July 1, 2008

Silicon Valley’s Visionaries – Oscar party for techies

Posted in silicon valley, tech tagged , , , , , , at 10:17 pm by siliconmom

Glamor at the Visionary Awards aka The Tech Oscars    The only things missing were the red carpet and the paparazzi at last Wednesday’s SDForum’s Visionary Awards ceremony. It had all the trappings of the Oscars: glitz and glamor, champagne and cocktail dresses. OK, there were more business suits than bustierres, I admit. But I think the brain power at this Silicon Valley event was probably ten to the Nth power of its LA counterpart.  I kept expecting an announcer to say: “Reed Hastings is appearing with fabulous thoughts today, combining high IQ with the always elegant ideas for movie delivery.”

Held at the private home of Heidi Roizen and David Mohler in Atherton, the party kicked off with a VIP only event inside the Italian villa. Backed by a suit of armor, and looked upon by a giant Bison head and stag’s head, SDForum’s CEO Susan Lucas-Conwell (sporting one of her signature French silk scarves)  made the introductions, as everyone crowded into the wood beamed hall. Susan teased the crowd about revealing how the five visionaries are actually chosen, but the selection process remains a well guarded secret. Ann Winblad is giving nothing away.

Susan Lucas-Conwell

I chatted to Cromwell Schubarth, editor of the Silicon Valley Business Journal who reports that contrary to the fate of many newspapers, like the Merc, his paper is thriving. Exploiting a niche and doing it well is key, he tells me. Next up: The Green Mayor: Chuck Reed, who was unususally enthusiastic. “The best days are ahead of us!” he exclaimed. Perhaps the optimism of all those successful techies and entrepreneurs rubbed off on him. Or maybe it was his delight in driving his wonderful Prius to the event. He told me he gets a cool green 44 MPG. That would make anyone a wee bit jovial, the way gas prices are surging!

Talking joviality, the exuberant Heidi Roizen gave me some of the skinny on her startup: SkinnySongs (an interview for Women’s Radio seems inevitable). She was determined to get the visionaries to sign her “virtual” bookshelves, a masterful tromp l’oie in her living room, already adorned with Sergey Brin, author of “Googled” among other big techy names. A smart move by Heidi: no doubt adding many $’s to the value of her home, even in this down market.the next best seller

I was cheered to hear a visionary like Forest Baskett (former CTO of Silicon Graphics and Partner at VPs NEA) pushing the case for wind power and electric cas. Moving from 20c a mile (gas) to 2c a mile (electric) sounds pretty compelling to me.

Good friends Forest Baskett & Diane Greene

Diane Greene, pioneer of mainstream virtualization and CEO & co-founder of VMWare was the most modest of the bunch. She simply credits her ‘visionary powers’ to being an optimist. According to her intro, she established a company culture that is employee-focused and about being “nice people”.  Mendel Rosenblum summed it up by saying “she showed you can build a multi-billion dollar software company and not be a jerk.” Amen to that.

I look forward to exploring both her company culture and her great passion for sailing (she tells me she sails a trimoran) when I interview her for Women’s Radio later this summer.

Founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings had some interesting wisdom to share about growing a startup: success is all about employee freedom he says: encourage creativity, take risk, do things different…

And finally: Steven Levy, senior writer for Wired Magazine and author of “Hackers” was entertaining: he described all the poses Bill Gates goes through in the space of a two hour interview – from rocking madly, almost horizontal, to fetal position. Steven is proud of the fact he antagonized the richest man in the world so much that he threw a pencil at him! Only a geek would boast that claim to fame.

Heidi warned me the party goes on till the wee hours…sadly I couldn’t stay around to see if techies really can party like the Oscar party crowd. But with Heidi at the helm, I don’t doubt they’d give it a good try.


May 14, 2008

Teens plugged in! – SDForum showcases stars

Posted in silicon valley, tech tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:54 pm by siliconmom


 (Sejal Hathi)    Yesterday’s Teens Plugged In Conference, organized by SDForum, Silicon Valley’s excellent networking and relationship builder, was a feast of youthful exuberance. HP’s auditorium in Palo Alto was overrun with young geeks from 14 to 21 who were excited to share their thoughts, sell their companies (yes: some are already CEOs) and get more funding for their tech based philanthropic enterprises. Susan Lucas-Conwell, SDForum’s chief, did a masterful job keeping the peace when Internet connections stalled at 9 am, (how can this happen in the epicenter of Silicon Valley?), but technology prevailed and soon it was on with the show.

