Be Willing to Learn and Willing to Fail



By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

The CEO of a nationwide non-profit that works to increase computer skills among young women urges students to be resilient and constantly pushing to advance knowledge and skills in the workplace.  Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012. The organization has grown to include 10,000 after-school clubs around the U.S. for girls from 3rd grade on up.  More recently, Girls Who Code has started college support programs, too. 

Saujani says the most important things she looks for in hiring employees are attitude and work experience.  “Now when I hire people, I don’t care where you went to school.  I couldn’t even tell you where 99% of my staff went. I couldn’t care less.  I care about, ‘Are you a hustler?  What experience have you had?  Are you a go-getter?’”

Saujani also looks for people who can quickly pivot from problems.  “We don’t allow for our children to fail and build resiliency in the way we need to.  At Girls Who Code, we are a big believer in failing fast.  So we’ll start something and then we’ll shut it down.  It is true that your job could be something in January and something else in May.  And so for a lot of people, that is unsettling because it’s like, ‘Whoa!’  So I want to cultivate that sense of - you want to learn, you want to fail, you want to grow, you want to develop.  It’s not necessarily about being a generalist but it’s about being someone who can actually do a multitude of things.”

The role of women in the work world is increasingly prominent, and Saujani is working particularly to increase that in the technology sector.  “I think girls and women are change makers.  I think we see a problem, climate change, bullying, ‘Blacks Lives Matter,’ and we want to do something about it.  And I think technology is an accelerator to social change, or it should be I should say.  And we need more women with computer science backgrounds who are building the next WayUps and Ubers because we come at it from a different sensibility and a different commitment to equity which I think is very, very important.”

Saujani had multiple careers in finance, law, government, and politics before starting a non-profit.  She said it is important to know when it is time to leave a position/field to do something that you are passionate about. “For most of my life I hated what I did. And Sunday would roll around and I would want to drink that second or third glass of wine and crawl back into bed because I didn’t want Monday to come because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled.  If you feel that way, it’s time to go, it really is. Because while life is long, life is short. And if you know what your purpose is and what you want to do, get to it I would say. But, that being said, in my need to put a dent into my student loan debt, I always had a day job and a night job, always had a night hustle.  I’ve always had something I was working on, something I was passionate about, something furthering my public purpose. So find your night hustle.”  

At the same time, given the public health crisis, she said this is probably not the time to figure out your life and instead given the situation, the most important thing is to take care of yourself.  Reshma Saujani, who serves on the board of overseers of Harvard, predicts the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis will be with us for a couple of years and that as a consequence, we will all have to get more comfortable with remote learning. She was the featured speaker for a recent virtual lunch and learn session, sponsored by WayUp, a job website and mobile app for college students and recent graduates. Find out more about WayUp at: