30 Women who have revolutionized the tech sector

I get included in a lot of lists (19 Blogs You Should Bookmark Right Now, Top 10 Aspergers Blogs, Top 100 Education Blogs, Top 50 Productivity Blogs) but I generally don’t pay a lot of attention. Lists are subjective, I don’t know who put the list together, and I mostly measure my success by if people care about what I’m writing (I usually judge by comments and social sharing) and if I’m making enough money to stay out of debt (a seemingly impossible feat).

But every now and then I am on a list that makes me giddy, and yesterday TechCrunch published a list of 30 Women who have revolutionized the male-dominated tech industry, and I am on the list. I’m excited because TechCrunch is a huge publication with huge reach in the startup industry. And in general, the staff there rips me to shreds whenever they can. So the fact that they disagree with what I write and they put me on the list makes me very happy. But also, I constantly worry that I’m irrelevant to the hard-core startup world, and this list tells me that maybe that’s not true.

I obsessed over the list all last night. I scrolled through it 50 times:

  1. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
  2. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube
  3. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
  4. Ruth Porat, CFO at Google
  5. Weili Dai, CEO of Marvell
  6. Julia Hu, CEO of Lark
  7. Kim Gordon, CEO of Depict
  8. Me

I thought to myself: I bet I’m the only homeschooling parent on this list. But then I thought, all the women on this list who have young kids have seemingly impossible arrangements to fit their kids and work into their lives.

For example, Sandberg now leaves work each day to be home when her kids get home from school. Mayer has her kids in an office next to hers at work. Gordon breastfed in the recording studio. Wojcicki and Porat have husbands with successful careers of their own who became primary caretakers.

Each situation could not have happened without the women becoming very successful before they had kids. Because each solution requires both power and money.

To be clear, the mothers on this list were extremely powerful in their careers before age 30, which provided the ability to create a very non-standard setup to balance kids and work. And, as I’m sure you know by now, it’s only the non-standards setups that allow women to have notable careers alongside children. So women can tell by age 27 or 28 if they will be able to set up a very non-standard situation to allow for a powerful career while you have children.

Non-standard doesn’t look the same for everyone, of course. I wasn’t going to ever publish that picture up top because I thought it made me look like I don’t have a serious career. Most of the time it’s just me working where I can–the car, during music lessons, or on our year-round porch—I don’t even have a home office. But the TechCrunch list makes me feel legitimate enough to tell you that I struggle to put in enough hours right now, and this is what my career looks like from the inside.

Most revolutionaries don’t set out to be revolutionaries. The women on this list were working in technology, with children, during a time when it was unheard of. The women on this list didn’t intend to be revolutionaries so much as they crafted a life that would work for them.

The revolutionaries today are doing the same thing—they are setting out to make a life that works. But it looks much different.

Today the revolutionaries are the women admitting family is more important to them than work. It’s a scary thing to admit because we have not been raised to think family is more important than work. We have been told we are so smart, we can do anything: “You will have a great career when you grow up” is what we’ve heard for so many years. Not, “Good job on that math test. You will make a great mom.”

Over and over we see lists of women we should admire, and they are all women who, at one point or another, completely ignored their kids in order to keep their career on track. (I know: I’m one.) But most women don’t want to do that as parents. Most women want to put their kids first and have a rewarding career on the side.

Those women are the revolutionaries in today’s workforce. The people who can admit they do not want a notable career. It’s a revolutionary idea that we should get great grades, go to a top college, maybe get even more education, and then stay home with kids. This is not anything women have fought for when they were fighting for rights.

But the right to choose our own life is the most important right.

So now maybe you can see why I have a hard time getting excited over being on lists. Even this TechCrunch list, which should be a victory dance for me, feels outdated. More than I hope to make lists like this one, I hope there’s new ranking criteria coming soon.

41 replies
  1. JS
    JS says:

    I’ve been reading your blog since 2005 but never posted a comment, until now. And as I was reading this post, my two-year old is calling out to me from the next room, “Mommmm.” But I just have to say, this resonates with me as one of the many women with great education and career before kids, and is now choosing to stay at home and raise them. I don’t always feel like I am making a right choice, but this validates that choice. Thank you.

  2. Laura
    Laura says:

    Honestly, it wasn’t until I started reading your blog that I stopped assuming I was generally doomed by the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing in my life.

    I am not exactly on a hot career trajectory, but it’s more than I could have dared to hope for 10 years ago.

    And. I love this blog post because it corroborate what I have been thinking about the economy overall in the last year which is that it is starting to register to people that the ways we measure our success economically as a country are no longer relevant and that they are creating harmful noise that is holding us back.

    I feel like we see this in politics, where people are realizing that the socialism/capitalism dialectic is becoming basically an irrelevant distractor to serious matters, but haven’t yet quite refined the vocabulary needed to explain why that paradigm no longer works.
    This post makes me feel like the trend is also being recognized in other arenas. When the metrics of “success” don’t capture what people really care about, how long can we hold onto the idea that they are a relevant guide to how the world should be run.

