“I didn’t want to be invisible,” Jessica Greenwalt says, when describing what motivated the Washington native, who is currently ranked as one of Inc.’s 10 Women to Watch in Tech.
As a kid, Jessica remembers her dad, then an electrical engineer, teaching her how to build things like radios and how to fix small gadgets in their garage. In her home, her sense of normalcy was built around reversed gender roles and untraditional expectations. But that reality was sadly short lived.
In grade school, the Jessica became starkly aware of the differences in messaging between that of her father and quite literally everyone else. Once, at a family reunion, she recalls running around with her young male relatives, and catching tadpoles near their house. When the group returned recovered in mud and dirt, she was met by judgement and scolding voices from the adults, who were just as quick to dismiss the others: (“boys will be boys.”)
Her frustrations were only aggravated at dinners with her extended family. As a young kid, she found herself confronting her male cousins, who assumed she would stay put in the kitchen the entire time. “I don’t want to be the woman walking around a group of people [who are] having fun, and just being invisible,” she says today.
Luckily, as a young teen she developed a passion for art, combined with a fascination with being her own boss. Then, when she learned about graphic design, and dabbled in the subject through a high school course, she fell in love with what became her “soul mate of occupations”. As a sixteen year-old, she began designing websites, and developed a client base through friends, family, neighbors, and Help Wanted ads in newspapers. Such was the beginning of her first company, a design firm that she launched while still a high school teen. Jessica would then go on to run the firm throughout four years of college. The defining moment came shortly afterwards, when her website emerged as the top result on Google.
In 2012, Jessica launched Pixelkeet, which is essentially the grown-adult evolution of her original concept—a boutique design firm specializing in web design and development. Based out of San Francisco, the company was founded on the basis of artistic expression and flexibility at all costs. This has allowed working mothers for example, the ability to balance work schedules against the needs of family life.
She hasn’t been without challenges though–once a client advised her to “Hire a male figurehead” to be the face of her business, since, as he matter-of-factly stated, “people aren’t going to want do business with a woman.” In spite of its critics, Pixelkeet is today regarded as a high-end graphic design firm, which has since been earning Jessica spots in Tech Republic, Inc., and elsewhere on the start-up Walk of Fame.
So what does she have to say to other young women seeking advice about entering the the industry? “No better way to find out if you can do something than to just do it” is her creed. Or better yet, “don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
In a world where little boys are encouraged to build, explore, and get their hands dirty, while young girls look on, Jessica’s advice is timely. Hearing stories like Jessica’s reminds us of the importance of role models and influencers who aren’t defined by their dogma, but also how imperfect upbringings give way to independent, self-sufficient young women as well. Raw and honest—we could probably all afford to see the likes of Jessica catching tadpoles, building radios or companies for that matter, for some years to come.