The tech industry has a long way to go in terms of fostering female talent and diversity. There’s a need for honest dialog, more investment in STEM education outreach to school-aged girls and better support for female employees.
It’s a systemic problem, and the culture isn’t going to change overnight. But when more companies take a stand, bringing the issue into the light, change can happen.
“We decided to be intentional about it,” said Marina Lepikhina, principal software engineer at The Trade Desk. “For me, that’s the most important step. We talk about it.”
The adtech company also hosts companywide panels featuring female leaders, offers generous paid maternity leave and is an active participant at women-focused tech events.
“This is the first place where I feel like I do not have to scream in order to be heard,” Lepikhina said.
We spoke with four women tech leaders at The Trade Desk to learn about their experiences, what advice they have for women technologists and what the tech industry can do better.
EMPLOYEES: 60 local (Denver and Boulder); 750 international.
WHAT THEY DO: The Trade Desk is an online demand-side platform that provides buying tools for digital media buyers.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Headquartered in Ventura, California, with offices in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and 23 other offices across the U.S., Europe and Asia.
PERKS: Generous paid maternity leave, free breakfast and lunch at least twice a week, fully covered dental, health and vision.
Marina Lepikhina, Principal Software Engineer
Lepikhina designs, builds and delivers The Trade Desk’s products from end-to-end, as its principal software engineer.
BEYOND WORK: She runs, a lot. “It’s a time to think. I have solved many hard problems on my runs.”
What’s the most interesting problem you’re solving with tech?
Lepikhina: I am working on a product, designing algorithms and a framework that will help our clients make quantitative decisions to manage their ad campaigns.
How do you manage the tremendous amounts of data The Trade Desk receives?
Lepikhina: The Trade Desk receives over 8 million transactions a second. We have information about every request, including where it came from, its IP address, from what site, what geolocation and the temperature at that geolocation, what browser, and most importantly, the cookie. Each cookie can have thousands of different attributes. We store that data, we analyze it, and then we come up with different models for each advertiser to find the best user or cookies to target.
How does the company help women advance their careers?
Lepikhina: We decided to be intentional about it. For me, that’s the most important step. We talk about it, we participate and host WomenHack events, and we try to have at least one women on each interview panel. Last year, all of our women engineers attended the Grace Hopper conference.
What challenges have you encountered as a women in tech?
Lepikhina: Feeling included. Even after you get the job and you do your work well, you are never part of the “club.” I don’t know how to overcome that; I would only make sure you are not specifically excluding yourself.
I want to see software engineering become just a job, not a heroic act of a rebellious female hacker. It’s a job, anyone with a brain can do it.”
What does the industry need to do to attract and retain more women technologists?
Lepikhina: There needs to be more women on interview panels to offer different opinions — and more women promoted in the workforce to serve as examples. Beer fridges at work are awesome, but paid daycare and parental leave are better. I want to see software engineering become just a job, not a heroic act of a rebellious female hacker. It's a job, anyone with a brain can do it.
What advice would you give other women looking to break into the tech industry?
Lepikhina: Never ever be scared.
Danielle Puschak, Senior UX/UI Designer
Puschak and her team take complex concepts and problems and turns them into simple user experiences.
BEYOND WORK: Puschak enjoys photography. She loves telling stories with still images.
What’s one task that gets you out of bed in the morning?
Puschak: Unsolved UX problems. The programmatic industry is evolving, and The Trade Desk is always innovating. This means our projects often stem from concepts that can be quite complex, and where a common pattern or solution does not exist. It can be incredibly challenging to take these new concepts and translate them into simple user experiences, but when that happens, it is an incredible feeling.
What’s one event that had a big impact on you?
Puschak: At our annual Palooza, we’ve held sessions around women in technology, featuring some of the women leaders at The Trade Desk. They give us advice on how to advance in our careers and tell us stories of how they made it happen.
The sessions themselves are fantastic, but one of the most motivating aspects is the audience. It’s inspiring to see that it’s split between men and women. The Trade Desk is working hard to help women thrive in tech, and this small glance around the room makes me believe that the men in the company are as involved in this commitment as the women.
What would you tell other women looking to enter the tech industry?
Puschak: I would tell them to go for it. I’m a self-taught UX designer. My path to The Trade Desk was a windy road, but once I knew UX was my passion, I invested a lot of spare time in learning as much as I could and went for it. I was lucky to have a few mentors who pushed me to go for it. It sounds cliché, but learning to not be afraid of failure allowed me to pursue my dreams. Having a few fails under my belt allowed me to reframe failure as a learning opportunity.
[I] believe that the men in the company are as involved in this commitment as the women.”
What would you say to other women looking to advance in the industry?
Puschak: There was a time in my career where I would undervalue myself, thinking I didn’t have enough experience, or that I wasn’t an expert in that specific tool. But I have an amazing manager and a few mentors who help me see my value. Once I started to believe in myself, I felt confident enough to ask for what I wanted.
It’s not always about salary or a promotion, either. I would ask to take on a difficult project or to go visit clients in a different office. Finding that confidence is key.
Kathrine LeBlanc, Senior UX/UI Designer
LeBlanc works with her team to solve problems and translate solutions into visual prototypes before they are built. LeBlanc defines interaction workflows, does page layouts, designs UI components and talks to people using the product to understand their needs.
BEYOND WORK: LeBlanc loves to spend time with her 2-year-old son, Calvin.
What’s the most interesting problem you’re solving at work?
LeBlanc: Handling the human consumption of data. How do we present this information in a digestible way that feels easy and valuable? How do we empower people to shape the power of our technology, while remaining transparent about the tech and allowing people to continue to be creative?
How does your team collaborate with engineers?
LeBlanc: We collaborate regularly. I was recently working on a way to improve our navigation, and designed a workflow to help users navigate through a hierarchy to find a page. A clickable prototype wasn’t as interactive as something live would be to test, so an engineer built out the prototype into code so we could test it. We collaborated and made the interaction better.
How does The Trade Desk differ from previous jobs in terms of helping women thrive?
LeBlanc: By offering generous paid maternity leave, The Trade Desk motivates women to come back to work after having a child.
What does the industry need to do better in this regard?
LeBlanc: The industry needs to provide more female role models who are in technology and influence kids at younger ages to get more girls interested in technology. They should also offer internships and education for women interested in technology to increase opportunities for women to learn more about tech and provide an entry point.
By offering generous paid maternity leave, The Trade Desk motivates women to come back to work after having a child.”
Any advice for other women who are in the industry but want to advance?
LeBlanc: Take on challenging opportunities. If you can’t get that at work, do it on your own. And keep working hard.
Bobbie Lin, Data Scientist
Lin builds mathematical models for new products and features to make the platform better and more efficient.
BEYOND WORK: Lin enjoys bouldering for the challenge.
How do you work with and manage the enormous amounts of data The Trade Desk receives?
Lin: The challenge for me is to get a prototype to scale because of how much data we have. We work very closely with data engineers on productizing our models.
How does The Trade Desk help women advance their careers?
Lin: They give women equal opportunities and encourage them to speak out.
Bring the effort to schools and let little girls know they can be successful in anything they’re interested in.”
What ways does The Trade Desk help women thrive?
Lin: The Trade Desk makes a significant effort providing resources to help us thrive in our jobs and recruiting talented women engineers.
What does the industry need to do to attract and retain more women technologists?
Lin: Start investing in education. Bring the effort to schools and let little girls know they can be successful in anything they’re interested in, such as math and computer science.