Women in tech, Lyft, self-driving
Chih Hu, Engineering Manager at Level 5 Lyft's Self-Driving Division.

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.

Autonomous driving is a trailblazing technology that will evolve the way we live as much as the invention of the first smartphone—if not more.

I talked with Chih Hu, a technical leader driving the development of autonomous vehicles at Lyft who also happens to be a strong advocate for diversity in technology.

Chih has worked at a variety of startups and large companies that focus on emerging technology and research in Silicon Valley. Below we conduct the interview in Q&As.


Self-driving technology is her contribution to the world and a gift to the next generation

Whitney: Hi Chih, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently doing at Lyft?

Chih: I’m a technical leader specializing in artificial intelligence and machine learning for robotics and recommendation systems. I’ve spent over half a decade focusing on building the brains behind self-driving vehicles so that someday my car can drive me around.

Currently, I’m an Engineering Manager at Level 5, Lyft’s self-driving division, leading a strategic team specializing in simulation evaluation for autonomous vehicle deployment.

As an industry, we’ve spent a lot of energy developing the brains behind self-driving technology. It’s also equally important that we look ahead and focus on safety during deployment and operations as to support a smooth launch.

We use machine learning and simulation to prepare our system for the vast number of scenarios it must tackle in the real world, just as a human driver faces on the road.

Whitney: Why did you decide to jump into developing autonomous driving?

Chih: I joined the self-driving industry because I’m fascinated by the impact it can have around the world. Having lived in a variety of cities with different infrastructure for public transportation, I’ve seen how we often plan part of our lives around community and transportation. We are opening up new possibilities and economic opportunities.

We are opening up new possibilities and economic opportunities.

Furthermore, auto accident rates are one of the leading causes of deaths and self-driving vehicles can potentially reduce this risk. They also enable us to repurpose time in enriching ways—instead of sitting behind the wheel in horrendous traffic for our daily commutes, we can do things like get started on our workday or video chat a family member.

Auto accident rates are one of the leading causes of deaths and self-driving vehicles can potentially reduce this.

I enjoy driving, but the struggle is real when you commute for hours every day.  As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve found that it’s important to be purposeful with time and how we choose to spend it.

I like to think that working on self-driving vehicles is my contribution to the world and gift to the next generation. I also believe that this will enable people who might not have had easy access to mobility for various social, economic, or health reasons.

Access to transportation is a powerful tool for lifting up communities that have long been left behind.

As a minority and leader, diversity is at the top of her mind

Whitney: What is it like to be a woman in tech and why do you think it’s important to be an advocate for diversity?

Chih: Throughout my career, I’ve been one of the few women in my class, on my team, and in meetings. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise at this point.

I still remember immediately noticing a difference when I walked into a large room at Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC, the largest annual women in tech celebration event). It took me a moment to realize why it felt different… I was surrounded by women who worked in technology.

It took me a moment to realize why it felt different… I was surrounded by women who worked in technology.

Studies show that diverse teams operate more cohesively, with higher creativity, and build well-rounded products. In the tech industry, we’re starting to assemble teams with diverse perspectives and focus on strengthening our people and our products. As a team builder, it’s top of mind for me. While change doesn’t happen overnight, I am proud to share that we are making positive strides towards inclusion, diversity and racial equity.

Studies show that diverse teams operate more cohesively, with higher creativity, and build well-rounded products.

Whitney: Do you join in other women in tech activities?

Chih: Yes, I enjoy attending technical events where I learn new things and meet new people. I have attended Grace Hopper in the past, which is held in honor to Admiral Grace Hopper for women in technology, one of the largest events of its kind.

There is a large community out there that meets regularly to discuss coding languages, applied problems, career growth, and entrepreneurship. More recently, there’s been a rise in virtual events and platforms, such as Clubhouse, that are making it easier to participate and meet people globally.

I pay it forward with a series of technical and community events to encourage engagement in growing technical communities with diverse perspectives. I am also active in mentoring and coaching for those who are interested in growing in this field.

Inspired by the author of Lean In and executive at Facebook

Whitney: Do you have any female role models?

Chih: I have many! Each person I’ve met has a unique path within tech and entrepreneurship. One of my recent insights is that exploring and creating your own path is just as powerful.

Since this is an International Women’s Day celebration, I’d like to share a note regarding one of my role models: Sheryl Sandberg.

As a fellow female in technology and executive at Facebook, she’s raised the bar for workplace diversity by bringing awareness and encouraging peers to invest in systemic change.

I first heard her talk at the Grace Hopper Conference in 2013 and I left with a profound goal of taking part in diversifying the workplace. At the time, I happened to be one of the few women on my team.

Throughout my career, I’ve found myself coming back to her words in Lean In and most recently Option B, finding solace as I build confidence and resilience along my journey.

I admire her openness in sharing her life experiences, learnings, and challenges with the community. It’s also inspired me to share insights and give back through community events, technical mentorship, peer coaching, and building diverse teams to create diverse products.

Data has helped her venture through life inside and outside of work

Whitney: Apart from joining communities with women alike, was there anything else that helped you in a personal way?

Chih: I’ve always found that storytelling through data has opened my eyes to new possibilities. While I leverage data at work, I also use similar methodologies to observe my environment and explore interesting hypotheses that help me see different perspectives.

This has given me the courage to explore different paths in my own career. For example, in “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, Sheryl highlighted the results of a research study showing that when applying for jobs and reviewing job descriptions, men took the leap after meeting 60% of the criteria, whereas women often felt the need to wait till they met 100% of the criteria. 

When applying for jobs and reviewing job descriptions, men took the leap after meeting 60% of the criteria, whereas women often felt the need to wait till they met 100% of the criteria.

Seeing this data, amongst other research studies, has empowered me to make different choices. The subtle difference in intention and confidence, regardless of outcome, opened up new doors for me.

It’s valuable to be able to look at things with a fresh perspective, and mentors, allies, coaches can be great resources for this.

Whitney: Do you have any suggestions for women interested in, or working in tech?

Chih: We have a strong community out there with tons of resources. Find what resonates, and #ChooseToChallenge yourself by reaching out to someone you are interested in learning from shares a different perspective.

I’ve been encouraging people to take the leap to try out what excites them. While it’s good to have role models and follow the footsteps of others, just know that there’s also the option of pioneering your own path.

It’s empowering to be able to wake up and feel the excitement of working on a problem you’re passionate about.  

Regardless of what the world might expect of you, you can set your own destination, and create your own path there.

 

 

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