When we were kids, my brother and I knew that our mom was the scientist of the family. She had finished the better part of a PhD in chemistry before deciding to become a doctor. She also the one who knew how to fix things. From busted remotes to leaky faucets to putting together new toys, she always had the solution.
My favorite story about my mom is a family legend. When she was 12 she left China to immigrate to Hong Kong with her mother. At the border the officer informed her that my mom was too old to leave China without a visa. Thinking quickly, my grandmother said: “Oh, she’s actually still 11, her birthday’s next month and we just call her 12 because she’s so close.” That was how my mom left China and got to have two birthdays.
I grew up thinking that mothers were good at math and science. They had to be clever and think on their feet. They held high powered jobs to support their families. That has been a huge influence on me throughout my life–I knew that I had to be all of these things so that I could be like my mom.
At my company Hopscotch we spend a lot of time thinking about how to get more girls interested in STEM fields. Part of the problem is a lack of female role models in these disciplines. First at engineering school and later while working as a programmer I found myself in a predominantly male landscape. For most kids, the scientist parent is their father. I realize now how lucky I was to have my mother as a role model.