“You’re not even an engineer — why are you so involved in the movement to advance women in tech?” This is a question I’ve been asked multiple times since starting the Hong Kong chapter of the global nonprofit Girls in Tech earlier this year. The answer is simple: I’m not an engineer, true, but what I am is an advocate for gender equality and sustainable development across different issues and industries in the world.
The international lack of women in tech is one of the issues I’ve chosen to dedicate my time to, because it’s a problem both intrinsically and instrumentally: the fact that women aren’t in tech merely because of their gender is a problem in itself, and its negative effects bring another problem as equal opportunities to access and shape technology are essential to further equality in other areas. When solved, its impact also has the potential to snowball into immense benefits to technological innovation, which I believe would in turn advance international development.
As I spoke with more and more people working on this issue, it became increasingly clear that providing mentorship for women in tech is crucial as one of the solutions. However, not everyone will have access to mentorship programs or be able to get in touch with someone they wish to be mentored by, especially people who are just beginning their tech career in college. That’s why I decided to talk with some amazing women in tech whom I look up to — engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists — and to ask them, looking back, what advice would they give to their to their college selves. I hope their answers can provide a little online mentorship and inspire you the way they have inspired me!
“Don’t be held back by stereotypes. If it’s something you’re passionate about and you believe you can do it, go for it. So many times I’ve said to myself, ‘Is this something I can do? I don’t know, just try!’ And every time I try, I realize that anything can be done. It’s a matter of time, effort, and attitude.”
-Advice from Jenny Lee, Managing Partner, GGV Capital to her college self (BS and MS in Engineering at Cornell in 1995, and an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management in 2001)
“Take the time to explore as much possible. You have a unique opportunity to try out different disciplines, activities, and classes to discover interests you didn’t even know you had. Don’t worry so much about what it means for your ‘career’ — this exploration will ultimately open doors, not close them. By knowing what’s possible and what excites you, you’ll be able to forge your own path.”
“Collaborate to learn. Join different organizations that are representative of different industries and obtain positions that will help you learn different skill sets in each. For example, become the editor for your school newspaper but also become a producer for your school musical. This will help you learn much earlier on in life what you are passionate about and what you are good at. Keep an open mind, and have fun all along the way. The friends you make today will become your greatest business collaborates tomorrow, and looking back, you will be grateful for your ongoing relationship built on a history of trust and friendship.”
– Advice from Tiffany Pham, Founder and CEO, Mogul, Inc. to her college self (BA in Economics and International Studies at Yale in 2008 and MBA at Harvard Business School in 2012)
“Force yourself outside of your comfort zone to experience new things and establish relationships with people from many different cultures and backgrounds. The best part of college is the exposure. I did a lot of awesome things: studied abroad in Japan, became active in Stanford athletics, and spent a semester at an Historically Black University. However, my biggest regret was not stretching myself further.”
– Advice from Stephanie Lampkin, Founder and CEO, Blendoor to her college self (BS in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford in 2006 and MBA at MIT Sloan in 2013)
“Volunteer to work for the best people in the industry you really want to get into. No need to worry about title or pay. Once you get into the company, talk to everyone. Meet as many people as possible and learn as much as you can about how the business works. And remember to always follow up. Do what you said you would do.”
– Advice from Edith Yeung, Partner, 500 Mobile Collective Fund to her college self (BS in Industrial Management at Purdue University in 1998)
“Be aggressive. You have all the goods – be confident! Sometimes it may feel that’s not what society expects of women, but just keep going and be bold. In my experience, women tend to be over prepared and under-confident. It’s important to match your competence with your confidence.”
– Advice from Chenoa Farnsworth, Managing Partner, Blue Startups to her college self (BA in Political Science & Government at UC Santa Cruz in 1992 and MBA at the University of Hawaii in 2000)
“Don’t be afraid to take risks. You don’t have to have it all figured before taking the first step toward your dreams. Trust your intuition, believe in your brilliance, and take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.”
– Advice from Brit Fitzpatrick, Founder and CEO, MentorMe to her college self (BA in Journalism at Howard University in 2009 and MA in Digital Media Marketing at the University of Memphis in 2011)
“Do not be intimidated by people who have experience, but know that it’s the young that change the world and just speak your mind — because that’s what the world (including the experienced leaders) need and want from you.”
– Advice from Shalini Govil-Pai, Director and Global Head of Partner Product Solutions, YouTube to her college self (BS in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1990 and MS in Computer Science at Penn State in 1992)
“Take initiative and create your own opportunities. I proactively sought out ways to network with employees of companies I wanted to work for (school events, community events, or other), then learn a bit more about their initiatives and listen for what their gaps were. After that, it was just a matter of proposing to the right team member a project that I could take on to help – even as an unpaid intern during the semester.”
– Advice from Isa Watson, Founder and CEO, Envested to her college self (pursuing a BS in Chemistry at Hampton University in 2008, an MS in Pharmacology at Cornell in 2011, and an MBA at MIT Sloan in 2013)
“Get to know your professors. They aren’t just people giving you lectures and homework. Think of them as your allies — they’ll be great future resources for you if you give them the chance. College professors became some of my most powerful early career mentors; they wrote reference letters for me; they also offered up their connections when I needed them.”
– Advice from Adriana Gascoigne, Founder and CEO, Girls in Tech to her college self (BA in Sociology and Economics at UC Davis in 2000)
“Be fearless and just do it. If you’re just sitting there and contemplating, things will never move forward. The world is so fast-paced now that there is no time to sit and think for too long. Don’t think about the pros and cons too much – if you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head, just go for it! I’m sure your family and friends will support you too, once they see the spark that your project lights in you. Always try and always ask – because if you don’t, you’ll never know. If you try and it’s a no, then so be it. You won’t lose anything. But if it’s a yes? You’ll open the door to infinite possibilities.”
– Advice from Sandhya Sriram, author; Co-founder, Biotechin.Asia; and Founder and CEO, SciGlo to her college self (BS in Microbiology and MS in Biotechnology at the University of Madras in 2008 and a PhD in Biological Sciences at Nanyang Technological University in 2013)