Alice is an Operations Program Manager on the Google Cloud for Startups team. Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Alice moved to the Bay Area 14 years ago to study Human Biology at Stanford University. She then opted for startup life at Peek and Shop It To Me before joining Google 6.5 years ago.
Mo is a champion for the underserved who believes that everyone has the right to education and information. She currently works on scaling Google Assistant and Search technologies and has been the Director for K-12 Education focused on diversity and inclusion. Mo has also been a high school math and chemistry teacher, as well as an assistant principal. She has begun giving mid-career conversations talks and workshops in LA and Palo Alto through the Stanford Asian Pacific American Alumni Club (SAPAAC) and the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance (H4A) groups.
“One of my proudest moments is when President Obama quoted our Computer Science Education research when he declared CS for All. What made me even prouder was when the students who participated in our programs made it to Google as full-time women in tech.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced was when both my parents had strokes in the same year. My Dad is now in hospice care. As we all age, we find ourselves in these situations — making tradeoffs between work and family. Yet we rarely talk about women working as caregivers for both their parents and children. For me, having a supportive spouse and manager has made all the difference. I’ve had to say “no” to a lot more opportunities knowing that they will present themselves again later when the time is right.”
Paulette Penzvalto is a Program Manager in Corporate Engineering at Google. She is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion, as she leads Autism Employee Resource Groups at Google and is active in the Google Disability Alliance. Paulette presents internationally as a keynote speaker on issues pertaining to Autism and Employment in tech and previously served of the San Francisco Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities.
Paulette studied Computer Science at Columbia University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Liberal Arts with a focus on Neuroscience at Stanford, where she is also a research assistant in the department of neuroscience and lead on the Stanford Neurodiversity Program.
In addition to her work in the sciences, Paulette has two graduate degrees in Opera. This past season performed a main stage role at Opera San Jose and sang on the album “Kirtan Lounge: Precious Jewels”, which was nominated for 6 Grammy Awards, including best foreign Language Album.
What’s something you’re really proud of?
I am proud of my bachelor’s degree, which I obtained while working full-time at Google.
What’s a challenge you’ve faced, and how did you handle it?
I have a severe learning disability. In school, I took a proactive approach to overcoming the challenges of my disability by asking for accommodations when I needed them, by using assistive technologies such as LiveScribe Pens/screen readers, and by attending office hours regularly to get the additional support that I needed.
What are your thoughts as we enter National Autism Acceptance Month?
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to succeed. Remember that you are worth the resources, education and career opportunities you receive. The world needs your voice and your light.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Catherina Xu (she/her) is an Associate Product Manager at Google. Prior to Google, Cat coded for YouTube, co-led Stanford Women in Computer Science (WiCS), and invested in student founders with Dorm Room Fund. She cares deeply about empowering the next generation of women in tech, business, and entrepreneurship. A Bay Area native and a Shanghai transplant, Cat loves to travel — she enjoys running, hiking, and exploring the coffee scene in new cities.
1/ When did you know that you wanted to work in tech?
Like many other freshmen at Stanford, I decided to take the introductory Computer Science (CS) courses. Halfway through my first quarter, a few friends convinced me to go to a hackathon in San Francisco.
“I only know how to code in C++ and just learned about recursion last week,” I warned. “So I won’t be of much help.”
In 12 hours, my team built a Unity game from scratch. I was shocked at how quickly I could start applying my CS skills. I realized that CS was not only a new language, but a new way of thinking about organization, interaction, and efficiency. I was hooked. Over the next two years, I attended a hackathon every quarter. I co-directed HackOverflow in 2016, an on-campus hackathon focused on first-timers, women, and minorities.
Though I’ve stopped frequenting hackathons since starting at Google, I’m still constantly in awe of how tech enables ideas to move from conception to the end user, in a matter of hours (longer if it goes through code reviews!)
2/ Who is a role model that you look up to?
I’ve always looked up to my dad. In 2001, he left Shanghai to pursue better work and opportunities for our family. He’s worked as an electrical engineer at many semiconductor companies since, but one thing has remained constant — he’s the hardest worker I know.
