Jean was born in Hunan Province, China. Her family had lived there for generations but in the late 1980’s, her father received an offer to pursue a PhD in electrical engineering and then was began working at Carnegie Mellon University. So the Yangs moved to Pittsburgh. Jean was five.
Professor Seltzer encouraged Jean to major in computer science. When she explained the ‘Impostor Syndrome’, she articulated a notion with which Jean had been wrestling, but unable to pinpoint, for some time:
“When you feel like you don’t belong, everyone is better than you are, and its only a certain amount of time until people figure it out?” That is the Impostor Syndrome. “A lot of women in male dominated fields tend to feel this way because they don’t have role models who are women.”
So, with the reassurance of her new advisor, Jean was able to pursue a degree in computer science with confidence, although she still had to contend with the dominant narrative of a white male as a programmer, and the disadvantages that accompanied being outside the mainstream of the profession. To give you an idea of the odds Jean faced (and still faces):
Never-before heard from a programmer: “I try to limit my self to 40 hours of work a week or less. Too much burns you out.”
So it seems that she is doing pretty well, actually…
First of all, a PhD from MIT is a decent step toward world domination.
Further, Jean has also been published and has received several scholarly awards. You can see her full list of accomplishments here. Keep in mind, though, that she has not even finished her PhD yet, so we can expect much more from the young Ms. Yang in the years to come.
Despite her accomplishments, Jean is not quick to forget the obstacles she faced on her path to MIT. The lack of females in the programming community remains an important issue to her, and she has grappled with how best to tackle it throughout her academic career, ultimately reaching the conclusion that “I should keep being the best scientist I can be in my field and lead that way.”
Indeed, perhaps more significant than her plentiful academic achievements, by pursuing a career she loves–and doing it well without sacrificing her values–Jean is assuming the position of female role model that is sorely absent in the programming field.