Leslie Fishlock is an unrepentant geek and self-declared rabble-rouser who loves nothing more than to disrupt.
Questioning her tactics for getting more women into tech, a smug woman once criticized her for “teaching old ladies how to open PDFs.” She was far off base in terms of what Fishlock and her organization Geek Girl is actually doing, but the 50-year-old founder admits if that’s what it takes to help them understand technology, then she’s all for it.
“She totally missed the concept that if you don’t start somewhere learning how to do things for yourself, you’re never going to get into more advanced fields like aerospace or engineering. Maybe I’m not training astronauts of the future but I certainly am making technology accessible.”
Fishlock got her start in an unconventional field for women, installing antennas on towers and managing frequency coordination for emergency services. From there she moved to tech startups, was involved in the first dotcom bubble in Boston, and has “pretty much seen all sides, up close and personal, as part of operations and externally as an investor.”
Together with her long-time boyfriend, Fishlock relocated to Cape Cod where they launched Genevate, a mid-sized firm developing large scale web apps for clients around the world. After seven years, the couple paired up with friend and client Soren Macbeth to develop the platform that would become StockTwits, the Twitter of choice for traders and investors. Fishlock became Director of Marketing and moved to San Diego where StockTwits is headquartered. But after more than one-and-a-half years, she stepped down to focus her attention more fully on a pot she had brewing on another burner.
Back in 2006, halfway through her tenure as CEO of Genevate, Fishlock came up with an idea to tackle a problem she kept encountering.
“I was so frustrated with all the stories of woe from smart women who didn’t know computer basics and how the internet worked. There was nowhere to ‘send’ them so they could understand it all. No Doctor Who transporter they could enter and come out the other side feeling tech empowered. Of course there are expos, meetups, and events but they cater to the geeks like me. But what about the average wannabe geek girl who wants to ask a question in an environment without feeling silly and getting laughed at by some 19-year-old pimply know-it-all World of Warcraft cretin?”
It started with a one-night workshop on PC and Mac basics, an intro to social media, and the like.
“I figured if 20 people signed up we were doing well considering it was being held in the middle of winter in Hyannis, Cape Cod. But more than 100 women showed up for our Night of Tech and then started asking about a full-day event. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘That’s a lot. I’m running a business. I’m not sure I have time for this.’ But I decided to do it and the next workshop had 200 participants so clearly there was demand for women wanting to do the tech themselves, to take the power back.”
So while running Genevate by day, Fishlock launched Geek Girl together with her extensive network, many of whom volunteered as instructors. The mission was simple: make computer technology accessible to all women (and girls) regardless of age by empowering them through knowledge and skills development.
The hands-on tech conferences grew in size to their present day “mother of all conferences” format (TechCon): 500 participants with 88 workshops ranging from Photoshop and InDesign instruction to building a WordPress site, building your own app, and coding. On the side, there’s even a Sharkette Pitch Tank Fest where founders get the chance to charm a celebrity panel with their ideas.
“Our goal is accelerated learning. A lot of people just don’t have time for an 80-hour class. We want you to take away nuggets of wisdom that you can use in practical terms, be it using online video, doing podcasts, building websites. There is something for everyone, from the newbie who needs hand-holding, to the intermediate self-starter entrepreneur looking for new tools, or the tuned-in ‘code toads’ looking to learn jQuery.”
As Geek Girl grew, Fishlock realized she needed to step in on a full-time basis and left StockTwits in the fall of 2011 to grow her “social experiment” into a fully fledged for-profit social enterprise.
Beyond the TechCon, which continue to expand to new cities, Geek Girl offers tech bootcamps for all ages, levels, and incomes which are developed in partnership with the local community, schools and non-profit organizations trying to get people back on their feet in under-served and under-represented areas. As these are mostly free, sponsorship is important as Fishlock grows the revenue-generating base of the business: in-house training for companies and organizations targeted at both men and women “left behind” by computer technology, and – more recently – Geek Girls for Hire, a service like Best Buy’s Geek Squad but not hardware driven.
“It was the Bank of Leslie for a long time because I really believed in what we were doing, but now we have some great sponsors and of course our training and support services subsidize our social work. We don’t say ‘no’ to anyone interested in our events. We want to empower people to manage the technology on their own. Be it the kids who are not getting the coding skills they need in school, adults retraining for a new career, or the woman who’s launching a business and needs to be able to bootstrap all the tech work herself.”
