The United State of Women Summit: An Interview with Tania Katan

In this interview, Axosoft evangelist Tania Katan, who is also the creative instigator of the international viral campaign #itwasneveradress, reports on being invited to the White House’s United State of Women Summit. She talks about agile project management, activism, and Michelle Obama and Oprah.

Jennifer Bonine: All right. We are back with another virtual interview. I am so excited. I am so excited here.

Tania Katan: Full disclosure, I'm excited, too. I am.

Jennifer Bonine: I'm here with Tania, and your background is a little bit different than everyone else we're interviewing here.

Tania Katan: True story. News at five.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. This is fun. You should tell them how you got here. Right? Your background. You're not going to say, "I've been a tester since I was two."

Tania Katan: No. No. No. No. No. The opposite of testing. Exploring. I've been an explorer. I come from theater, the performing arts, and also visual arts. Since I was little I wrote plays and operas, like not real operas, just fake ones about my family, and I'd have them perform it at Passover.

Jennifer Bonine: You'd have your family perform it?

Tania Katan: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: They would be the characters? That's so cool.

Tania Katan: Yeah. My grandma would be like, "Put on a coat," because that was important to her, so that was her line. Anyway, yeah. I come from writing, performing, and engaging live audiences as opposed to mediated audiences. It's a really cool transition into the tech space for me.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. You work for an organization called Axosoft. For those that don't know what Axosoft is, really neat story. A female CEO in technology.

Tania Katan: Yeah. True story.

Jennifer Bonine: Hard to believe. There aren't a lot of them out there. Right?

Tania Katan: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: There's a handful that run technology companies, so really exciting that you work for Axosoft and that organization. For people that don't know anything about Axosoft or some of the projects you guys are working on, maybe tell us a little bit about that.

Tania Katan: Sure. Yeah. Axosoft is an agile project manager software for software developers, which is really important, because it's actually so functional as a project management software that some people are like, "I'd like it to manage my life," and we don't support that in our customer ...

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Just so you know. Full disclosure.

Tania Katan: Yeah. Customer success isn't, "Okay. Your life is going a little hectic right now? Let's get you on the software." We do not do that.

Jennifer Bonine: We won't support your life.

Tania Katan: It's for people who are making something. We do that, and we have a new tool to market just in the last year called GitKraken, like as in "Release the kraken."

Jennifer Bonine: Did you help come up with that name?

Tania Katan: Gosh. I wish, but you know what? We have so many smart, funny people at ...

Jennifer Bonine: That's an awesome name.

Tania Katan: ... Axosoft that they came up with it.

Jennifer Bonine: I love it.

Tania Katan: GitKraken is a Git client that is totally cross functional, because it's built on Electron, for those of you who know, and even I know very little about Git, and so I've been talking to people who use it. Even people who know about Git don't know about Git. It's visual. It's a GUI, so it's really easy to navigate and to learn Git through GitKraken. There's a whole educational component built into it for people who are interested.

Jennifer Bonine: If people are interested to go look at the tool and to see what it does, where do they go?

Tania Katan: Yeah. You can go to or and under the umbrella, GitKraken. You can learn a little about It Was Never a Dress ...

Jennifer Bonine: Which we have to talk about.

Tania Katan: ... which is a little initiative, and everything else that Axosoft is doing in the state.

Jennifer Bonine: That's awesome. We should talk about It Was Never a Dress, because the first time I heard it I was so excited. A lot of you out there probably have heard of this campaign. It went viral.

Tania Katan: That's how we roll. It went viral.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. You went viral.

Tania Katan: Viral.

Jennifer Bonine: It went viral, and it was all over. Why don't you talk a little bit about it for people who haven't seen it or don't know about it?

Tania Katan: I feel like I should grab your computer.

Jennifer Bonine: I know. You should.

Tania Katan: Really?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Tania Katan: I'm going off frame in five, four, three, two.

Jennifer Bonine: She'll be right back.

Tania Katan: She's gone.

Jennifer Bonine: We've got to see it.

Tania Katan: Oh gosh.

Jennifer Bonine: I am a big proponent of it.

Tania Katan: Oh gosh. The microphone stays on. How's that? How's that? What?

Jennifer Bonine: It is there. You can see it.

Tania Katan: Is it good? Am I good?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. We'll leave it here, but this is it.

Tania Katan: Yeah. It Was Never a Dress started because ... I'm navigating my microphone right now. It's tucked under my lap. TV and livestreaming's not always glamorous, and I'm here to tell you that. Our CEO, Lawdan Shojaee, when she started, obviously she's a woman, and there are not a whole bunch of women CEOs in Arizona. That's where we are. We were going to support girls in technology ...

Jennifer Bonine: Which is awesome.

Tania Katan: ... in this global organization by showing up and sponsoring a booth. We're like, "Let's take it a step further and come up with an idea that might address this issue of girls and women in technology, or the lack thereof." It Was Never a Dress became a sticker that we launched at the Girls in Tech conference. People started going nutty and taking pictures of the sticker, tweeting it, as the kids say, and it went viral, embraced by every major media outlet in the world. People started to claim is as their own and imagine or reimagine what the women's bathroom symbol could be. We imagined a cape, but it's also a proposition for you to come up with what you project as to what she can be, beyond in a certain dress. People, they send us images of judges robes, of lab coats, and so it became this space for a visual dialogue that was fantastic.

