Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
Michelle: Hi! I’m Michelle Chen, a third-year student pursuing a dual degree in Computer Science and Business at Ivey Business School and Western University. I’ve done a software engineering internship at Top Hat, and will be joining Microsoft as a PM for their Garage program this summer.
I’m passionate about getting involved in the university and tech community to help others reach their full potential. I’ve been the Co-President of Women in Technology Society for the past 2 years, and hold various executive positions at Ivey Tech Club, Western Capital Markets, and Western Tech alumni. Fun Fact: I’m a petrolhead who loves cars and motorsports.
Joy: Hi, I’m Joy! I’m the other Co-President of the Women in Technology at Western University. Together, Michelle and I run WITS, and we just hosted one of Canada’s largest all-women’s hackathons, SheHacks! Last month, SheHacks had over 150 hackers, $5000 in prizes, and 25 sponsors. You can watch our recap video here.
Currently, I’m a fourth-year student in Canada studying Business Administration along with Classical History, and I represent our club’s non-technical side. I love the arts, whether that’s studying English, Ancient History, or Postmodernism, and I’m fascinated by technology and the way it’s transforming and shaping our future to come.
Some quick fun facts: I spent the last academic year abroad at Columbia University in New York, where I was able to take courses as a regular student. My favourite one was a tech-focused course called “Venturing to Change the World,” which was taught by a seasoned startup founder, a partner at Techstars, and a Columbia MBA professor.
I also run my own podcast on the side, called the Tell Me More Podcast, where I interview tech leaders on their journeys. So far, I’ve been able to interview the CMO/CEO/CFOs of 500px, Coffee Meets Bagel, eBay, Wealthsimple, SnapTravel, and more!
Describe a challenge you faced or a crossroads in your life that defined your path.
Michelle: I started my journey into tech by casually taking Computer Science courses as electives at University, but quickly became entranced by 1s and 0s. As I dived deeper into tech, I had a hard decision to make: I wanted to switch to a CS major but was faced with opposition from my parents who doubted that girls could be successful engineers. With my late start into CS, lack of experience, and full-blown imposter syndrome, I worried that I would never be as successful as a man. Despite all the negativity, I stubbornly stuck by my decision to switch majors and found success through hard work and resilience.
Joy: My most recent challenge was actually choosing to go to business school! I’ve known since my first-year of university that I wanted to work in the technology industry in some way or other, so I spent a lot of time reflecting if I should just finish my BA in Classical History (Ancient Greco-Roman History) or Business while trying to break into tech. Even though I had already been accepted into business school, I mulled over the decision, because I wasn’t sure if spending an additional year at business school would help further my goals of joining tech. I didn’t want to waste time doing an irrelevant degree.
In the end, I choose both – I’ll be getting two bachelor’s degrees in Classical History and Business Administration! Simply because these three industries – arts, business, technology, are really not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe my skills in each are truly complementary and I’m better off because of it.
Who is someone who inspires you? What knowledge has this person imparted?
Joy: I try to actively and explicitly seek female role models out for myself. I find that whenever people talk about visionaries, they’ll automatically refer to men, such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or even in history, we think about Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great.
Of course, I don’t think anyone ever tries to only list men on purpose, but when all the inspirational leaders in society are men, these subtle gestures start to implicitly insinuate that only a certain demographic, or a certain type of person, can be successful. So what does that say to young girls growing up thinking about what kind of success they can achieve? In essence: representation is important. You can’t be what you can’t see, or at least it’s very difficult to.
Because of this, I try to actively flip that script for myself, and I cycle through female leaders to empower myself with. Currently, I’m a huge fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, Ava DuVernay, Bozoma Saint John, Maya Angelou, and Fei-Fei Li. All of these women have done incredible things that I could only dream of achieving.
Describe your ideal job.
Michelle: Any job in which I can make an impact on society. I love approaching problems holistically with a focus on developing products that positively improve human-computer interaction.
Joy: My ideal job would be any job that amalgamates my skills from my three interests in arts, business, and technology! That’s why I enjoy product marketing and product management so much. I’ll be joining American Express this summer, so I’m super excited to see where things go!
What are your favorite websites, apps, or other tech tools?
Michelle: Duolingo! I think it’s a stellar example of maximizing the value of technology, as you can learn any language you want through the smartphone in your pocket. Plus, the app is immersive and effective, as it reinforces learning through multiple communication channels: reading, writing, listening and speaking. I find their mode of gamification to be incredibly entertaining, motivating, and addicting. I love travelling and learning new languages so it’s such a useful yet fun app for me. I currently speak 5 languages (albeit poorly) and am improving every day.
Joy: I’m a big reader, so my favourites would easily be the NYTimes, WashPo, New Yorker, and Longform.org. When it comes to tech tools, my favourite apps are Google Keep and Moment.
What song makes you want to dance, gives you courage to face the day, or makes you feel strong?
Michelle: Supermodel – RuPaul. It’s like an immediate confidence booster!
Joy: This is almost embarrassing, but “Oh No!” from Marina and the Diamonds is very relatable for me. I used to listen to it a lot in high school. In the song, Marina Diamandis sings about “don’t do love, don’t do friends, I’m only after success” and how “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be / I’m now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy.”
I just really loved that quote about being a self-fulfilled prophecy, and I’ve always tried to live out my own goals. Beyonce’s “Girls” is a great anthem as well!
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Michelle: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Never think that you’re not good enough. Always ask for help when you need it.
Joy: You need to absolutely believe in yourself, create your own opportunities, and be overconfident. As women, I find that the world often tries to make us small and tells us to take up less space. We receive a lot of positive feedback loops as children when we’re quiet, polite, cordial, risk-averse, and well-behaved. While I am in no way discounting the value of active listening or other “feminine” qualities, sometimes those skills don’t translate well into the workplace, which is full of extroverts and big personalities trying to compete for headspace, reputation, and success.
These qualities can also manifest in many little ways, so you have to counteract for it. If you’re in class and the professor always seems to choose a certain demographic (that’s not you…) you have to keep your hand up. You HAVE to talk. You have to remind yourself that you have every right to be there as everyone else. If someone cuts you off in conversation, you have to remind them “please don’t interrupt me” and finish your point. If a guy takes your exact point but only says it louder and gets applauded for it, you have to speak up and say “hey, that was my original point.”
And if you don’t see as many doors opened for you, you have to open them yourself. Create your own passion project to show your expertise in that field, talk to female leaders in the industry to grow your network, and force yourself out of your comfort zone to speak up and be proactive. There is a certain element of luck to success – but when opportunities fall in your lap, you must be ready to take them.
What are your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog, GitHub or other social media accounts? We will tag you and encourage others to follow you.