Techbridge Girls role model Alice Ching is a senior software engineer, currently freelancing, who has supported our girls’ STEM journeys by volunteering as a role model for our out-of-school time programs in Oakland, CA.
Alice has worked with our girls (including cis girls, trans youth, gender non-conforming and/or non-binary youth who experience(d) girlhood as a part of their journey) on their hands-on STEM projects, and also supported them as they built their resumes for college applications.
In this interview, Alice shares how she leads fearlessly on her STEM career journey, reflects on how to dismantle systemic barriers, and offers advice for girls interested in STEM.
How do you define “leading fearlessly”? What does this mean to you?
To lead fearlessly is to do the right thing without worrying too much about perfection or failure. Throughout our education and work, we are always being measured with a “perfection” yardstick. That will only lead people to make conservative choices in their careers and lives, because perfection is easier to attain when you pick an easier path! However, that won’t help change the status quo in STEM. We need to be fearless, and not be afraid of reaching towards aggressive goals.
What are you doing now to lead fearlessly?
I am actively pursuing the next step in my career. I am going to move out of my comfort zone and try leading bigger teams, be a strong technical leader, as well as make sure that the workplace is welcoming and nourishing for everybody. The tech industry is not doing enough right things, and I will continue to be actively involved in hiring and management, so I can keep moving the needle.
How has Techbridge Girls helped you along your journey?
There is so much I’ve learned from the girls, and I’m very fond of my experiences volunteering with Techbridge Girls. I’ve learned to be less shy and more proud of my achievements, even if I don’t tend to think about it consciously. I’ve also learned that the sexism and inequality in STEM careers is painfully obvious to the girls. I always get those dreaded questions — and it’s a reminder for me to do better to implement equal opportunities in my own workplace.
From your experience, what do you think are the greatest challenges facing girls, especially those from low-income communities, looking to pursue an education or career in STEM?
STEM careers are not limited to big-name companies like Google or Facebook. Studying STEM will open up possibilities for the girls’ future, but that is very abstract and difficult to convey to them without concrete role models who actually have those jobs. They don’t even know what majors are available when they apply for colleges, or if a university or community college will help them on their path!
There is also the accessibility problem — from what I’ve seen, most of the girls have decent smartphones, but they lack access to good computer or fabrication equipment. Even though smartphones are ubiquitous in our lives, it’s critical to have access to better machines and materials in order to build a solid STEM knowledge. As far as I can tell, it is still not easy to work with software and hardware from a smartphone or tablet.
What is your biggest fear or concern for the future, and what can we do to overcome that fear?
I’m worried that we aren’t moving the needle fast enough for the future. We need a lot of empathetic leaders in the industry right now in order to help fight climate change and systemic biases, and that is sorely missing in a lot of places. We need to continue to push for diversity and inclusion inside and outside STEM! We should also support women and people of color a lot more than we are right now. That includes both spiritual and monetary support!
What advice do you have for girls interested in STEM?
Don’t be afraid to pursue a career in tech, even if other people tell you it’s difficult. There are a lot of folks that are willing to help you along the way, and the community, however small, is worth it!