Jennifer Bonine: There's a little story, because that was one of the ideas you did come up with.

Tania Katan: Yeah, and it takes a village, which is French for all of Axosoft.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. To do that. Reimagining something that we've looked at so many times, and we've said, "Oh. It's a dress. That's a dress." When you look at the bathroom signs you're like, "Dress." Just looking at it in a different way and reimagining something you've looked at so many times, and seeing it in a different way, or seeing it in a different light is so powerful.

Tania Katan: Good. I'm glad. Well, I mean, that kind thinking comes from theater stuff and also collaboration. When thinking about something we are taught to turn it upside down, flip it around, see that's there that we aren't seeing on an everyday basis, and then beyond that, once I have that kind of thing, bringing it to my colleagues and saying, "What do you see? What is there?", and them bringing layers and levels that I didn't see. That's where it became wildly collaborative and she came into existence.

Jennifer Bonine: Emerged.

Tania Katan: Yeah. She emerged. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: You mentioned that's very common for you where you came from and your background and theater and stuff, of reimagining things. Sometimes in the tech space not so common. Right? They're not used to turning things around and reimagining. Have you done anything with helping technology folks with that skillset, or how do you look at something differently, or turning it upside down and thinking about things differently, at Axosoft or other places?

Tania Katan: Yeah. I think actually it reminds me of Axosoft, just because I am giving a talk tomorrow about the United State of Women Summit. The point being is one really powerful thing that happened at the summit was Michelle Obama was just in conversation with Oprah ...

Jennifer Bonine: At the summit that you were at?

Tania Katan: At the summit. They were just chatting. I was watching.

Jennifer Bonine: She was there.

Tania Katan: Elated. Michelle Obama said something that totally struck me, which was, "While we're here in the White House we feel like it's our job to invite people inside that would never be invited in." That just struck a chord for me. Going back to creative principles, one thing that I think was really radical about Axosoft as a small software company is that they invited a knucklehead artist in, like myself. I come from theater. I'm an activist, and, "Hey. Yes. We would like you to represent us." What? When you're talking about innovation there's also innovation in how we find people and invite them in to create innovation and maybe people who are actually trained in that milieu might be helpful to those of us who want it around. I think that that's a really nice way in which a small company was able to do that.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, and being open to different backgrounds and different ways of thinking and collaborating to come up with even better solutions. Right?

Tania Katan: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Not being so insular of everyone has to have the same background and, "Do you have a computer science degree? If you do, you're in." Right?

Tania Katan: Totally. Actually it's funny, because when I first started there I was like, "I don't know. What is software?" Software for software people, it was so meta. Ah. My mind. However, what framed that for me was the agile methodology behind it, and Scrum, and all of these things that are actually their creative practices and their collaborative practices. As a playwright and a performer you don't do it alone. We have a whole team of people that work in chorus to create something larger than ourselves. That's where the methodology behind the software was like, "Oh. This is what we do, and this is how we do it." It's thoughts and form together.

Jennifer Bonine: I love it. That's awesome. You did mention a little bit about the summit that you were at the White House. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be. Do you know how you were invited?

Tania Katan: I have no idea.

Jennifer Bonine: How did they do it?

Tania Katan: Here's the deal. I don't know. Seriously, you get this email that has the White House imprinted, like screened back in the top middle. I was like, "Oh my gosh. I'm being arrested for all the shenanigans I did in the ‘90s and late ‘80s."

Jennifer Bonine: "They found me."

Tania Katan: They found me. It's either really good or really bad to get the state seal in your inbox.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. You're like, "Is this okay or not okay?"

Tania Katan: Yeah. It ended up being okay. They were actually, just like a government, they were very mysterious about how it came to be. I was nominated by someone ...

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Out there.

Tania Katan: ... then selected by someone else. You know? That lead to me, as well as 499 other women and men from around the world, who are change makers, to showing up. Actually, it was sort of a misnomer. We didn't go into the White House. The White House came to us. You might be familiar with President Obama.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Tania Katan: He came. Joe Biden.

Jennifer Bonine: Hopefully you've heard of him.

Tania Katan: Yes. He's a familiar character. It was really fantastic, but there were just so many people that we did it in a conference hall and the White House literally came to us. It was beautiful.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It was a day-long event.

Tania Katan: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: Are they planning to have this event again?

Tania Katan: I cannot speak for political things, but I would guess if somebody won presidency, we might have it again ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yes. It could.

Tania Katan: ... and if someone else did it, we would never have it again. Ta-da. Politics.

Jennifer Bonine: And with that, we're already about of time.

Tania Katan: It was such a pleasure.

Jennifer Bonine: I know. Thank you for being here with us, and I will see you tomorrow at Women Who Test.

Tania Katan: Thank you for having me, Jennifer.

Jennifer Bonine: Thank you.

Tania Katan: Thanks.

TaniaThe creative instigator of the international viral campaign #itwasneveradress, Tania Katan is an award-winning author and keynote speaker who believes in storytelling at all costs! Tania made the audacious leap into technology and is currently the evangelist for Axosoft—because every rock star company needs a punk! She has been a featured speaker at Business of Software, Social Innovation Summit, i.d.e.a. Museum, S.H.E. Summit, TEDx, and more. Tania’s work has been written about in the New York Times, Huffington Post, TIME, and BuzzFeed. She is a certified anti-bias and diversity trainer through the Anti-Defamation League.

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