My STEM education gave me a different approach.
As a self-described “technical CEO” of a data and technology company, I understand the importance of a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. My STEM education shaped me into the leader and businesswoman I am today.
We’re moving into the next age of globalization, where technology is the only truly global language. While cultural nuances exist, technology remains universal. I learned this firsthand when I immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. Uncomfortable speaking a language I had only learned in classrooms and studied in books, I gravitated to STEM studies that were like my schooling in Hong Kong. My confidence increased, and I began to excel in the math and science curricula.
This led me to Caltech, followed by UCLA. At both schools, I continued to lean on STEM—the one place where my language skills mattered less and the rational side of my brain could flourish. Armed with degrees in engineering and computer science, I knew I would pursue a career in the technical arena. But what my STEM education led me to was far beyond what I could ever imagine.
Ultimately, my STEM education led me to Idealab and UberMedia, where I served as CTO for three years before succeeding Bill Gross as CEO in 2015. Most people assume being a CEO is all about giving speeches, managing, and performing tasks a liberal arts or business student studies. I thought so too at first, until I realized the skills my background brought to the table. The combination of my in-depth knowledge of our products from being CTO and my analytical skills from my engineering background created my own DNA as CEO. I’m just as comfortable meeting with my product and engineering team as I am with my sales team, which is critical given that technology is the backbone of our company. As CEO, I pitch data solutions to help our clients make better business decisions every day—data solutions I understand intuitively and believe in tremendously.
I will never be a loud, powerhouse CEO who relishes in the spotlight and uses the stage to convey ideas. That’s Bill Gross and John Legere—and they are fantastic at it. Instead, I shine by applying an “engineer’s mindset” to the role, using rational and logical thinking in decision making, observing before concluding and valuing a team-first approach.
It’s worked to my advantage thus far. Within a year of being named CEO, UberMedia achieved profitability for the first time. This year, I was honored to participate in the Fortune/State Department Global Women’s Mentorship Program for the first time. When asked if I had a preference of who I wanted to be paired with to mentor, I emphasized the “where” did not matter as much as the “what.” I wanted a technical CEO, like me.
Fortune and the State Department paired me with Hana Qerimi, co-founder and CEO of Shkolla Digjitale in Kosovo, the only private education institute in Kosovo offering computer science, programming, and robotics after-school lessons for children. We formed an instant bond over coding and STEM education. Her students were using the same coding curriculum in Kosovo as my children in California are.
Kosovo is still feeling the effects of its war nearly 20 years ago, and its youth need to be empowered. STEM is our future, and technology is universal. Students in Kosovo are learning the same skills as students in America—the building blocks that allowed a quiet immigrant to become the CEO of a U.S. technology company.
Gladys Kong is CEO of UberMedia.