An equal world is an empowered world. In celebration of International Women’s Day of 2021 with the theme #ChooseToChallenge, TechOrange interviewed four women forging innovation and technology about the challenges they met and adventures they took.
Denise Teng is the Product Manager at Twitter. She describes her role as at the intersection of a busy crossroad communicating with user researchers to designers and engineers, to business developers and account managers to make sure the digital products have the desired results in functionality and design.
Her background was in computer science, but very early into her career, she realized she wanted to become a tech product manager. I talked with her about her journey and cultural differences. Below we conduct the interview in Q&As.
She wants to be part of tech, but not necessarily an engineer
Whitney: You come from a computer science background. Could you share with us your journey in becoming a product manager at Twitter?
Denise: I had decided early on in my career to become a product manager, a role I discovered during my first internship in college.
Originally, I thought a computer science degree could only lead to an engineering role, but I learned that there were actually a variety of roles that requires a computer science background too.
There are actually many roles that a computer science background student can do apart from being an engineer.
I went on doing two other product management internships during college before further deciding to venture abroad to the US, where all the mainstream technology headquarters is packed in.
I studied at Carnegie Mellon University in Software Management because I enjoy laying out strategies and visualizing products. The ability to decide digital products’ direction and being influential is what fascinates me too. A product manager role ticks all those boxes that I love.
A product manager makes sure the product is the desired result in functionality and design, in my case, I manage UI products for ads business at Twitter.
She has learned to speak up, raise questions and become more expressive after going to the US
Whitney: How was the journey like as a woman?
Denise: Well you’d think having a technical, computer science background is advantageous, but there are really few women in this area. In fact, there were only four women among fifty classmates during college.
At times you run into situations where people would assume you don’t understand something without valid reasons, it could be because I appear to be younger or maybe because of my gender? I’m not sure, but it happens more or less.
As product managers, we sometimes get into disagreements with engineers. The majority of them are nice and patient, but there are a few who would just assume you don’t understand and make me feel belittled.
There is a strong women in tech community that supports each other.
There are some upsides of being a woman as well though. Since such phenomena are not uncommon, people in ‘women in tech’ or ‘women in product’ communities are tightly bonded here. You can easily find help and women willing to pull each other up the ladder.
I think there’s a great supportive network.
Whitney: You’ve previously worked in Taiwan in technology, have you spotted or experienced any cultural differences regarding women in tech?
Denise: Yes, there are some differences. Back when I was in Taiwan a couple of years ago there weren’t many discussions about women in tech, I’m not sure how it’s like now, but it’s been a widespread topic in the US since four or five years ago, and maybe even earlier than that.
I guess it’s because culturally, people are encouraged to boldly speak up about their problems in the US. For example, in 2017 there was a huge news about an open letter with serious accusations of Uber on sexist behaviors by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler.
Don’t be afraid to speak up when being offended.
But in Asia, probably not only in Taiwan, women are culturally a bit more bashful in general, such that even when being treated unfairly or feel unhappy about a situation, a number of them would just keep quiet and manage the problem by toning it down on their own and endure it rather than pointing them out.
So I think the biggest difference lies in expressing and speaking up for oneself.
I am also still learning to speak up or raise my hands after coming to the US. But fortunately, I’ve never encountered unpleasant situations.
Daring to express yourself or your ideas I believe is a great thing, because others might also learn something new from your thoughts which wouldn’t be the case if you hadn’t made a sound.
Talking about the future, she wants to seek more adventures
Whitney: Do you have any female role models or inspirations?
Denise: I am a fan of Jess Lee, who has a fascinating career journey. She started off as an Associate product manager in Google, before becoming CEO at a Startup which then sold the company to Yahoo and became a Venture Capitalist.
Within ten years, her career went like a roller-coaster! Though she personally said she was a shy girl in college. She immigrated to the US from Hong Kong for college, so her story is relatable and inspiring to me.
You’d think with these achievements and being a successful entrepreneur at Silicon Valley that she’d be difficult to get close to, but I once met her in person and in fact, she was super nice, just like your neighboring older sister.
Whitney: Do you wish to have such an adventurous journey like Jess Lee?
Denise: Yes I do. I may join a startup or start a company myself in the next 3-5 years to search for more challenges, like Jess Lee. There is a strong startup culture here and it’s not uncommon.
Whitney: Did you have any frustrations?
Denise: Well, public speaking was one. Also, having the pressure to find a job in the already saturated and extremely competitive job market for a product management role when I needed to study towards graduation on the side was very stressful. I was met with numerous rejection letters one by one.
Search for an area, become an expert in it, and it will bring confidence along
Whitney: What do you imagine for future women in tech?
Denise: Women in tech topics started being discussed 4-5 years ago, and it is only in the recent 3-4 years that things are changing. Many big tech companies are equally hiring from different genders, but the higher up the positions, the lesser women you see. So I hope there can be more women in positions like the CEOs, CFOs, or CTOs, etc.
I hope we can break the glass ceiling and have more women in positions like the CEOs, CFOs, or CTOs.
Whitney: Do you have any suggestions for other women in tech?
Denise: I’d say definitely make good use of the women in tech communities! There are many out there supporting one another.
Another suggestion is to find an area and become good at it. When a person is fully immersed in an area and becomes knowledgeable about it, they will grow confidence and glow from the inside out without trying. So as long as you find something you know very well, and develop your own expertise in it, you’d glow naturally.
Whitney: Would you suggest others interested to become a PM also follow your steps to the US?
Denise: In the past, I would think that’s the only way to go, but in recent years, there are so many startups and new companies in Taiwan and many people are returning as well, so I think there are a wider variety of options now. Whichever location you choose, I believe it will all be very helpful to your career.