In celebration of the one-year anniversary of the relaunch of the Women Who Code Podcast, those most involved in its creation, vision, and production sit down to discuss their inspiration for the work and the progress of the show over time. Featuring Tara Hernandez, Vice President of Developer Productivity at MongoDB, board of directors for Women Who Code, and the founder of the Women Who Code podcast, JL Lewitin, Senior Producer, Press and Digital Content for Women Who Code and the Women Who Code Podcast, and Kimberly Jacobs, Senior Communications Manager, Women Who Code, and recording producer of the Women Who Code podcast Conversations episodes that come out every Wednesday.
JL: Tara, can you tell us what inspired you to start the podcast?
TH: It goes back to 2014 and having lunch with Alaina, the CEO of Women Who Code. She was telling me about this nascent organization that was working on getting better visibility and support for women in the high-tech industry, and that so inspired me. We kept the conversation going periodically, and she encouraged me to get more involved in outbound advocacy, which I had not done before. I gave my first talk at the Connect Conference that following year.
A friend of mine had recently concluded a podcast, so I took him out to lunch and picked his brain, and then I pitched the idea for a podcast to Alaina, and she agreed. At first, I didn't have a solid plan. I would just talk to people, and when I heard a cool story, I'd ask if they wanted to be on the podcast. I didn't have any tools, software, or editing experience. I just went for it.
I started by recording the interviews on Google Meets and then editing them using iMovie because it was already on my computer, and I'd extract the audio from that. When I learned there were paid services that did a lot of that work for you, I subscribed to them, and those costs were a contribution I was able to make to Women Who Code.
It was very challenging, but I enjoyed the process, and it got a pretty good reception. I think people were intrigued by the idea of listening to random women who happened to be in tech tell their stories.
JL: Why do you think it was important to have a tech podcast for women?
TH: Most tech podcasts at the time, and probably still, tend to be done by naturally extroverted people, and statistically, they tend to be male. Not completely, there are plenty of women out there as well, but you just weren't hearing a variety of voices. I felt that there were a lot of stories that could be told more broadly than that, and if Women Who Code's charter is about women of all types in high-tech, then there was probably a real opportunity for people to hear something that they could relate to more concretely, and benefit from. And it did inspire a lot of people.
JL: When you created the podcast, it really inspired me. I listen to podcasts constantly, just as background noise, and back in 2016, when you started this - I was just a freelancer for WWCode back then - it was amazing to be able to download a real show from a company I worked for. Then the stories were so powerful I had always hoped we could do more and support you more with the company, but Women Who Code was still very small, albeit mighty, back then.
TH: It was a really interesting challenge. Alaina and I considered getting sponsors, but managing sponsors is hard. I was only doing it on the side, and Women Who Code didn’t have the ability at the time. I was happy to pay out of pocket to keep it going. Now it’s gone from a very lightweight, low-cost podcast to being made with intention and strategy, with a big investment leap in time and resources. I’m pleased it's become a core part of Women Who Code which is really where it belonged in the first place.
JL: We could only get there with your vision of the future possibilities. We should probably talk about the relaunch now, which happened a year ago, from Women Who Code HQ with the whole team and the organization's resources behind it.
I’d always wanted to do more with the podcast, but things really changed when Kimberly joined the team and brought our communications to a whole new level of capacity and sophistication. That coincided with the entire team, and especially the communications team at Women Who Code, growing, not to mention our global community. After Kimberly Shawneda and Sarah joined as social media managers and suddenly we went from being a tiny company to having a team that could dedicate itself to cool projects like this. The team made the difference.
Before all of that, we were creating blogs about amazing women in technology that were usually being sourced by someone from women Who Code interviewing them and us transcribing that interview. Over time realized that while the blogs were great, the recording was great too, and we should be promoting and publicizing those as well. And that was just the beginning. That was just the content we were sourcing directly for the blog.
As we moved more into multimedia, we realized that Women Who Code was already producing a ton of amazing content. So we started looking at ways to highlight our awesome volunteers, our great events, and the outrageously cool communities we already had, spotlight them, and turn our members into stars!
JL: Kimberly, what was your role in the relaunch?
KJ: Tara starting the podcast made it easier to pitch the relaunch because we had something to work with already. We had an infrastructure and a great foundation in place. We were recording the interviews already and turning them into blogs. We had the podcast already, although it hadn't been produced in a while, and then also we had IG Live that we did during Connect Reimagine, which is another thing that sparked the idea to relaunch the podcast for me. We were doing the Live IG during Connect Reimagine at the time, we had the blogs, we figured, "let's just make this a thing." The team's growth also helped skyrocket it to the next level. We relaunched on September 30th, but Shawneda and Sarah started on September 20th and creating the copy, and the design was part of their first work.
TH: Trial by fire.
