Fearless Founders: Meet Pooja Sankar of Piazza
June 20, 2014
It’s time to inspire her mind! In our constantly connected world, women are inundated with information and opportunity. Especially inspiring are the true innovators that push through barriers and prove that women are equipped to excel in any industry. Many of them are changing our world one startup at a time. At Glam, we love women who encourage other women to push forward in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) based education and professions. In this series, Jesse Draper sits down with fearless founders to talk about their career paths, educational backgrounds and why STEM matters:
When it comes to women in STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Pooja Sankar stands out as one of the most prominent. She represents everything the STEM initiative embodies. Sankar is an inspirational woman in technology. She went to school in India, and as one of the only women there studying computer science, she felt very alone when it came to her schoolwork and asking for help.
Fast forward to Piazza, the platform she has created to help students, classmates, and teachers communicate online. Not only has she overcome adversity as a female engineer, but she was formerly in an arranged marriage that she chose to leave. She has since married happily and has become a mom as well.
Sankar, a former engineer at Facebook and Oracle, was nursing her newborn while she closed a $6 million Series A round for Piazza.
If that’s not enough, here are 12 things I learned from engineer and Fearless Founder Pooja Sankar.
1. What is Piazza?
Piazza does two things: The Q&A platform facilitates real-time interactions between college students and their classmates, TAs, and professors to help them learn, while the Careers platform facilitates interactions between college students and companies to democratize access to talent and to opportunities.
2. Why did you start it?
I wished I had this when I was in college. I was one of very few women studying computer science. It was really hard, and my recollection of my college days is one filled with feelings of isolation and anxiety around classwork and eventually figuring out what I wanted to do in life.
3. After working for Oracle, Kosmix, and Facebook, what made you want to create your own company?
I was inspired to attend Stanford Business School to gain a broader perspective on the world and how businesses operated beyond writing code. While at Stanford, I listened to the firsthand experiences of entrepreneurs as guest speakers in our classes and was significantly inspired by their stories and passion.
4. Why would you recommend other women learn to code based on your experience?
It is empowering. It gives you a unique and strong platform off of which you can go and do anything you dream of.
5. What was your favorite class in high school?
I barely remember now, but probably math.
6. How do you prioritize?
Ruthlessly. I do a few quick calculations in my mind—tying importance back to the overall business, complexity of getting something done, resources needed—to assign a priority in a manner that can’t really be quantified as to how important something really is in the queue of things that have to be done. I’ve generally gotten better at prioritizing things on my plate with years of experience and always having numerous things I could be doing at any given time. I’m not one to shy away from asking help of others to help me prioritize. That’s been tremendous along the way when I wasn’t good at it earlier on.
7. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Watching my husband tickle my two-year-old son and see him squeal in laughter and joy.
8. What was the last math problem you did?
Burn rate and runway.
9. How do you like to end your day?
Lying in bed next to my husband and just relishing in the moment. With both our crazy schedules, it’s the only moment we get to really connect and look into each other’s eyes and convey without words how much we mean to each other and how thankful we are to have each other in our lives.
10. What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
Life will throw the craziest challenges to me, and I will get through all of them. Just to breathe deeply when life seems tough. I will get through it all, stronger on the other side.
11. What websites do you frequent?
Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook.
12. What three things would you take to a desert island?
My family. The densest food supplies that exist. Some means to start a fire.
UCLA grad, Jesse Draper is a technology expert and creator and host of The Valley Girl Show through which she has become a spokesperson for startups and has helped to pioneer the way of new media content distribution. She oversees everything from pre-production to distribution of the show. Draper started the show because she realized there was no FUN business talk show, only grilling teeth clenching interviews, and she believes the most interesting and inspiring people in the world are the ones who’ve started a business. In her former life, she was on a Nickelodeon show called “The Naked Brother’s Band”. Draper also writes columns for Mashable, Forbes.com and San Francisco Magazine and speaks at business conferences around the world including SXSW, DLD, TEDx, TechVentures and STREAM.