In my traditional Chinese family, I was urged to study something "practical" in college. So while my passion is in art and design, I studied business when I started out at the University of Maryland. During my sophomore year I realized I wasn't cut out for business, though, and I called my older sister for advice. She was getting her Master's degree in computer science at MIT at the time, and she encouraged me to study computers because it was becoming such a lucrative field. Back then, my computer knowledge was limited to checking e-mail. That's it. But without any better ideas, I decided to go for it.
Computer science became a personal challenge. It didn't come naturally for me and I wanted to achieve something that would push my limits. As I progressed through my classes, I saw fewer and fewer female classmates, and that motivated me further to represent women in technology.
As it turned out, Maryland requires students to take upper level classes in another field for breadth. Imagine my joy as I registered for art and design classes. I soon learned that there were so many prerequisites to get to upper level art classes, I may as well take a couple more to earn a double degree. My parents didn't find it acceptable to take more than four years to graduate, so I had only two and a half years to complete both degrees.
I sacrificed a traditional college experience, passing up parties and road trips for stressful all-nighters at the computer lab. At the time, frankly, it sucked. But I had my eyes on the prize: that very expensive piece of paper called a diploma that would prove that I was capable.
Full loads of summer school and winter school and zero frat parties later, I graduated with double degrees in computer science and art—by a hair. I was promptly whisked to California to work as a programmer at a high tech company. After one year there, I discovered the field of user interface design, which perfectly combines my knowledge of computers with my passion for design. I made a career switch and have been designing ever since.
My story may seem dated since I made the choice to study computer science more than 15 years ago. But that decision changed me as a person and inspired me to reach out to others, which I continue to do today. I'm an advocate for women in technology and have volunteered at various youth organizations to encourage higher education in the field. After all, my computer science background played a key role in leading me to my current profession. Best of all, when people ask me what my dream job would be, I get to say "I'm doing it."