Over the years, my dad has taught me a lot by example — work ethic, mastery, persistence, and how to build a life from scratch. He played no small part in inspiring my love of tinkering and the sciences, from helping me build the next-generation dollhouse (consisting of two circuits regulated by brass fasteners) to championing DIY furniture hacks for my first college dorm room.
3/ Where is your hometown?
4/ What is a struggle that you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
When I entered Stanford, it seemed like everyone around me had already been coding for the better part of their life. A close friend had finished the CS core in his free time in high school; several others had built games or launched chart-topping apps. When I decided to pursue tech with full force, I was starting at the bottom.
I struggled with imposter syndrome in every class. I spent more time at office hours, rewatching lectures, and on problem sets than most of my peers did, for more or less the same result. Over time, I grew more confident about my CS ability. It’s the sum of all the times I worked hard, and got the results I wanted — nailing an interview because I’d studied, landing a customer deal for Google because I’d taken the time to research technical requirements. It’s about attributing success to ability and grit rather than luck, something I’m still working on every day.
5/ What is something that you are immensely proud of?
One aspect of tech that’s often overlooked is how inherently collaborative it is. The stereotype is that computer scientists sit in basements alone and don’t come out until 3am. In my experience, that statement is mostly true, except for the “alone” part.
Power Networks, the first paper that I published, started as a final project for a natural language processing class with two friends. The paper used neural networks to predict power relations from an email thread in a corporate setting — for example, in a two-person email exchange, the classifier would identify Molly as the ‘superior’ and Matt as the ‘subordinate’ if Molly was higher on the corporate ladder.
Between our class final paper and the paper we submitted to ACL, only about 10% of the content remained the same. Over the course of two weeks, we worked day and night (on top of classwork) to build a new LSTM-CNN model, training and testing repeatedly to (in)validate our hypotheses.
The constant re-evaluation of priorities gave me a taste of PM work, and what it takes to see a project from idea to fully-functioning classification system. Power Networks was a cool application of state-of-the-art deep learning tech — but ultimately, I was most proud of how we pulled it off as a team.
6/ What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how current incentive structures don’t do a good job of encouraging the best technical minds to optimize for social impact. If your startup idea doesn’t capture a billion dollar market, VCs won’t fund you. If you want to spend your time working at a non-profit, you’ll probably have to accept a big pay cut. Thus, many new grads choose not to (or can’t afford to) work in these spaces and take a more traditional path to tech. It makes sense — social impact can often be at odds with generating financial value. I’m not sure what a good solution to this looks like, but I’d like to see stronger collaborations between government, big tech, and philanthropic organizations to help align the incentives and move the needle.
7/ Favorite food?
Creme Brulee of any form!
8/ Favorite book?
Robert Sapolsky’s Behave. I missed out on his infamous class, so I picked up a copy for the summer after graduation. The book explains human behavior in the most scientifically rigorous way possible, and doesn’t lack in Sapolsky’s dry wit and humor.
9/ If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
Something in the performing arts, maybe as a member of a band or a touring Broadway show. I can’t think of anything else that would be as terrifying (and exciting).
10/ If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t over-optimize because nothing is linear. No set of actions can be guaranteed to get you from A to B; on the other hand, trying out C isn’t necessarily a detour from B.
Take the time to explore in college, because you’ll have a lot of time to dive deep later.
Aleta Hayes is a lecturer at Stanford University in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies, director, and choreographer. Her latest passion is offering Embodied Leadership workshops, which utilize performance techniques to enhance and transform leadership skills within the d.school at Stanford University and beyond.
What’s something that’s on your mind this Black History Month?
When I was growing up, my parents made sure I understood the accomplishments of African-Americans in the United States and the brilliant cultural achievements stretching back to Africa. So what comes to my mind is how important it is for me to pay that forward and to share that rich legacy with students and colleagues alike. My parents gave me this gift sitting around the dinner table, and not just during Black History Month. So right alongside my great education in European classical forms and traditions, I was schooled in Black excellence, and that gave me an unshakeable confidence I can access in any performance arena.
