I’m an Asian dude who went to Stanford and founded a startup in SF. I also represent a low-income, single-parent, and first-generation immigrant household.
I’m an Asian dude who went to Stanford and founded a startup in SF. I also represent a low-income, single-parent, and first-generation immigrant household.
Okay. Where do I start?
Where do you start?
Where were you born?
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 11 with my dad. I mostly grew up with my dad. My mom was in and out. I think that both parents were together until I was two, and then my dad got into financial difficulties and Mom bounced. But she would come in like every day, basically weekdays, to come see me. So it still feels a little like there was two parents, but she was working day job and night job. In between, she’d come have dinner with me. Yeah, so I grew up that way. And yeah, that was that, so they were never married. My dad already had a family that lived abroad, and my mom’s like way younger than my dad, which is pretty cool. [laughter]
I’m a little bit of a momma’s boy. She’s like a best friend that I didn’t get to spend much time with, so even to this day I’m still trying to make up for lost time. So ever since college I started going back to see her in Taiwan, and I try to spend a lot of time with her when I’m there. Of course, it’s not the same spending time together now, but we have fun hanging out. She always wears heels. You should see her feet, it’s disgusting. [laughter]
Because my mom always wore heels and I would hear her footsteps walking up to the door every day at 6, and I’d jump up and go open the door for her, because then that means we’re having dinner and that’s my favorite time of the day. Yeah, so that’s my upbringing. And I moved here to the US when I was 11, there’s lots of reasons why we moved here, there’s some financial reasons, there was also some drama between my parents to say the least, it was not something I wanted or had any say over because I was a kid. It’s definitely not something my mom wanted because she wouldn’t get to see me and I was her baby, but it was a lot more complex. Anyway, I came here because of all that and more.
How long until you saw her again?
I actually saw my mom just twice between the age of 11 and 18. She would come, and it wouldn’t be pleasant because of relationship, psychological and financial burden. Psychologically it was a burden because she doesn’t speak the language and was dependent on my dad when she would rather not have anything to do with him. Just to see me caused her all this grief that I understood later on. In the beginning I obviously didn’t understand or was mad that I didn’t get to see her more often. So there is a lot of issues there, but then, fortunately, I now have the ability and the freedom to do whatever I want.
Did you have half siblings and step family?
No. Not step family. I moved here and I moved in with my father’s family. There are three older half siblings. The youngest older sibling was 11 years older, and then the oldest is like 16 years older. About the time when I moved in they were all grownups already. There were issues there when I first moved in, but fortunately, now we’re all awesome. I see them all the time and we’re great because we’re all grown ups and that’s so amazing. We all like each other. We all have beef with the older generation. But that’s not unique to our family.
Such interesting circumstances to grow up in.
Yeah. But you learn. Obviously at first I just hated everybody and stuff.
But what you end up learning is—you learn how to make people like you because you’re going into a place where you hope they like you, but they don’t. But then you do whatever you can do to make them like you. You get really good with people. Separately, you learn to see their perspectives. I heard the version of my life and my dad’s life from my dad’s perspective and I heard from my mum’s perspective. And then, I heard it from my dad’s wife perspective, and her kids’ perspectives. All these perspectives are different, and you learn there’s no right or wrong. Just different people. It’s not even about what events actually transpired, but how you felt about them and everyone felt differently. Whatever they felt is the thing that affects them. There’s no debate about that. That’s probably my biggest lesson in life—that’s very good to develop early on because later on you go to college, you have these hard-headed people and they have all these opinions and I’m just like, you know what, “You’re both right.” [laughter] “I can see both of your points and I’m glad you guys feel so strongly.” [laughter]
Yeah, that’s really incredible to have that perspective come out of what is a really complicated situation. To be a kid and to get perspective from that, instead of process it in a really bad way.
The perspective happened over time. [chuckle] It doesn’t just happen—I wasn’t that smart of a kid.
How did you first get interested in tech?