Anshul Samar, the 14 year old  CEO of Alchemist Empire launched his PowerPoint with the panache of a seasoned techy, explaining his biz opportunity: combining kids’ need to have fun with parents’ desire to educate their kids. After launching the idea for his battle-making game that teaches chemistry at last year’s conference, he’s already raised some capital and is poised to take it further. “Being in Silicon Valley makes it impossible NOT to be an entrepreneur,” enthused Samar. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that name in the future.

Notre Dame Junior, Sejal Hathi dominated the teen panel with eloquent answers and details of her philanthropic venture: Girls Helping Girls, an international girl empowerment program fostering links between US schools and developing countries. Go girls!

Talking philanthropy, I got the chance to interview Salina Truong for my Women’s Radio show. She works with Gumball Capital, a clever nonprofit based at Stanford that seeks to teach students about microfinance by giving them this challenge: here’s a loan for $27  and 27 gumballs, go out and use your entrepreneurial smarts and make it grow. The proceeds? They’re sent to enterprising charities like kiva.com If you want to hear about some of the creative projects and how much they raised, check out my radio show Silicon Valley Talks next week.

Finally and perhaps most impressive of all, I interviewed Alina Libova, the unassuming 19 year old who created an Easter Egg application using the Facebook framework, garnered 300,000 users and recently sold it to Thingi. A turning point for her was hosting a Vista Party at Foothill College, that drew over 300 attendees….this while she was still a high school student in Mountain View. Alina is transferring from Cal Poly to Cal next Fall and is bursting with ideas. With success like that, and her quiet yet compelling personality, she looks like a rising star. If you want to hear more from Alina about her inspiration and future plans, check out my radio show next week.

 And one last note for those who lament the end of kids reading real books and losing the art of face to face communication, one teen panelist gave a glowing endorsement for Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to win friends and influence people.” I wonder what advice Carnegie would give for navigating Facebook, winning online friends and not sullying your employment prospects, 5 years down the line?

May 9, 2008

Funny in Farsi at Silicon Valley’s Commonwealth Club

Posted in Inspiring mothers, silicon valley tagged , , , , , , at 9:35 pm by siliconmom

Fun with Firoozah

Last night the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley hosted Firoozeh Dumas the author of bestseller Funny in Farsi and her latest book Laughing without an Accent.

The charismatic Judy Miner, President of Foothill was moderator and did an excellent job keeping the questions coming fast and furious. She jolly well had to because although Firoozeh is as funny as hell, she’s also pretty succinct with her answers, which had me a little anxious toward the end of the interview that Judy would actually run out of questions.

They quipped about how they both often get mistaken for one another since they share the same dark eyes, enthusiasm for life: and hang out at the same Writer’s Conferences!   Firoozeh recounted a number of stories from her life that had the audience in hoots of laughter. My favorite one was how, as a newcomer to America (age 7), the boys in her class plagued her until she told them what she described as the WORST swear word she could think of, and begged them never to use it. Needless to say, within minutes they were blasting round the school screaming it at the top of their lungs. But what they were actually shouting was: I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot! Classy gal.

But beyond the hilarity, Firoozeh shared her deeper message: to concentrate on our common humanity, to change perceptions of Iranians, and counter the attitude that EVERYTHING in the Middle East is to do with war and hatred.  Her book is now widely used in schools and she hopes that will help change the view of Iran for the Post 9/11 generation.

Her advice to parents to encourage reading: give them the gift of boredom – no TV. Smart mom. Unfortunately we’re a bit too late for that in this house. But thankfully JK Rowling has saved the day!

I ushered Firoozeh into a dark annexe at the back of the stage for a quick interview for my Women’s Radio show before the event started. She was very trusting and forthcoming! 🙂

We discussed how being in Silicon Valley influenced her writing and “go for it” attitude. She also shared with me that Alexander McCall Smith was staying with her this week. Hey! Now why didn’t she invite me over? I speak the same language after all. Och aye.

Took her book to bed and kept hubby awake with my guffaws of laughter. She really is hilarious you know!

May 1, 2008

Maria Shriver inspires the moms

Posted in Inspiring mothers, Radio, silicon valley tagged , , , at 11:50 pm by siliconmom

Maria Shriver with siliconmom in Palo Alto CA On Tue evening, Maria Shriver was in town to promote her new book: Just Who Will You Be? and I was lucky enough to be invited to a private reception in Palo Alto.

