Selina Tobaccowala was destined for that Silicon Valley life. Not the HBO version that may come to mind, with flashy cars and inflated term sheets. But a more genuine, authentic version about a woman passionate about STEM from a young age, using technology to change the world.,
“For me tech was always something I was excited by, something I was interested in from a young age. My father worked in tech and had sparked my interest really early.” From that early age both her parents played a big role in encouraging her interests in STEM, her mom driving her to summer camps and computer science clubs all around New Jersey.
Selina realized early on how technology could be used to impact people’s lives in real ways. While completing her BS in Computer Science at Stanford, she co-founded Evite, having the foresight to see how tech can bring people and communities together (almost a decade before the major social networks came around!) As VP of Engineering at Evite, she learned how to utilize her talents and deep understanding of technology to create a tool used by millions of people. This became an important skill that Selina carried with her to all her future roles.
Moving along her STEM journey, Selina continued to develop her passion and skills at Ticketmaster and SurveyMonkey, where the late Dave Goldberg, then CEO, was an influential mentor for her.
“Dave was an amazing mentor and leader. He prioritized building a highly profitable business right alongside building a culture that supported diversity and families.”
This mentorship taught Selina the importance of diverse and representative teams, and how they not only impact culture but can build more meaningful products. Those leadership skills are proving very valuable as Selina is back at the helm of leading her own company.
An entrepreneur at heart, in 2016 Selina left the comfort of big tech companies to embrace the startup life again. In founding Gixo, she combines her deep expertise in bringing communities together with a passion to create healthier fitness habits.
“What got me excited about Gixo was getting people interested in real fitness experiences. Lots of investment has gone into programs and products for wealthy people. What about everyone else?”
She goes on to share that,“If you can get people to move 21 min a day, it has tremendous impact on healthcare costs, and an outsize impact on health and wellness.” This ability to impact people’s lives in a very real way is exactly what motivates Selina’s professional roadmap.
In reflecting on her career in tech, her focused nature and genuine interest shielded her from some of the gender disparities.
“In retrospect, I must have been one of the only females. It didn’t occur to me then. It was just something I looked forward to and was happy doing.”
However, upon moving to Silicon Valley in the mid-90s, that perspective changed.
“It wasn’t until I was well into my CS degree that I noticed I was one of the only women. I didn’t think I was affected by the fact that there were very few women at the time. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized the negative impact of it being a male dominated industry.”
Though for some she may seem to fly under the radar, Selina is clearly and powerfully setting an example for young girls and women interested in making a meaningful impact with technology. She is the ultimate ‘poster child’ of Silicon Valley, using tech to change real people’s lives and is doing what women are often told they can’t do — raise a lot of money, start big companies and lead powerful teams.
Adding to that, Selina channels her expertise as a board member of Redfin and on the Advisory Board of Hubspot, two publicly traded companies. Boards are another arena where we have seen how increasing diversity leads to positive impact on outcomes.
Bringing more women and girls into the tech industry is a cause Selina cares deeply about. She has experienced first-hand how tech can be used to change people’s lives and is a strong advocate for encouraging more women to be part of this change.
“What I have really been dedicating time to is I’m on the diversity committee for Stanford School of Engineering. How do we make change at that level.”
Selina’s advice for anyone interested in STEM is to take risks and try new things.
“If you have an idea that you’re excited about, set milestones and try. You won’t learn faster than trying. Give it shot.”
This story was written by Wogrammer for Reinvented Magazine’s inaugural edition. Reinvented Magazine is on a mission to reinvent the general perception of women in STEM fields while inspiring interest in STEM for young women nationwide. To learn more, visit ReinventedMagazine.com.