As a kid, I always liked computers. And my dad didn’t know anything about computers, but he got me one. So I played around on it, but I didn’t really—there’s no structure or training on it. And I didn’t really have anyone to teach me. My dad didn’t work, so my mom worked. She put me in some computer classes. I learned a few things as a kid and then once I moved to the United States, I stopped all my computer stuff just trying to learn the language and not get bullied in school. I still played on the computer, but nothing constructive. In college, I got exposed to startups, starting with social enterprises. So it was about how there are these organizations where you could make a change in the world and the positive change about social issues, but you’re not dependent on donations, which I think is a stupid model with some exceptions. But do you have money coming in? Donation model works for some other things that have no market mechanisms, but having a market mechanism to solve some of the social issues—that was an amazing model to me. And I’ve never seen that before. And I was like, “That’s so cool. Everyone in the valley is working on stuff like this? That’s cool.” And then, “What else are they working on? Oh shit! There’s tech start-ups.” I had a few role models that were a year or two older than me in school at Stanford who ended up doing their own startups and I got to know about that and started thinking about it. And then it reminded me of when I was a kid and how much I liked computers. I feel like that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
So you wrote a piece on mindset inequality recently. It’s resonated with thousands of people, and it goes into you growing up super poor and how that completely affected your time in grade school, your time at Stanford, and your path to being an entrepreneur. By no means do I want you to repeat the whole article, but can you just go deeper into that struggle of being poor and being from an underprivileged background and how that affected you in ways that people just don’t even understand from the outside?
Yeah. I think it’s very hard to understand it. I think a lot of narratives are about the outlines, like where you came from, how opportunities open up and the step you took, and then what happens, but what’s less discussed that is very real and that is your entire thought process walking through that. How do you even know how to take advantage of the opportunities even if they were presented to you? If you’re not thinking about the opportunities the right way, and you have no one to show you how to think the right way, then you are severely disadvantaged. My whole point in the article was that mindset difference is the main thing that could hold you back—there are other factors obviously, but the way you think is one of the more important ones that’s the most insidious and least discussed. Like, people say, “Oh, yeah, the system is broken.” Yeah, of course the system is broken, but my mind—how I think about approaching problems—is different from friends of mine who come from more privileged backgrounds. The way they see the world is very different. Yeah, so that was my main point.
When you’re from poverty you are likely afraid to create conflict. When opportunities present themselves to you; you walk through it; you don’t want to fuck it up. It might just get snatched away from you, so you tend to minimize your own presence and so you’re not able to take full advantage of the same opportunities.
There’s a lot of other stuff. One thing that actually was most surprising to me—I added the whole point about guilt—like I didn’t have that in the first draft, and I added it and that resonated with a lot of people. You have a feeling of guilt that you’re constantly carrying with you, so everything you’re doing it feels like you’re not supposed to. Like, somehow you got here (whatever it is, Silicon Valley, nice tech job, nice school, etc) but you know your people are suffering – which makes you very tentative in everything you do. Even if you manage the guilt successfully, you navigate through it, you sometimes wonder what people would think of you at home. And yeah, so there’s a lot of that guilt and it could feel like shackles.
On top of that there are probably like hundreds of things wrong with your thinking, like how you think about / manage money, etc. But what’s “wrong” with your thinking used to be “right.” I used the term “bugs,” like buggy software to describe how your mind may think sub-optimally. Imagine your mind’s an operating system like a computer, but then there are some things about it that are just not working the right way. Calling it “wrong” came off as if I might be attacking some people. That’s not what I meant to do. These “bugs” used to be “features.” Okay, my example. I got really good at building a connection with people because I got empathize really well. That, I’m very proud of, and that I constantly use to my advantage. I use it to access opportunities. I use it to make friends. But when I have to cross people I find it very hard, when I have to tell them they’re wrong, when I have to stand up for my own interests– I find that very, very hard. And that is fine most of the time unless you’re doing something that requires that. Being a CEO, for example, requires that. Actually being anything where you need to assert yourself. That makes it hard. So what used to be a feature, once you change your goals, becomes a bug. Not that the bug is bad. It was a feature before. So it’s just about understanding exactly—being completely aware of how you think, and how it might not be as useful, and then being flexible about it. And not have it to be tied to your identity and that kind of stuff.
There’s so much in that I can relate to. As I was reading your article I was just like, yep. Yep. Yep.
[chuckles] And this is something that I’ve been getting lots of responses. Like from around the world. All kinds of backgrounds. Social economic classes. Like different colors of people, cultures, and languages. It’s crazy. The honest truth is even if you’re upper-middle class, your parents barely made it, and they’re probably like barely hanging on. And so with the way that you were taught they probably came from the lower class. So their mentality has not changed. They got to middle class and they’re happy, but their mentality never changed. So growing up with that mentality, you have some of these same issues.
Do you find that people make assumptions of you based on where you went to school and being an entrepreneur now?