I had several burning questions for her, but was most intrigued to explore the theme of losing your sense of self when you get married and have children. She had some great advice for women who’re married to high achieving husbands (the majority of us in Silicon Valley). She encourages us to ask each day: what am I going to do with my one WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE? And points out that most men have no problem with finding their calling and going for it…

Here’s an extract of the interview I recorded:

 Siliconmom interview with Maria Shriver

I was most impressed with Maria’s grace. Despite her stunning appearance, she comes over as “just another mom”: no fancy airs, no superiority – despite the secret service guy hovering around; and she has seemingly endless energy to chat (indulged me as I asked about the dire state of California’s schools -high on Arnie’s priority list she assures me- and breaking the poverty cycle). Maria was completely honest about the challenges of having career and family (On having to quit her high profile TV job in NY/DC: “I hate hate hated that”) and described exactly the same conflicts we all face attending evening events and finding time for yourself. Maria even admitted to hiding in her closet the night before just to do some centering and meditation before dinner…though I imagine her closet is about the size of our master bedrooms in Silicon Valley!

Many thanks to Jill, Beth and Tekla of The Silicon Valley mom bloggers group for organizing this event.

Hail to the Celebrity Forum chief

Posted in silicon valley tagged , , , , at 5:28 pm by siliconmom

Dick Henning gets the ovation he deservesLast night, Dick Henning got what he deserved! The founder and moderator of Celebrity Forum, an unsung hero for many of us in Silicon Valley, got a good dose of praise and recognition for his 40 years of bringing excellent speakers to the Bay Area to educate and delight us.

The audience rose to its feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation as Judy Miner, President of Foothill College preempted his usual punctual 8pm appearance and introduced the great man.  She presented Dick with a special plaque as a “small token of appreciation for 40 years of leading Celebrity Forum with distinction and panache.”

The “panache” part is doubly apt as it recognizes Dick’s excellent style and also his lovely wife: Paulette, who is French.

I was thrilled to see the cover story I wrote about Dick for the Los Altos Town Crier projected on the enormous screen behind Dick. He actually looked rather overwhelmed for an instant, but gathered himself and with his usual humility said, “If you do something long enough, someone will eventually give you an award.”

There was great hilarity and then Dick smiled and thanked Judy and “all those involved in this nefarious deed.”

Then it was on with the show: Dick introduced Bill Frist, former senator, top surgeon and big fan of Al Gore. Frist told us all we wanted to know (and more!) about the dire state of US Health Care. 

Afterwards, it was excellent to congratulate Dick in person at the Green Room reception; and finally meet Judy Miner who is even more sparkling in person than I’d anticipated.  I also got the chance to thank the Editor Bruce Barton, Paul and Liz Nyberg (the publishers) for using my working title for the piece – a rare honor for this lowly writer. I look forward to interviewing Judy when I get my show up and running on Women’s Radio

Reception in the Green Room

April 22, 2008

Earth Baby

Posted in green living, Radio tagged , , , , at 8:56 pm by siliconmom

Last week, I was thrilled to be invited to KQED’s San Fransisco studio by Mark Trautwein  to record a piece I’d written about my Earth Baby. My daughter was born on Earth Day, and every year it has me thinking more deeply about the significance of that day AND worrying what the future holds, given global warming and all its ramifications around the world. But I also have to work hard to focus on my daughter’s birthday celebrations and not get caught up in my usual guilt trip about not living more greenly.

If you’d like to listen to the Perspective about Earth babies pulling together for change, click here

April 18, 2008

Inspiring tech women

Posted in Inspiring mothers, tech tagged , at 5:22 pm by siliconmom

I had the opportunity to interview Sandra Bergeron last year for the Silicon Valley Business Journal.  Her story of giving back to her Georgia State Alma Mater to enable five young women to have a college education is truly remarkable. She’s now balancing board level positions in high tech with motherhood. What an inspiring Silicon Valley mom!

Click here for the Biz Journal story: http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2007/02/05/smallb4.html

April 15, 2008

Aspiring to be an eco-mom

Posted in green living, Inspiring mothers, silicon valley tagged , , , at 6:29 pm by siliconmom

Aspiring to be an eco-mom

My weekend is never complete without reading Chrystia Freeland’s excellent column in the Financial Times Weekend section www.ft.com/freeland however, a recent one really made my blood boil. Titled, “Save us from the eco-mom” my hackles were up before I’d even scanned the first paragraph. She reports to “feeling the first stirrings of eco-resistance” as she’s forced to hand wash her daughter’s glass milk bottles…and then extrapolates into a whole peeve-fest about “eco-moms’ tendencies to complicate and belabor domestic life.” Oh my!

