Elizabeth Ferrao

Elizabeth Ferrao, Co-founder of the NYC chapter of Women Who Code

“Code should not only be well documented, but it should also withstand scrutiny by multiple parties who don’t see your code in the same way. Code that is the product of a diverse group of people is code that will stand up stronger.”

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Meet Elizabeth Ferrao. Elizabeth Ferrao is an activist and engineer-turned-technical product manager. She is the co-founder of the NYC chapter of Women Who Code, a non-profit that works to put more women in technology leadership positions. Elizabeth recently served as head of product at a TechStars NYC IoT grad startup. Before that, she worked as a software engineer at TIME Inc.

Elizabeth recently keynoted PyCon India 2017 and is available for public speaking. This February, she joined Civic Hall’s latest cohort of Entrepreneurs in Residence and is also working with Delta.NYC, Civic Hall Labs’s pro-bono tech program. Follow her personal twitter feed here and subscribe to Women Who Code – NYC here.

What Does She Do?

In her role as co-founder of Women Who Code NYC, Elizabeth is focused on expanding partnership opportunities.

As a product manager, Elizabeth describes herself as a translator for technology and business, working to align company values with their products.

Elizabeth offers a fresh take on why inclusion is not just the right thing to do but confers a competitive advantage: “code coherency.” “Code should not only be well documented, but it should also withstand scrutiny by multiple parties who don’t see your code in the same way. Code that is the product of a diverse group of people is code that will stand up stronger.”

How Did She Get Into This Work?

Unlike many girls who aren’t encouraged to pursue careers in STEM, Elizabeth was supported by family and community: “I was given everything I needed to succeed. So much so that for a long time I didn’t understand how there could be such stereotypes against genders.”

Elizabeth knew that she wanted to be an engineer from an early age. She attended a magnet high school in New Jersey thinking she’d major in mechanical engineering at university. But she founded herself becoming obsessed with Bloomberg TV: “I’d stay up and watch these entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban and the companies that they’d built. I would see the apps they were building and I started making apps. Just as keenly I wanted to understand how they had built their companies.”

After high school graduation Elizabeth learned how to code during a Google summer internship. “This was the nail and hammer to build things. I had always been making things; now I could make them with software.”

Once at university she switched majors from mechanical engineering to computer science, entering the world of work as a software engineer. Elizabeth stayed in that lane for a number of years until she found herself at a VC meeting of a company raising their seed round, but was frustrated that technology was itself not a topic of conversation. After accepting that engineering wasn’t the center of gravity — even in the startup world — she decided to pivot into product.

It was during a summer in San Francisco that she first participated in that city’s Women Who Code events and there she found not only a mentor but a co-founder in Estella Gonzalez Madison. Four years ago this spring they launched the New York chapter of WWC. What sparked her interest? Learning that women leave STEM in striking numbers, despite possessing the same educational experience as their male counterparts (57% of women drop out of STEM after 10 years, a 37% delta compared to men.) To bridge this chasm, WWC focuses on creating opportunities for senior engineering mentorship.

Elizabeth found that “the best way to jump a couple of steps instead of researching, being lost, is to find people to teach [us].” Today, the NYC chapter of WWC has a leadership team of four directors and nineteen leads. Its network is 10,000 strong. “Women Who Code NYC is not just about getting better at coding. Its true impact is through the promotion of its twenty-four leads and directors.”

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

Elizabeth learned about the Organizer in Residence program via GarysGuide. The CHOIR program was already at capacity, but Shaneka persuaded her that the Entrepreneur’s in Residence program was actually a better fit.

Around the same time Elizabeth joined Civic Hall as an EIR, she was chatting with Mel Peterson about working on Delta.NY, Civic Hall Lab’s pro bono tech program. She formally started in March as “product owner” with the nonprofit connected with the New York City Department of Sanitation, the Foundation of New York’s Strongest, working on their website and branding. Understanding the end-to-end processes — even of garbage — animates and inspires her: “We went onsite and it was fascinating to see the journey from a garbage can to truck to dump, all the way to compression of twenty-ton containers, understanding how 40 trucks haul a total of 800 tons from Staten Island daily. I understand every single part of the process. I feel so empowered now as a citizen.”

What Project Is She Working On?

While Women Who Code NYC is actually flush with sponsors for facilities and in-kind donations, Elizabeth is fundraising for administration and programs (as well as a budget for the salary of a female engineer) for both NYC and the mothership.

Since joining the community in February, Elizabeth has been working closely with pluto.life and Streetmix, fellow Entrepreneurs in Residence. In her capacity as a “product guru” she observed that frequently the lack of clarity for product vision has dramatic consequences: “We don’t know what we’re building right now.” Without an understanding of the true north, you can’t create a product roadmap, can’t properly prioritize goals. To solve this she has begun offering a product vision workshop.

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

Elizabeth would like to offer a beta version of her product vision workshop to the community as a brown bag in the coming months.

  • Do you know what you’re building for the next 3-6 months?
  • Do you know your five-year vision goal?

At this point, she’d like to work with teams out of Civic Hall with a built tool/product. By the end of the 3-hour workshop, you’ll have a two-minute product pitch which includes: a clarified company message; condensed real-world value; three blockers identified; a 3-6 month building focus.

If you’d like to join the NYC chapter of Women Who Code, here’s their Meetup info.

WWC’s national connect conference will be in two weeks. If you’d like to check out the WWC Job Board, it’s here.  

Finally, the next Civic Hall Member Showcase – #DataAndTransparency is on data and transparency. Pluto will be presenting.