As we prepare to celebrate Pride we recognize the importance of being out, being honest, and being proud of our lives. Both in the workplace and in our personal lives. PQ spoke with Gail Frederick, who was recently named the general manager of eBay's office in Portland, about her experiences being a woman in the tech industry for over 20 yearts. Frederick is originally from Narragansett, Rhode Island. Which she rightly describes as "a beautiful beach town on the Atlantic Ocean." She was born to American parents in Germany, and she has lived in Norway and London.
Frederick earned her Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She moved to Seattle after college, where she graduated with a Masters of Science in Computer Science from the University of Washington. After hours these days, Frederick is working towards a music degree for personal enrichment at Portland Community College.
Frederick moved to Seattle in 1998, where she met her wife Karen. They have been in Portland now for almost 15 years.
ProudQueer: I understand you’ve been with eBay since 2014. How long have you been involved in technology, or at least eCommerce?
Gail Frederick: I’ve been in technology my whole life, really. I’m a child of scientists. We always had some kind of experiment or investigation going at home. I wrote my first computer code at age 8, simple stuff like connecting an analog modem to a mainframe and playing command-line games. My first tech job was in 1997 with the Weather Underground (the weather website), when they were still an academic project at the University of Michigan. I built an online newspaper where kids in WU’s classroom programs published stories about hurricanes they were studying. The founders of the Weather Underground are funny, kind and overall awesome humans. That job was a lot of fun. I love technology. I am a nerd, and I will always be a nerd.
PQ: How long would you describe your career, as a professional in a managerial or leadership role, thus far? How have things changed?
GF: I’ve been in technical leadership roles for about 15 years. I spent about the first five years as a software engineer, writing code in venture-funded startups in Seattle. I was fortunate to get a great job right out of college, and at a company with strong leaders. Several of those leaders are mentors to me today. I followed these founders around to a few start-ups, and they taught me the fine art of technical management. In my career, I’ve bounced between roles as technical staff and technical manager. I am happiest when I can stay technical even as the boss lady.
The tech landscape has completely changed in my 21 years. Engineering fundamentals are the same, but computing paradigms have changed so much. Compiled native code, runtimes, HTTP, webapps, mobile apps, tiny compute devices, virtualization, containers, private and public clouds. it’s all so fascinating.
Another positive change that I’ve observed (and benefited from) is a focus on including underrepresented voices. More than 10 years ago, I remember walking into a conference room for a meeting that I owned. I called it, I chaired it and I built the product under discussion. The first man to enter assumed I was an assistant and asked me to fetch him coffee. (#ThatSucked) Just a few years after that, I was invited to be the first engineer at a (successful) startup. Now, I’m a VP of Engineering and GM at eBay. Inclusive male leaders opened doors for me, and now it’s my job to do that for the next generation of diverse, queer software talent.
PQ: Was there a time you can point to where you saw more women come into the field, or was it a slower build across years?
GF: I can’t point to a moment in time, but I can point to individual leaders and companies who took action to prioritize inclusion. Our male allies in leadership are important partners in this work. I worked for five years as the only woman in engineering at startups. It felt great when I finally worked alongside another female developer. At eBay, my leadership team is more than 50% women, and we have diverse engineers throughout the company. To me, this kind of leadership comes from the top. We are fortunate to have a CEO with an authentic focus on inclusion, and an inspirational Chief Diversity Officer who shows us the way.
PQ: You participated in the Grace Hopper Celebration. What was that experience like? What year or years? What was your role?
GF: We intentionally selected GHC 2016 as the venue for me to announce the launch of a totally new generation of eBay APIs (here’s the press release). As a woman leader with a diverse and driven engineering team, this event was the perfect fit for a big announcement. GHC has incredible positive energy. Just picture thousands of women presenting tech talks, learning from each other and pursuing technical careers. So fun! I am headed back to GHC this September to recruit diverse talent into eBay.
PQ: Also, you reintroduced eBay Connect. Your work involves promoting women, inspiring them to become developers and leaders in Tech. Was that your greatest motivation in reintroducing the initiative?GF: eBay Connect is an event for developers that integrate with eBay. We hold Connect annually in our biggest markets around the world. It’s an exclusive, intimate event where we announce new APIs and listen to feedback and ideas from our partners. Women (and LGBTQ folks) are on stage and in the audience at Connect. I reintroduced developer events at eBay because APIs are a big business for eBay (more than $4B in GMV for Q1’18) and I felt that deeper and more direct understanding of our partners and their needs would help open up new markets and revenue channels. And most of all, APIs help our buyers and sellers work more efficiently on the eBay marketplace.
PQ: What advice would you give--especially for young women, or young queer people--contemplating getting into the technology, eCommerce, or development side of things?
GF: Do it! Dive in now and really immerse yourself in technology. In tomorrow’s world, any career a young person chooses will have technical components. If you look into the short history of computer science, you will find women and queer folks contributing foundational ideas.
PQ: We were lucky to live for eight years under fairly progressive terms as LGBTQ+ people, not only in our personal lives but the workplace. In light of the current change in politics, how important do you feel being out at work is still important?
GF: As Gloria Steinem wrote in November of 2016, the old hierarchies re-asserted themselves, and we need to remember that the majority of Americans support equality. It’s even more important to be out at work. Even today, in America we LGBTQ+ folk live far more safely and freely than others around the world. We must use our freedom and privilege to help our global queer family.
PQ: When did you come out professionally, or was that never an issue for you?
GF: I was not out at work for the first 4 or 5 years of my career. I worked for someone who made anti-gay remarks at work. Although the tech was fascinating, I felt vulnerable at work as a young professional and as the sole female engineer. I anticipated isolation at work if I came out. Being closeted contributed to my decision to leave that company. At my next job, I came out on Day 1 and never looked back.
PQ: As with all international organizations, eBay must do some business in countries which don’t offer the same protections to its employees in terms of LGBTQ+ issues. How does eBay bring a sense of inclusion to those in their employ who may live and work in those countries?
GF: For eBay, D&I doesn’t reside just in our Silicon Valley headquarters. We have buyers and sellers in 190 markets, and D&I touches every corner of the globe where we have employees or customers. This is why our aim is to empower our people to diversify and include in the ways that are most relevant to their local realities. At the same time, we understand that it’s important to be honest about the approach we’re taking and the work we’re doing to help drive change —being mindful that one size does not fit all.
PQ: In closing, is there anything about which you are most Proud about currently, personally or professionally?
GF: My wife and I are parents to twins who are now eight years old. I am very proud of them, and that my family unit is strong. My mother died when I was a kid, so it feels especially important for me to be present for and prioritize their childhoods.
If you are an out professional, or know of one you feel we should highlight, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to fit them into our editorial schedule as a featured article. Happy Pride 2018!