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Big Choices and Dreaming Big: The Women Tech Founders of DEMO 2012

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Lights, camera, action! DEMO 2012 in Silicon Valley was sensational. Launch day for a new company unspools like a 24-hour rollercoaster ride and our team returned to Washington, DC sleep deprived, technology addicted, and ready to try out a dozen new web and social innovations shared by our co-presenters from other start-up companies. We felt great about our DEMO @DEMO for our new startup Barrel of Jobs.

For over 22 years DEMO has built an unmatched track record of selecting, coaching, and launching some the most game-changing startups the world has ever seen. In just the past five years, start-up companies have raised well over $4.5 billion dollars following their debut at DEMO. More than 50 DEMO-launched companies have been acquired by tech giants, such as Adobe, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Symantec, Viacom, Yahoo!, and more.

Yet as I stood outside the packed ballroom at the Santa Clara Hyatt grabbing the mini-sliders and puff pastries, the girl in me emerged. I couldn't help but scan the crowd looking for other female Co-Founders and CXO's.

Frankly, there weren't too many. So I grabbed one of the few women I saw right away -- Catherine Spence of HireQ -- to help me to hunt down more for some pre-conference female bonding.

Coming out of an education nonprofit, I am keenly aware that we need great models of female CEO's and leaders to inspire the next generation of girls to choose entrepreneurship and STEM related opportunities.

For instance, Inc. Magazine reported that women make up half of the workforce but only 1:4 workers in the technology industry and 15 percent of senior management. And according to National Center for Women and Information Technology, women comprise only 11 percent of tech workers in Fortune 500 Companies.

Sadly, many young women don't realize that it's not just about code -- there are many job opportunities with tech companies. I made a plunge into building a tech company this past July and can say firsthand I have never been so challenged professionally and excited about all that I have to offer. I can also say I can't code (yet) to save my life.

So who were some of the rock star women of DEMO 2012? How can we all cheer them on as they build great companies that will build more jobs for our country? In their own words, here is what several had to say on how they got into technology and their advice for the next generation.

Q1: How did you get into technology?

Catherine Spence Co-Founder of hireQ :"I am a bit of an accidental entrepreneur. While some people know they want to start a business (or many businesses), I was driven by my passion for this idea: everyone should love their job, and companies should love their employees. My background is not in technology, but it's clear to me that technology has the potential to solve some of the challenges that face job seekers and companies in finding each other. Using technology in sleepy industries like recruiting is way to create big change."

Anna Anisin, CEO of 4sync- :"I think of myself as a geek in heels. I was that girl wearing pink lipstick and playing around with all the latest gadgets. I finally took a leap of faith and launched my first startup in my early twenties and have been an active member in SF's tech community ever since."

Rebecca Bahr, Co-founder of Flinja shared "I got into technology from high school when my physics teacher would introduce us to various technologies and just make everything sound really cool from the invention of post it notes to solar systems."

Melissa Tyree, Co-founder & CIO of Itography: "Both my father and grandfather were programmers, so I took all of the computer science classes that I could in high school. I ended up studying Civil Engineering at Texas A&M, but followed my tech roots and was a Systems Analyst at Deloitte right after college. It seems that whatever industry I work in, tech always draws me back in."

Courtney Titus, Co-founder and CMO of GivingTrax :" It all started in 2002 with my first marketing internship for KACE in Silicon Valley."

I asked my new friends if they had any advice for girls on their careers and or choosing tech?

Tyree: "Don't be afraid to fail. Do things that scare and challenge you and you will never be bored. I encourage my daughters to try many different things. You never know what might inspire you!"

Titus: "Intern, if you're in college. Find great mentors, try and try again - don't give up. I'm currently part of the startup leadership program down in San Diego and it's been a great experience - I would definitely recommend it to other aspiring women in tech."

Anisin: "No matter what career you pick it's very important to work hard and never stop believing in yourself. It is also very helpful to find one or two solid mentors, who can guide you and also brainstorm with you. I wouldn't have made it this far without the support from my mentors."

Bahr: "My advice to all girls thinking of going into technology is to never lose hope and never get intimidated by others. Technology can be fun, creative and challenging, but it's not an easy journey so don't give up."

Spence: "As women we hear a lot about the challenges that we face balancing work and family as we move through our careers. These challenges are real, and there are no right answers. What works for you, might not work for your best girlfriend. But these challenges do not need to be constraints. We are empowered by choices, to construct our lives and our careers based on our values, hopes and dreams. I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson: 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.' My advice to girls is to accept the challenge of dreaming big and making choices."

Julie Kantor writes weekly on job search, career culture, tech entrepreneurship and more. She is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Barrel of Jobs.