Penina Rybak; Fem Geek, Author & Advocate of Female Entrepreneurs

Today, Innov8tiv talks with Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP,TSHH, who is the founder/CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, a boutique consulting firm she started in 2010. Penina is an educational technology consultant, pediatric speech-language pathologist specializing in Autism, and an Apple™ Technology expert and iPad Evangelist. Penina is the creator of the Socially Speaking™ App and social skills curriculum which is in the process of being published.

Penina is also a national/international speaker on the topics of social communication development and strategies, technology best practices re: iOS App integration into workflows and educational curricula for busy professionals, and psychological and practical tips for female entrepreneurs. We advise all female entrepreneurs to  read her bookThe NICE Reboot: How to Become a Better Female Entrepreneur- How to Balance Your Craving for Humanity & Technology in Today’s Startup Culture, which was as published by Maven House Press. She currently blogs on WordPress, Tumblr, The Huffington Post, The Friendship Circle Blog for Special Needs Children. 

What prompted you to want to assist women with technology?

I have to give credit to my mother, a child psychologist and lifelong student,  who understood the power of technology long before others did; to spur education and imagination. It was my mother who opened the world for me by getting me a library card at age 3 and later got me hooked on the USA geography game “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” It was my mother who was one of the first ones to introduce me to my first Mac, solidifying my love affair with Apple™ and all things techie since. From the time I was a child, I’ve always loved technology, specifically Apple™ Technology, with its intuitive, user-friendly interface and design. I have two brothers and was a bit of a tomboy, and was always encouraged to read and tinker with them; drawing, legos, computers etc.  Science fiction and technology fascinated me. When my friends played Barbie with me I was the one putting them in hover-crafts made of legos or shoe boxes, and creating stories for them about space travel, outfitting them with light sabers from Star Wars and transporters from Star Trek. I’m a visual learner with an artistic bent. I value creativity and customization in learning; whether for myself or others.

When I first began my career as a speech therapist in the school system in the mid 90s, the first Technology Revolution was starting and I eagerly jumped on the train. I saw early on that technology, with its sequential, structured, customization, and multi-sensory capabilities, and its predominantly visual component truly appealed to my students with Autism. They are essentially visual learners, and the Apple™ Tech in particular was particularly attractive to them. I was chosen by Apple™ to join other special education professionals in getting trained, and then training others, in Apple™ Tech (mostly software at that time) through the NY TRAID Project from 1996-2000. In the interim, I worked with many women in the education arena as both a speech therapist specializing in Autism intervention, and an educational technology consultant specializing in Macs. I attempted to bridge gaps between readiness to learn and actual performance in both the students and colleagues I worked with. I tried hard as an ed-tech specialist to dispel some of the myths and fears surrounding tech, and to integrate it (software) into workflows, daily routines, and curricula. I taught other special education professionals, many of them women, to develop special education curricula and specific lessons plans that methodically synthesized toys and tech in treatment.

In 2007 the iPhone forever changed the landscape of technology by starting the second leg of the revolution: mobile Apps. I quietly began to experiment with iOS Apps in treatment and take data, and lots of notes. In 2009 I incorporated everything I’d learned about facilitating child development through toys and tech, and created my Socially Speaking™ Social Skills Curriculum . I started to give educational seminars on that topic, locally and then branched out. In 2010 I officially became an entrepreneur in the ed-tech space, so that I could reach more women and help them integrate technology into best practices re: education in the new millennium. I got the iPad 2 the week it launched (I knew the prototype had no camera!) and quickly adopted it as my swiss-army knife style tool in my toolbox. In 2011 I became an official iPad Evangelist when I was hired to train people all over North America in iPad App integration and best practices. In 2012 I launched my second entrepreneurial and tech-related product, my Socially Speaking™ iPad App. It’s the only digital, developmental, user-friendly, customizable and play based social skills assessment protocol to date. It identifies children at risk for behavioral and social issues and plots a course of treatment for children such as those with Autism. In 2014 I took everything I had learned about balancing humanity and technology in today’s startup culture and wrote a cookbook of sorts on female entrepreneurship. It reads part tech-manual (iPad and social media information), part how-to manual (how to launch a business) and part inspirational (current trends affecting women in business) dogma. I also began blogging about balancing humanity and technology, and what that actually entails, because I think it’s an important topic. Read more on Penina by clicking page 2

Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career

The two most significant career markers for me to date, have been the Socially Speaking™ iPad App I launched in May 2012, and The NICE Reboot book on female entrepreneurship I wrote, which was just published by Maven House Press. Both share a common goal: to use iPads in different ways to achieve your goals. Both also reflect what I’ve learned about balancing humanity and technology for the greater good.

