Big Thoughts, Early On

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I WAS born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States with my family when I was 4. I spent most of my childhood in Chicago. My elementary school had no program in English as a second language, so I was placed in a class for students with speech impediments. It worked out well because we had to pronounce sounds over and over, and I'm told that I don't have an accent today.

My father, a math professor in Hong Kong, worked as an electrical engineer here. My mother was an art teacher, but once we came to the United States, she went back to school and became certified as a special-education teacher.

The immigrant experience had a profound effect on me. It taught me the importance of hard work and the value of being entrepreneurial. I saw what a hard time my parents had upon arriving in this country. It takes time to understand a new system and the tacit rules of a new culture.

My high school, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, showed me that anything is possible and that you're never too young to think big. At 15, I worked as a computer programmer at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab. After graduating, I attended Stanford for a degree in economics and computer science.

While there, I was an intern at Microsoft and developed the RSS news aggregator for Outlook, the company's e-mail offering. I also volunteered in East Palo Alto, Calif., teaching and encouraging low-income elementary students to become interested in math, science and technology.

Based on that experience, I founded the Camp Amelia Technology Literacy Group, a nonprofit, in 2003. It provided free computer training and software for urban youth. Camp Amelia has since merged with another technology education nonprofit, SearchLit.org.

In my senior year, I was a Mayfield Fellow; the program essentially provided a crash course in starting a company. I was the Phi Beta Kappa class speaker at my 2005 commencement and then stayed at Stanford to get a master's in computer science. Next, I studied at the University of Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship and received a second master's, in Internet studies. While in England, I also worked on the corporate strategy team at Google's offices there.

In 2006, I got a call from a recruiter for Salesforce.com and decided to join the company as a product director. In 2007, I became intrigued by Facebook's developer platform and decided to create an application within Salesforce.com called Faceconnector, which enabled Salesforce customers to view select Facebook profile information as permitted by each Facebook member. I allowed people to use it free, and word spread quickly. Shortly after that, Prentice Hall contacted me with a book deal. I spent 2008 writing "The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences and Sell More Stuff."

I realized that social media would be transformational for businesses and decided to start a software company that would help Fortune 500 companies manage their marketing efforts using social media. Steve Garrity, who had been a computer lab partner of mine at Stanford, left his job at Microsoft to start that company, Hearsay Social, with me in 2009.

I'm passionate about encouraging women and girls to pursue math, science and engineering. At times, it was intimidating for me to be the only woman in an advanced-level engineering class, and it's still intimidating at C.E.O. events. But just by showing up, my female colleagues and I are making it easier for those who come after us.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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