KJ: Yeah. That was their first major assignment, and it was inspiring to me because I knew I couldn't take it to the level that they did. When I saw the final product they created, the copy, and the graphics, it was a sentimental moment for me. I was like, "Wow, we're about to do some amazing things as a team and with the podcast." It foreshadowed the growth we've had over the last year, so yeah.
TH: I'm so relieved that happened. When we went into the pandemic and worked from home, I never stopped working. I would be up early talking to Europe and up late talking to India. I was working more and seeing my family less. I had a lot of trouble finding the creative energy to do the podcast. I reached out to some people, but the momentum was down. So when WWCode HQ reached out, I was so glad, it felt like it had been saved. It was like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
KJ: That's a perfect way to describe it, rising out of the ashes and coming to life. Tara, you were one of our first guests on the podcast with Women Who Code President Joey Rosenberg interviewing you. My mouth was open the whole time. From a storytelling point of view, everything you were talking about was engaging, which is a sign of a great podcast. It's more than just for women in tech, but for anyone who loves to hear inspiring stories, no matter your tech background, everyone tells their story in a way that anyone can understand, including my non-tech self.
It's relatable too, from a career point of view as well, because although what we do is different, the career journey has similarities as far as seniority level, learning how to project manage, talking to your managers, and things of that nature are cross-industry information.
TH: Absolutely. There's more to tech than just code. Tech is often viewed as this weird island of nerds, but it's just like any other industry and should be as accessible as any other industry for all kinds of women.
KJ: I agree. I think the other thing that makes the podcast unique as well is the diversity of women that it showcases, and it's not even just diversity by ethnicity. Still, the diversity of journey, age, location, culture, and even the technology is diverse. These women have different backgrounds in tech, which also adds to it is so interesting as I listen to every interview. Being a global organization, it reiterates what Women Who Code is and what we stand for.
KJ: I want to touch on some of the things it took to get the relaunch done. To Tara's point, it is a lot of work, and we don't wanna belabor everything that goes into it but I will say it does take a team. My part of getting the podcast created is working with our communications team, but also our programs team and partnerships team.
The partnerships team sources participants who share their stories, and the program team sources interviewers. It was perfect for our members to partake in and ask the burning questions that people who love specific topics in tech have.
KJ: I don't have a tech background, so I sometimes ask, "Can you break this down for me and help me understand?" And it always comes out great. I love how 99% of the time, both participants have great chemistry, and there's a general excitement. The authenticity of the storytelling adds to everything. Those are the key things that bring the interview together and get it to a point where it can be edited and passed on to JL, who takes on that part, and so much more once the recording gets done.
KJ: JL, can you talk about your role?
JL: My role is really to continue evolving the podcast, which sounds silly, but it’s sort of true. We started by producing original content, one show a week that previously would have been a blog. I was involved in that process every step, learning editing and the specific marketing methods used for multimedia mediums. Through sourcing new content, developing a content strategy that encapsulates all of Women Who Code’s teams, and working in any role needed to move things forward, we’ve now evolved to the point that we’re producing three shows a week on different topics. At the same time, highlight the outstanding work that is being done by our volunteers and members around the world.
We're traditionally a programming-focused organization. We put up five events every single week that are completely free, and you can go online right now and learn about Python or Ruby or Front End or UX/UI, whatever you want and learn it. We've started evolving the podcast into something that's more community-based, where it's not just highlighting a member. We should highlight them. I wanna make them movie stars. But also, the programming they're putting out will now become part of the podcast.
This is part of Women Who Code’s commitment to accessibility. If you want to learn something in a live session with people and a chat, you can do that. If you wanna learn that same thing from a YouTube video because that's what's comfortable for you, you can do that. If you wanna put your earbuds in and drive around and listen and learn something, great. If you wanna read it on our blog, you can do that. Any way you want to access our content, any time, it's there, and that's what I consider to be a big part of my role. Directing the coordination that we're doing with programming and the production levels that we're adding to certain things and the way that we're just shaping this podcast to be a community building, completely accessible educational resource for the entire community and the entire world.
TH: I can't agree more. The accessibility aspect is important. Not strong English speakers might want something written that they can translate or something on YouTube where they can get built-in translations. Or just preference, but making it so that everybody's ideal scenario is supported.
JL: And that content is always available; it's a content library. You can get it live, or you can come and learn later and continue to learn and then continue to grow with the community. That's what Women Who Code is, and that's why the podcast is cool because Women Who Code is completely cool.
TH: Yes, it is, amen.
KJ: And our members are brilliant. They bring so much brilliance to the community, and then on top of that, they're growing all the time and becoming more brilliant.
KJ: The podcast has evolved in several ways over the last year. We have different shows now, and one of the evolutions came from the Team Teal interviews, with Women Who Code HQ team members talking to one another about their experiences in the org. That has become Women Who Code Conversations and has also been a part of our Women Who Code Turns 10 celebration.
