For Gaby Ruiz-Funes and Sarah Bump, learning web development was not just a pathway to a new career, but a creative spark that would lead them to start a movement. Since graduating, the pair has led the charge of creating a network of individuals comprising the Lady Mafia project. Together, they highlight women and men who are agents of change and who make the world a better place through their hard work and innovation.
Sarah came from a marketing background and Gaby was working as an industrial engineer before enrolling in General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive course in Chicago. “I was a little lost,” Sarah said. “I knew I didn’t want to stay in that field, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do instead.” Gaby was already intrigued by web development but realized she needed a structured environment to learn brand-new skills. “As an engineer I was trained to be able to create the things that were in my imagination,” Gaby said. “It felt frustrating to be limited on the web and I wanted the tools that would help me create the apps and websites that I imagined, especially those I hoped would help make a positive impact on the world.”
When the two met during their course, they started a friendship that would become the basis for their project — Lady Mafia, a website that aims to catalog humans who are “moving the earth.” We caught up with Gaby and Sarah to learn more about their experience as the super-cool founders of the Lady Mafia movement.
1. What are you up to these days?
Sarah: I’m doing a rotational engineering program at Morningstar, currently working in software development and some technical project management. I love having a passion project on the side, though, it really motivates and energizes me.
Gaby: I’m working as a front-end developer at Razorfish. In my spare time I have been involved with The Limited “New Look of Leadership” campaign a cool platform for positive media which is so invigorating, and working as a mentor in the Jiang China Human Centered Design program. And working on Lady Mafia, of course!
2. What inspired Lady Mafia? Why is the project so important to you?
Sarah: It’s important to me for so many reasons. We joke because we both have big personalities and are extremely extroverted, so we could have really hated each other, but we turned out to be great friends. Ultimately, what inspired Lady Mafia was our friendship. We worked together a lot during WDI and went to meetups together and were each other’s biggest cheerleaders during the job interview process. We were in a coffee shop coding one day and we were talking about all the projects that we build around human rights and this man called us the “lady mafia,” so we bought the domain name right then and there!
Gaby: The Google Doodles also inspired Lady Mafia, in a way. We learn about all of these amazing incredible people who have shaped the world we live in, especially scientists and engineers and artists who are women — but we never learned about any of them in school. The truth is, there are so many more people that we need to learn about because they have profoundly influenced the modern world. We wanted to create an exhaustive catalogue of these people from the past and capture the voices of those who are modern-day influencers — a sort of living history.
The other reason this is important to us is it’s a platform based on positivity. We have so much fun together and really want to help dismantle the idea that women have to be competitive and mean to one another to get ahead: “Her success is not your failure!” We want to challenge the idea that you have to do things a certain way to be a positive impact.
3. Tell us about the process of building Lady Mafia. What have been your greatest challenges and successes?
Sarah: Well, we built it on Jekyll, so it came together quite nicely. As far as process — and I think that this is why we work so well together — we don’t really say, “Okay, you work on this, I’ll work on this.” We just sit down and immediately get to work. I don’t know why or how, but it always comes together.
I would say the biggest success for me was getting an interview with Kiran [Gandhi]. I’ve looked up to her for a while, so to have her on board and so supportive was so cool. I knew when I emailed her it was a shot in the dark, but she wrote me back an hour later saying, “This is so dope, I am so in.” I was in shock. We knew that having a few solid articles and a really cool UI would be a great way to launch it, and I think that we accomplished that.
Gaby: The process has been so awesomely iterative! We’ll sit together or send screenshots and just try things. Sarah and I balance each other so perfectly (for the astrology lovers reading this, we are air and earth) and keep one another accountable, positive, and excited.
What really makes me smile is our readership. More than half of our readers are male! It’s so important that both men and women hear our message in order to change the perspective. We designed the site so it would be bold and sassy, balancing old-school and contemporary, and were cognizant of coming off too “girly,” so we wouldn’t deter any guys who visited the site. Those demographics tell us our design choices are having the effect we wanted. It’s so cool to get guys engaged in the learning and conversation.
4. What have you learned from this experience?
Sarah: For me it’s been to trust my gut and work harder than I think I have to. It was a lot of work to get it all up and running, but it was so worth it. Also, it was just me and Gaby throwing our opinions at each other and just doing what we were interested in, and what we want to learn and read. It’s worked out so far. We’ve gotten really awesome feedback.
Gaby: It’s crazy hard to start a website, let alone a brand and movement! We agreed from the start to focus on having fun and making something we are proud of that can challenge us from a design, content, and coding perspective. But the ultimate goal is to “out the mafia,” and you can’t really make something visible if nobody is looking. So I would say balancing fun, while still navigating the social media and analytics space to share our vision has been a great learning experience.
5. What’s next for you and Lady Mafia?
Sarah: For me it’s continuing to work in technology, and to practice coding. I am really passionate about civic technology, so I want to continue diving into that world. I get frustrated because there’s so much I want to do and build, but my skillset isn’t quite there, so I’m staying focused on the process.
For Lady Mafia, I want to start experimenting with audio and put a Lady Mafia stamp on the podcast world. I also want to increase the size of our reach. Right now it’s really grassroots — my mom posting it on her Facebook and stuff like that. I’d like to see what else we can do to get it out there. In the end, the goal is to empower and inspire people, so the more the merrier!
Gaby: We’ve been really excited about an idea that came from Sarah’s desire to explore the audio side of content. We observed that so many people are writing about millennials, but there isn’t a real platform to capture the millennial experience and viewpoint. We are playing with the idea of having a “Millennial Mafia” podcast. Both of us are lucky to have a really vast, diverse network, so we think it would be valuable to get friends involved in having dynamic, open discussions on meaningful topics to our generation.
Sarah and I have had people ask if we’re going to advertise or how we would monetize. The idea of being innovative in [monetization] is really fun to think about. It’s not the end goal, but the ideas of financial security and feminine business perspectives have come up a lot in our interviews and have presented a fun mental exercise for us.
6. And, finally, a GA staple, who’s your favorite teacher and why?
Sarah: You can’t make us answer that! Seriously, though, I have to say I love both James Traver and Andrew Madden for different reasons. Andrew is an incredible lector and James is great one-on-one. I really enjoyed working with both of them. I still email them stuff like, “Today I have to code in C#, oh no.” I miss them.
Gaby: What Sarah said 🙂 and to add to that, my classmates! The organic and consistent collaboration with my peers in GA was an amazing part of the experience, and to this day we are still learning from one another, whether it’s a tip for a new framework to try, or connecting one another to people and organizations in the industry.