Sarah Clatterbuck has always been a tomboy. When she was a child, she asked her parents for a football helmet and jersey—“so I could play with the neighbor boys down the street,” explains Sarah. “I like to think of that as my early training to be in a male-dominated field.”
Sarah was born in Castro Valley, California. She grew up in San Jose and Stockton, never more than 100 miles from Silicon Valley. Still, the tech industry felt far away. Sarah’s father was a pastor, and her mother was on staff at a church. Several members of Sarah’s father’s congregation were computer scientists; otherwise, tech “certainly wasn’t part of my daily experience,” says Sarah, though her father was “a tinkerer. We didn’t have a lot of money, so he was always trying to make a working computer from whatever he could scratch together.”
At the University of San Francisco, Sarah studied applied design. While she was still in college, a professor offered her an internship at a start-up in Sausalito; the start-up was creating software, so that designers could create websites without knowing how to code (a WYSIWYG—“What You See Is What You Get”—tool). Sarah worked on tech support for the start-up for just over a year. She was sent to programming classes, so she could “understand how the software was working under the hood” and better serve the company’s customers. “And that’s when I fell in love with programming,” Sarah says.
Because she was within a semester of graduating, Sarah finished her applied design degree. On graduating, she began working in software engineering—first, adjacent to design (that is, in advertising), then, in 1999, she moved to Silicon Valley to work at a start-up. Shortly thereafter, she went back to school, securing a Master’s degree in Information Science at San Jose State University.
Sarah’s interests range widely. She’s an avid traveler, an athlete (a hiker, cycler, and aspiring NFL referee—“I think that’s my ideal encore career,” says Sarah), and a do-gooder, who devotes a great deal of time to volunteering, particularly for causes that promote girls’ and women’s involvement in tech. Her bachelor degree in applied design testifies to her creativity, and Sarah has made regular forays into visual arts for years (she has—for example—participated in Sketchtober).
Sarah is careful to note that coding, like applied design, offers ample opportunity for creativity. “The creative part is: which algorithm do you apply to get the best results?” Sarah explains. But coding, unlike applied design, seems unambiguous. For this reason, Sarah often finds coding meditative. “The computer does what you tell it to do,” says Sarah. “If it’s misbehaving, it’s your own fault. I find that if I have a particularly trying day, with a lot of drama, sometimes coding is very therapeutic.”
Sarah is acutely aware of the fact that the goals of tech industry are askew. “For the most part, we’re not solving the big problems of society,” she observes. “There are a lot of tools for entertainment, vanity, and convenience, aimed at the one percent, but I don’t feel like most of our companies are taking on bigger societal problems.” Sarah is trying to. Besides her work with initiatives that aim to get more women in tech, she also helped to develop LinkedIn’s accessibility initiatives. Fresh off a recent trip to Cameroon, Sarah is thinking about ways to expand the reach of tech to countries still working to develop technology infrastructure and a digital economy. “That seems like an exciting prospect,” she says.
--Thea De Armond