Growing Up with Women in Big Data: Q&A with Elaine Kwok

by Tina Tang

Elaine Kowk is based in the Bay Area (California, USA), where she was raised—and very recently where she was married! She has been a member of the core team of volunteers for four years, and we are grateful for her quarterly newsletter production. But while she helps us get to know other people, we weren’t getting to know Elaine! So I had a chat with her this week to get the scoop…read on:

Who are your heroes?

Venus Williams! She spoke at the Professional Business Women of California (PBWC) conference. She gave an amazing speech about how she changed the game. They used to give women a smaller purse. She convinced Wimbeldon that all players should be equal. She introduced a new way of thinking with grace and dignity.

Also I admire Whitney Houston. My favorite song is “I Will Always Love You.” A lot of emotions were channeled through her songs, and she connected with people through these emotions. I love performing, I’m a professionally trained singer. I love guiding people to experience a different state of mind.

And my Mom. Growing up, we had the typical teenager “love” relationship, but now it’s all love. She is exacting and particular, but she has always challenged and pushed me for the better.

How and why did you get into the tech industry?

Elaine performing. Click here to view.

My Mom and Dad were in tech. Dad was an IT guy, a network admin. He was always building computers, always tinkering. My Mom was an engineer at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. She was responsible for failure analysis of the lab’s hardware. Way back, when I was at that soul searching age, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I was working in tech to save for med school. At that time, Mom was in the storage industry. I read an article in Forbes about EMC, IBM, HP, the giants in storage. I was fascinated, and the med school thing just dissipated. I got a job at the company that would later became a part of NetApp. I was hungry to learn, so I went deep into storage; those were the early days of big data, and I got sucked into the excitement. I learned a lot in those early years, including corporate strategic planning. Eventually I landed at Intel, and in my current role I work with technology partners, which are great.

What were some of the challenges and rewards along the way?

Looking back, the storage industry was dominated by men who were in it for decades! At the time, I never thought about that, though; I just focused on bringing fresh and interesting ideas to my work. For example, back in the day, I introduced the concept of newsletters to LSI Logic as a way to communicate with our executives, but it shortly became a company wide newsletter for competitive intelligence. People respected me for my ideas, and I was able to transcend gender.

Have you ever had a lemon boss? Me too. So I made the best of it. During this time, I took a leadership class and my assignment was to interview someone who inspired me. I interviewed the CEO and also discussed my current situation at the time. In my assignment, I wrote about how no matter what, you can embrace and influence and change your environment. I guess I made an impression. The dean of Santa Clara University, who published the Businessweek Best Seller The Leadership Challenge, later went on to publish a sequel business management book called A Leader’s Legacy, and he wrote about me in it! Everyone will have a lemon boss at one point. But make the most of every situation. And maybe you’ll end up in a book.

If all the doors seem to close, how do you continue growing?

I build alliances wherever I go. I am a networker. But connections have to be genuine and sincere. I’m a good listener; everyone is different and has different needs. When I build relationships, I make sure they’re mutual. I like to help people, and they like to return the favor. If I get stuck, I ask for an opportunity in my network.

Words of wisdom for our readers who are just starting out?

Anyone who is interested in big data and AI, you’re in the right spot. Learn as much as you can. It’s still the early days; the first ones out there have an advantage. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. Catch the opportunities. Think bigger; think out of the box. If you love it, pursue it. One of my exec friends told me to go grab a coffee or tea with people. Don’t wait for your dream job to be published. You might be able to create your dream job.

 

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