Oh, yeah. After writing that article people were like, “Holy, shit, I didn’t know that about you.” I was like, “Yeah. Like, of course, because I don’t look someone who would have that story.” Couple of things. I’m Asian, I’m a guy, and I live in Silicon Valley, which means that I look like an engineer, which is the opposite problem from what the valley is talking about [laughter]. Like I’m a #ILookLikeAnEngineer. I look like an engineer except I’m not. That’s funny. Yeah, so I’m not an engineer, but fortunately that’s a privilege I have – I get to just play that role. Like, people usually don’t ask and they just assume. If they ask, I tell them, and they’re shocked. They’re like, “What? What do you do then?”
And then like the fact that I went to Stanford, I think there’s a whole set of assumptions about just like what my upbringing must be like, what my parents must be like, what I did at school, that kind of stuff. Yeah so, yeah, it comes out.
Is that awkward for you?
It’s not awkward, but it just happens. I think it’s just more like—I just find it funny that people make those assumptions and I correct them. In college—even at a big place like Stanford—you have lots of pockets and circles of different people. I think that people that look like me—who come from where I’m from—tend to hang out in this one circle, except I kind of like going to different circles and even shocking people, and that kind of stuff.
Yeah. I don’t think it’s awkward. I think it’s pretty cool.
Me too!! I like being uncategorizable.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t put me in the box.
Boxes are boring [laughter].
Okay, so you jumped straight into entrepreneurship out of school. I know you were super inot the idea of entrepreneurship out at Stanford, so was it a hard decision for you, or was it just a no-brainer?
Yeah, no no no, it’s very hard. Freshman year—I mean this is like ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10 right? So financial crash. Well before the financial crash it was very much no tech. Not much tech. Google was the only thing. Facebook was getting started. Most of my friends, if you’re not an engineer, even if you’re an engineer you might work at a quantitative hedge fund or something like that. Or you work in finance, you work in consulting, and most of my friends did it or they go away to summer internships and they come back and tell me about it, and they’ll tell me how much they’re making, like even for just that summer. I just couldn’t believe the numbers. I remember calling my dad sophomore year, and I’m just like, “This friend of mine just got a job at Goldman Sachs and this is how much he’s making.” And then I would agree on the phone with my dad, like, “That’s what I’ll be doing.” [chuckles] Except I found something that I actually liked [chuckles], which is really tough because it happens to not make money. I remember my call home between sophomore and junior year, I would tell my dad about my friends going to consulting, banking and how much money they’re making—but then I’d start transitioning to “Oh I met this investor who invests in startups, he’s rich.” Then after few phone calls I started working on startups and I started to going to these internships at start-ups and VCs and I’d tell my dad about my internship at a VC. “VCs, they’re rich.” Yeah, right?
And then at one point I started easing into into the fact that I won’t be rich any time soon. I would just drop these hints—I’d go off from being rich to meeting rich guys in Tech to being an entrepreneur, which is not rich at all and a terrible way to make money. Then I had fights with my dad, because he depends on me. Fortunately with him I’ve always strong headed so he had to give in. I also would point to him that he used to be an entrepreneur, “You did the same thing,” honestly. My dad didn’t like rules and did it his way so I’m going to do it my way but, yeah it was very hard, though, because he is looking out for himself. And I want to look out for them. I’d talk to my dad or my mom and I’d hear about money problems, and we’re talking about like, being able to pay the utility bills. I can change this so easily. Honestly, I’d visit my mum and the roof is leaking. I was like, “What’s the bucket doing here?” and she’s like, “Oh, it’s leaking because it’s raining out.” I’m like “Fuck. I could have fixed this very easily.” Or my dad having just got in a car accident, because he’s old and doesn’t see well—shouldn’t be driving that much really—but then he has this big, surprise expense. With the money that he gets from the government and from me—there’s not enough to cover. And so I sent him the money to cover it, but then the saddest part is not just about sending him the money. It’s him knowing that I don’t make very much, and that he shouldn’t be a burden to me. So with this car accident—he didn’t ask. He usually asks for money, but he knows I’m struggling. He knows he fucked up. He crashed a car, but then I said, “I’ll send it.” And then he tells me about the traffic ticket he got because of the accident. But he says, “Oh, I’ll take care of that one.” But then just the fact that he didn’t ask me—I know how he’s going to take care of it. He’s going to go to another friend and borrow some money from him, right? He CAN’T take care of it. I could’ve. I should’ve. But the fact is that I can’t solve this minor issue because I chose to do a start-up and I pay myself very little, I remember after this call that lasted about 10 minutes, then I walked around for the next 15 minutes just because I’m just like, “What the fuck? Why am I doing this? I can’t– this is a tiny problem. This is a couple hundred bucks man. But yeah, I can’t solve it.”
