App-creating alumna offers insightful Glimpse into tech world

Glimpse co-founders Elissa Shevisnky ’01 and Pax Dickinson demonstrate the “scrambling” privacy effect of their photo-sharing app. Photo courtesy of Elissa Shevinsky.
Glimpse co-founders Elissa Shevisnky ’01 and Pax Dickinson demonstrate the “scrambling” privacy effect of their photo-sharing app. Photo courtesy of Elissa Shevinsky.

College alums have gone on to build successful careers in a diverse set of fields, to which we may add private-photo-sharing software development, because Glimpse, a new mobile app designed by Elissa Shevinsky ’01, does just that. 

Glimpse is like Snapchat in that users can share photos and videos that disappear after a short period of time, but Shevinsky’s app focuses much more on security. In her words, Glimpse is “the most fun way to share private photo and video messages.” It is private because the user can choose to place a special filter on the photo that scrambles and watermarks it if the receiver takes a screenshot of the sent image. This allows users to send personal images without having to worry about them showing up publicly. Shevinsky says, “Glimpse is designed with usability first,” making it more fun than other privacy apps, which may be designed for the protection of more secretive communications. 

While enrolled in the College, Shevinsky (who wrote for the Record) studied not computer science, but philosophy and political science. Her friends were into computer science, but she did not discover the joys of programming until she worked at Everyday Health, a wellness media company, from 2003-05. While working there she says she “fell in love with building websites.” 

After graduating with a  concentration in political theory, Shevinsky “spent her whole 20s having adventures.” She lived in Israel, where she ran a software and a tech department at an educational institute. She got married and divorced – without telling anybody. She learned the sorts of things one cannot learn in a classroom in Griffin, such as “how many mistakes you can make and still be successful.” Shevinsky says she loved living in Israel and working for these companies, but that after a time she “wanted to be the boss, not an everyday employee.” In March 2013 she finally started her own company, Glimpse Labs. 

Starting a company, however, would prove to be challenging. While developing the app with co-founder and close friend Pax Dickinson, Shevinsky sold company t-shirts and pre-sold the app as a source of income. However, disaster struck in September of last year when Dickinson published misogynistic tweets in relation to a controversy over the app Titstare, which, in the words of founder David Boulton, “is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.” 

Dickinson, who was at the time the chief technology officer at Business Insider tweeted in defense of the Titstare team, “it is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies.” He was promptly fired from Business Insider and began working full-time at Glimpse. Despite her friendship with Dickinson and love of Glimpse, Shevinsky felt that she could no longer work at the company she founded. In an April 5 New York Times article, Shevinsky said “there was only one thing I wanted to do, be the CEO of Glimpse,” but that it was no longer feasible. 

The technology industry has always had a gender problem. The prevailing image of a computer programmer is that of a hoodied, flip-flopped male whose age and maturity are both suspended like a fly in amber. This was, of course, immortalized by Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Shevinsky wrote in a blog post following the Titstare debacle that, “I thought that we didn’t need more women in tech. I was wrong.” Shevinsky admits that being a woman in tech has had its challenges, but that there is no typical experience for women. Additionally, she says she has “absolutely experienced the boy’s club,” and that being a man and woman in tech is different. Aware of the challenges, Shevinsky tries to do “the most positive thing I can do.” For her this meant returning, in Steve Jobs-like fashion, to the company she had created. Dickinson issued a public apology in December saying “Things I think are funny and that the people who know me understand I don’t mean maliciously are still upsetting to others.” Shevinsky returned to Glimpse as CEO, which means she will be Dickinson’s “Ladyboss” – a term they both embrace and that Shevinsky defines as “the idea that it’s OK – and even fantastic – to be a woman in charge.”

Glimpse stands in opposition to two prominent tech philosophies: that of its male-dominated culture and its insistence of public information. On the privacy front, Shevinsky said, “We want to give people the option of not having everything forever.” That philosophy is especially important considering that the “everything” Shevinsky is dealing with has been known to destroy the careers of important people in powerful offices. Shevinsky understands that her company is standing athwart the industry ethos and hopes to be a force of change, explaining that Glimpse is “a redefinition of what it means to be in social media.”