Michelle Glauser saw an opportunity and a gap that needed to be filled when she started working as a software engineer. At first, she asked why no one was addressing the issues she saw, but soon she came to realize that it was actually her who both needed to and could make change. And she did with Techtonica.
5 Questions That Spark is our way of getting to know some amazing entrepreneurs and people who inspire us at The Spark List. Entrepreneurs get to select five questions from a list of fifteen to answer in our interviews.
Spark List: How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Michelle: Becoming a software engineer tripled my income. I loved how creative, versatile, and stable it was, but I quickly found that technical teams had a huge shortage of diversity. So I started doing a lot of community organizing to help more underrepresented people join and stay in the tech industry—PyLadies, Women Who Code, LadyNerds, RailsBridge, etc. I saw a huge disconnect that needed more help. With a high-income disparity in the Bay Area and thousands of people in danger of displacement—most of whom are people of color—why were most tech companies with large diversity budgets bringing in new talent? Why not train and place the people who are already here who could bring fresh perspectives? I kept thinking, “Someone should start a training program with stipends, a safe environment for women and non-binary adults with low incomes, and fund it via corporate sponsorships.” Eventually, I thought, “I could do it,” and here we are.
Spark List: What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?
Michelle: I can let people go who aren’t working out. I very much want to help people grow, so it took me a while to see that sometimes the best way to do that is to part ways. I really dreaded these difficult conversations, but I’ve learned that it’s possible to face them in a compassionate and sensible way.
Spark List: What was the biggest roadblock you encountered when trying to find your spark?
Michelle: I was my own roadblock, and I often still continue to be. It wasn’t until I’d done the hard work of becoming a software engineer and successfully created, fundraised, and put up #ILookLikeAnEngineer ads around the San Francisco Bay Area that I realized I could do hard things and maybe that meant I could, of my own free will, do other hard things. Still, I get in my own way with self-doubt all the time—should I go with my gut or ask a lot of other people for advice? Am I actually making a difference or just burning myself out beyond all recognition? Someone else would be so much better at this. When I push past these doubtful thoughts, great things happen.
Spark List: What made you choose this type of business?
Michelle: Making Techtonica a nonprofit was my way of declaring that I wanted the program to be legally mission-focused. I also thought it couldn’t hurt to add a tax deduction to the list of benefits for sponsoring companies. I’ve often wondered if being a B corp would be a better choice for us so that we could possibly get some venture funding, but for now, nonprofit it is.
Spark List: What’s your greatest achievement? How did you celebrate?
Michelle: Getting eight Techtonica apprentices through four and a half months of full-time training (out of six, followed by as much placement as possible) has been my greatest achievement. It’s been by far the hardest thing I’ve done and I feel like there’s still a lot to do to get our funding and placements to a better place. Once training is over, we’ll definitely have a celebration, and I’d love to personally celebrate by taking at least a week to re-charge—whether that means going somewhere or just reading a book a day at home.