Yeah, and what a huge burden that not everyone has. For a lot of people their parents are taking care of them while they’re building companies or doing their first jobs or whatever. And instead you are feeling crazy guilt for not potentially being able to take care of your parents.
Yeah, and it’s not rational. You have—after my essay went live—most people understand. But there’s people like, “Why don’t you just bite the bullet and just go work?” And most of my friends did that. The thing is they do it, and they never get out of it. It’s not that easy to go from nothing to something then back to nothing again, so I just stayed at nothing. So I’m still at nothing right now.
How was YC for you?
Great. YC was amazing. It was transformative, partially because first of all, we didn’t even know what fundraising was, right? So two guys, coming from our backgrounds—how are we going to get the money to start a company, right? Even if we wanted to. So we found out about Y Combinator through Startup School, a conference they hosted on Stanford campus, and that was the only funding source we knew. We didn’t know investors—or we didn’t think we could get it. YC positions themselves as what you do before you hit investors. Like very, very early. So YC at the time gave us $20k total to split between three guys. And we’re like, “Oh my God, we can work forever with this money!” So we moved into this one house together and then we just—and like, this money, is like, “We can do it full time! Holy shit!” Our alternative was like go get jobs and work on this at night, right? Which is what most people in the world do.
[chuckles] Holy shit. We can do this full time, we better do it. The money like to them is tiny. Like 20k like seriously. But to us that money was like, Oh my God. It’s amazing. It’s like, It’s freedom. In YC you get the same feeling that you have when you step on Stanford campus for the first time. You are like, “These people are the best people at what they do ever. Like, Oh my God. I’m so happy to be here. They’re so good at building products and everyone is nice and supportive. And Paul Graham is just like father figure. I remember when he actually remembered my name because he’s very bad with names, but, when he remembered my name and he said my name’s Ricky. My co-founders were like, “Holy Shit. He remembered your name.” Yeah. That’s pretty cool. So I see him just like the very demanding sort of father figure. It’s pretty cool.
Did you feel any of the same struggles that you had at Stanford?
In YC it’s not like we’re spending that much time with other founders. So it’s very isolating. YC brings a little bit of community element, but it’s largely just you and your co-founders in the room living together, working together. But YC was pretty authentic. Pretty genuine. And the limited interactions you have are all very positive. I think after you leave YC, you start fundraising and then you start meeting more people in the community, becoming friends with those people and then you start thinking—wow, some of these people are thinking very radical thoughts. And then they go to these retreats in the woods, they go to Burning Man, and you’re just like none of that is part of my experience. I can’t afford to go to these things and I don’t know how to value these experiences. But still, I want to be exposed to the experiences, so I try to participate to my best ability. Yeah, but you can’t help but think that you’re different. But all this is just on the surface level—social level. What’s interesting is sort of what I’ve wrote about. How does that translate operationally, like building a successful startup? If you feel different from them, how is your thinking different? So that’s sort of where that matters more because I want to succeed.
How do you think your upbringing, and specifically the point of view that came from that, affects how you approach building a company?
I’m good with people, but in asking people for money, it’s just not a thing that I know what how to do. Even if I had a great conversation with an investor at the end, when I ask for money I’m incredulous and surprised that you even entertain the thought that you want to give me money. And then after we get the money—If you thought 20k was a huge amount, imagine getting 500k, or even more than that, and then you’re supposed to use that to hire people, and you’re supposed to spend like—an engineer is 100k a year, and I’ve never seen that kind of money before myself, but you’re supposed to pay somebody that amount while you’re scraping by with a lot less than that.
Not only that, but convincing somebody to come work with you. Great people have lots of options, so even being able to conjure up the crazy confidence to say, “You should reject that job at Facebook or Google that’s paying you 150k and is secure, and nice, and helps you learn a lot.” And at startups, you don’t actually get to learn that many technical things, you just do things. There’s no mentorship—you’re supposed to give all that up to come with me to pursue this crazy dream. How do you even start describing that to someone when it’s hard enough to convince yourself that this is actually achievable? So that’s a constant– like over the years I’ve constantly worked on it, I’m like consciously go talk to people, I pitch them a crazy dream, and then I ask them if you want to come work with us, and it’s very intentional, like everything I’ve trying to overcome, even sounding like a crazy person, that could potentially know something that you don’t, it’s all like practice, and I’m sure it’s the same with a lot of people no matter what background, but it’s just so out there for me.
