STEMinist Profile: Jen McCabe, CEO & Cofounder, Habit Labs

Jen McCabe

Jen McCabe

CEO, Cofounder
Habit Labs

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was obsessed with biology, particularly zoology, as a kid. For a long time, I thought I’d be the next Dr. Eugenie Clark. Before buying my first pet, a yellow rosella budgie named Sunshine, I researched parakeets – their behavior, habitats, etc. for months. I think my mom still has that folder somewhere. I was in 2nd grade, so some of the spelling may be off…

I read constantly and my favorite series were about animals and science fiction – first I devoured anything about horses (of course) and later Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider novels about genetically engineered fire lizards that human colonists use to create empathic dragons that bond with their rider. We’re talking really geeky stuff here.

I was sure I’d do something with animals, like vet school. I was always picking up strays. But then after a car accident I fell in love with human healing. The body and mind as machines that work in tandem fascinate me. It took me a while to figure out I’m not cut out to be a doc (although organic chemistry was a pretty good road block). Then I worked in healthcare management and administration – really boring stuff – before starting to develop freakish theories about consumer engagement in wellness and individual behavior change. Only a tech startup would give me the room needed to play fast and loose with multiple hypotheses about why people want to change, but hardly ever do.

Role models and heroes:
Victoria Claflin Woodhull, the first female candidate for President. Rosalind Franklin, the dark lady of DNA. Wilhelm Rontgen, who invented xray tech and open-sourced it way before open-sourcing was cool. My mom, who is a behavioral health RN, aka Supernurse. My sister, who is a former aeronautical engineer who is engineering a family of 3 kids (Ellen, Ada, and Boden) in Virginia.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be concerned with prerequisites or rules. These are social hierarchical structures that can be hacked, usually. Demonstrate your competence repeatedly, and then own it. Don’t dilute your value by displaying a lack of confidence in your ability. That said, try not to bludgeon others over the head with it, until it’s time to negotiate pay and bonuses. Don’t ever accept less than ANY counterpart, male or female.

You may have to make sacrifices. Big ones. Still. I wake up every day doing things other women dream about. I am blessed. Acknowledge when you don’t know how to explain your good fortune. Try not to be jealous of the good fortune of others. You are NOT them, whoever they are. Work hard to follow luck whenever she opens a door for you (about 2% of the time) and work your ass off the other 98%. Always ask what you are doing that is in danger of killing project X. If the answer is you, change, or get out. If the answer is anything else, fix it, or tell it to fuck off.

Favorite website or app:
I’m biased towards health apps that are simple, clean in terms of the user experience, and effective at tracking both a new behavior and sustaining a behavior change over time. Other than ours, I’m a new fan of It’s an automatic diet planner built by the Louis DeMenthon, the little brother of one of my YCombinator batchmates, Eric DeMenthon.

I also love 23andMe for making genetics consumer friendly. They’re revolutionaries, although I’ll be much happier when they move from a SNP method to whole genome sequencing. I think we’re still sort of taking a Polaroid of our genomic expression, like a still life, and as soon as we’ve captured it, it’s probably out of date. When we have an app that shows us our own whole genome with complete, constant sequencing in real time – then I’ll get *really* excited.

Twitter: @jensmccabe

You Might Also Like