URSULA RINGHAM GOES ROGUE — START UPS AND SKIRTS
by KJ Howe
Please welcome social media guru and talented author Ursula Ringham who will be sharing her experiences searching for female role models in Silicon Valley. Thanks for joining us!
Blurring Reality: Creating a Believable Character
Silicon Valley has never produced a female Mark Zuckerberg.
Does this surprise you? If you live in the area, like I do, it’s a fact of life. The cradle of innovation doesn’t make it easy for women to succeed. There’s a reason the hit HBO hit show Silicon Valley doesn’t feature a female software developer: They’re hard to find.
With pay inequality and rampant sexism, it’s no wonder only 20% of all the software developers are female. Women have to work twice as hard for the same recognition. And any success usually comes with criticism. So, when it comes to writing a high tech thriller, do I base my female software developer on a real person or make her up?
We’re taught to write what we know. I’ve lived and breathed Silicon Valley my entire life, having grown up here and established a career in high tech. I’ve worked with female software developers and witnessed their struggles. But I’ve also seen many women succeed. You just don’t hear about their stories because they’re not as sexy or flashy as everyone expects. It’s a delicate dance. I take bits and pieces of real life experiences to create a character. And every once in a while, a story provides inspiration not only for a character but an entire story.
Back in 2004, at the age of 19, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford and used her tuition money to fund a start-up, Theranos. The idea was to save lives by disrupting the lab testing industry. Inspiration came from the sudden death of her godfather who’d died of a heart attack. If only he had been tested and known about his condition. Her plan was to provide low cost blood-testing.
Holmes was laser focused on the task at hand. But the company technology was always shrouded in secrecy. And yet, venture capitalists fell in love with Holmes and her story. Theranos took off like a rocket. In 2005,Holmes raised $6 million in venture backing. By 2010, she raised a total of $92 million. And by 2013, she opened Theranos Wellness Centers with $400 million in funding. Holmes became somewhat of a rock star in the Valley.
She was hailed as the next Steve Jobs. The young blonde even wore black turtlenecks. We all wanted to believe in this young entrepreneur. That she could rise to the top and be seen as an equal to Bill Gates and Elon Musk. And in 2015, at the age of 30, Holmes was listed by Forbes as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
If this fairytale sounds too good to be true, it is. This year, the cracks formed and everything came crashing down. Federal regulators questioned Therano’s technology and how the company operated its labs. Holmes’ low cost blood-testing product didn’t work as advertised. Regulators have now barred Holmes from owning or operating any medical laboratory for two years. And people have distanced themselves from the once revered wunderkind.
Was Holmes manipulated by the male dominated VCs advising her? Pushed to release a product that wasn’t ready? Or was it all a fabrication from the beginning? Living in Silicon Valley, we never questioned her success. We rooted for the underdog. Blinded by the reality of the situation because we so desperately wanted a female to succeed.
There is much more to this story that we will never know. And that is the beauty of writing fiction. I can take the essence of a real life person and make her into my own Mark Zuckerberg.
In my upcoming thriller, Disruption, Casey Ryan is a female Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of a promising career. She is given access to a safety deposit box that contains a secret. A secret her father has been working on his entire career. A virtual reality device with the power to manipulate and influence the mind.
Casey must use her wits to unravel the truth behind the devices capabilities before she becomes another casualty in a conspiracy that cuts through the underbelly of Silicon Valley.
And that’s how I’ve blurred reality in creating a believable character.
Do any of you have a true-life story to share, one that might provide inspiration for a book? Please tell!