Start-ups of Silicon Valley have been the engine of new economy for the past 50 years. Technical innovations have made computers, the Internet and cell phones possible and affordable. Behind every start-up is an idea and backing every idea is entrepreneur’s belief.
However, successful implementation and monetization needs creative designs for product looks, user interface and web presence. Critical thinking is required to do more with less and to envision new markets. STEM education gets you in the middle of the conversations where ideas germinate, but combined with creativity, it produces extraordinary results. STEAM epitomizes them all.
I was born as the middle daughter, in an all-girls family, to a young educated couple in India. I embraced STEAM because of my mother, a homemaker with no math or science background. She gave us concessions for our house chores if we spent time studying instead. Since my father was an engineer, she praised us even more for any efforts in science and math, as she wanted us to have good careers. We changed schools many times in the middle of a school year, as dad was in services and had to move. It was far more straightforward to quickly catch up on hard math and science curriculums than grasp new textbooks. Mom also taught us “girly” things like sewing and sent us to dance school and to art, photography and horseback riding classes — rare for girls then. Most importantly, she emphasized learning and always kept us engaged in new ideas and projects.
After my engineering degree in India, I arrived at UCLA to pursue a Master’s. I was the only woman in a class of thirty. Not exactly naturally gifted, I worked hard to achieve a 4.0 GPA. I had also excelled in India, so I felt a flash of brilliancy years later when I started working in Silicon Valley and earned a patent for my invention. I thought, “WOW! Really?” It was a big mental boost to my confidence.
In retrospect, the unintended outcome of launching my own company that I later took public was a newfound belief in myself. The road in between was rough and uncertain. My partner left 6 months after we started, and the product did not work in the first customer network, Federal Express. Yet good things happened too, which kept me energized. We fixed the product and Fed Ex offered to be a reference. Further a venture capitalist took a chance on me, when I was pregnant with my first daughter. Our product fit well in the new evolving Internet, leading to exponential growth in sales.
When I became a mother of two daughters, I struggled. My older daughter was conceived the year I was raising VC financing and my younger daughter was born a year before we went public. Being busy and raising kids in a new culture was challenging. The girls also had a more affluent upbringing than our own humble start, which worried us, as parents.
Fortunately, now 24 and 28, they opted for a math and computer science education and are marching onward and upward. I was a very busy mom, so I had to pick and choose my battles with them. I shared how math and science’s rigor helped me look more deeply at alternative solutions when the going got tough in business. However, they were only partly convinced. They pushed back when they disagreed. Still, I gave them my honest advice and hoped they listened. I know now they did. We spent countless hours doing science and art projects together, as I am a painter and love art. GO STEAM!
The Moment I Knew I Could STEAM Ahead is a new blog series geared towards encouraging the next generation of leaders in science, tech, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). When did you achieve confidence in your ability to master a discipline in STEAM? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.