‘Bring your weirdness’ and other advice for women in technology

Sheela Subramanian of Jana  speaks at the "women in Tech Story Slam."
Sheela Subramanian of Jana speaks at the "women in Tech Story Slam."

To succeed in the Boston tech industry, a high-powered degree and smarts isn’t enough. Make connections and stay true to yourself, said the panelists who spoke at the “Women in Tech Story Slam” Thursday, hosted by the weeklong HUBweek festival and the communications firm Launchpad at Microsoft’s office in Kendall Square.

Laura Fitton, inbound marketing evangelist at Hubspot, which creates marketing software, and one of the authors of “Twitter for Dummies,” approached the microphone in a pink T-shirt, long black shirt, and boots, which she said made her feel like Star Wars’ Princess Leia. Her advice? “Bring your weirdness.”

“Do what you did tonight. Show up,” she said. “That’s how I met all these incredible people.”

The six women who spoke stressed the importance of “connections,” whether it was between the women speaking on the panel or in relationships built exploring Boston. They shared their beginnings in the industry and the obstacles they met along the way.

Sheela Subramanian found resources in the city when looking for ways to explore her interest in mobile technology and emerging markets. The contacts she made led to her being one of the first people hired at Boston-based Jana, which is working to bring free Internet to developing countries, where she is now the vice president of international operations.

“You can’t plan for opportunity,” she said. “You have to seek it out. Even if your interests may be a little niche or obscure, you will find people.”

Sometimes, you never know who you will meet. C.A. Webb, former executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association who is starting up her own VC firm, Assemble, said that she was able to land her dream job doing strategic marketing for Whole Foods Market after she met an intern with the company, who introduced her to the boss.

Through friends or at networking events, Fitton met many of Boston’s tech luminaries, including Rich Miner, co-founder of Android, and Dan Bricklin, known as the inventor of the spreadsheet. It pays, she said, to be present and engage with others.

The relationships even existed between the women on the panel, whether they knew it or not. Cynthia Breazeal, founder of the Cambridge robotics company Jibo, talked about how she pitched a project to Boston Children’s Hospital to use social robots to help with treating young patients. After she finished, Daphne Zohar, chief executive at PureTech Health, a Boston biopharma company, opened her talk by first mentioning that she was on the board at the hospital and remembered when the project was pitched.

“Even if you think something looks hard, it’s worth it to be persistent,” Zohar said. “I’m excited about the future.”

HUBweek is co-founded by The Boston Globe.

Post updated 10/13 at 11 a.m. to change the description of the firm Launchpad and to correct the spelling of Sheela Subramanian’s name in the caption.