Growing up in a traditional Chinese family & now tech
Not the golden grandson
Summer of 2000
I was excited to meet my grandmother and visit China for the first time. That excitement quickly dipped. During our three week visit, my brother got to play The Golden Grandson — her words, not mine.
“What do you want to eat for dinner? I’ll make you anything!”
And me? To her, I’m just a granddaughter, eventually 1 of 2. A nice to have.
“Come quietly to the dinner table. We’re having pigeon again because your brother loves it.”
My first time facing gender discrimination.
It was ugly.
Her accomplishments don’t matter
December of 2010
Right before break, I received my acceptance letter for the graduate program and promptly enrolled. I was relieved. My dad was glad. He decided to throw a party in excitement. We invited his dreaded in-laws and my dreaded relatives, because family is family and Christmas is Christmas.
A few drinks in, the accusation begins.
“How the hell can she start a Masters degree, it’s only been 3 years?! There’s no way she could do it.”
Disbelief I had the ability. After all, I was the dumb one who got into the least number of state schools. Another relative chimes in.
“Who cares! In a few years, she’ll drop it all to marry and make grandchildren anyway.”
Yes, I was the dumb girl whose accomplishments didn’t matter regardless. Proof any good news can be twisted and turned against you. On Christmas nonetheless.
She needs to negotiate harder
April of 2011
After a few stressful months of interviewing, I received my first job offer. I asked my advisor about what previous graduates of the program made. We talked averages and expectations. Then came the final piece of advice.
“They’re going to rip you off because you’re female. Negotiate harder.”
These words haunt true.
I thought I negotiated hard enough, I didn’t.
You’re only in because you’re a girl
October of 2011
I applied for YC Start-up School the first fall I was in the Bay Area.
I got to go, my male friends of presumably similar caliber and heart didn’t.
“You’re only in because you’re a girl” is a reason I’ve heard many times when getting an invite for an event or program one had to apply for.
To hire or to date?
October of 2011
This is the “gender issues in tech” canon I tell all my friends.
Once upon a networking event (or three), I encountered a new connection. It starts off pleasant.Where do you work? What do you do? How is it? I don’t hold it against anyone when trying to recruit me. I try not to hold it against anyone if trying to ask me out in the right context.
However, I will hold it against you when you fail at one (usually hire) and then try for the other immediately after (date)
Put bluntly, a failed hire on a woman is not saved by you trying to fuck her instead.
Still not a grandson
December of 2013
When is she gonna get married?
The first question that is asked every phone call ever with grandmother back in China since the moment I finished school. Everything else is secondary.
I can’t tell you how much hope I want to have for gender equality in tech. It’s an issue close to me. Yet, at the same time, having never been able to convince my own family to be more open minded, I find the rally and cry distant at times.
On a good day, I feel like Mulan, but instead of fighting the Huns, I build internet using what I’ve learned from the experiences some think I don’t deserve or will eventually throw away to make a family.
On a bad day, I remember how much I’ve tried and how little of a dent I’ve made on everyone’s ways so far.
I get to hangout with my parents. The reality is they’re getting old. I get to play with my mom’s buns and her pups. All of the fun and none of the responsibility. Home cooking tastes so good. I miss it.
Yet whenever I’m home, I’m reminded of how I grew up. I grew up under huge pressure to be perfect. Those terms look like this: Straight Perfect A’s, Perfect SAT scores, a preference to study into Perfect University above all, finishing Perfect University with a PhD, dropping it all to marry a Perfect Man.
If I were trying to be perfect, I’d probably be several hundred thousand dollars in debt trying to study medicine whilst having a fear of blood.
Because if it were that easy, I wouldn’t have been so motivated to secretly play Neopets and accidentally learn HTML/CSS to relieve stress of not being able to achieve.
Because it had me overcorrect by studying what I loved which was completely impractical (Fine Art) to accidentally discover something I like which is somewhat practical (Interface Design)
Because life done is better than life perfect. Be nice to your parents, but live your life as if it were completely yours, because it is completely yours.