How She Got There: Vanessa Hurst & Corinne Warnshuis, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Girl Develop It

Name: Corinne Warnshuis
Job Title and Description: Executive Director, leading national strategy and growth at Girl Develop It, a nonprofit that offers affordable, judgment-free classes for adult women to learn web and software development.
College Name/Major: University of California, Santa Cruz/Sociology, with a minor in Film and Digital Media
Twitter Handle: @corinnepw

Name: Vanessa Hurst
Job Title and Description: Co-Founder & Advisor of Girl Develop It, Founder & CEO of CodeMontage
College Name/Major: University of Virginia/B.S. in Computer Science, minor Systems & Information Engineering
Twitter Handle: @DBNess

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Corinne Warnshuis: As the Executive Director of Girl Develop It, I’m responsible for setting our national strategy and priorities, planning our growth, fundraising, leading operations of the organization, providing support to our 50+ chapters and their leaders and constantly ensuring we’re focused on fulfilling our mission.

There’s not really a typical day…and I love it! One day, I might be reviewing incoming requests to launch new chapters in cities across the country and the next day meeting with affinity groups who want to support our work through partnerships. Yet another day, I might be speaking at a national tech conference about Girl Develop It’s incredible impact across the country! I’m constantly learning new things and I really enjoy that aspect of the job.

Vanessa Hurst: My day starts with prioritization — in nonprofit work and in startup life, there are always more things you’d like to do than you have time to actually do. So, I start by deciding which three things must get done. I try to do the most important creative work, like coding or writing, early in the day. After that, I answer emails and meet with Girl Develop It leaders or the other companies I advise to help set strategy and make things happen.

What is the best part of your job?

CW: The best part of my job is knowing that the work we do collectively as an organization is really having an impact: we’re changing the lives of thousands of women and generally helping make the world a more awesome place. I try to occasionally step back from my daily tasks and remember that.

At the local level, in each of the 50+ communities we serve (from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Providence, Rhode Island), we see and hear amazing stories of women unlocking their potential through our programs, and it is endlessly inspiring. Attending GDI classes or events where I have the opportunity to meet those members is really exciting and important to me — it feeds my passion!

VH: I’m a computer programmer working to solve social problems, so my favorite moments are when I can help people with technology. In Girl Develop It classes, we see women empowered to think differently about their own capabilities once they learn how to code. I love seeing that shift in confidence that comes from getting a program to work. I also get to see Girl Develop It chapter leaders make a difference in their communities and do great work in their technology jobs. It’s like unlocking superheroes who then go give other people superpowers!

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

CW: In the nonprofit world, my first job was in Community Relations at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR and PBS station. I got that job after two fulfilling internships there: one working for the station’s educational programs while I was still in school, and the other was assisting in the production of a live-broadcast radio show right after I graduated college. There I learned about engaging diverse communities through in-person events, how to fundraise for nonprofits and the value of forging alliances among mission-aligned groups.

My first tech industry-related job was at a technology news startup, I was the company’s first non-editorial hire (and one of four total employees at that time). Because of how small our team was and the rapid growth of the company, I had the opportunity to learn a ton very quickly. In that role, I really got to know the tech ecosystem and became really involved in the tech communities we served.

VH: I worked as a database developer for a financial data company right after college. I’m really glad I focused on databases early, because building those skills in a specific area made a big difference later, and I really started to love programming then. Later, I joined a startup (Paperless Post) when there were only 15 employees, and my database skills made it possible for me to contribute to the technology team and help refine the business model.

What is one thing you wish you knew about the tech industry when you first started out that you know now?

CW: I feel like my engagement with the tech industry is a bit different than the experience of those who might be living in cities with a larger concentration of technology companies, cities like San Francisco, New York or Seattle. Living in Philadelphia, the tech industry to me has always been somewhat synonymous with the tech community, which in Philly is diverse and made up of many diverse groups and companies. But in Philly, as different as those businesses and organizations are in scope, size and focus, they have collectively always felt really cohesive, community-oriented and supportive to me.

When I travel to some of those tech hubs, I feel like I get a glimpse of some of the more oft-lamented facets of the tech industry: the homogeneity, the competition and the focus on the bottom line. I wish diversity and mutual support [were] more valued in the (capital T, capital I) Tech Industry.

VH: Feeling a little uncomfortable with your skills is a sign of learning, and continuous learning is what the tech industry thrives on! It’s important to seek out environments where you are supported, but where you have the chance to be uncomfortable and learn new things. I also wish I’d known that writing code is not as boring as it sounds — it can be really creative and exciting, a lot like solving puzzles.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

CW: I’ve passed up opportunities that I felt I wasn’t prepared or qualified for. I think in general, that is a mistake. If someone is putting faith in your ability, you should be able to take that as a sign that you are capable. My advice is to really consciously force yourself to not pass on any opportunity, big or small, because you’re uncomfortable or scared that you’re not ready.

VH: Trying to do too many things! I still make this mistake, but I’ve gotten better over time and hope to keep improving. I’ve learned that focus makes your skills stronger and your impact bigger. With Girl Develop It, we’ve found when we educate adult women, they go out into their communities and do great things. Women who’ve learned to code teach other women and act as role models for young girls and use their skills for good and so much more. By focusing on teaching women and doing that really well, we have an impact beyond what our small team can do directly. Sometimes the best thing you can do to change the world is to have the discipline to change one piece at a time.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

CW: This year, I did something I never imagined I would have the opportunity to do: I spoke at the White House! It was as incredible and…terrifying as it sounds.

Standing on a stage in front of US CTO Megan Smith and 120 tech community leaders from across the country whom I respect and admire, adrenaline kicked in and I somehow didn’t choke! It was truly an honor to be invited to share about Girl Develop It’s impact over the past five years and some of the stories of our 60,000 member-strong community.

VH: I was on [an] operating table in surgery once and this highly trained, brilliant specialist of a doctor had heard about my work and told me how she thought coding was so powerful and she wished she could code, too! She was literally saving my life and she thinks what I do is cool. I couldn’t believe it.

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

CW: At the top of every job description’s requirements section is “Passion for Girl Develop It’s mission and work.” I feel really strongly that those who are most passionate and committed are best-suited to help GDI fulfill on our mission the most effectively and help us become the best organization we can be. I also really value curiosity and a willingness to learn.

VH: I hire people based on their drive to make things happen and openness to continually learn new things. I look at what people have accomplished, like what projects they’ve built and what they’ve done on their own or outside of school, to get a sense of their drive. I also look for signs you can thrive even [if] a situation is kind of a mess. That’s basically what startups are like, and though you’ll never have a perfect setup, you can make the world better anyway if you’re willing to work hard.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

CW: My aspirations were always simply to try to use any abilities, talents or skills I possessed to help other people. And as I’ve grown older, I keep refining and learning how I am uniquely positioned to make the most impact in the world with those skills and the experience that I have.

My advice would be to try to identify your own passion and talents, and find out how you can use those to achieve your goals. If leadership is something that you’re interested in pursuing, take every chance you can to put yourself in the role of a leader: whether it’s on a group project in school or leading a volunteer group, or simply presenting in front of a class.

Never skip an opportunity to be uncomfortable, because discomfort can be a really good place to learn, and you’ll never know what you might miss if you don’t put yourself out there.

VH: Lose perfectionism, but keep idealism. I recommend reading Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Seth Godin’s Linchpin to get an idea of how to contribute to the world beyond what’s specifically asked of you. Don’t spend too long on things that are easy for you, but seek out opportunities to grow and you’ll surprise even yourself with what you can accomplish.

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