What was the most difficult period in your Career life, and how did you deal with it? 

I think that 2013 was the most difficult year for me. I was in transition; professionally and personally. Professionally, I was well respected in my field but considered a bit of a maverick. I had launched my iPad App and Socially Speaking™ iPad Seminars but still had to convince people who attended my seminars that the iPad was a real game changer in the world of entrepreneurship and education; more than other tablets out there. I had traveled North America for 3 years on a regular basis, but still had to convince people I met that I was a bona fide woman entrepreneur who rented space in the tech arena, given the unique nature of my service/product. Personally, 2013 was a challenging year for another reason. I was reeling from the loss of my late childhood best friend and mentor, Dr. Natalie “Nechah” Hochstein. She had convinced me to become an entrepreneur while fighting breast cancer. She lost that battle on December 12, 2012, but not before encouraging me to write my book and try to give voice to what other women in entrepreneurship are saying/thinking/feeling. So I tried to deal with 2013 the best I could; becoming much more active on social media, writing The NICE Reboot, and continuing to be an iPad Evangelist in the female entrepreneurship space. It led to me being invited to speak in November 2013 at the Hack for Big Choices Event in Palo Alto, CA. I was the lone female panelist at an entrepreneurship event in Silicon Valley, discussing and debating the role of technology in global education with great minds such as David Mosby, Bill Reichert, and VivekWadwa.

In your experience, what do you think is severely lacking within the Tech Communities?  

I believe that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the power of

• Process vs. Outcome

• Creativity

• Collaboration

All impact on work/life and Me/We balance when inventing and using tech. All impact the disruptive innovation i.e. the process of designing and bringing tech to market, and using that tech to solve real problems around the world. WhatsApp and Snapchat are the flavors of the year, and time will tell if they are still benchmarks for the type of technology male entrepreneurs are so quick to praise and try to emulate. Women have a higher level of emotional intelligence which makes for great creativity and collaboration at work without ruffling feathers or getting into ego trips. That’s why women around the world were watching closely when Tim Cooke fired Scott Forestall (who helped design the iPhone) as one of his first tasks as CEO, because of a reported lack of collaboration. That’s why women entrepreneurs around the world are now watching Guy Kawasaki take on the mantle of Chief Evangelist at Canva, a graphic design App on my radar for a while. We’re waiting to see what others will do with Canva, not just what Guy says we can do with it.

What are the most important things you have learned from your work experience?

1. Helping others learn; whether it’s technology, entrepreneurship, or something else,  promotes happiness and social good all around

2. The balance of humanity and technology is an ongoing daily struggle, but it’s worth it; personally and professionally

3. Technology is redefining our attempts to harness time and reconfigure work/life balance re: being busy vs. being productive

4. Technology is essential to fostering more women thought leadership, actual leadership, and social entrepreneurship, so that we can all promote change and make a difference

5.  More people are likely to use technology if it

• Helps them solve problems with it

• Contains an element of play, so that the brain relaxes and “connects the dots”

What is your career advice young women entering the technology sector? 

1. The world of tech changes so fast that content curation using Apps such as Zite, Twitter, Evernote, and Pocket are not just a social media marketing strategy to provide your client base with useful information. It’s your lifeline; especially if you take time off to have kids/be home with them!

2. You have unique visual, cognitive, and social skills which make you valuable team players and reverse mentors who can and should barter services/opportunities for lateral and overt promotions! You can’t have it all, and will need to devote time to hone your craft. But you should speak up and be heard and seen while doing so!

3. Perfectionism is a real problem for women at work, especially in this sector. Multi-tasking is the enemy! Re-framing success and failure is your friend!

4. In technology, the end-product is the focus, but the journey along the way is where you learn the most and gain the most; intangible lessons that help you maintain momentum in life, not just in the office

Stay updated on Penina Rybak’s NICE Initiative by following Penina on the following social media outlets:  

Facebook: Socially Speaking LLC

YouTube: socialslp, storytellergal

Google+: The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship

Pinterest: PeninaRybak

Twitter: @PopGoesPenina



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