Lesley-Ann is a 2018–2019 Ocean Design Teaching Fellows at the d.school at Stanford University, where she co-teaches a class in which students apply a design lens to address global ocean threats and propose sustainable solutions. She recently completed her PhD in Design at North Carolina State University. Her research focused on design thinking at a rural primary school in Trinidad and Tobago.
Lesley-Ann is a former Fulbright Scholar and also a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago. In her professional practice, she draws on the fields of design, anthropology, business and education to create product development and business strategy with stakeholders. Her research practice is guided by an emancipatory philosophy. She focuses on developing design curriculum for non-traditional audiences and promoting the work of designers outside Europe and North America. She has exhibited work at design exhibitions in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Brazil, Germany, France and the USA. She has presented peer-reviewed papers at design conferences in the Caribbean, the US, the UK and India.
What’s a challenge you’ve faced and how did you get through it?
Over the last few years, my biggest challenge was uprooting my life and moving to North Carolina with my son to pursue a PhD in Design. Work-life balance was hard to manage. Even though I’m well-travelled and have worked in different countries, I had to deal with the culture shock of adapting to a new university culture, a new elementary school culture, a new American work and pop culture. I got through it all by maintaining openness and being flexible. I’ve just uprooted us again by moving to California for a year, and at the end of this year, we’ll be moving again. It’s not as easy as it looks, but I know both me and my son have grown enormously over the last 3–4 years.
What’s something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
I finished my PhD in just over three years. It’s not perfect, and it was hard work, but I’m extremely proud that I was able to complete it in the timeframe I set for myself. Before completing the PhD, I got a job as a teaching fellow at Stanford University. I see that as a really significant accomplishment.
Samantha is a scientist at DNAnexus. Having lived in the Bay Area since she was 16, she feels more at home in California than anywhere else that she has lived, which includes the Philippines, Virginia, Tennessee, and Minnesota. She studied biomedical computation at Stanford and graduated in 2016. In her spare time, you can find her reading, traveling, playing Stardew Valley, or eating snickerdoodle ice cream.
“Even though my team at DNAnexus is incredibly diverse and supportive, I’ve still had to overcome my own impostor syndrome and others doubting me. I began working full-time in the industry at the age of 20, after graduating from Stanford at 19; I’m currently 22. My status as a young woman has led to challenges at work, which in my naïveté I’d never expected. I’ve been asked if I worked in sales at an almost completely academic conference — while standing next to a poster with my name on it as the first author. I’ve had to request customers that we not meet at a bar that checks ID. I’ve spoken to HR while literally wringing my hands out of nervousness. I’ve had to grapple with my own insecurities and fears while interacting with some of the most important people in the field of bioinformatics.
Today, I’m really proud of a tool I developed alongside my colleagues at DNAnexus and the Baylor College of Medicine called Parliament2, which is a structural variant consensus caller. (Structural variants are large mutations in the genome that are difficult to detect due to the technology we use to understand genomes. Structural variant callers tackle this problem in different ways, but a lot of them are difficult to install or integrate meaningfully; Parliament2 will pre-install the callers you want and integrate their results in an easier-to-read format.) We’ve recently submitted a manuscript to bioRxiv, a preprint journal for biology papers, and I’m first author — this is both my first authorship and my first first-authorship!”
Stephany Yong (she/her) is a Product Manager at Glossier, formerly at Facebook, and Head of Marketing at Women of Silicon Valley. Prior to Facebook, she worked at Instagram, YouTube, and Box. The proud daughter of two immigrant engineers, she cares deeply about creating equal access to educational resources especially in STEM and celebrating the stories of strong, inspiring women.
After graduating from college in 2016, Stephany moved to San Francisco, where she spends her free time exploring the city’s food scene, hiking around the Bay Area, and rooting for her hometown LA Lakers.
1. When did you know that you wanted to work in tech?
Going into college, I didn’t have much prior exposure to Silicon Valley and the tech industry. I actually spent most of my free time in high school writing for the school yearbook and wanted to pursue a career in journalism.
