Tina Lee is the founder of MotherCoders, which is expanding the tech talent pool by helping women with kids gain the skills, knowledge, and connections they need to thrive in today's digital economy. You can follow Tina on Twitter and MotherCoders on Twitter and Facebook. Photo credit: Cheshire Isaacs.
1. What first inspired you to learn how to code?
I first dabbled in coding as a management consultant at Accenture. However, I wasn’t inspired to do it until I got to Stanford for grad school, where I did a program called Learning, Design and Technology. We made a lot of prototypes and all my classmates were doing it, so I started tinkering again.
2. How do you balance all the different commitments of life, between being a mom, wife and tech founder?
It’s tough to do ALL.THE.THINGS. So I don’t. Like many other moms, I often feel like I’m not doing anything well -- or as well as I’d like. That’s normal because our culture tells women we have to perfect. As Debora Spar, the President of Barnard said, “"You have to keep house like Martha Stewart, parent like Donna Reed, work like Sheryl Sandberg, and look like Jennifer Anniston. That’s nuts. We all know it’s nuts, and yet it’s hard to break away from those cultural expectations." So, I do my best on most days, keeping things in perspective and my eye on the long game: living a meaningful life with my little family in the center, and solving problems that help make this world a better place.
This requires me to do some stuff regularly: talk to my therapist, practice self-reflection, hold life strategy sessions with my husband and close friends, and stay healthy with diet and exercise. (I’m fanatical about none of this, by the way.)
I’m also lucky in that I have a great partner in life who’s a fantastic spouse and co-parent. His support enables us to work together as a team, and my career is as important to him as his is to me.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m actually an extroverted introvert, so now I’m way more intentional about what I say yes to.
3. What challenge are you most proud of accomplishing these past 4 years building Mother Coders?
First, we’re still here doing what we set out to do -- helping moms develop the skills, knowledge, and network capital they need to move into technical roles! We’ve also expanded the diversity and inclusion conversation in tech to include mothers. We’re really heartened by new organizations with similar missions that have cropped up, such as Path Forward, Moms Can: Code, and Moms In Tech.
4. What advice would you give to fellow moms who are looking to start their own tech company?
First, don’t start a nonprofit (serious) unless you know FOR SURE there’s market failure. In terms of finding a problem to focus on and, invariably, product/market fit, talk to as many people as you can about the problem you’re trying to solve with your product/service before building anything. Get a handle on the problem space by doing your market research, talking to experts, and showing a paper prototype to potential users (I recommend at least 10 to start). Refine and repeat as many times as necessary until you get to a place where you have an MVP with paying customers. My recommendation is always to get obsessed with the problem, not the solution. As a parent, this likely means your project will be a side hustle until you can monetize it.
Also, develop your network of support -- family, friends, other entrepreneurs, etc. Entrepreneurship is a tough road with lots of high and lows (mostly lows, tbh), which is why 90% of startups fail. While I’m not trying to be a killjoy, I want other moms to know that you’re probably going to have to slog through a lot of uncertainty, financial and otherwise, plus the barriers to getting capital for women founders are still high. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it; just plan for it.
Last tip: Up your technical chops and build the product yourself because finding a technical co-founder will be really hard.
5. What is the most important thing you hope your 2 daughters learn as they continue to watch you over the next couple years?
My daughters are still very young, 4 and 6, so right now my husband and I are mainly focused on showing them by example what it means to be strong, kind, brave, and hardworking. Life is messy, so all we can do is raise them to be creative, emotionally intelligent (we have a deck of cards for talking about feelings), resourceful, and resilient. We talk about how life is sometimes unfair and success isn’t guaranteed, even when you work really hard, but that we’ll love, respect, and support them unconditionally no matter what happens. Even in a best case scenario, we know the world is going to tear them down with a lifetime of little cuts for being women of color, so all we can do is help them develop strong critical thinking skills, the guts to stand up for what they believe in, and the confidence to trust their own voice, strength, and intuition.