Tess Rinearson, an engineer at Medium, got an early start in the tech industry. For one thing, she grew up amidst the idiosyncrasies of startup culture.
Says the Seattle native, “When I was a kid, I used to tell people that my parents were entrepreneurs, and no one knew what I meant. My dad was a journalist writing about Microsoft and Boeing, and then he had a company that built tools for Microsoft Word, and he’s had several other startups. When I was in college, startups became the hot thing. All of a sudden, everyone was talking about entrepreneurship.”
Early lessons in the startup world aside, Rinearson has always been prolific, coding and attending hackathons and blogging cogently about it all while still in high school. Valve hired her as a seventeen-year-old intern to do “grunt web development, HTML and CSS stuff. It was work that would have been really tedious for someone with more experience but was perfectly challenging for me.” When Rinearson arrived in San Francisco as a rising college junior last summer to begin an internship at Medium, she had already interned at CloudMine and Microsoft as well.
A week into her Medium internship, Rinearson shipped the Top 100, a list of the most-read posts on the site each month. A couple of months later, she joined the company’s Reading and Discovery team full time. Of the transition, she notes, “I had a very love-hate relationship with college. Medium is very explicitly not a company that will pull someone out of school, but I decided that, no matter what, I wasn’t going back.”
Rinearson launched her undergraduate career as a computer science student at the University of Pennsylvania, where, she freely admits, “I spent more time interning and traveling to hackathons than going to class. That was the culture there—serious computer science students weren’t serious about school.” After her freshman year, she transferred to Carnegie Mellon, “which is a very school-school, especially for CS. I prefer to build stuff and meet people than to be heads-down on CS theory, so I still wasn’t happy. I wanted to take a step back and think about what I’m doing with my life.”
Rinearson, who has written on gender issues in the tech industry, often finds herself identified as a young, female engineer rather than simply a young, talented engineer. She actively supports initiatives aimed at young women in tech:
No one wants their gender to be their key identifier, but the tech community needs to talk about it. People like to say that creating mentorship programs for women in tech isn’t helpful because it divides us more than it unites us. I disagree. You can’t close your eyes and say that we’ll inevitably move forward. You have to work to make things better. I’m not afraid to speak up and do whatever I can do to make female engineers feel like they have a community.
Rinearson also notes, “Part of the reason I’m at Medium is the strong presence of female engineers, people like Jean and Elizabeth. I don’t like being identified as the female engineer, and I knew that wouldn’t happen to me here.”
Until recently, Rinearson documented her observations on gender, hackathons, and interning on her well-trafficked blog. “Maintaining it is kind of a drag, for all of the reasons we talk about at Medium: updating the software, making sure your site stays up when you write a popular post, building an audience in the first place when you’re really just a silo on the Internet.”
Rinearson has considered shutting down her blog altogether. She now publishes mostly on Medium, which she calls “a better writing experience. Writing matters to me, and I was dissatisfied with the tools I was using.” And it’s not just about blogs—the future of writing, she observes, is unclear:
“People talk about how the Internet is changing art of all kinds. It’s changed how the music industry works, but I don’t think it’s yet forced a shift in publishing in the same way. Something big is going to happen, and it’s very plausible that Medium’s going to be part of that.”
Since joining Medium permanently, Rinearson has contributed to the read next feature, as well as to scroll tracking, which saves a user’s position so they can return to the piece later. “It’s a chance to make the experience of finding content and reading online really exciting,” she says of her contributions to the platform’s reading features. “Our vision is a balance between being a place where you can find good writing on whatever it is that you’re interested in, and being a place where you can learn by exploring stuff you wouldn’t otherwise be drawn to.”
Currently on leave from CMU, Rinearson is unsure whether she’ll eventually return to finish her degree. As an engineer with both front- and back-end development experience—“I’m the emergency designer,” she jokes—the twenty-year-old also refuses to be pigeon-holed in her career ambitions: “I don’t want to be stuck just doing front- or back-end. I want to do it all.”