Episode 78 – Asia Hoe
What made you decide to work in tech?
Working in tech happened pretty organically, and was born from several interests I had as a child. Science fiction and video games were popular family pastimes and cultivated my interest in technology early on. My grandmother was the first in the family to get a computer, and whenever we visited, I would lock myself in her bedroom to draw characters in Microsoft Paint based on the stories I wrote in WordPerfect. Once I left New York City and went away to school, digital art, blogging, and web design quickly became my most favored outlets as I struggled to make friends in a world where I no longer represented the majority. Teaching myself HTML, CSS, and later, WordPress, my hobby soon became a coveted skill, leading to jobs as I moved on to start college, take on internships, and begin my career. I hadn’t decided to work in tech so much as it became an integral part of everything I ever wanted to do.
What was an obstacle you faced, and how did you overcome that obstacle?
The biggest obstacle I ever faced and one I continue to struggle with, is creative confidence. I was teased relentlessly as a kid, and the only coping mechanism I had was to ignore bullies, usually by doubling down on whatever creative interests I had at the time to distract myself. At one time, this was my greatest strength. It propelled me to share my work online on my blog and in online communities like DeviantART with relative anonymity. With the advent of social media as we know it, I’ve grown increasingly protective of my work; now my name is attached to it. Being inundated with success stories and perfected work can make it seem like nothing I work on is good enough, and that I can share only the best work I have done. Some of the simple ways I overcome this obstacle is by sharing work with smaller groups communities, posting things before bed in a fit of exhaustion so that I am not tempted to delete or edit the work further. I find having access to version control has also been a helpful tool in moving from the mentality of perfection as a fixed state rather than a continuum.
What is your experience being a POC in Tech?
Tech moves at a breakneck pace, which is as exhilarating as it is exhausting. It can be easy to feel left behind, especially in the moments where I feel I don’t belong. The one thing that has kept me centered throughout my journey in tech is continuously writing, even if it’s just for myself, and maintaining and participating in small communities, primarily on Slack and at meetups.
What was your perception of the tech industry before entering it? What is your perception now?
Before entering the tech industry, I had no conception of what it was. It was only in its infancy, and so it still felt intangible and not yet like an industry or a career I could pursue. I thought of it as something other people created for me to use, not something I could one day attempt to create. Tech was used to empower other industries, not an industry in and of itself. Suddenly it began to take shape around me so that I could no longer discern the boundaries between what was, what is and will be. I was born just on the cusp of digital nativity and acclimated very quickly to the internet and the countless arrays of technology it would help spawn. My perception now is as it always was; tech is merely a tool, the latest iteration of human expression leveraged to face the same challenges we have always had as a species. From the wheel to the internet of things, tech is simply the latest mechanism of human progress.
What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter tech?
- Tech is just a tool. While it’s tempting to follow the herd and fawn over tech for tech’s sake, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage technology to solve real problems in our communities. What were some of your obstacles growing up? What frustrated you about your life or the world? I challenge everyone to think about what matters most to them and look at how they can use technology to ensure the next generation is better off than we were.
- Each one, teach one. Whether through teaching, mentoring, writing, or speaking, passing on your knowledge is of critical importance to not only improve the state of the world but to help you develop in this industry. When you impart your knowledge to someone else, you must first break it down into the smallest components so that someone new might understand, further validating and ingraining your knowledge.
Get messy, make mistakes. As POC, we often feel an immense pressure to avoid making errors in the public eye. This sort of thinking helps maintain this industry as elusive and inaccessible. Dare to be vulnerable. Expose your mistakes and share what you learned from them. Self-awareness and iteration are essential skills that will help you succeed and in turn, help those who might be inspired by you.