By Juliet Fang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
March is Women’s History Month in America, a month dedicated to commemorating and celebrating the women who have played a vital role in American history. An equally important component of the month is empowering today’s women to continue striving for success in a variety of fields.
One woman currently working at the forefront of the STEM field is Ting-Yi Liu, a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan who is currently a junior software engineer at Google. Amongst her team’s many responsibilities are providing trusted data encryption, security, and protection for Google’s users.
“It’s challenging, but definitely very exciting,” she says of her job.
Although Ting-Yi has made it on the big stage by working for Google, it was a long path to get the opportunity in the first place. In Taiwan, she majored in chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences and worked in the biotech field there for eight years before moving to the United States in 2018 in pursuit of more opportunities. It was in the United States that she began her interest in coding.
“I took some online coding classes by myself and found it really fun,” she says. “I wanted to learn more, and I joined the Ada Developers Academy in Seattle, which taught me the necessary skills to become a full-stack engineer.”
The Ada Developers Academy is a Seattle-based “nonprofit, cost-free coding school for women and gender expansive adults,” according to the organization’s website.
They provide six months of coding classes and five months of internship to set up underrepresented minorities like Ting-Yi for success in the tech industry.
“I loved the Ada Developers coding program,” says Ting-Yi. “As a new immigrant to the United States, I didn’t have the connections or networking resources to even get started. Plus, there was the issue of my language barrier. Being a part of Ada built the foundation for me to land a job at Google.”
Despite programs like the Ada Developers Academy, women are greatly underrepresented in STEM. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, women make up nearly half of the American workforce, but only 27% are employed in STEM. This disparity is highlighted most in Ting-Yi’s field, computer science and engineering. Only about 20% of women working in STEM were computer workers, while 10% were engineers. These are statistics that Ting-Yi would like to see changed.
“Having a wide cast of genders and racial and cultural backgrounds fuels growth and productivity. It’s just good for the industry in general. But I think there are broad social benefits as well. For example, being able to see women succeed in STEM gives women in the industry a role model to help navigate the field, making it more approachable.”
Increasing diversity in the workplace is a win-win situation, the benefits cutting both ways for business and consumers. Even so, Ting-Yi’s path to Google as a woman in STEM has not been free from challenges. Though she felt very supported by her community in Taiwan, she often felt the cultural expectations to act a certain way.
“Growing up in Taiwan, I felt the pressure to ‘be good.’ Smile and get my work done as perfectly as possible. In America, I had to learn that it’s completely okay to ask for help, that my time, just like other people’s, is valuable.”
“At Google, I really feel that the company values the learning process and meets you where you’re at. Here, I’ve gotten the chance to think for myself more and use my ideas for the benefit of my team.”
One of the factors Ting-Yi attributes to helping her overcome the cultural box she felt restricted by was reading Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by authors Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. The book contends that everyone has the potential to succeed and that excellence itself depends on focusing attention on a “discreet series of attainable practices.” These ideas helped Ting-Yi feel that she could become an engineer or take on “any kind of expertise.”
Looking forward, Ting-Yi hopes that the tech industry will adopt the culture of inclusivity that she has appreciated at the Ada Developers Program and Google.
“We need to keep encouraging other women, gender expansive groups, and underrepresented groups so that they have more confidence in their passions and ambitions,” she says with conviction. “For those that are thinking about entering or are currently entering the tech industry right now, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be good at something.”
Juliet can be reached at email@example.com.