Tell us about yourself and your background.

Sure! I live in San Francisco and spend most of my time thinking about drones! My professional background is in journalism. I’ve worked previously at NBC Los Angeles, The Orange County Register, and currently at MarketWatch, the little sister site of The Wall Street Journal. I also created a site called The Drone Girl, where I write about, review and travel the world to talk about drones! Believe it or not, I do have other interests besides drones! I volunteer as both a docent at the Walt Disney Family museum and as a group fitness instructor at the YMCA and I’m a competitive powerlifter.

How did you get started in the drone industry?

Totally by chance! I was a photojournalism student at The University of Missouri and I needed one credit to graduate early. They were offering a new course on drones, and it was pretty much the only thing that fit into my schedule, so I signed up. I didn’t even know what a drone was when I registered for the course, but I got hooked! When the class ended, I decided I wanted to keep learning about drones, so I started a blog to document my experiences learning how to fly drones and primarily to host the photos I took. It’s since grown into more than I ever thought it would.

How did you come up with the name “The Drone Girl?”

I wanted to make drones accessible to people and educate them about the positive uses of drones. The name just sort of came to me! I think what I had in mind was something along the lines of Superman or Spiderman, but instead it would be Drone Girl. To be honest, I didn’t put a ton of thought into the gender implications of putting “girl” in the name. I was more concerned that having “too cute” of a name that would make light of an industry that at the time was mostly known for military applications, which definitely should not be made light of.

Industry Experience:

What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?   

The community is what keeps me in it. I love going to drone events and seeing old friends (and making new ones). It’s so awesome to watch my friends grow their businesses, apply for patents or be in the news for the work they’re doing in the industry.

What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

It’s a growing industry. Everything is so new, that there is no right way or set way of doing our work. Since the industry is so new, we all have the ability to shape the conversations, the leadership, the way we do things. Many other aspects of technology are male-dominated, but drones don’t have to be that way. While the industry is still forming itself, it’s important that we make it a priority to have women keynote speeches at conferences, to be sitting in on policy discussions at the FAA or to be leading companies. There are very few established leaders in the industry only because it’s such a new interesting, which means that women have so much potential to take on those positions.

What You’ve Learned:

What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?

As I’ve covered the industry, I’ve definitely learned to be more critical of the news. I love drones and see myself as an ambassador for them. But I’ve also learned to see through a lot of the corporate hype. You wouldn’t believe how many press releases I get from companies saying they’ve “developed the first fully autonomous drone” or “made the first drone delivery.” I think I used to take their word as true, and I think it’s important that media (and the rest of us too!) question those types of statements. I recently wrote about a company that touted itself as the “first drone pizza delivery service” but they have only delivered to 4 customers. You can hardly call that a service. The thing is, a lot of journalists frame it as a huge achievement, and the public automatically assumes that by next month they too can get pizzas delivered to their house via drone as easily and instantly as calling an Uber. We all know the drone industry isn’t there yet, and it’s unfair to mislead the public that way.  I wish I knew a little earlier how to identify hype vs. real technological achievements. But, we’re all learning!

Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?

Stick with your passions, and also know when you need to take a step back or take a break. For the first year, my blog had two followers (my mom and my dad). I stuck with it because I enjoyed doing it and was passionate about it, even though it took a ton of time and I was losing money on it. Now, it’s grown to more than I ever dreamed of. Today the work load is a lot bigger than what it was 3 years ago and there are certainly moments where I am frustrated or tired and I don’t want to do certain types of work because they take the intrinsic joy out of flying drones. You have to put in the grunt work for sure, but if it gets to be too much that you stop being happy, it’s okay to take a step back, re-assess and take a vacation. If you don’t like what you’re doing, do something that makes you happy.


For W&D readers who want to contact you for more about your drone adventures, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?

Sally French

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