What Do NASDAQ and Cosmo Have in Common?

12 Dec 2015

New York
What Do NASDAQ and Cosmo Have in Common?

Every company is a tech company. Do you use email? Do you use social media? Do you look at customer data? Do you have machines and other automated systems that do work that humans used to have to? Yep, you work in a tech company.  Do you have the right tools in your toolbelt to succeed?

Surreal much? Speaking at NASDAQ on the importance of tech literacy

I attended two extraordinary events in one day recently and learned some very important lessons from both.

First up was kicking off Computer Science Week at NASDAQ with an Hour of Code event. I spoke to an audience of business leaders, press and students about the importance of tech literacy in the classroom. Back in the day where we lived in tribes, she or he who knew how to read had a superpower and emerged at tribe leader because they could read messages passed from one tribe to another.  This is still true today. She or he is tech who is tech literate will emerge as tribe leader, because they will be able to understand how to do things better, faster and cheaper than ever before.

I met many students, ages 6-17. They had all been coding for two or more years.They weren’t approaching the two games (Minecraft and Star Wars) with newness and wonder.

Leo hacked the Star Wars game and got it to crash in 20 minutes. Someone hire this kid!

They were approaching them with confidence and even some fun attitude! For example, six year old Leo was like, “Who needs an hour for this? I was able to finish and even crash the game by adding a 100 new character in 20 minutes.”

It was incredible to see the difference between these students and many I’ve seen in the past who have never been exposed to computer science before (like me at their age!) who are usually afraid to even start.  Their confidence in being able to solve a brand new problem using the logical thought process they had learned through coding was astounding. As one young woman pointed out to me, “Coding helps me think in different ways. Now when I can’t figure out a social studies problem, I think of it like a coding problem: figure out what I’m trying to do, break the problem into individual small ones, solve them all and make sure they all fit together.”

I realized during this event the power of what Code.org is doing. They aren’t just teaching computer science in the classroom, they are teaching confidence and modern thinking ability.

Power Women Unite! Katie Couric and Julie Larson-Green, the Chief Experiences Office at Microsoft talking Women in Tech

Computer Science doesn’t care where you come from or who your parents are. Code.org is leveling the playing field, one classroom at a time by teaching this new “superpower” that absolutely should be taught in every classroom.

In contrast, the next event I went to was Joanna Coles’ Cosmo 100 Influential Women’s Power Lunch.  This is a yearly event that Joanna throws to bring together women in media, fashion, publishing, design, politics and this year, tech.  Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experiences Office at Microsoft was the belle of the ball giving away gifts and being a stunning fashionista as always.

Eva Chen of Instagram, Stella Bugbee of The Cut and Laverne Cox of Orange in the New Black

I was a happy peon, star-struck by being in the same room with so many women I’ve admired for years.  I mean, we all grew up with DJ Tanner and Katie Couric!  It was pretty incredible watching deals being made, guest appearances being planned and relationships being formed in a series of frenzied conversations.

I had a chance to meet one of my heroes, the great Rebecca Minkoff, the first mainstream fashion designer to embrace tech in her fashion line and stores with phone charging handbags and virtual dressing room mirrors.

Candace Cameron Bure--host on The View. Will always be childhood role model DJ Tanner!

Also, it was a pleasure to meet Eva Chen, who earlier this year joined a tech company! She made the move from being Editor-in-Chief of Lucky Magazine to being the Head of Fashion Partnerships at Instagram.

When I introduced myself to these amazing women, a look of surprise passed over every single one of their faces. “Oh, you’re a smart girl!” I heard once. “You definitely do not look like an engineer,” I heard many, many times. “I could never do what you do,” I heard most of all.

I realized how strange it was to hear these incredibly accomplished women who lead business, news networks, fashion houses, publishing houses, magazine groups and political parties say they were…intimidated by tech, something the kids from earlier in the day thought was fun and easy.

And simply because of lack of exposure. These women solve some of the world’s biggest problems every day, yet, they felt that it was “too late” for them to become tech literate.

Me with Courtney Kemp Agboh, host of STARZ Power and Janet Mock, host of MSNBC.

It’s never too late to become tech literate. Tech changes so fast that what I learned in college many years ago is no longer relevant. In fact the people graduating college today are more up-to-date with tech than anyone in my generation.  We constantly have to be learning to stay relevant.  This morning as I wrote this article, I was learning about Flarum, an open source forum software for a project I’m doing at work.  My skill is not knowing every single tech tool out there, it’s being able to quickly analyze one to see if it suits my needs and what I need to learn to use it.

With Karen Fondu, President of L'Oreal Paris

It’s so critical for business leaders to understand how to do certain business critical things more easily: how do you scale your online business to more customers? How do you collect customer data and use it to create new things and experiences?

How can we automate old, manual processes and kill off mind-numbing work?

If I have one goal after the Cosmo lunch, it was to make clear to business leaders that you do not need to “make” tech to be tech literate. You do not need to become a coder to use tech to make your business and life better. Just like you don’t need to write books to be literate.

That's not Tilda Swinton! With the great Joanna Coles. Hostess and Partythower Extraordinaire.

And most of all, it’s definitely not too late to become tech literate.

Joanna Coles immediately got it. She asked me to come and teach her how to start. This is why she has been a relevant business leader for over 30 years while reinventing herself several times. I realize that if Joanna gets it, she will make sure her millions of readers will too. I will be continuing my quest to spread this message through various mediums, so please get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

Happy Holidays. May 2016 be the start of tech literacy for all.

Dona Sarkar