By SGN | 27 Sep 2022
For someone with a colourful career in tech, Elisha Tan’s journey had a rather unconventional start. The then fresh graduate was equipped with a degree in psychology – a parallel to the career she had carved for herself today. Right after graduation, Elisha wanted to create “a product that can help people make a living from their passion”, and chased after entrepreneurship in tech.
“Given that I didn’t have a lot of savings, a tech start-up was ideal for me because I didn’t have to pay rent or purchase any kind of expensive equipment. All I needed was a laptop, which I already have. And that’s how my interest in tech started,” Elisha says.
Failure is the mother of success
The tenacious young woman did not let her inexperience mar her chances of getting into the industry. She enrolled in a start-up accelerator programme by Founder Institute, which focused on mentorship and start-up knowledge from Silicon Valley, and was the first female graduate of the Singapore chapter. But even as Elisha gained insights on how to get started with a tech start-up, she faced an entirely different challenge.
“Perhaps because I was an inexperienced founder, don’t hold domain expertise or industry connections, and have no funding, I couldn’t find a like-minded tech co-founder to join me,” Elisha says. Instead, she took matters into her own hands, creating her very first product by learning to code from friends.
However, Elisha faced yet another setback when her start-up failed after 4 years of hard work. “My start-up was born out of passion, so I’ve unknowingly tied my identity to the success of the business. When I had to shut my start-up down, it didn’t feel like that start-up was a failure but rather, I am the failure. It didn’t help my self-confidence that I was fired pretty soon into the first job I got immediately after failing my start-up,” Elisha recounts.
It is through painful experiences that strengthened Elisha in realising that her self-worth and identity is independent of the work she does. “Some of my peers have commented that I am fearless but it’s quite the contrary. I still have fear, it’s just that I trust my ability to execute and most importantly, be comfortable with failing,” she says.
In fact, this newfound resilience, a supportive community, and “perhaps a sprinkle of dumb luck” made for the perfect missing puzzle for Elisha’s success today. She is now a developer programs manager at a global tech company and founder of TechLadies, a regional community that champions other women in tech.
Championing women in tech
“It’s a shame that some women feel that technology is not for them because when all they see are people who don’t look like them (men) when they step into a developer meetup,” Elisha describes.
With a passion to help others pursue their careers in tech, Elisha thought to create a space and community where women can come and experience technology and “see for themselves if this is something that they want to pursue as a career” – this made for a solid foundation that TechLadies built on. Since its launch in 2016, TechLadies have made a distinct footprint for women in the industry. The community of 4000 strong across Asia has volunteer coaches, mentors and organisers coming in to train hundreds of women with programming skills.
Elisha shares that TechLadies’ success is a testament to how a little contribution can lead to a huge and tangible impact. The community sees both women and men championing women and minorities.
“Gender diversity in tech is not a ‘woman problem’, it is an industry problem. Therefore, it requires everyone involved in the industry to do their part to make our industry better for the minorities,” Elisha asserts. Elisha believes that technology is meant to be accessible to everyone, and stresses the importance to support all minorities in tech – be it women, differently-abled people, minority races and the LGBTQ+.
No barriers – women should go after what they want
“I think women who want to be a leader or pursue roles in tech should go for it! It may sound controversial – I don’t believe that all women should take on leadership or tech roles but those who want to do so should be able to do so,” Elisha says.
She shares that it was amazing to watch women who previously held roles as gymnastic teachers, customer service representatives or air stewardesses become product managers, software engineers, and web designers, after joining the TechLadies community. Elisha advises for women pursuing careers in industries that are not traditionally women-dominated, to find their tribe of “people who are like you or are your cheerleaders, mentors, and sponsors.”
“As a woman in tech, it is encouraging to know that someone who looked like me achieved great career outcomes and that there isn’t a “bamboo ceiling” for Asian women. It gives me confidence that I could achieve career impact too,” Elisha muses. “Representation matters.”