Company Building
Writing New Definitions with Shanea Leven

Do you remember the first time you experienced the Internet? Shanea Leven does. She was 13, and she realized that online, she could be anyone and do anything. On the Technical Women podcast, she shares how her path unfolded and the definitions she’s rewriting now.

At age 13, Shanea Leven’s life grew and bloomed in front of her eyes. She got a computer that was connected to the internet, and she realized for the first time that she could be anyone and do anything. “I reimagined my life,” she says.

On this episode of Technical Women, Shanea talks to hosts Natalie Vais and Renee Shah about  her journey from that first home computer to learning computer science to working at Google and eventually starting a new company, CodeSee, to make life easier for developers everywhere. Along the way, she has made it her mission to write new definitions of what it means to work in tech and to be a “force multiplier” for others who have big ideas.

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Unlocking the visual side of code

When Shanea became an engineer, she sometimes felt stymied in her work. “I’m a very visual learner and a creative person,” she says. “But when I started to learn to code, it was really hard for me to hold all that information in my head, and I just struggled through it.”

She realized she wasn’t alone. A lot of engineers had the same challenge, but most people thought of holding all that mental gymnastics as a rite of passage — a badge of honor. “And I was like, this is crazy. This doesn’t make any sense. Why are we still doing this?”

“We as humans are visual creatures, and engineering is an inherently visual thing. But it’s not made that way, and it hasn’t been for the past 50 years.”

Her solution? Find a way to make all those lines of code visual so that teams of engineers could quickly understand a codebase without reading every single line.

Shanea thinks we’re at an inflection point, and the solution is visualization — merging the technical and the creative to take the manual labor out of coding and create a more seamless and sustainable solution.

Bringing relief to developers

The result of her big idea? Technical teams can work to ship new features faster — without the heavy pressure on their shoulders.

“We put so much pressure on developers today. Like, hey, you need to go build this feature, hey, sales needs to close this deal. And it has to be secure by design. Otherwise, you can tank the company.”

“Just removing some of those burdens off of a developer and seeing their faces when we do that is the best thing in the world,” she says.

Shanea founded CodeSee, a solution that helps developers remove “the unknown unknowns.” They can visualize the connections in the codebase, and they don’t have to worry that they might accidentally bring down the whole system when they ship a new feature.

“Bringing that relief to developers is one of my favorite parts of this work,” Shanea says.

Breaking down barriers for non-developers

CodeSee isn’t her first experience creating tools for people with big ideas. When Shanea was at  Google, she was on a team that taught novice coders to build Android apps. They brought down all the traditional barriers people face when they want to code something new.

Her work helped doctors create mobile apps. She saw psychologists put their sleep curriculum in an app and deliver it to tens of thousands of people.

Her takeaway: Anyone can create something if they’re given the right tools. In other words, she could “teach people how to fish” — in code.

She was inspired to lower the barrier of entry to people who have been stuck outside of engineering. “I want to redefine the way we develop something and bring that to as many people as possible.”

Braving the ‘boxing ring’ of founder life to build a better tech culture

But Shanea isn’t just focused on the tools she’s building. She’s also forging a new path when it comes to company culture in tech.

“I’ve been at a lot of startups. And at CodeSee, for the first time I get to design the culture that I always wanted to have, that I always expected tech to have.” That culture is based on trust, transparency, self-reflection, humility, and communication.

But building a new kind of tech culture isn’t easy. “We’re all human, and we’re all flawed. But we put in guardrails to hopefully make sure that the people we bring in fit with those specific culture points. And that we are consistently every day trying to live up to that ideal.”

“I have this saying that being a founder is like being in a boxing ring,” she says. “Every day, you never know if like, you’re going to get one of those like quick little hugs, or you’re going to get punched in the face, or if both of those things are going to happen at the same time. Every day is a roller coaster, and every day has ups and downs. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

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