What’s your story? How did you get to where you are today?
Hm, I don’t think my path is very common. In school I thought I wanted to be an architect, which is why I took a summer internship at a residential architecture firm in NYC. I fell in love with the city and the idea of building permanent structures that people would interact with.
After I graduated, I started off my career in investment banking. I knew nothing about finance but wanted to learn more. My finance days taught me how to work hard and informed me of how the finance industry interacted with other industries, but I was yearning for more impact, building something more tangible. So after I left, I founded my own startup in the consumer social space, which got acquired by another early stage startup in the city. It was during these two years where I really delved into product building, taking ideas to products, constanting shipping and iterating, learning lessons the hard way (“ship the MVP and iterate”).
During these years, I also ended up building Verte(x), a community of women who grow together by building meaningful relationships. It was born out of my personal need to connect with other women in the city, being the only woman and minority in the room. While building consumer products, I got interested in learning more about machine learning and how it was shaping businesses across industries, so I joined Clarifai. It’s been a few years of constant learning, and I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything else.
What’s your position at Clarifai and what do you do?
I’m a Product Lead here at Clarifai, managing products such as Create, Predict, and Search, as well as managing the distribution of products like our recently launched line of Mobile SDKs. Product management in a nutshell is owning the end-to-end life cycle of a product, from ideation to planning, building, testing, shipping, and iterating. The main two chunks of my responsibilities are composed of 1: defining what products/features to build, and 2: actually building them with the team of ‘makers,’ consisted of engineers, designers, etc.
Explain Clarifai to me like I’m 5.
Clarifai is a company that helps other companies organize their pictures very fast and easily, so they don’t have to do it by hand.
What does a typical day look like for you and what’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
My typical M/W/Fs are full of meetings (we have no-meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays). These meetings are usually with different stakeholders such as members of the executive team, sales team, engineering team, or our clients to ensure that everyone is aligned on the direction and execution of the products. Tue/Thus are generally more open for me to get my work done, like writing Product Requirement Docs. I’ve recently switched gears to work on our Visual Search product (also known as Reverse Image Search) which is pretty exciting. Visual Search allows customers to index their database of images so they can easily search for the images of interest using text or image (or both) as a query.
Why are you here at Clarifai? What’s one thing that about this place that you really appreciate?
I came to Clarifai for a few reasons, but the people is what I appreciate the most. I’ve worked in a variety of different places and industries, and Clarifai stands out to me as the place that attracts some of the most humble, curious, smart, and generally ‘good’ people. I’m grateful to be able to work with them everyday.
What are some of the highlights and challenges you’ve faced at Clarifai?
My highlights here would be moments of working with the team to build and ship products to the customers. Seeing the team come together for a common goal is always rewarding. Challenges include what I consider ‘growing pains’ of a growing startup, which always come with both pros and cons. The pros include autonomy and impact; the cons include chaos and pressure. Pressure can be debilitating if you don’t know how to handle it; always take care of yourself by setting your own boundaries - taking walks, turning off notifications, etc. Remember that it’s in the company’s best interest to keep you happy, as you will not perform well when you’re burnt out.
What do you think tech companies and workplaces need to do to help female employees that are experiencing prejudice?
Hiring more female employees, especially in leadership, having protocols in place to escalate when these instances of prejudice happen, and having frank discussions about biases at workplace.
What’s your daily mantra?
My motto is: It could always be worse. It’s a bit pessimistic approach to optimism, but it helps me to be always grateful, and see the brighter side in every circumstance.
What’s the most important advice that you would give to a mentee that wanted to follow in your footsteps?
When in doubt, optimize for learning. Given options, choose the path that will maximize learning and growth. Embrace the discomfort - if it makes you uncomfortable, that is probably a good sign. There is no ‘bad’ experience, unless you’re stagnant.
Who is your role model, and why?
Probably my late dad. The man was a natural leader, always gave 150% in everything he did, was not afraid of starting new (he went back to school at the age of 50 when he switched from a serial entrepreneur to ministry, immigrating from Korea to USA for it), and knew how to enjoy all that life had to offer.
What’s some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced being a woman in the workplace and how have you overcome?
Unfortunately, I’m very used to being the only woman in the room -- at home with my 3 brothers, in my college days as a math major, in my career in finance with when there were more than 10 men to every woman, and finally in tech, where the ratio isn’t really much better, especially in the engineering and product departments.
Lack of representation can be challenging, especially when interacting with instances of subconscious bias from people who believe they could possibly not be biased (e.g. “I have a daughter, how could I be sexist?”). When they exhibit bias (e.g. “women tend to have more vanity, so I will draw a bow on their hair, ha-ha”), I cannot rely on the masses to stand in, as I may be the only person who may have noticed the behavior, especially being the only woman in the room. So I have been consciously putting on myself to point these out, and communicate them in ways that they could actually understand the impact of these moments of microaggression without being an “angry feminist”. This includes pointing out right away (e.g. “What makes you say that women are more vain than men?”) to following up personally after the incident (e.g. “hey I noticed that you mentioned something that bothered me; I would like to ask you to refrain from making these references next time.”) Whatever form it takes is better than staying silent, so I make sure to communicate.
What are you doing when you’re not working?
Recently I’ve really gotten into plants (if you must know their names - they are Bert, Sally, Mia, Jude, Snake, Spike, Popper, Catnip, Polly, Gale, Freida, Peter Parker, Lady, Red Leaf, and Claudia), so a part of a weekend day is devoted to watering, spraying, and cleaning them. Otherwise, I run, plan for a trip, cook, read (just finished Behave by Sapolsky), spend too much time on my iPad looking at dog accounts, and socialize with friends. I do force-introduce my friends who visit my home to every plant, which is probably why I don’t entertain that often.
What’s one question that you wished people asked you more and what’s your answer to that question?
Q: “Do you have a favorite plant?”
A: “No, of course not! (Maybe…)”
Two truths and a lie.
I have eaten my weight’s worth of peaches in one semester.
I have spent 4 weeks in the mountains without showering.
I have captained a sailboat and ran aground.
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