Tracy Chou

Software Engineer and Tech Lead at Pinterest

Tracy Chou is a software engineer and tech lead at Pinterest, currently on the monetization team; she was previously at Quora, also as an early engineer there. Tracy graduated from Stanford with an M.S. in Computer Science and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, where she was a Terman Scholar and Mayfield Fellow.

With initiatives in the workplace and the community, Tracy works actively to promote diversity in the tech industry and has pushed for greater transparency and discussion on the topic with a Github project crowdsourcing data on women in software engineering. She was named Forbes Tech 30 under 30 in 2014 and recently profiled in Vogue for her work.

What got you into Computer Science? Why do you like it?

My parents both studied Computer Science, and not one to be a rebel, I followed their lead to take an introductory CS class in high school and a few CS courses in college.

I like the beautiful pairing of precision and creativity that characterizes Computer Science and software engineering, and it still amazes me that something as intangible as code, instructions written for a computer and translated down to the movement of electrons through semiconductors, can produce real products that are immensely useful.

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

I’ve experienced blatant sexism or discrimination, so outright as to be comical — “I thought girls only cared about having babies”, “Pretty girls don’t code!”, “What do you do, photocopy shit?” — but those incidents are easily filed away in their absurdity, for use primarily in conveying to disbelievers that sexism still exists.

Instead, it’s been the subtle, unspoken biases conveyed in careless dismissals of my role or qualifications or opinions, in awkwardly and unexpectedly friction-filled interactions with touchy egos, in slight social exclusions , repeated and accumulated, that have caused me the most anxiety and self-doubt.

Over the last few years I’ve come to realize that I’m not alone in my experiences and reactions; it has helped tremendously to build out a network of women around me who validate that.

And as I’ve started to understand that there are structural problems within the field and that these external indignities have nothing to do with my personal shortcomings, I am less hard on myself. I’ve come to better appreciate and celebrate my own successes.

What makes being a woman in tech worth it?

I love being a producer of technology and not just a mere consumer of it. It’s incredibly empowering to be able to bring new products and services to life, ones that can scale easily and have transformative power for vast populations with just the free flow of bits and bytes. That’s what’s cool about being in tech.

What’s cool about being female in tech is being able to bring my experiences and perspectives as a woman to inform the design and development of not just tech products but also tech teams, where (for now, though hopefully not for too much longer) that female vantage point is often lacking.

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

The tech industry is one that’s still figuring itself out, still casually sexist and misogynist, still only aspirationally meritocratic, and it can be rough sometimes. But being a part of an industry that’s building the future is really cool, and if we stick with it, we’ll have all the leverage of software to change the world for the better.