We are excited to have Gina Trapani join the Radiant Earth board of directors, bringing a wealth of experience and expertise from her career in the technology industry. Gina is currently the CEO at Postlight, a leading digital strategy and software engineering firm in New York City. She is also an accomplished writer who has published pieces in the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, and Wired Magazine. Gina has worked tirelessly throughout her career to build technology that truly improves people’s lives, and we are very lucky to have her on our team.
In this Q&A profile, our Executive Director, Jed Sundwall sits down with Gina to discuss her career journey, joining our Board, and her perspective on the current state of the web. Join us as we learn more about Gina.
I was thinking about how to describe you when coming up with these questions and the phrase “righteously optimistic” came to mind. Without me elaborating on why I came up with that description, I’m curious to get your take on it. How do you describe yourself?
Well, thank you! I take that description as a compliment. I am an optimist. I’d say I’m an impatient optimist: driven by a belief that things can and will get better, but it’s not happening nearly as quickly as it should be.
OK, Why did you agree to join our board? 😀
When you brought up the idea of joining the board, an unconditional “YES!” came out of my mouth before you even finished asking the question. Fundamentally, I believe that access to data about our world and our selves is key to making progress. I had the opportunity to come of age just as the web was, and see how powerful the ability to share information on an open network with standard protocols and formats really is. Radiant Earth’s mission resonates with me in every way, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.
How did your career in technology start?
One day my Dad came home with an IBM PCjr, our very own home computer. Wikipedia tells me the PCjr was a thing around 1984, so I must have been about 9 years old. I still remember my Mom shaking her head about how much it cost, and how we didn’t need it.
I fell in love with that computer. My parents could not tear me away from that thing. It had this incredible Easter Egg that if you pressed Escape right after it booted up, it would kick you into a keyboard adventure game. I remember how delighted I was to figure that out, play that game, understand how every key worked, and show it off to my family. Once I graduated into writing BASIC programs, I was hooked. Years later, when I finished graduate school, it was the most natural thing in the world to start my career as a programmer.
What excites you about the web these days?
The web made the leap from being a collection of static HTML documents to a place where full-on software applications run in your browser a long time ago. So this isn’t news, but I’m still regularly blown away by the rich, dynamic, interactive user experiences that are possible to build in-browser these days, passing data over the line via HTTP, using off-the-shelf libraries like React and various visualization tools. When I look at the suite of tools I use to work and run my life day-to-day, the majority of them live on the web first, with a native mobile app on the side for when I’m on my phone.
What do you want to fix about the web these days?
I still think so many web apps have an accessibility problem. Many of these experiences are still too hard to use and understand for big segments of the population. My Mom is in her 80s now and she’s finally come around to the fact that she needs and wants a computer in her life. Recently I wrote about watching her navigate modern interfaces and how painful it’s been for her. We can do better.
Do you have any cherished hard lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
I’ve learned 100 times more from the failures than from the successes. Not getting that job at Big Internet Company that I desperately wanted early in my career. Starting my own company, grinding for years, then having to face the facts that we hadn’t found product-market fit, the money was running out, and we had to shut it down. Getting on stage in front of hundreds of people and just bombing a talk. These failures get seared into your brain and they change you, but for the better. They make you wiser, more experienced, more prepared, more measured, more thick-skinned. You gotta run in the direction your inner compass is pointing, and be willing to fall on your face along the way. That’s the cherished hard lesson I keep learning and re-learning.
You’re an accomplished and recognized writer. Why do you think writing is so important, and what writing advice do you give to young professionals?
For me, a thought or idea isn’t real until I write it down. Then I read it back. And rewrite it. Expand on it. Share it, or publish it, or keep it in my journal for my own eyes only, or decide to do something about it. I think by writing. There are many communication mediums, but the written word is special. It’s a letter to our future selves. It’s how ideas and stories spread. Being a clear and crisp writer is a must for professionals. That doesn’t mean you need a six-figure book deal or a popular blog or an essay published in The New Yorker. You can just write for yourself.
Humans are storytellers. Our brains are constantly telling us stories about who we are, what we’re doing, what’s happening to us, and in the world. Those stories guide our actions and behaviors. My advice to young professionals is to write down those stories, and read them back to yourself. What do they say about who you are and what you’re trying to do? What’s true, and what’s not? What’s vague, and what’s clear? When you get crisp on your stories, and raise your own self-awareness, magic happens.
Are there any books (or really any kind of media) that have been particularly meaningful to you and shaped your career?
The Diary of Anne Frank imprinted on me how important it is, especially for girls and women, to write down their story. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird taught me how to manage my own psychology around my work. David Allen’s Getting Things Done revolutionized the way I organize myself, and field the million things that come at a busy professional every day. And lately I’ve been really enjoying Glennon Doyle’s podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, which is teaching me how to be more human in life and in work.