She Definitely Will!
As a girl in Taiwan, I was a bit of a dreamer. I loved literature and I thought I might become a writer.
But my sister encouraged me to pursue science. She went to the U.S. to get her PhD. in physics. I wasn't sure about going to the U.S. or science actually, but my mother also thought it would be a good idea for me to follow in her footsteps. So I came to Temple University in Philadelphia in my early 20s to study biophysics.
Not long after that, maybe 18 months, I had a huge wake-up call. My mother passed away. We were all so profoundly sad, and at first I thought maybe I should go back to Taiwan. Then, I realized that it was time for me to grow up. I was the youngest daughter of the family but I wanted to make some decisions of my own.
About this time, I met my future husband. He was a physical chemist, but he was using computers for his research and was excited about their potential. He encouraged me to explore computer science. So I took a lot of coursework to qualify for my master's program in computer science. I found that I really liked the logical thinking. I worked very hard, often staying up all night to get a program to work.
She definitely will
In the U.S., I quickly learned that my Chinese name, Shyh-Mei, was difficult for Americans to pronounce. So I tried using Mary Ann - a name selected by my English teacher back in Taiwan. But I had a colleague - a female lab technician - who kept asking me to teach her my real name. Every time we met, she would ask me to remind her how to say it. So I decided, I will use my Chinese name when I started my career. My father helped me decide how to transliterate it, and I was proud of this name.
My IBM colleagues at my first job struggled with the name too. Finally one guy said, "I know how to say your name! It's 'She may... or she may not!'" Everyone laughed. I felt horrible, humiliated. This went on for some time. I was quite timid then, but I gathered my courage and the next time the guy said, "She may... or she may not," I answered: "She Definitely Will!" Everyone was quiet after that. That helped me gain some confidence. Even now, if people ask me how I can be a leader even though I have a strong accent, I answer that it's all about confidence.
Racing past barriers
Although I work hard, the technology side of my career has not been the challenging part. I am inspired by the opportunity to work with clients, understand their challenges and jointly develop a solution to expand their business. I found this passion when I moved on from coding to architecture - because this allows me see the whole picture coming together, like a top view. I love to work with clients to solve their problems. I feel that whatever I want to do, I can figure it out. That is how I was able to get all those patents - I had the confidence and I was willing to work hard.
Once a male colleague told me, you're a woman, you should stay at home. But being a woman in technology is not the hardest part either. In fact, my most inspiring mentor was a man, an IBM Fellow who totally believed in me. I admired his technical knowledge, how he understood and conducted business, and his encouragement. I owe him a lot - he believed in me before I believed in myself! For me, the cultural barriers have been the biggest ones. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a race, and I'm handicapped - so I need to work much harder to catch up with other racers.
I had left IBM when Infosys came to recruit me, and was thinking of retiring. But I realized I still have so much knowledge and there are so many opportunities. I'm still new at Infosys, but I am happy. The new working environment makes me feel refreshed and energized!
I give others the advice I give myself: stay open-minded, never lose the will to learn, and remain passionate about what you do.