For the down-to-earth Fishlock, the best part about Geek Girl is how it evolved organically with all aspects of the business complimenting each other. But clearly now it has come to the point where she needs to decide where to grow.
“The TechCon have a life of their own; the network has grown so much they are easily duplicable, especially because the local community and businesses are involved. From a business perspective, you’re not talking about having to create something new every time. But Geek Girl for Hire? That’s really going to blow up and we need to think about where to take that. There’s a target need for helping people out.”
Sometimes Fishlock wonders if she shouldn’t have launched Geek Girl sooner and gotten more investment up front. But then she acknowledges maybe she wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much at the time because – let’s not forget – she was running two companies simultaneously.
“Geek Girl was my labor of love, my passion. Now I get to spend my days helping women understand technology, getting girls interested in IT, and hearing those testimonials. That’s my payoff.”
- Sending mass emails through your general email is a crime – against humanity: If you are a company, start acting like one. Get a permission-based email account with AWeber, MailChimp or Constant Contact. It’s the law (CAN-SPAM Act) to have an unsubscribe button on your mass emails so people can choose to opt-out. So be professional and do what the pros do. Yes, it will cost money. But most people own businesses to make money. So fork it over. It’s inexpensive.
- BCC vs CC: If you must send an email to a group of people who do not know each other, learn how to use BCC, not CC. No one wants to be spammed by others on the list. Be professional and use the BCC function. Or you may slowly find that people are reporting you to the SPAM Police. And yes, the SPAM Police are REAL.
- Selfie Sticks: Selfie Sticks are fine to use, as long as you don’t mind being mistaken for a tourist. Especially if you are wearing black socks with sandals. And a fanny pack.
- Using your SmartPhone at Meetings: When you go into a meeting, see what others are doing. Don’t assume people are playing Words with Friends. A lot of people use Evernote and other helpful apps to take notes. Some of us have not seen a pen and paper in years. However, it is good form to put your phones down and on vibrate at all meetings.
- Using your SmartPhone at Dinner: Unless you have forgiving friends, this is probably the time you put the phones away and enjoy being with your friends. The latest kitty on a Roomba video can wait.
- Instagram Abuse: No more than 1 picture of your non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, fair trade Quinoa Salad a day. No. Seriously.
- STOP SENDING EVERYONE CANDY CRUSH INVITES. For the love of Baby Jesus. Thank you.
- Drones are Fun, Until Someone Loses an Eye: Drone technology is the rage. And most of the time it is safe and perfect for aerial photography and getting those impossible shots. Just be careful where you choose to use your drones and if it has a camera, it’s probably not a good idea to let your teenage son use it to do recon by Miss Betty’s pool. Unless she still has not returned your favorite hedge clippers.
- Hackers, Phishing, and Viruses, OH MY: Always be careful with email, online and on social media. If your intuition is telling you something seems fishy or an email looks suspicious, don’t open, don’t click, don’t accept. Hackers these days are skillful about getting you to open things. Protect yourself. If not sure, consult someone or do a search for viruses or scams.
- First Rule of Social Media Club: If you do not want something on the Internet, DON’T PUT IT ON THE INTERNET. Period.
- You Are What You Tweet, Post and Share: So think wisely on what you are posting. You are defined by your content.
- Yes. Employers and Customers Look You Up on Your Social Media Channels: It’s a known fact. This is probably a good time for you to do a self-audit and go take those pictures of you in Tijuana during Spring break in college down…
- NEVER Rely on Privacy Settings: Google and Facebook and others are not a charity. They are not providing you with a free account to be nice. They are using your data and making tons of money off of it for ads and such. Always make sure your privacy settings are updated, but never assume that a social media site or other sites are not able to see and use anything you put on the Internet. Don’t assume your content is safe and protected. But do your best to stay current on updates.
- Google Yourself. Often: Yes, it sounds dirty but all you are doing is checking weekly about anything new about you. Not necessarily what YOU write about YOU, but what others are writing about you. Just because you didn’t put something online does not mean something about you is not there.
- Create a “Tech Bond” with your Kids: Don’t assume your kids are always up to no good on social networks. The more YOU are educated, the more you can talk to them about what they are doing. Ask them questions and encourage them to share with you. And keep educating yourself!
If you are not sure when TechEtiquette is required, or you just need help, Geek Girl is always here. Don’t get frustrated or overhwelmed! Contact us. GeekGirlCamp.com