Jan Chong

Senior Engineering Manager at Twitter

Jan is a Senior Engineering Manager at Twitter, where she owns development of Twitter for Android and Twitter’s mobile development infrastructure. Prior to joining Twitter in 2012, Jan ran client and server development at OnLive, a cloud gaming platform. Jan graduated from Stanford with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Computer Science and a doctorate in Management Science and Engineering. In 2013, Jan was named one of 21 Rising Technical Superstars by Hackbright Academy.

What got you into Computer Science?

I got into Computer Science in college. I’d arrived at school as a freshman thinking I would double major in art history and engineering, but a couple months in, it became pretty clear that I was having the most fun in my CS classes. There’s something beautiful about weaving together a set of logical primitives and creating something complex out of them that I never get tired of.

Being in Silicon Valley also did not hurt. Tech is everywhere and when I first got here, the ubiquity was inspiring. I felt like I’d found home. The first time I drove down 101 and saw the billboards advertising Oracle databases, I remember being so excited that something that nerdy warranted a billboard.

Describe a time you’ve felt discomfort or discrimination in the workplace or classroom. How did you handle it?

Seventeen years later, I still remember this one — I’d just scored my first ever summer internship, a dev position at Microsoft. I was incredibly proud of having earned that spot, but upon hearing the news, the first thing a fellow student said to me was, “You got an internship at Microsoft? Oh right, you’re a girl.”

At the time, it was somewhat devastating to have my achievement reduced to my second X chromosome. I had no snappy comeback that day; I just wandered away feeling sad. Nowadays, if someone said that to me… well, it’d just be so absurd, I’d be equally baffled. But I definitely wouldn’t be sad and I can’t imagine dwelling on it for more than a few minutes; I have more productive things to do with my time. If I learned anything from encounters like that, it’s not to let someone else’s moment of idiocy ruin my day. It’s just not worth my time or energy.

A lot of smart people can be idiots at times. Make it their problem, not yours.

What makes being a woman in tech worth it?

I love building new things. You find ways to do the things you love. If you’re really lucky, someone will pay you for it. I’ve been fortunate to find a great place where I’m surrounded and supported by intelligent people, where I’m learning a lot and I get to make decisions every day that shape a product used by real people around the world.

I do have a theory that it really helps to enjoy small moments of subversion to thrive as a minority. No one looks at me and says, “I bet she’s an engineer.” You have to enjoy the moments of, “Well, surprise! I’m the engineer!” and embrace that you’re something different than what most people are going to expect.

What advice do you have for any girls pursuing a future in tech?

Mindy Kaling recently gave a great answer to a similar question that really resonated with me, where she attributes a lot of her success to refusing to see herself as an underdog and having “the entitlement of a tall, blonde white man.” Watch her whole answer, it’s awesome.

I don’t see myself as the underdog. I see myself as rightly being a part of this amazing industry and ecosystem, and I bring a unique set of skills and perspective to my job. To me, that uniqueness is an advantage.

Part of getting ahead is learning how to turn what other people may see as a weakness into a strength. Don’t give up because you’re different. That said, it’s not always easy. You have to have grit. Having the wherewithal to duke it out — to try and fail and pick yourself up and keep going, that’s how you get to greatness. Go get out there and do. Get out there and try. Everyone fails, they just leave that part off their resumes.

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