Sreejata Chatterjee, 32, co-founded LeadSift Inc. in 2012 and works as the Halifax-based company's chief product officer, specializing in using social media "fingerprints" to compile demographic and psychographic profiles of potential leads. The research helps companies target consumers. LeadSift won the Halifax Chamber of Commerce's Gold Award for Innovative Company in 2014; Ms. Chatterjee sits on the chamber's board of directors.
I tried computers in Grade 3 at nine years old, writing my first code without trying. I thought it was magical. Both my parents are in pure science with graduate degrees in biochemistry. They loved their subjects and tutored me, so I knew Grade 10 chemistry in Grade 5, but when I found programming, I thought: 'This is it. I'm not going into biochemistry. This is my thing.'
I met [LeadSift co-founder] Tukan Das in kindergarten and [we both] moved here [from India] to do degrees [at Dalhousie University]. We tried a couple of ideas that never went anywhere. We met Hatem [Nassrat, from Egypt] at university and he joined; he's a genius. Dan [Allen, from the Bahamas] joined; he's very diligent. We pitched the LeadSift idea at DemoCamp 2011 and people asked, "Do you really have that? We'd use it."
It's my responsibility to talk to customers to find out what they want, and figure out how technology can best be used. We're just a six-person team. The titles are just for ego. I also sit on the board and I'm responsible for financials. The last three months we've grown 100 per cent each month. We want to grow our business and be profitable. I think that's much better [than being acquired].
We hire on merit but it would be nice to have another woman on the team. We need different kinds of thinking, right?
Human language is very difficult for computers to understand. "Canada killed the United States in the game" – is it positive or negative? "Killed" is negative, but it's not true here; for Canadians it means "awesome." For a computer to understand that, it's impossible. If saying that about a brand, you have no idea if that person is interested or hating something. The truth is, we love doing this, understanding what consumers actually want.
The "intention economy" is that consumers know what they want and now have a platform [to say so through social media]. They can make it clear what they want and brands should be bidding to get business. That's pretty much where we've been heading the last few years.
I learned a lot working at other companies. MagicLamp Software's partners – I aspire to be bosses like them, so nurturing and supportive, they were amazing. Although I worked in very typical tech-company settings, I never experienced typical issues a coloured young woman in tech does because, I realized later, they shielded me against it and constantly encouraged me.
I see confidence [masked as] competence in the field – a lot.
The numbers say it, although it's constantly changing – maybe one [female] in four [males] in tech jobs; senior levels even worse.
I love to teach Ladies Learning Code. I love programming – teaching women makes it better. The first class was so rewarding and people were so excited. For a lot of women who don't do computer science and don't have friends in it, when they code and see it's so simple, it's a "eureka" moment for them.
We obviously deal with a lot of data and can write blog articles – they're not interesting. Putting data into infographics is marketing and easily digestible.
The balance between capturing information and being creepy – there's a bunch of laws that protect people. We're not allowed to make public any personally identifiable information. What we see, what we get, is what Twitter releases or what's on LinkedIn. People knowingly post in public. Twitter never releases an IP address – that's illegal – but if their GPS is on and they're tweeting, we get their location.
I tell all my close friends and family, please be aware of what you're tweeting. Brands are governed by laws and they don't want to be sued but there are people who don't care about the law. You don't want people to know you're dropping off your kid for school, have your GPS on and tweet that every weekday at 10:30. People should be smarter.
As told to Halifax-based freelance writer Cynthia Martin.
This interview has been edited and condensed.