In honor of Throwback Thursday, I’d like to share two letters from a Porter Novelli Perspectives panel at SXSW 2017. Titled “A Tech Exec’s Note to His Younger Female Self,” KP Reddy, a tech industry leader, and Pia Sen, college student, shared insights as they imagined addressing their older/younger opposite-gender selves.
When we devised this panel, I knew KP and Pia would be a great match. KP is an established tell-it-like-it-is tech veteran with several successful startups under his belt. His career spans the innovation continuum. Over 25+ years, he has been a technologist, subject expert, founder, CEO, advisor, investor, professor, author and coach. He’s currently the co-founder and partner of The Combine, a new kind of corporate innovation accelerator. Here’s his letter:
Dear younger female self,
As you transition from your college life into the real world, I provide these words of advice:
You are smarter than them, all of them. Start acting like it.
Stretch goals are just called goals.
Apply for the job you want, not the job you can get.
Be balanced; do try to have a balanced life.
Be an artist, athlete, philosopher and professional.
Finally, blank pages in your passport are equal opportunities for individual and shared experiences.
I first met Pia at SXSW 2016, when she spoke about developing a way to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria as a high school science fair project and became an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist. Afterwards, when I asked her about how to create more Pias in the world, she said this: “You teach people they are more than their GPA… You are what you care about.” As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, she cares about a lot. She has a passion for social justice and mentoring girls in STEM. She impressed me then, just as she impresses me now. Here is Pia’s letter:
Dear older male self,
I hope that you are well. I hope that you’ve been outside in the last 24 hours, and that you’ve been able to watch the sun rise and set from somewhere other than your office or car or laboratory. I hope that you’re still active and like to hang out with the people you went to school with growing up. Because I know a lot of them are still there. I hope you remember why you worked so hard to go beyond the areas that you saw as a child: beyond socioeconomic disparity and where immigration officers and police zones were not a constant reality opposed to an anomaly. Not everyone was as lucky as you, and I hope you’re using your position and privilege to help the people you grew up with.
I hope that you remember what it was like to be young. Do you remember elementary school primarily being in Spanish, because most of the other students hadn’t been able to learn English from their parents? Do you remember how hard it was to ever imagine yourself as a professional working something other than a minimum wage job? How difficult it was to ever envision yourself at college, let alone at college for STEM? By middle school, the stuff you were learning in school didn’t seem applicable to real life. After all, how were school shootings and lock downs relatable to calculus and chemistry? Those plastic atomic models seemed more and more irrelevant, the further you progressed in school. When you reach out and try to fulfill your moral obligation to the children around you, remember that. Remember when kids are fighting to support their families every day and have to work multiple jobs, all while facing the normal societal pressures of being a teen (as well as a breadwinner), school is seen as a luxury or an accessory to a bigger picture: survival. You need to make children realize that school is a place with potential to enable survival — of both yourself and the others around you who you love the most; that perhaps education is something that is a right opposed to a waste of time; something that can change your life. Perhaps to learn is to find new ways to free yourself. It’s also important to remember to make the education accessible to the situations that these children are in. For young girls living in East Austin, “engineering” sounds like a big word meant for people who have different backgrounds than them. Using creative solutions to make engineering attractive (from things as neat as conductive thread to make light up dresses), is key here.
Most of all, I hope you remember your obligation. Because helping those people isn’t a privilege. It’s a requirement. For engineering to be a force for good, you cannot merely be neutral in situations like these. You have to fight for the voices that aren’t expressed in technology right now.
Thank you both for your advice. #tbt
KP Reddy effortlessly combines expertise in advanced technologies with critical, in-the-trenches experience as an entrepreneur. His passion is in launching game-changing start-ups, raising substantial investments, and leading organizations to meaningful acquisition and IPO exits. Currently, Reddy is co-founder and partner of The Combine, whose aim is to commercialize corporate innovation.
Pia Sen is a college student and researcher currently debating on scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin. Her goal is to go to graduate school, and combine her passion for programming, mechanical and electrical engineering, and biology. She anticipates becoming a synthetic biologist with an emphasis on microbiology or nanotechnology. She is a winner of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award for girls in technology.