Alli McKee
May 24, 2018 · 4 min read

The gender gap in tech isn’t about coding ability. It’s about confidence.

This is a talk I gave this week at the Women in Software Engineering meetup about what we can do to address this confidence crisis.

When I started Stick, I was an oil painter, turned management consultant, turned educator, turned MBA… setting out to build a software company. Surrounded by some of the best engineering minds at Stanford University, I started to doubt whether I could keep up in tech.

It took diving in and learning to code myself at Hackbright Academy to realize that I could. But confidence didn’t come easy.

Now, hiring Stick’s engineering team, I realize that I wasn’t the only one doubting my abilities to succeed in technology.

Last week, of the applications received for our Lead Engineer role, 12% were women. Of those applicants, 100% of the women met all qualifications for the job. But the men? Only 13% did.

I wanted to understand this gap, so I asked experienced female engineer friends whether they’d apply, and started hearing the same thing:

“I wouldn’t apply because I’m not qualified. I’ve never done ___ before.”

And yet we were getting guys still in college applying for CTO.

Here’s the thing about tech: it changes so quickly that no one has done ___ before. That’s the point.

And this is a problem, because it’s led to systemic issues in the industry. When you zoom out, that women hold only 5% of leadership roles in tech, and only 12% of architecture roles.

I don’t think it’s about their coding ability. I think it’s about confidence.

We don’t need more coding hackathons. We need more confidence hacks. Here are a few tactics that have worked for me:

1. Find your Strengths.

We tend to focus on our weaknesses, not strengths. To build confidence, reframe it: Instead of + / — , what makes you different?

THAT is your strength. Focus on it.

2. Use that “Chip”

If you’re underrepresented (however defined), you may have a chip on your shoulder. Instead of turning into resentment, let it fuel an obsession with learning and improvement.

It’s about slope, not y-intercept.

3. Rely on Mentors

The first CTO JD I posted, one applicant replied: “THAT’s your stack? What is this, 2001?”

My first reaction was to question myself. Had I made a huge mistake? Did I not know what I was doing?!

But then I called a mentor, a seasoned CTO. “Ignore him,” he said. “Plus, he’s writing from a hotmail email address. Who’s living in 2001 now?”

Get out of your own head and ask for help.

4. It’s not about You

As an entrepreneur it’s so easy to conflate your self worth with the work. That’s not accurate.

Once you reset to realize it’s about the work, you’re stronger for it, because now you’re in service of a strong vision. Not a fragile ego.

5. Show Up and Apply

Yes the prospect of failing is scary. But if you don’t show up, you’ll never know whether you could succeed.

Failure is the most powerful driver of success.

So if you’re considering applying for that job, but you haven’t checked all 8 boxes, do it anyway. If you’re not sure you’ll be good at that new internal role that opened up, try it anyway.

And shameless plug: if you want to build a never-been-done-before product and build a never-been-built-before team, apply to Stick. We’re hiring, and we want to meet you!

Want more learning on startups and tech? Follow on Linkedin here to stay in the loop.

About the Author: Alli McKee is the CEO and Founder of, a communication visualization platform built for B2B Sales and Success teams so that you can actually connect with your customers. For more, visit

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Alli McKee

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CEO and Founder, - Illustrating Ideas in real time with NLP + ML. Painting and Improv on the side. TEDx Stanford.

Show and Sell

Storytelling is the new Selling. Show and Sell brings together the best of strategy, storytelling, and design to show companies how to sell more, faster with stories that stick. Brought to you by

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