Women In Technology: This Woman Rocks Tech At We Heart It

When talking about women in technology, the first person who should come to mind is Sonja Erickson. Erickson is a start up junkie with a knack for solving problems. What else makes her cool and a total badass? She has excelled in a career path few women enter, has a standing desk, and strongly believes that “having a good life means treating people well.” This all serves her well as the Vice President of Operations for We Heart It, a photo-based social platform for young women. Intrigued? You should be. Read on to hear more about what it takes to work at one of the coolest tech companies around: You didn’t complete college, which in these days is a topic surrounded by controversy. Do you have any opinions about people never going to/leaving school and going straight to pursuing a professional career in this day and age?

College can be really expensive – but for those working in the start-up world, it’s not always necessary.  These days if you are a good programmer with people skills, you can excel in the tech world.  My advice to young women is to stay committed to honing your technical skills, curious about solving problems and open to all kinds of experience.    

You have a lot of experience working in startups. What are the dynamics like?

Start-ups succeed or fail based on how the team works together. The culture is fast and unpredictable. You also have to be ok with change and be prepared to turn 180 in a flash.  There’s no shortage of good ideas but the leaders who are successful are the ones who can execute a vision and rally a team to bring those ideas to life.

You joined the We Heart It team in April 2013. Why did you decide to work there?

I saw an opportunity where I could build a team and make a difference.  At the time I was offered the role at We Heart, I was being lured by another company that was much larger and offering a higher compensation package. The We Heart It role was much more attractive to me because it would have provided a chance to be more creative in my field which I wanted at the time.

Also I was really excited to be part of We Heart It’s mission of providing a space for young women and girls -- allowing them to have a voice, connecting young women to people with shared interests, and having a place that’s their own.  In general, I think we need to hear from more diverse voices from around the world.  There aren’t many sites like We Heart It that are global, social, female, and positive like ours.

Andi Hatch Photography

How do men contribute to the culture of a female-dominated platform such as We Heart It?

Our user base is mostly young women and girls 13-24.  We recognized early that we need to bring this demographic into our workplace in order to be authentic to our users, so we hired 7 young women, who are We Heart It members from around the world, to serve as our Community Coordinators and the pulse of the service. Our Marketing team is primarily women and the Tech team consists of a few women.

The majority of the men working at We Heart It are coders, and they’re energized and engaged by the scale of our business. It is not easy to find a role in which the code you’re pushing out is used immediately by hundreds of thousands of people within minutes – that’s what gets them fired up. And, for these men, it never hurts to be in the know about what young women are into.

Since joining We Heart It, can you tell us about any surprises you’ve experienced along the way? 

I’m often surprised and pretty delighted when I see how the world of politics and culture come through the site.  You can see what’s important to girls and young women, and see how that trends through images posted worldwide.  

Andi Hatch Photography

What improvements to the platform have you been able to spearhead?

In the past year, the thing that has changed the most is the focus on quality versus speed.  The team has put a lot of effort into integrating QA (Quality Assurance) and other processes that ensure quality into the company culture.

You’ve said in your interviews that connections are everything and to never burn a bridge. How do you do this?

I pay attention to how I’m communicating and connecting.  I stay in touch with former colleague, but not just because I know my world is small and interconnected.  I’m a strong believer that having a good life means treating people well. Cheesy, I know, but true.

We Heart It has a small team for such a large, robust platform. How does the team manage it all?

Scale, scale, scale and genius!

You’ve been in management positions for a while now. How do you stay in tune with what’s happening on the ground floor?

We work shoulder to shoulder here, literally.  My standing desk is next to programmers, and in glaring distance to the product team.  I can see when things are purring along, and when they aren’t I’m feeling it up close and (only sometimes) personal.