Jewish Tech Mum

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Esther Wojcicki: A Jewish mother of the tech revolution” by Preeva Tramiel

I sometimes direct tourists toward ‘the HP garage,’ which is marked with a plaque and gets photographed a lot. It is three blocks down the street from my house. HP bought that garage, and the house it is attached to, decades ago, and preserves it. HP holds receptions in that old house sometimes, and people cherish the honor of being close to two pioneers of the technology revolution.

I’m here to tell you this: Some pioneers of the technology revolution are Jewish women. You don’t hear very much about them, because no one has put up a plaque for them yet. One of then is named Esther Wojcicki, aka “Woj.” Woj serves as Vice Chair on the Creative Commons Board of Directors, and is a pioneer in education and technology.

I sat down with her, and when I listed a few of the women contributors to the technology revolution, she had never heard of them but was not surprised that she hadn’t heard of them. “Girls, women, are taught to be retiring, and quiet,” she said. “I tell my kids to be very careful about that when they go out into the world.” Woj, as she is called, is the mother of three daughters who went into high tech, and is the surrogate mother to thousands more students she has taught in her 27 years as head of the journalism department at Palo Alto high school. She acknowledges that there is a lot of discrimination, and thinks women should just go ahead anyway.

My daughter, Anne, had it the worst,” she relates. “She was in investment banking, and men would ask her to get them coffee, would try to get her to sleep with them, and she just told them,” Woj paused, “she just told them where to get off.” Anne, the youngest of Woj’s daughters, ran a mutual fund specializing in biotech before starting 23and Me, a personal genomics company.

I would say I’m a feminist, yes,” Wojcicki said thoughtfully, “but I’m not a flag-waving feminist. I don’t devote my life to feminism. But what I do is I basically walk through life as a feminist and try to make sure all the doors are as open to women as they are to men, and I treat women in my classes the same way I treat men.

Woj is proud that, even though they don’t have to, everyone in the family works. She and her husband helped their children, but only to a point. Her oldest, like most children, got some help from Mom and Dad when buying a house, but needed to rent out part of that house to two young graduate students (named Larry Page and Sergei Brin) to pay her mortgage.

It was a huge house, 5 bedrooms and 3 baths for two people,” Woj said “We told ’em ‘use your resources!’ and it worked out.” (read more at Jewish Women’s Archive)

Photo: Wikipedia

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Esther Hochman ‘Woj’ Wojcicki is an American journalist, educator, and vice chair of the Creative Commons board of directors. Wojcicki has been a pioneer in exploring the interface between educationand technology.  She is a Board Certified Teacher certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards She was first certified in 2000 and renewed her credential in 2010 which will expire in 2020.

Esther Wojcicki was valedictorian of her high school class, and graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in English and Political Science. She received a secondary teaching credential from UC Berkeley, as well as a graduate degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley.  She has an advanced degree in French and French History from the Sorbonne, and both a Secondary School Administrative Credential and a M.A. in Educational Technology from San Jose State University.

Esther Wojcicki has taught at Palo Alto High School since 1984, where she currently teaches journalism and English. There she began the journalism program which has grown to become one of the largest in the nation.  She has worked as a professional journalist for multiple publications and blogs regularly for The Huffington Post.

Esther was the 1990 Northern California Journalism teacher of the year,  and was selected as the California Teacher of the Year in 2002 by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She served on the University of California Office of the President Curriculum Committee where she helped revise the beginning and advanced journalism curriculum for the state of California. In 2009, she was awarded the Gold Key by Columbia Scholastic Press Association in recognition of outstanding devotion to the cause of the school press.  Esther also on the Board of Trustees of the Developmental Studies Center and on the Board of Governors of the Alliance for Excellent Education.  She serves as Chairman of the Board of Learning Matters.

Esther is the oldest of three children, and was the first in her family to attend college.  Both of  Wojcicki’s parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to New York City in the 1930s. Her family moved to Southern California after she was born.

Her husband is Stanford University professor of physics Stanley Wojcicki. They have three daughters: Janet, Susan (VP Product Management at Google) and Anne (the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin), and seven grandchildren.


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