Sharon Lin: Computer Science & Media Researcher

22195810_1175985639199936_2497676514456673403_nWhat kind of work do you do in the field of technology?
Currently, I am working on computer vision research and designing an autonomous robo-taxis system with the MIT Media Lab as part of the Camera Culture Group. I’m also working on developing virtual reality applications in Unity and web and mobile applications, including implementing machine learning to identify trends in recognizing contaminants in water samples.
 
At MIT, I’m pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, along with Applied Mathematics and a concentration in Comparative Media Studies. I also work as a Student Partner for Microsoft, a Major League Hacking Hacathon Coach, and the Hackathon Chair for the MIT Bitcoin Expo.
 
Has being a woman impacted your journey in technology? If so, how?
 
Being a woman has significantly impacted my introduction into the field of technology, as well as the avenues I’ve been able to traverse in my education and career. When I was in elementary school, I remember being actively discouraged from pursuing computer science because it was assumed that my brother or male classmates would be more inclined towards pursuing a career in technology.
 
When I began learning to code, I didn’t have any female friends who I could relate to who were similarly interested, so I ended up keeping my interests to myself. Even when I started attending hackathons, it was often difficult to relate to others, and I would often wonder whether my experience was unique. At one point, I began to adopt a “cool girl” attitude towards tech, which I slowly learned to shed in subsequent years.
 
I owe a lot of my journey in tech to the various women in tech organizations I’ve been able to join, such as NCWIT and the Society for Women Engineers. These communities have given me a lot of comfort in knowing that there is a place for me in the tech field, and that women are welcome as engineers. I’ve gained so many opportunities, mentors, and friendships from these groups, and have even had the chance to give back by mentoring younger girls and passing on the message.
 
What improvements do you wish to see in the field of technology?
 
I definitely want to see more transparency in companies. A lot of the time, it’s difficult to compare offers for internships or jobs from different companies because you can’t tell what differentiates one from another. Even among competitors, a lot of companies will resort to tactics such as short-term deadlines or matching offers in order to sway you towards one role over another.
 
Interviews are similarly structured, and fairly inconsistent. While the majority of companies in Silicon Valley will conduct whiteboard interviews (which I personally feel are not the best way to judge the programming abilities of a developer), some others will have online technical interviews or fly in applicants to their headquarters for second round interviews. Overall, interviewing at even half a dozen companies can be a months-long, anxiety-ridden process and I don’t think it needs to be that way.
 
Who inspires you and why?
 
I’ve had a long-standing fascination with virtual reality, and filmmakers like Maureen Fan and Jessica Brillhart stand out as role models to me. In an industry – especially a creative one – that has yet to be defined in terms of standard practices and artistic direction, they’ve been able to make strides and define their own creative arenas.
 
In terms of Fan’s achievements,starting a successful VR animation studio, leading Zynga, and consulting for major media companies including Lucasfilm and HBO are just some of the milestones she’s achieved in order to become a thought leader in the field of VR. Brillhart has similarly spearheaded numerous shorts and documentaries, even working on live-testing Google Jump.
 
I think the bulk of my admiration stems from the degree of passion with which these women have been able to pursue their projects. The thought of being a pioneer in a potentially high-impact creative field is both exhilarating and terrifying, but that exactly the kind of position I hope to be in someday.
 
What advice do you have for girls who wish to pursue careers in technology?
 
My biggest piece of advice is to seek out mentors. Too often, young women are caught up in the narrative that they are a minority in tech and face obstacles to achieving success, and as a result are unable to negotiate or find out how to pave a path forward.
 
By seeking out successful women who have achieved the goals you wish to achieve, it becomes far easier to find a sponsor for you – someone who will not only lend you advice, but actively work towards lifting you in your own career. I would recommend directly reaching out to those who inspire you or encourage you to dream big, and to ask them for advice or direction. Even just having a mentor to talk to about personal issues or to give career advice is a massive benefit.
 
I would also recommend joining women in tech organizations. From Girls Who Code to Girls Make Games, there are tons of groups that exist that are dedicated to giving opportunities to girls and young women to pursue their passions in technology. You’ll not only find opportunities to learn new skills, but also friendship and a network to turn towards for support in the coming years.
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