I agree that we shouldn’t forget the emancipatory power of the dishwasher and washing machine, but I think we should also be prepared for a little inconvenience. Saving the planet is worth a little hassle, is it not?

I aspire to be an eco-mom; I aspire to recycle, buy local, drive a hybrid, reduce my carbon footprint etc., but I certainly don’t aspire to the fundamentalist eco-mom definition she describes…moms who’re completely consumed by the eco movement to the point of turning the clock back, abandoning science and technology. Brings to mind an image of  women down by the river, scrubbing their underwear with carbolic soap for hours…Oh, please!

And another thing…

I think Chrystia was so busy with her eco-warrior warnings she missed an important part of the eco-picture: that the eco-movement is pushing for scientific and technological advancement (not regression); that eco-moms are pushing for renewable energy http://www.energyrefuge.com/archives/pge_california.htm , hybrid cars http://www.toyota.com/prius-hybrid/, low carbon footprints and energy saving ways to run their homes.

Eco-moms are looking for ways to get their groceries from local producers, not from half way round the world. Eco-moms want green solutions, not ways to chain themselves to the sink all day. It’s opportunity not tragedy; a wee bit of inconvenience for the common good. I reject her branding eco-moms fundamentalist: we’re pragmatic, we’re realists and we’re more than ever aware that we’re all in this together. Al Gore says it best in his surprisingly funny and self-effacing call to action http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/1

Finally: I’m curious to observe that Chrystia is the one who tries to sneak recyclables in the trash and her kids are the ones who catch her red-handed. Why is it the complete opposite in our house and I’m forever fishing plastic yoghurt cartons etc out of the garbage? Are the New York schools so much better at making the eco-message stick than the California schools? Am I pushing too hard? Fodder for another column perhaps?

Original  www.siliconmom.com post

March 18, 2008

Exclusive interview with Elaine Alquist

Posted in Inspiring mothers tagged , , at 5:14 pm by siliconmom

Meet Elaine Alquist, California State Senator for District 13 (the heart of Silicon Valley), former State Assemblywoman, proud Greek-American and mother of two. Despite her high profile job she says, “nothing is as important as my being Peter and Bryan’s Mom and Jasmine and Logan’s yia yia – Greek grandmother!”

She recently took some time from her busy schedule at the Capitol to address some questions for siliconmom readers.

Q: Did your identity change when you became a mother? How?

A: Yes, “mother” superseded my personal identity the first three years of older son’s life.

Q: What hurdles have you overcome since becoming a mom?

A: Getting back into the workforce – reinventing myself. Balancing family and individual needs and priorities.

Q: What tips would you give a new mom?

1) Set your priorities.  You can do all things – not necessarily at the same time.
2) Be sure they are your priorities.
3) With each child you get one chance to be a good Mom.
4) Know that all things will pass.

Q: How have your notions of motherhood changed as your children have aged?

A: At 63, I better understand the impact of parents’ behavior on a small child’s world and on a small child’s feelings and behavior.

Q: Have you had an “ah ha” moment as a mom? Could you please share it with us?

A: The first time Peter said “I love you, Mommy” and Bryan said “I love you, Mommy.” And as adults when each said “you’ve always been there for me, Mom, and I’ll be there for you.”

Q: Did you take time off when your children were young? If so, what were the challenges re-entering the workforce?

A: I created a self-referral K-8 counseling program for a public school district in St. Louis in 1969. The program was presented at the national APGA conference as I gave birth to Peter.  I took three years off; my self identity decreased, then got my realtor associate license, sold houses in St Louis and took eight weeks off after I gave birth to Bryan. When I showed or sold property, my parents were always there to help. My sons were four and eight when we moved to Santa Clara County. I had double hurdles of finding a good job (I became a financial analyst at Stanford University) and good childcare. I should mention that I was elected to a college Board of Trustees during that 3-year period that I did not have a professional job.

Q: Do you have a mother mentor? If so, who is it and how do they fill that role?

A: My Mom and Yia Yia (Greek grandmother) – both have passed on.  The main focus of their lives was to be a great Mom and a great yia yia – which now is my goal.
For more information about Elaine, check out her website at http://dist13.casen.govoffice.com/index.asp?Type=NONE&SEC={73CEE83C-3804-41C4-9B27-D0779CA9D150}
Elaine also invites emails:  senator.alquist@sen.ca.gov.