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Women Tech Workers in the Hudson Valley

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Narashimhan is committed to increasing the number of women in the field. She's run a summit for female software engineers in New York City for the past two years. As the mother of a young son, she's also working to promote computer science classes at the elementary school level. "When I do the GDG meet-ups outside the university, it's very rare for women to show up," she says. "My hope is that women will be running this thing. It would be wonderful if we could have women coding groups." She will be one of the featured speakers at the first annual Catskill Conf, held October 23-25 at the Ashokan Center. (See sidebar.)

Sabrina Schutzsmith, co-owner of Mark + Phil with her husband, Daniel, which helps socially responsible companies and organizations strategize their marketing and philanthropy, said she hopes to start a Women Tech Meet-Up. "I want to create a sisterhood to get people to realize women should work in technology and remain in technology because it's a lucrative business and it's great to be creative," she says.

Kingston-based Sophi Kravitz is that rare anomaly, a female electrical engineer based in the Hudson Valley. (Even more unusual, she is also a college English major who worked in special-effects makeup for movies before an allergy to the plastics caused her to change careers.) Five years ago, she started her own consultancy, MIX-E LLC. Now she works for small manufacturing companies located in the region on product design and other projects. For example, she recently worked with a gaming company to reverse engineer a wand in order to put it into another video game, and she also serves as a technical advisor for a soft robotics company based in Garrison. She developed a product that was sold to the National Institute of Health and has a full-time job writing articles and overseeing a contest for online site Hackaday. She contributes articles to another engineering website, Element 14, and has a sideline career as a visual artist (among her commissions was an installation for this year's Burning Man Festival). "There are massive opportunities in all of the tech fields," Kravitz says. "Supply is far smaller than the demand. When I go to meet a new client or attend a job interview, statistically the odds are in my favor."

The tiny number of women electrical engineers—a mere two percent of the total—"is surprising and horrifying," Kravitz says. She mentors young women and organizes conferences—including one in San Francisco this November—in an effort "to constantly change that ratio." She surmises the lack of interest by the young in general for the engineering and tech fields is partly due to the requisite long-term investment and hard work. "For any young person it is intimidating to go into a field that is difficult," Kravitz says. "It can take five to six years at an engineering firm before you feel adequate."

Kravitz could make more money in the big city, but she much prefers the quality of life and cheaper costs of the Hudson Valley, and the flexibility of being master of her own time. Plus, "the tech community here is pretty good," she says. "There's a hacker space in Highland that meets Tuesday night. It's a space where people go to have a community around building things with electronics. I have an excellent time and meet interesting and smart people."

Calandra Cruickshank is cofounder and CEO of StateBook, a website that aggregates statistics on municipalities to facilitate site placement by companies. Now based in Kingston, she raised her kids and ran a B&B from her home in Shandaken before co-founding a couple of startups that raised money for nonprofits by printing coupons for food items. Her current company has a database that covers every county in the US and also has a membership of more than 270 economic development organizations, who pay to add their own content to the site.

Cruickshank could run her company from anywhere and is thrilled to be able to live and work in the Hudson Valley. However, she is seeking venture capital from investors in New York to support her growing company, and she's been told her potential investors might require her to move there. "In a smaller community you can have a thriving innovative ecosystem that supports the innovation of new companies, but once the company is growing and scaling and needs capital infusion, you have to go to Boston, New York, or San Francisco to get the money," Cruickshank says. "My hope is that because I have the talent pool and it's a growing culture, I'll be able to stay." Cruickshank added that perhaps the biggest obstacle for female tech entrepreneurs is raising capital. "There's a very large percentage of women starting companies and a very small percentage of venture capital is going toward them," she says. "Women have to be more creative. Crowdfunding is one way around this."

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