When Helena Price first moved to San Francisco in 2009 and got her first job as a public relations and tech consultant for Porto Franco records, she felt out of place among the hoodie-clad tech workers in Silicon Valley.
"I came from a small town in North Carolina, I didn't go to a good school, and I moved here with like $40," Price says. "It was really hard for me to meet other people like me, I just kept encountering Ivy Leaguers and tech dudes with really good pedigrees."
Now, Price has come up with a way to help connect tech workers in Silicon Valley. On Monday, she launched Techies, a portrait project that aims to "paint a more comprehensive picture of people who work in tech." Price worked her way up to become the the head of communications and partnerships at Skillshare, a provider of online classes, but quit to become a freelance photographer in 2013. She has since worked on projects for companies like Pinterest and Fitbit.
Techies consists of photographs and interviews with 100 different people who work in Silicon Valley, ranging from product designers to CEOs. All of the interview subjects come from "underrepresented" backgrounds--some are part of the LGBT community, some come from working-class families, while others have a disability. Facebook and Medium helped sponsor and cover some of the costs for the project, which Price said were around $15,000.
While Price has already published all of the interviews, she will be highlighting one interview on Medium each day for the next 100 days.
In particular, Price was looking to interview people who had "backgrounds that you just didn't expect," such as Chanpory Rith, a former Gmail designer who is now the co-founder of email tracking startup Mixmax. Rith, whose family is Cambodian, was born in a Thai refugee camp in 1980. His family of nine moved to West Oakland, California in 1984, to live in a one-bedroom apartment. While he says that he's felt a sense of "otherness" since childhood, that sense of isolation didn't go away even when he got a prestigious job at Google.
"During orientation, they were like 'Oh, here's some amazing people that work here,' Rith says. "I'm like, 'Uhh. What? Why am I even here?' Eventually you get over that a little bit, partly because you talk to other people who are say, 'oh yeah, I felt the same way.'"
Then there are people like Arman Nobari, a senior visual designer with Whistle, a dog fitness tracking startup, who have faced obstacles that aren't always apparent at first glance. Nobari was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma at age 14. Nobari says that that experience helped foster his interest in design. He would spend hours staring at the icons on some of the medical devices in his hospital room, and became interested in iconography.
Price says that she hopes the project will encourage founders and venture capitalists to back tech products that are more inclusive of the entire population. Melanie Araujo, is a former neuroscientist who founded Front & Center, a company that offers free design classes to often-overlooked neighborhoods in the Bay Area. She told Price that many of the people she encounters in tech don't realize how different their experiences are from the general population.
"I had the privilege to get my first personal computer when I was 14 years old," Araujo said. "And I didn't really know what code was until I was 19. But most of my peers in tech have had access to technology for all their lives, and role models that encouraged them to explore."
Price also hopes to help people understand what their coworkers or their employees may have overcome in order to be able to simply get a job at a startup.
"One of my favorite quotes was from a guy who came from a tough, abusive household," Price says. "At the end of the interview, he says 'Some people start a mile or two back, and then when they don't finish in first place, we say, well, you didn't do very good. When the reality is they ran faster, and they ran longer than any of those other people.'"