February 6, 2020

Understanding Your Value – How Iyore Olaye Became One of the Youngest Innovators in Her Field

This article was originally posted here by Wogrammer. 

Iyore: In Nigeria’s Edo language, it means “I have survived a long and difficult journey.” For Iyore Olaye, this is certainly an apt moniker. The 25-year-old has leaned into the meaning of her name by embracing each challenge life has thrown at her. The result has been a long, difficult, and rewarding journey from an underfunded school district in New Jersey to the startup world of Silicon Valley, where Iyore has earned recognition as one of the most exciting young innovators in her field.

As a child, Iyore was always eager to understand more about the world around her. Though she excelled at many subjects in school, she remembers she was “always chasing something cool and interesting,” which she found in science and math. Her mother, who is African American, noticed this interest and exposed her early on to the stories of black scientists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals.

After graduating from her high school as its first black valedictorian, Iyore enrolled in Cornell University’s College of Engineering. Having heard that chemical engineering was the hardest major available, she selected it as her course of study.

“Choosing this major taught me how to solve tough problems and create robust ecosystems, and provided clarity on why things interact the way they do. I knew having this deep understanding was scalable to so many industries.”

After graduation, Iyore secured a job with Walker & Company, a health and beauty company that builds products for people of color. Having interned for the company during her undergraduate studies, Iyore seized the opportunity to be a part of the next generation of inclusive brands by taking on a full-time role as Product Development Engineer and eventually heading up the Research and Development department.

“At the time, people had just started talking about how representation needed to look in beauty, personal care, and consumer tech. We were innovating to solve problems in meaningful ways with well thought out products that had carefully designed formulas, packaging, and digital experiences.”

In one of her many roles at the startup, Iyore championed the company’s work towards hyper-personalization — the development of a recommendation system and personalized technical strategy for each of its customers. Among the projects she is proudest of is the hair care analysis system she was asked to develop to recommend products to customers based on the current condition of their hair. Using confocal microscopy, the company aimed to take high-resolution images of customers’ hair strands, and use these images to classify the core properties of the surface of the hair as a measurement of hair health. While the system ultimately was never launched to the public, Iyore cites this as a perfect example of how often the most impactful products to a techie’s career never see the light of day. In spite of this, she credits the project with helping her understand how to break down a complex problem and execute an efficient solution early in her career.

For her work at Walker & Company, Iyore was recognized as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Retail & Ecommerce in 2018. She was one of the few female engineers to make the list, and at only 22, she earned the additional recognition of being one of Forbes’ youngest listmakers that year.

Becoming a Product Manager

After Walker & Company’s acquisition by Procter & Gamble in December 2018, Iyore sought to leverage the skills she had gained to impact a new industry. Given her long-standing interest in the internet of things (IoT), she transitioned to micromobilty start-up Bird, where still works today as a Product Manager. In this role, she is building products across the IoT technology stack to solve core growth, reliability, and operations challenges. As with her previous role at Walker & Company, she prides herself on being a product leader who designs solutions at the intersection of digital and physical products.

Despite feeling pressured after her many successes to found her own brand, Iyore is keeping the timeline for this open. For now, she is pulling from her experiences as a co-creator and contributor to build an ideal foundation for her future. In the long term, these experiences will allow her to continue being a powerful leader who scales organizations to be sustainable.

Outside of her day job, Iyore is determined to pave the way for other women and people of color in tech and in venture capital. She currently works with a variety of venture funds to provide expert analysis of startups and help source deals. In addition to mentoring students and young professionals through her scholarship fund, she has toured the nation as a speaker at conferences, sharing her personal and technical journey to inspire others.

When asked what her best advice would be for young women entering the engineering workforce, Iyore emphasized the need for confidence in one’s technical skills.

“At the beginning of my career, I was often the youngest in the room and would devalue myself. It has been a process, but something I am intentional about now is having the confidence to talk about not only my personal story but technical details of what I am working on in a way that’s compelling to others and also highlights my own intellect. The key is to understand your own value and find the space to drive impact.”

This story was written by Charlotte Kiang, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow, as part of a series for Forbes on the woman engineers of Forbes 30 Under 30. Forbes 30 Under 30 is Forbes Magazine’s annual celebration of the brightest game-changers under the age of 30. To learn more, visit Forbes.com.

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