During freshman orientation at Stanford, there were dinnertime conversations where kids were casually talked about their startup ideas or which systems engineering class they were taking. I was intimidated by those discussions and wasn’t sure if there was a place for someone like me in tech.
Nevertheless, I still wanted to learn more about the startup scene, so I got an internship at a startup called Pixlee, which at the time was based out of the Stanford startup accelerator. After class, I would take a bus to their office, where I worked on marketing and copywriting. After a quarter of interning there, I was absolutely enamored. I got to work with some of the most intelligent, humble, and scrappy people I had ever met, and had a front-row seat to a founding team finding product-market fit and raising their seed round.
Through that experience, I began to draw parallels between the product development cycle — of deeply understanding a people problem and building a solution — with what I loved most about journalism, which was getting to the core of what people care about and creating a compelling story around it. From there, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in tech.
2. Who is a role model that you look up to?
My mom. When she was 17, she moved from Shanghai to West Virginia by herself to live with her uncle and went on to study Electrical Engineering in college. She shared her love of math with me, stressed the importance of doing things in a principled manner (i.e. show your work), and taught me that although you can’t control the hand you were dealt, you can move forward and build what you can with what you have.
My mom is a wonderful role model of a woman that can hack, sew, build, and run anything she wants to, whether it was maintaining our household, fixing up one of the apartments she manages with my dad, rewiring the piping in my bathroom, or helping me construct a trebuchet for my high school physics class. She embodies what a female engineer is in my eyes — determined, resilient, and a humble problem solver.
3. Where is your hometown?
Chino Hills, CA.
4. What is a challenge that you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
In navigating my career, I’ve encountered imposter syndrome at almost every turn — whether it was when I decided to switch my major to computer science late into college (facing the internal dialogue of — wait, programming doesn’t come naturally to me), or when I was applying to PM jobs (wait, I don’t have any formal software engineering experience), or when I started out as a full-time PM at Facebook after college (wait, I feel severely under-qualified to lead this very talented team).
I’m still very much a work in progress on this front, but I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors and managers who have seen the best in me even when it was not entirely clear to me if I was good enough — they’ve pushed me to speak up more, go for promotions, and take on increased scope.
5. What is something that you are proud of?
I was working at Box the summer before my junior year in product marketing. I loved the people and the company, but I wanted a role that centered more on building products. I had lunch with a senior female product manager (PM) at the company, and she told me that in order to break into product management, I would need to have a strong technical background in computer science. Although I’ve since learned that great PMs come from various backgrounds (including non-technical), at the time I took this advice at face value.
For someone who likes to plan out everything, switching majors halfway into college into an engineering discipline was severely out of my comfort zone. Although I enjoyed the handful of computer science classes I had taken to get my feet wet, coding didn’t come naturally to me. It took a lot of work for me to overcome that fear of failure, but once I set my sights out on pursuing a career in product, I went all in.
For two years, I played catch up and took extra classes, which led to long hours in the library and at office hours. But looking back, it was well worth it — in the process, I ended up taking some of my favorite classes at Stanford in human-centered design that reaffirmed how I wanted to build consumer-facing products. Later that fall when I passed the technical Google Associate Product Management interview, it affirmed that I had the chops to be a PM at a tech company.
6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?
This idea of living life at your own pace. I think there’s this meme around turning 30 (especially for women) that you need to be at a certain place both personally and professionally. And once you pair that with Silicon Valley culture, where you’re constantly bombarded with stories of a founder of X having accomplished Y by the age of Z, that pressure to hit targets by a certain age seem even stronger.
I think it’s important to bring into perspective that our careers span several decades and that it’s ok to make decisions that maximize for long-term growth, as opposed to immediate payouts. It’s something I’m actively working on, but getting rid of superficially imposed timelines seems like a good first step.
7. Favorite food?
Clam chowder. I’ve yet to encounter a clam chowder that I haven’t enjoyed, whether it be in a cup, in bread bowl, or from a can.
8. Mac or PC?
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
I’ve gotten into a few lifestyle podcasts lately, so I would try out being a podcaster. The podcast in question would be some cross between Armchair Expert and We Met At Acme.
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?