5 Harsh Truths Working With Tech Bros

5 Harsh Truths Working With Tech Bros
Who says women can't play poker?

I spent more than 20 years operating in “bro” industries - management consulting, tech, gaming, and crypto. I invariably came across unfair biases, outdated mindsets, and awkward situations.

However, it was the best EQ boot camp I could’ve asked for.

Early in my gaming career, I participated in an industry poker tournament.

Imagine 200+ industry titans - executives, publishers, designers, technologists, investors, and the press.

Through this experience, I realized 5 truths about working in male-dominated industries:

  1. We all fake it before we make it.
  2. You have to be mentally unbreakable.
  3. You have to be sharp and soft.
  4. All circles have inner circles.
  5. Double standards = real life.

Est. reading time = 8 min

#1: We all fake it before we make it.

Every February, the who’s who of the gaming industry gathers in Las Vegas. In the same room, you may see:

  • Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Xbox
  • Neil Druckmann, President of Naughty Dog
  • Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games
Las Vegas night sky

To kick off the conference, there is a poker tournament reserved for attendees. I paid a $200 entry fee out of my own pocket.

My previous poker experience was playing weekly games with friends.

Was I nervous? Absolutely.

I headed over to my assigned table with 10 complete strangers.

I was the only woman, and I was the youngest by at least 10 years.

A few hands in, I struck up a conversation with Ray, a gentleman sitting next to me.

We talked about many topics.

  • What games we are looking forward to?
  • When was the first time we played poker?
  • What are the most memorable meals from our travels?

Before he rotated to a new table, he handed me a business card.

"Let’s keep in touch. It was nice getting to know great poker players, especially those new to the industry."

This gentleman was Ray Muzyka, one of the co-founders of Bioware.

BioWare has created some of the world's most critically acclaimed titles including Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and my personal favorite - Mass Effect.

mass effect commander shepherd surprised

I found out later that Ray is a competitive poker player. He has won several WSOP (World Series of Poker) bracelets.

On top of that, six players at our table eventually made the final table.

Here I was, exchanging pleasantries, sharing stories, and laughing at our bluffs.

My industry idols were still human.

And we all had to start from somewhere and figure it out as we go.

#2: You have to be mentally unbreakable.

Halfway through the tournament, Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox, joined our table.

Like Ray, Randy is a serious poker player.

Unlike Ray, Randy’s friendly demeanor masked an assertive, no-BS play style.

And I found myself in a head-to-head round with Randy with a really sh*tty hand.

I won’t go into the play-by-play, but I needed to bluff Randy.

To win, I had to bet like I had the upper hand.

I locked my eyes with Randy, and I pushed my entire stack of chips into the pot.

"I'm all in."

And I waited.

It was the longest 3 minutes of my life.

Randy looked at me then the pot a few times.

"You probably have a bad hand, but you have guts."

Then he folded his hand.

I won the four-figure pot. 💦

#3: You have to be sharp and soft.

black cat sharpen claw

Five hours passed, but we were a long way from the final table.

By this point, I met someone from almost every major gaming studio and publisher.

When I had a strong hand, I played tight with smart bets.

Otherwise, I introduced myself, asked questions, and talked to everyone at the table.

I made sure to say their names a few times because people are hard-wired to love the sound of their own names.

I tipped the dealer every time I won a hand.

And every time a person exited the table, they gave me their contact info.

People want to do business with smart people they like.

#4: All circles have inner circles.

All circles have inner circles

As the tournament progressed, the dynamic shifted among the remaining players.

The environment became more rambunctious, as the remaining players played more loosely and egged each other on.

Conversations expanded into upcoming launches and potential acquisitions. They were asking about their families and sharing photos of their children and pets.

The remaining players represented an inner circle.

And I was right in the middle of it.

At the time, I represented Google’s gaming interests, so I asked many questions. They readily shared their perspectives and educated me about the inner workings of their companies and the industry.

This became the first of many circles.

Therefore, I gained access to private dinners, after-parties, partnerships, and investment opportunities.

#5: Double standards = real life.

Many underestimated me because:

  1. I was an attractive, twenty-something Asian woman.
  2. I was new to the gaming industry.
  3. I never played in a poker tournament.

But I surpassed their expectations.

I finished 12th in the tournament - two places away from the final table.

Overcoming these biases was difficult.

I grew up as the eldest daughter in an Asian immigrant household.

I was culturally programmed to not ask for what I wanted.

Fortunately, I met incredible male mentors who have been instrumental in my professional career. I remember one quote specifically.

If I never ask, the answer is always "no."

It's been incredible to see the gaming industry's growth from the rise of mobile phones to its prominence within mainstream pop culture and media. Every time I read industry news, I see more news about women tapped into leadership roles or starting new game studios. We have come a long way in over ten years, and it will be exciting to see the industry's continued evolution.