#WomeninSTEM · #WomeninTech · inspiration · STEM · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Laura Gao

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


Tell us a little about yourself along with a fun fact.
I’m a designer and entrepreneur aspiring to bridge the universal information gap for the unconnected. I’m currently a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying New Product Development and spend most of my time running three ventures: a design company called Draw Street Journal, a publication called The Sign.al, which encourages students to explore unique careers through interviews with inspirational people, and a space-software startup. I love playing pickup basketball, flaming at NBA games I’m watching on TV (it is quite cathartic), watching horror movies, and experimenting with my digital drawing tablet.

Ah jeez, self-proclaimed “fun” facts are never fun. Earlier this year, during a Wharton Tech Trek in San Francisco, I was left stranded on LinkedIn’s HQ in Mountain View. Somehow, I was able to pose as a new employee and talk my way into riding the LinkedIn bus back to our hotel in SF proper.

What # (hashtag) would define your life journey?

Favorite website / app:
Reddit; My one-stop shop for crowd-sourced information and inspiration, and of course, memes.
Behance.net / dribbble.com; The world’s portfolio.
Evernote; All of my thoughts, notes, and world domination plans in one.
 Lauraygao.com; Because shameless self-promotion.

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
When I met Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn in January, he said each person should have a one-line “life thesis” that she always keeps in reference when living out her life. His was “to reform the U.S. education system”, and empowering career education through LinkedIn was his way of living out that thesis. It’s easy to forget why you originally started doing something, so keeping the line in the back of your mind will help you live deliberately. Ever since, I’ve crafted my life thesis to the one I prefaced my intro with: “to bridge the universal information gap for the unconnected”, and this has shaped my motivation behind The Sign.al and my future career choices.

Song that makes you want to dance:
“That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars

Technical and/or life challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
One recurring challenge that I’m still facing is overcoming my family’s traditional views of career-based gender roles. When I first applied to college, I targeted primarily schools with great computer science programs to pursue my dreams of being a computer scientist. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into CMU’s and Cornell’s CS programs, as well as the Wharton business program at Penn.

Though I was confident I could excel in both types of programs, my parents heavily favored Wharton’s business education. I still revisit a particularly poignant memory of my dad saying with a straight face, “CS is not a good field for women”. I still wish I could go back with the brazen independence I embody now and fight back, but I had listened to what my parents “knew best”. I love my current education and the endless opportunities it has produced, but I spent two years trying to convince myself that like everyone else around me, I enjoy finance. The tipping point came when I participated in the Wharton Tech Trek to SF this January and met so many people in the industry whom I could finally see myself striving endlessly to become. One of whom, was Jackie Reses, who recalled the moment she realized she needed to make career decisions for herself, not others. Ever since, I’ve been 100% committed to enter the tech industry. Though it will be twice as hard for someone coming from a non-CS background, I will be tackling it from more genuine motivation than ever before.

Ideal job / where you see yourself in 10 years:
Fulfilling my entrepreneurial dreams by either running a school in Wuhan, China (my birthplace) for students focusing on the arts & creatives, or heading my own entertainment studio that produces films focusing on minority stories. Or both, who knows!

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
First and foremost, construct a 1-line life thesis and make deliberate life decisions based on it.

Lastly, confidence is key. How many times have you looked at those around you and thought, “wow that person really has her life together”? Now, how many times have you thought the complete opposite about someone? Notice how skewed our perception of the world is in comparison to our own self-reflections? In the same you way you answered those questions, the person next to you is likely answering them the exact same way. The number one step to getting others to believe in your abilities and aspirations is for you to believe in them first. And it’s OK if you’re unconfident in your current ability to do something in the future. That’s what life is. The only thing that matters is that you have the drive and confidence in your capabilities to get to that point.

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