Welcome to The Glass Hammer’s “Women in Tech” month! We will be celebrating successful women in technology all month long!
By Michelle Hendelman
Adda Birnir is the founder and CEO of Skillcrush, an online technical skills platform designed specifically for women. According to Birnir, her career path has been unconventional, but as she looks back at all of her experiences she is certain that each role she had in the past served as a building block and learning opportunity to help her create the company of her dreams.
Navigating a Career in Technology
When Adda Birnir first had the idea for Skillcrush, she identified a hole in the marketplace and created a platform to fill the gap in an area she felt very strongly about: inspiring women to discover technical skills by developing an accessible online resource.
Before this, Birnir was working as a technical producer at MTV while running her own web development and design consulting business. “This was a great business, but I found that I wasn’t professionally fulfilled by the client work I was doing. Instead, I was craving a more hands-on experience where I could take a project through the entire life-cycle,” she explained.
Birnir graduated from college and moved to New York in order to pursue a career as a professional photographer. “I quickly learned that the reality of the profession was nothing like I had imagined,” explained Birnir, who shortly thereafter found a job working for an online publishing company. “I was lucky because my position straddled editorial and production, which gave me the opportunity to gain exposure to the technical side of the process of creating and delivering online magazines,” she said.
Here, Birnir realized that she not only had genuine interest in technology but also a natural talent that began to emerge as she spent a lot of time working closely with the web developers. “This was my first real introduction to the world of technology,” said Birnir, who started to take on small coding projects in addition to her regular tasks.
According to Birnir, sponsorship has played a critical role in her career development in technology. “I have been fortunate to have several people in the workplace take me under their wing and guide me as I developed my skills,” she noted. This is why, Birnir added, she has made mentorship such a key component of her company, Skillcrush.
“There are a lot of excellent resources out there for anyone who is interested in learning about programming and web development,” Birnir said, “but it can be confusing to navigate. This is where it is important to have someone who can interject and give you guidance along the way.”
She continued, “Through Skillcrush, we recognized a great opportunity to serve women in the technical space and offer something different than any other technical skills platform that was available at the time.”
Growing Pains: The Ups and Downs of Startups
When Birnir was initially developing Skillcrush, she decided to take a “test and learn” approach to her business. This, she explained, meant treating the company like a science experiment by creating a series of hypotheses and testing them one at a time, beginning with the riskiest.
“The riskiest part of this business model was not creating an online technical skills platform,” Birnir explained, “It was building this type of business that would attract women.”
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