Raymond on Rails

Journey from Spinal Surgery in LA to Software Development in Manhattan

Nobody Ever Says 'You Only Got Into MIT Because You're an Asian Man'

I’ve noticed, as a tutor, that people are more willing to hire me to teach math and science, vs. teach English and writing. They often will hire a girl to teach their kid English and me to teach them math, even though I also am passionate about English and can teach writing well. Do I have an unspoken advantage in this (plus a disadvantage on the humanities side), as an Asian guy?

I also got into MIT and perhaps more easily get chosen for technical opportunities. When I worked in surgery, people would often think I was a doctor or tell me, “Are you my mom’s anesthesiologist? You look like Dr. So-and-So.” Again, is this partially because I look the part, as an Asian guy?

At the same time, it would probably be harder for me to get selected as the romantic lead in an American movie, picked to be on “The Bachelor” (how many Asian guys are ever on that show?), become a rock star, chosen to be the head sales or marketing guy or CEO in a business, or asked to run for political office….because I’m an Asian guy. Who knows?

This article resonated with me. Ironically, Justin (our CTO) was just teaching me about compilers at work today. He has very high and challenging expectations for us, asking us to write a client and server in network socket TCP/IP code, telling us “You should try to write your own computer language and parser,” saying “You should understand how both operating systems and networking bit protocols work” and “Learn the data structures behind the surface of Git,” and “How about trying to code our entire company website in Haskell?” I feel very lucky to have the chance to think about and work on these challenging, deep, and technically meaty tasks. Is it partly because I’m Asian that I’m getting this wonderful opportunity?

What if I were a black or Latina woman? Actually, I deliberately did NOT major in computer science in college, even though I grew up in Silicon Valley and many of my classmates did so, BECAUSE I wanted to avoid becoming that socially awkward, geeky nerd stereotype who can’t talk to women or communicate with human beings. Ugh. I’ve hated that image my whole life. One of my high school friends was a very wimpy, meek, geeky Asian guy with glasses who fit the stereotype perfectly. He ended up studying CS at Berkeley, while I went to Berkeley but avoided CS, thinking “I am too sexy, extroverted, and artistic for that.”

Of course, years too late, I’ve realized that CS is very sexy, fun, artistic, creative, challenging, and CAN BE done by athletic, fashionable, socially smooth, extroverted, attractive people (men and women). It’s a field where you can use many sides of yourself—-extroverted, artistic, intellectual, whimsical, comedic—-and still be in the same job! You can be the frat boy, seductive, life-of-the-party sales guy while you also code up a storm. There is no one type of person who can’t enjoy, love, or achieve some skill in computer programming. Because it’s a field where I can finally be the hard core math/science nerd, the seductive sales guy, the sensitive artist—-all in the same job, I love it!

Nobody Ever Says “You Only Got into MIT Because You’re An Asian Man”

“For every white or Asian male expert programmer you know, imagine a parallel universe where they were of another ethnicity and/or gender but had the exact same initial interest and aptitude levels. Would they still have been willing to devote the 10,000-plus hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in the face of dozens or hundreds of instances of implicit discouragement they would inevitably encounter over the years? Sure, some super-resilient outliers would, but many wouldn’t. Many of us would quit, even though we had the potential and interest to thrive in this field.

I hope to live in a future where people who already have the interest to pursue CS or programming don’t self-select themselves out of the field. I want those people to experience what I was privileged enough to have gotten in college and beyond: unimpeded opportunities to develop expertise in something that they find beautiful, practical, and fulfilling.”