Have you had mentors, or inspiration, or moments that really stuck out to you that helped you along the way?
Yeah. I think I have lots of mentors. I see a lot of them as mentors. Nothing formal. I mean, there’s a couple guys, like Michael Wolfe or Ming Yeow Ng or Avichal Garg. Some of these guys are just a couple years ahead of me. Michael is a lot of years ahead of me—got two kids and stuff. But I think part of it is these people sort of see me as almost an equal, and I can spar with them and go back and forth. It’s not even just about the transmission of information. I definitely get a lot of great advice from them, but just the fact that you can look at me as a person who has the potential to succeed? That’s huge for me. So yeah, people who do that with me who are, I think, clearly way ahead of me. That does more than even the words they say. Yeah.
What are your biggest motivators?
It’s changed over time. I think a lot of what drove me to Stanford is just a desire to get out and make a better life. And then once I realized what I want to do, my motivator is to do it, because someone like me is not supposed to. And so I think the motivator there is I don’t want to play by the rules that most people play by. And the rules are determined by where they come from, and where you come from is just luck. I guess I’m impatient, and so I want the best options, even though I don’t get to have them. But it’s just like, I want to try to get at it. Yeah, and I think that’s kind of a spoiled way to think.
Which is ironic.
Yeah. [laughter] No, I’m definitely spoiled in terms of my ability to pursue these things. Just the fact that I wrote something that millions of people share experience-wise, but my particular voice was heard. That’s not an accident, it’s because I happen to be in the inner circle. And I happen to be in the position where I can say these things, and I happen to have gone through experiences that helped me best articulate them. And so, with that, I’m just going to keep going and see how far I can take it. I’m already positioned well, despite my circumstances. So, let’s just see if I can keep proving people wrong and stuff.
What are the best parts of being an entrepreneur?
Every day I like going to work—I can’t wait to work anytime, every time, all the time. You get to learn so much about yourself. So, like aside from creating something which is rewarding in and of itself, having customers basically beg you and tell you how much you’re helping them, that’s rewarding for anyone! But most importantly I think the fact that it’s the hardest path, it’s the most painful path, but also the best way to learn about yourself and how the world works. If you’re a nerd and you like geeking out, and you like to upgrade your brain, this is the best way to upgrade your brain.
What have been the hardest parts?
Same. [chuckles] So it’s like learning about how poorly equipped you are, and learning about all the things that you don’t do well. You don’t have any buffer. If you make mistakes it’s so costly because you’re right there in it. My mood is 95% tied to the startup. You’re constantly counting your mistakes, and you’re thinking about what if you make one too many and everything falls apart. A lot of people say the hardest part is that you have to fire people and that kind of stuff but on top of that for me it’s that, “What if I don’t get to do this anymore?” Maybe this is my one shot. I know the whole point of the valley is that it’s not a one shot thing. The valley is very tolerant of failure. I’m sure if I fail I’ll get to do it again if I wanted to. I have failed already and I continue to do it, but then there’s always this thing at the back of your head that’s like, “What if I don’t get to do it again?” So that’s scary.
Yeah, especially when you don’t have a safety net in the same way that other people might?
Yeah, that helps. Yeah but I think the valley itself is the best place in the world and the reason is because the valley itself is a safety net. I still believe if you are hardworking, you have ideas, you have some special ability, or you can work at it, the valley will give you chances, people here will give you chances. They know it’s hard they’ve all failed before so that’s super cool. That’s why I’m here.
How do folks from home like family and friends you grew up with how do they feel about how you’re doing?
I think they’re just very proud that I went to Stanford, I think that’s it. I mean my mom didn’t really know what Stanford is. I don’t think they understand anything I do after that. The fact that I’m making any money at all doesn’t make any sense to them. So, I mean I don’t talk to any of them about business. I can’t. They don’t know what to say to me. But generally they’re very supportive now that I’m grown and they are too. So, it’s great. Plus, I’m always the outsider. I was brought into my dad’s family and I’m not connected to my mom as much as I’d like to be. So I’m always kind of this person that pops up from time to time. I show up and you love me but you might not get me. And that for me is okay. You know like, “Don’t get me? It’s fine. I’m not that easy to get anyway” [chuckles]. No boxes.