    Not much longer I think. (Not that people are going to quit caring about money, just that we need to be counting other things that have been uncounted too long.)

  3. Help4NewMoms
    Help4NewMoms says:

    Congratulations, Penelope. Your thoughtful explanation makes so much sense. Btw, I LOVE that picture of you…a peek behind the curtain. Your post reminds me of a little house on the prairie episode. I know. Stay with me. Laura is sad that she is getting married before she really has a chance to be a teacher. Her wise mother tells her not to worry that as a mother she will be a teacher and a nurse, and a therapist… You get the idea. Corney, I know, but the concept of using my skills in motherhood made me feel pretty good.

  4. Shaun
    Shaun says:

    Hello Penelope,

    I’ve read just a few posts and can say that I really appreciate the way that you think. You are adept at recognizing outdated principles while replacing them with pragmatic solutions.

    I value this a lot because it is how my brain works as well. You’ve certainly got the work-ethic and self-confidence to back it all up. (Hopefully I can learn a thing or two about these by sticking around and reading more.)

    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    And thanks to your community for supporting you.


  5. Jay S.
    Jay S. says:

    If that is the Restoration Hardware couch I sank into at a store this weekend, I am SOOOOO jealous. It was incredibly comfortable.

  6. Lisa Gulli Popkins
    Lisa Gulli Popkins says:

    Penelope, Kudos on the list thing!— It matters. It just does. Tears of joy sprang into my eyes when I read this post. I have been forcing my way through the jungles of your chosen lifestyle for 15 years now, ever since I gave birth to our first child. Two Masters degrees and power career days long behind me, I still am asked to consult or teach once in a while; and now I have a part-time nursing job that works perfectly with every thing else. BUT my Father, of all people, seems flabbergasted as well as shocked by the life choices my husband and I have made. Nearly every time I see him he wants to know ” When are you going back to a full time job”? This post is my response. Thanks for your brick in my wall, it is now an important part of my public defense system! L

  7. Rickee Mahoney
    Rickee Mahoney says:

    The other day I said to a client that it should not feel bad for them to say to themselves and others that staying home to raise their children was a good thing. Not a retro thing, just a good thing. I also advise them that this experience should go on a resume, spun of course, but still put there. Experience is experience.

  8. Gena
    Gena says:

    I just love that you so publicly put your kids first and work minimal hours and you are on that list! What’s this world coming to?!? LOL

  9. Maria
    Maria says:

    Congratulations on making the lists.

    Rather than distancing yourself from it because you may feel, somehow, you are not at the same level or have made the same decisions as the women on the list ahead of you, perhaps you can view it, like the other lists, as a letter of recommendation, an award given for having stuck it out even when people didn’t agree with you, when you felt inadequate, when things didn’t quite work out the way you expected.

    Your kids are almost grown and teenagers are the hardest group to manage. You can make great strides, or then again, you can look away for just a minute, and before you know it, one of them makes a clock that looks like a bomb, plays with guns and shoots his brother, presses send to his friends a picture of a nude girl, or learns one hack too many and the feds are at your door.

    Which failure can you live with? A business that ran out of funds? There’s always tomorrow.

    A child you spent most of your adult life raising who is now in prison or dead? You can’t take this one back.

    Working from home on your own business while raising kids IS the dream.

    You’re living it.

    It’s just not as glamorous as we all thought it would be.

    Pat yourself on your back.


  10. Vidhya Ravi
    Vidhya Ravi says:

    Thank you so much for publishing this. Having not reached the upper heights of management before I had children (I had my first at 29 – just three years after I graduated from business school) has weighed heavily on my career and I’ve done what you said – ignored them to chase my career. But now I’m making the choice to be a revolutionary. Special arrangements work if you made it to the sr. ranks before you had children. For the rest of us – we have to figure out how to stay happy, be there for our kids, and make our careers worthwhile.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You summarize things so nicely. And I really appreciate how you model honesty and realism as a way to get to peacefulness.


  11. Doug
    Doug says:

    Penelope, I really like the photo, as that’s basically how I work all day on my startup too (until the kids get home from school and need supper made). I like your idea that today’s revolutionaries are people who are setting out to make a life that works.

  12. Rosemary
    Rosemary says:

    I love this, “it’s only the non-standards setups that allow women to have notable careers alongside children.”

    Penelope, you deserve to be on that list. And many more after. It’s profound that you are where you are and doing what you’re doing, without putting your kids on the back burner, which is the traditional set up. Thank you for working so hard at doing and saying things that are non-standard but true. It’s difficult for the average person to articulate new (changing) realities they are seeing and feeling, if they haven’t been articulated or done before (sans step-by-step instructions). You’re a pioneer!

  13. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    Thanks for giving context to your achievement. Revolutionaries need to know they’re not alone. And it’s exciting to be a revolutionary.

