My own academic background stems from an intellectual privilege I had while growing up in the middle of Illinois, USA. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 13th St. where my family was initially very poor as a result of politically oppressive events in China. Nonetheless, my mother is a piano teacher and my father is an engineering professor. I went to the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a public boarding school, as a teenager. I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Electrical Engineering at the age of 19 and attended the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I received my PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering nearly a decade later. I am very lucky to be surrounded by people who have similar interests as myself throughout my whole life (so far).
ON GENDER AND CAREER CHOICES
All of my grandparents originally came from very large families with a lot of intellectualism. My grandma, in particular, was very progressive and felt she needed to get an academic degree for herself in a time period when that was very rare for a woman. She also opted to have only one son (my father). My grandma then approved my father marrying my mother, an artist. Since I could remember, my grandma has always explained to me that I have control over nothing except what is in my own head. She told me things like: You do not have control over where you come from or which parents you are born to or whether you live in an environment that hates you or loves you. As a result, I have to say that I convinced myself to develop my own brain very early!
Soft skills are simply a less primitive way to stay true to your own goals and ambitions. I should say that it would be in everyone’s interest to develop them, including myself! I used this mentality throughout much of my youth. Since I was so different from those around me, I was given the opportunity to define “my kind” in my immediate environment. The kind and small community around me actually shielded me from the more serious gender problems that many other less intellectually-privileged women experience. That said, I was extremely proud of myself when I led my sixth-grade science olympiad team of all boys to a victory in the vehicular balloon-popping championships… while my sister cheered me on because she is just supportive of anything I do. The reality was that the boys were probably just there for snack-time while I was genuinely excited about putting all my toys together into something that could receive recognition.
ON CAREER IN TECHNOLOGY AND BUILDING PIXELS.IO
Pixels.IO was created to take my PhD thesis topic from paper (i.e. an academic novelty and intellectually very stimulating) to something deployable to the general public. I felt it my job to prove the value of my invention with the help of more hands. In that sense, I prefer to be queen rather than king!
GENDER AND LEADERSHIP IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY
Sometimes, when I am given the privilege, I use soft skills. Many times, I am not given the space or the bandwidth. In those times, I put myself in the mindset that I have nothing to lose. I gather up all my energy and express myself in a single outburst. It doesn’t always work (and occasionally backfires), but I am learning better ways to get my views through. We are in a world full of noise where problems are becoming more complex and evolved. It has become important for both women and men to make the best of the bandwidth they do manage to get.
ON FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS AND FINANCING
As Limor Fried would say: “We know how to do math”. So far, we have not leveraged anyone else’s money, nor participated in anyone’s lottery pool. Many of my female friends have spoken about push back as a female entrepreneur and I absolutely believe it. The reality is that venture capitalists also face the same challenges. The way I see it is that women currently have the opportunity to create a new standard for what is success (which might not have to look like scaled arbitrage). I appreciate the opportunity to step up and look for lesser known financial instruments to create value.
ON INCREASING WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN TECHNOLOGY
One of the biggest reasons why I picked up computer science is because math and engineering do not lie. At the same time, the best computer science does not rely on sheer muscular strength (the single thing I find absolutely most admiring about men). In that sense, if you ignore the negative aspects of the environment, the computer science and engineering arena can be a relatively fair one to argue for equal wages and societal balance. We just have to be given a chance (and there will be failures along the way just like there always have been).
ON CREATING AN UNOBTRUSIVE CODED REALITY
Our mind’s control center for interpreting the visual world takes up one of the largest chunks of our brain. Its the primary way most of us experience the world. Thus, it only makes sense for our devices to understand this environment too. We have always built buildings with aesthetics in mind. It only makes sense that we now have to consider our devices and make them interact with our environment too.
ON LIFE-LONG LEARNING
Innovation by far is the most important skill I bring to the table. Innovation is basically identifying problems and then finding effective solutions. It’s hard and it requires an understanding of what can be engineered because there is no sense in looking for problems which have no engineer-able solution. I am always looking for inspiration and increasing my knowledge of what is possible. It’s very hard to find a place that supports and cultivates innovation that balances out other interests like money and academic fame. This is also part of the reason why Pixels.IO exists today so that we can continue to provide more worthwhile solutions. We just need a couple of really great ideas and of course the best way to have one great idea is to start with many ideas.