You’ve been working in tech for a long time. How do you feel about the state of tech in 2016?
I think it’s great. Back at Stanford the reason why I loved startups—or entrepreneurship in general—was the idea of it is so empowering. It doesn’t matter what you do. At the time we couldn’t get anyone to start companies. And we didn’t even know if we can start a company ourselves. So, our whole message was like, “No matter what you do – go be a lawyer, go be a banker, go work at Google – but be more entrepreneurial in your thinking when you’re there” as much as we can preach, because people were not doing it. Now everyone is doing it, so like in a way I’m just like, “That’s awesome!” Because that’s always what I always wanted.
There’s a lot of bad ideas, but like the sheer number of people who are starting companies, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more great ones, and it’s going to change all different aspects of the world. I think it’s great. But I’m one of the Kool-Aid drinking population in tech. I think we are in the “deployment period” of technology. Some academic wrote about that and lots of VCs talk about it. We might not get there right away, but I think tech is going to change every single aspect of our economy, every single industry. It’s going to be productive in the long term. Like this tech, there is no boom or burst. This is just a long term boom for the next fifty years until something happens. But I’m totally on that Kool-Aid. I love the Kool-Aid.
[laughter] So, where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
You know, hopefully, hopefully PRX.co—this is the business that we pivoted to recently that started to work really well. And this would be our second time around building a new business and I just want to take the lessons that we’ve learned, and then with all the mindset changes that we’ve made. I want to channel all those energies into this company to make sure it’s very impactful. And one of things that David and I have always looked to do is to bring the best people together, and we never got to do that because we never scaled up that much. And as we bring the people together, we want to treat them differently. I think coming from where we come from, there’s a lot of stuff that we could do, in terms of how employees are compensated, in terms of management, culture, in terms of when we speak up about diversity, and different types of issues, we have the moral authority to do them justice at least within our company. And so with the essay I wrote, that’s just the first time I’d written down anything in public like that, but we definitely want to do something as part of the business. I hope that would offer a different kind of narrative in the valley. Tech can and will be a lot more inclusive. So I don’t really know yet, but I think it’d be good.
What are some of those lessons that you’ve learned from the last few years that you’re applying now in your new company?
Growth is everything. I think, after awhile, everyone says the same thing, “growth is everything.” And we were not used to being very aggressive with growth. When you make a million dollars in revenue, it’s hard to say, “That’s not big enough.” But understanding the game here in the valley —if you were to build a business anywhere else in the world there’s a way you can do it, and we probably did it that way—but the reason why you won’t build businesses here in the valley is because you don’t have the risk appetite. You need the ambition to build a very different kind of business. So just really understanding what that entails on a day to day level, in terms of your decisions to hire, your decision to build your product a certain way, the way you market yourself. That’s all lessons that we’ve taken. Just a lot of those things.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds to you who are hoping to get into tech?
I think you’re more than capable of joining the tech industry. It doesn’t matter what skill sets you have. The industry is pushed forward by people who just want to do things. Who are doing things without permission. Who would do things without being told what to do and who would pick up skills that they don’t have just on their own volition. This is what happens on the regular basis, so it doesn’t matter where your starting point is. Just don’t feel like an outsider.
Every industry eventually forms the in-crowd / out-crowd. Sets up rules and social norms and old boys clubs. These things exist in tech, sure, and it could be intimidating. But instead of focusing on that, focus on the fact that this is the most fluid industry that embraces outsider thinking and has a natural repulsion to rules and structure. Take advantage of that very pure ethos of the valley. If you have those ambitions you will be able to achieve and join the ranks. As you navigate that, just be very cognizant of how you’re thinking differently. Yes, you probably come from a different background and you probably can’t relate easily. But don’t see it as a handicap, and definitely don’t stay on the outside because of it. One trap I fall into is, if you’re not as privileged, you tend to hate people who are privileged. I definitely went through that period. I hate all the spoiled kids. If you can’t participate you tend to end up hating. I don’t think that’s as productive. By not hating, and even learning from it, it doesn’t mean that you’re now one of them. I think that’s the thing that people conflate. Your identity doesn’t go away. You learn from them because they have skills or ways of thinking that help them achieve the things that you want to achieve. That’s all. Just look at it that way, and that’s it. Don’t get trapped in hating, I think. That’s all.
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