  14. Alex
    Alex says:

    I’m a lurker who has been here for yearsss, savoring your imputes in this blog and your websites. Congratulations loquilla, Pa’ lante girl!

  15. Vic in TN
    Vic in TN says:

    “But the right to choose our own life is the most important right.”

    This is what so many forget. I was able to choose to be home with my kids when they were preschoolers. Then I returned to the work force and love what I do now. Am I the head of a company or in a top senior role. No, but I don’t care. I have the life I want to have that enables me to work and spend time with my (now adult) children, husband, other family, and friends.

  16. Jill
    Jill says:

    The idea of not having to wear office attire appeals to me. Wearing whatever I want and feeling successful (which for me means earning income, being productive and having creative freedom while also being a good mom and wife) is a big win for me. Love the pic you posted. High-five to making the list and getting stuff done in a t-shirt, shorts and no shoes.

  17. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Hi Penelope,
    got directed to your site during a research for something and I couldn’t help but say, aha!
    You really spoke to me in this article, I have 2 boys, 19 months and 7 months.
    I recently started a business from home, but I still get the questions, when will you get a job?
    I love the fact that family still matters and your work still counts, enough to be mentioned in high places. Kudos.
    will definitely pitch my tent in a corner here. Lol

  18. ADV
    ADV says:

    “Weili Dai, CEO of Marvell
    Julia Hu, CEO of Lark
    Kim Gordon, CEO of Depict

    I don’t feel so bad not having an office space at home, something I’ve hated for years. And, if this makes you feel any better, starting at the quoted names and companies above, I have not heard of any of those companies, but I’ve been reading your blog for years now!

  19. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Congratulations, this is huge! But this post is somewhat poignant for me.

    As a woman-in-tech, you have absolutely revolutionized tech for me: you’re top of my list. Early in my career your blog was like a beacon and influenced some major decisions: not going to grad school, not getting stuck in support roles and having the confidence to take bigger risks. I dug up the very first email I sent to you, back in 2009, and it is so weird to read: like a different me writing to a different you. But those people don’t exist any more.
    Then as a mother-in-tech your blog was so important to emphasize a career in tech doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life comes first,and things can change drastically when you become a parent. I really believe homeschooling is right for you and your family. But it is not right for everyone. And it is not right for me. Not now. Maybe never. But I’m grateful that the advice paid off and I now have more options than I know what to do with. But regardless, your blogs have been a tough place to be around lately. To see the oscillations in mood and tone, and see you slipping into dark, dark places and mostly being able to relate is scary. And is such a different place than where this started – even the picture of you in the article feels like such a throwback.

    I don’t share the blog much, but I still want this comment to give you another measure of success. In my book you deserve a fricking medal. Or at least a made-up virtual award. So for always showing up, always writing, even when things are hard… for never quitting, never keeping your head down too long and for always keeping yourself and me going… I present you with the – erm – Tracy Award for Sheer Grit & Determination.

  20. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    The first thing I was struck by was how beautiful the picture is. I love the nature and light coming through the windows, the craftsmanship of the windows, the tobacco leather sofa and the boho chic of the pillows, teal paint, and the dog resting at your feet. It looks exactly like what I see myself doing. It is an inspiration as Patricia T. says. You’re right, it looks more Sunday morning than Friday at 4 pm. But that’s revolutionary! You’re living a life with your family while setting an example of something other than an aircon office where people stay late (most of the time without getting a whole lot accomplished).

  21. Kay
    Kay says:

    First, congratulations!!!!

    Second, thank you!!!! This post created a light bulb moment for me!

    I am a research scientist, a professor at a large university. Your post clarified for me what I have done in my career since my kids were born — dialed it right back. It has been tough, yes, however, there is just no way that I cannot put my kids first and devote most of my time and energy to them. They are my life. My career is just a job. An interesting one, but just a job.

    Thank you, Penelope, for the clarity with which you think outside the box.

  22. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    One of your best posts. Thanks for keeping it real for all us parents & parents-to-be one day…this was great because you revealed that what you used to want (career success) has now changed as you have evolved. You don’t need what you thought you used to need.

    More women need to read this article/ your blog to gain a better perspective on life choices. You write so well about the female experience as well as how the world *really* works.

    I loved what you once said about a woman’s life being divided into 3 life stages: school-college, then work, and finally, becoming a wife/ mother. I am currently in stage 2 ..It’s an exciting time and I’m trying to leverage myself to having a career & family in the near future.

    Kudos to you Penelope, b/c you are a true trail blazer living life out on a limb. THANK you for not being a hypocrite.

  23. Julie
    Julie says:

    First of all, Congrats! Though I don’t read your blog on a consistent basis (busy running 4 businesses), I do check in from time to time and catch up. Your stories draw me in with their authenticity. Keep up the good work.

  24. Derek Lee
    Derek Lee says:

    A belated congratulations!

    You should be proud of the fact that you’re, to my knowledge, the only one on the list with autism!

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