

Maria has two children, the older one is in kindergarten.


And aint we a start-up?

I suspect that there are more like us than people suspect, at all different stages.

We’ve been around for a couple of years. Our friends over at Moblish just started this year, with a fellowship at Stanford. I know for a fact that the last wild event they attended was a concert by The Wiggles. (If you are not familiar with The Wiggles, you do not have a child under age six. Also, count your blessings and your ear drums thank you.)

My point, and I do have one, is that perhaps if start-ups like ours were a little louder about THEIR start-up culture we wouldn’t think of some of the travesties that have occurred lately as business as usual.