AnitaB.org Inaugural Software Engineering Committee Co-chair
Grace Under Pressure: How Amanda Hua Advocates for Gender Balance in Technology
When Amanda was a little girl growing up in Shanghai, China, her father’s work fascinated her. “I thought he was super smart,” she fondly recollects. His profession involved mapping space shuttle trajectories. He was gifted at math and science. Since both of Amanda’s parents were scientists, STEM subjects “felt natural and came naturally to me.”
Amanda recalls being very athletic as a child. This occasionally caused her some problems.
I remember being in class and not focusing on what the teacher was saying because I was so obsessed with the upcoming final volleyball tournament,” she confesses. “I could literally see the ball coming at me and my mind would instantly map out strategies for meeting it and anticipating the opposing team’s next move.
When Amanda’s parents, who were strict about academics, suggested cutting down on extra-curriculars, she found herself negotiating with them.
“I wanted to do everything,” she states. “I had to convince my parents that I could manage all my extracurricular activities without letting my grades suffer.” This awareness increased Amanda’s ability to focus.
When you realize that you only have a certain amount of time to do what you love before you have to move on to the next thing, you quickly learn to eliminate all physical and mental distractions. China is a very competitive country. Whatever activity you do, you have to be the best at it. You have to rank in the top 5 or 10 to even have a chance of succeeding professionally. Every child in China is keenly aware of this and performs accordingly.
In elementary school, Amanda found that the top rankers were mostly girls. This ratio shifted in high school. Amanda recalls that she was the only female in the Top 10 list. This made her feel uncomfortable. When she finally found the courage to speak about her experience to a fellow top-ranker, his response startled her.
You should be very proud! You should feel special! You’re the only girl!
It was at this point that Amanda became aware of a problematic gender pattern.
While I was aware that sometimes, girls did experience jealousy and engaged in putting one another down, that was never part of my mindset,” Amanda explains. “I believe we should lift each other up, make connections and continue to shatter all glass ceilings.
Amanda continues to live and breathe this philosophy today, as a co-chair for the AnitaB.org Inaugural Software Engineering Committee for their Membership Community.
“I first became involved with AnitaB.org when I was a member of the Women in Technology committee at PayPal,” she explains. “They were one of the member organizations with whom we were collaborating.” Amanda recalls her early speaking engagements with AnitaB.org.
Initially, I was very reserved and hesitated at the thought of giving lectures and webinars. English is not my native language. But when audience members, colleagues and peers said to me, “Wow, you’re a forum speaker! It is great to see an Asian woman in the speaker lineup,” I realized that the value I was adding to the conversation mattered. I remain an active contributor and am impressed by how much the community has grown.
In her current role as the Director of Digital Commerce at Rivian, Amanda emphasizes the importance of speed to her team with the following analogy.
Suppose we develop a product in one year and another company takes five years. Yes, you can take five years to produce something but what happens when you’re done? The landscape has changed and you’ve missed out on several learning opportunities.
Amanda encourages her team to keep the big picture in mind during product development and design. She recalls designing the first mobile app for PayPal. “Security and fraud prevention were of paramount importance,” she explains. “Customers will not care how beautiful the design and user experience are if their data is not protected.”
Amanda has the following advice for the next generation of technologists.
When you’re a young person just entering the field, it can be somewhat daunting and overwhelming. Keep the big picture in mind and stay the course.
She also recommends finding yourself a mentor early on in your career.
“My mentor recommended the book “On Bullshit.” Despite its being a thin book, it took me a month to fully grasp and digest the lessons well enough to discuss them. Technical people are very logical thinkers. It’s baffling when others don’t see what is so obvious to us. This book showed me how to address this issue as a leader and help team members see that politicizing and glossing over necessary details is actually more harmful than lies.”
Amanda’s passion outside of work is ballet. She credits it as a necessary creative outlet that strengthens the focus and mental discipline necessary to achieve success.
When I started ballet, I was the outsider. I started later than most of my peers. As a result, I was the youngest and least experienced student in the class. Through perseverance and practice, I was not only able to reach their level, I also discovered what was to become a lifelong passion. Now I’m the insider. However, I am keenly aware that without regular practice, commitment to the art and investment in my dance performance, I will once again become the outsider. This awareness has served me well in both art and life.
This story was written by Saranya Murthy, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedIn. Support our mission to celebrate more amazing women in tech, like the one featured here, by donating to AnitaB.org.