Six Tips for Young Women

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I was recently selected as a 2014 Thiel Fellow. I co-founded my start-up CortexML with a fellow Harvard classmate, Eugene Wang, to make data analysis more intuitive and simple.

The application process for the Thiel Fellowship is similar to a scholarship application. It includes a writing component, two semifinalist phone interviews, and a finalist weekend/interview. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the fellowship essays force you to take a much deeper look at what you want for your future (What do you see yourself becoming in 4 years? 10 years?) and the interview components are much more intensive (public speaking and answering on-the-spot questions). Thus, the preparation goes beyond just a few days of planning and thought.

The following is advice I wish someone would have told me when I was younger. The list isn't by any means comprehensive, and is only my opinion, but I hope this will inspire and motivate you.

1. Jump In 

This cannot be overstated. I spent my first year in college drifting around forums trying to decipher what startups/projects were valuable, or what buzz words I should say to have the most up-to-date technology conversations. I probably spent more time cleaning/organizing my room to avoid hacking than actually building programs and applications. On the other hand, other fellows such as Catherine Ray dropped out of high school at the age of 13 and went straight into research - what she was passionate about.

2. Echo Chambers

Along the same lines, spending too much time listening to the noise (or in my case reading forums) is dangerous.

The echo chamber can describe any environment you're in - from your local high school to the college bubble to Silicon Valley. Whether it is joining 1000 extracurriculars or talking/networking 24/7, most activities are healthy for the first 10% of the time you're spending on them. After that, it's marginal returns.

Most opportunities that provide supernormal benefits are not mass-traversed. For me, spending 80% of my time thinking/programming by myself (or just with my cofounder) was helpful in formulating my thoughts without getting bogged down by what others think.

3. Learn to Speak

Be able to articulate your opinions, passions, and ideas/project. Both out loud and in writing.

A perfect product without marketing is not usable. Poorly articulated research findings might as well have never been formulated. Rebecca Jolitz is a perfect instance of a scientist turned activist and entrepreneur because of her vocal passion around new space technology.

4. Don’t be Afraid of Female Specific Opportunities

Instead, use them as a way to get you into really exciting opportunities, whether they are research/internship opportunities exclusive to females or not!

In general, female-specific programs are great opportunities to meet girls and become comfortable with a job. It's also easy to get in the mentality of "there's not much need to work hard since I can always find female-specific opportunities again next year." Always challenge yourself and use these opportunities as stepping stones towards more challenging programs!

5. Habits

Set long-term goals, and then daily goals. Long-term goals should be big-picture with clear execution (e.g., I want to learn how to conduct academic research; here are A, B and C institutions that offer internships I need to apply to in February). Daily goals are more task-related (e.g., Read D textbook on E topic I'm really interested in).

This is probably the hardest tip to execute. In practice, unexpected events come up and oftentimes we end up distracted. In college, I found overarching bi-monthly goals to be a good long-term timespan. Set the daily goal when you wake up and aim to have breaks every 1.5 hours.

6. Ask and Give Back

Especially in technology, where women are still the minority, people are extremely willing to help out. Don't be afraid to ask, you might be rejected (now you learned something!) or better yet, have an answer! It's win-win.

Moreover, I find other women to be excellent (and humble!) resources and that girls tend to be better at promoting friends' talents than promoting their own. And although advocating for ourselves is a skill many of us need to acquire, what better place to give back to than a small tight-knit group of girls in technology?

As a final note, it's never too late to hack. I didn't know what techcrunch was until sophomore year in college. I was pre-med freshman year. I didn't learn photoshop and html until last semester. I might have begun later on the startup side of things, but you don't have to with your interests in technology; take what you know and begin now! ​

Hope this helps and I look forward to feedback and comments (much encouraged!)​

Aspirations Community: 
National Award

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