JL: Conversations was the first iteration of what would become the three shows that we're producing each week, which are Women Who Code Conversations, Women Who Code Talks Tech, and Women Who Code Career Nav, and I think that is evolving, having three shows a week and possibly even more in the future, who knows? I'm not allowed to talk about it, but yeah, I think that that's an important evolution for us to produce the kind of content that people want to hear specifically and to meet people where they are and want to be.
KJ: One of the first of these was with Alaina, our CEO, and Joey, our President, talking about how Women Who Code had grown over the last 10 years and their journey together. It was a great conversation showing their dedication and commitment to the mission. We wanted it to feel like a conversation and not a mutual interview. It’s a reflection of how our community interacts with one another.
One of my favorite episodes, where I was surprised by what I learned, was the Mother's Day talk with Yvonne, a director of one of our Latin American communities, and Joey, our president. They spoke about being mothers in tech and the impact of COVID, and they've excelled tremendously through motherhood, which is not surprising.
I also remember the conversation with Sierra and Vui, also members of our community, and how volunteering has led to them elevating in their careers and how they've created a community with their networks locally and abroad. A lot of the themes that flow through all of those interviews are community and being able to ask for help and advice, and also feeling more confident.
TH: For a while, we were trying to reach out and get some of the network leadership on the early podcast, and I remember two great episodes where one was with Lisa Smith, who was Raleigh Durham network, and she was talking about some of the brunching and the Southern charm, and that really what that community needed more than anything was that strong sense of personal community.
That idea of also the podcast as a medium for ongoing sharing of ideas in the all-important volunteer and member communities I think you all have taken it with the relaunch and put a little bit more structure around that idea. Still, we saw some of those topics emerging as things that people were interested in.
JL: That's cool that apparently, the vision was there all along and then just...
TH: Well, it wasn't a vision, I think it was more of an evolving understanding that we had as a group, so.
JL: We picked up on that too. The topics immediately started to emerge.
KJ: I agree with that. The natural alignment from what you started, Tara, to now, in all the different topics, it's been a seamless alignment over this past year.
KJ: JL, do you have any favorite episodes?
JL: I think that all of the episodes of the podcast are great.
JL: I remember the one with the Mackenzie and Sapphire where they were taping it, and they were so nervous. And it came out so good. They’re both now team members, and it was cool to see how that turned out and their stories about how they came to be with Women Who Code and participate. Then recently, we did one about “using crypto to help LatAm communities overcome financial problems,” and I thought that was a really important topic. I also remember that it was National Geology Day, and our teammate, Anna, knew a geophysicist, so we had Natasha Hendricks on.
JL: What were some of your favorite episodes, Tara?
TH: The ones that I enjoyed the most were episodes one and twelve. Both were around career transitioners. In episode one, we had people who had been mathematicians and lawyers involved in tech. Then we had an even more fun perspective, we had professional musicians who were both boot campers. I loved that. People in tech can come from anywhere and can thrive.
KJ: I want to touch briefly on the next phase of the podcast and what we see for the future.
JL: Are we allowed to talk about that? I mean, will it be coming to a TV near you? I don't know. Will, there be an increase in shows and will there be more original content, and will there be some cool guests? Maybe, I don't know. We can't promise anything, that would be foolish, but we can say that there's great stuff coming. The team has big visions.
Women Who Code has always thought big, and that's how we've grown so fast in such a short time, and we have not stopped thinking big. This podcast is going to evolve more and more and more, and it can't help it because Women Who Code's community is so vibrant and amazing that we have to showcase it.
KJ: And I'll leave that there. That was the perfect way to say that and wrap that up. The final thing is, what are each of our pro-tips for podcasting based on your experience so far?
KJ: I'll start. For me, I think from a storytelling point of view, authenticity is key, I love when you show up, and you're yourself, and you tell your experience and your story, I think that is always going to resonate with members and other women outside of the community.
TH: The biggest lesson I learned was knowing nothing about it, it takes about five times longer than you think it's going to. Preparation is key, and editing is challenging.
JL: Remember that with a podcast, you have a global audience. You're not just talking to yourself or one person or the people you know, you're talking to everybody. Be aware of that and try to make what you say open to everyone who might be hearing it, inspiring to everyone who might hear it, and welcoming to everyone who might hear it.
KJ: Awesome. It has been such a pleasure talking to the two of you. Thank you so much, Tara, for joining us and for starting the podcast and for laying out that foundation and blueprint for us. And JL, we are like the dynamic duo and then the dynamic comms team in general with Shawneda and Sarah. Any final words?
TH: Keep it going. You're doing great.
KJ: Thank you.
JL: Womenwhocode.com/podcast. Sign up to be a guest, and you can be a star. You have something to teach. You have something to learn. And join the community on womenwhocode.com.