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Profile: Cheryl Hung, VP, Ecosystem at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation

Women in Tech: “Find the joy in the process of mastering a skill.”

Dominik Mohilo
women in tech

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Cheryl Hung, VP, Ecosystem at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Cheryl Hung, VP, Ecosystem at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Cheryl Hung, VP, Ecosystem at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation

Cheryl Hung is VP, Ecosystem at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, part of the Linux Foundation and home to Kubernetes, and other widely used open source projects. She was promoted from Director to VP in July.

Cheryl leads the CNCF End User Community, the largest end user community of any open source foundation or standards body, with more than 140 member organizations. Under her guidance, the CNCF End User Community had grown by 90% YOY to includes some of today’s most recognized brands like Apple, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Salesforce, Spotify, Twitter, and many more.

94% of the CNCF End User Community reports participating in end user-specific programs which are critical for advancing open source technologies, such as the Service Mesh User Group, Financial User Group, Research User Group, and Telecom User Group.

Cheryl spearheaded a new CNCF TechRadar initiative. The TechRadar provides insight into what tools end users are actively using, which they would recommend, and their patterns of usage. The results are used by developers to fine-tune technologies, other end users when adopting new tools, and media/analysts.

Cheryl is also a frequent speaker at industry events like KubeCon + CloudNativeCon, Software Circus. She also founded the Cloud Native London meetup, which now has more than 5,600 members. As a C++ engineer, she previously worked on backend features on Google Maps and holds a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge, King’s College.

When did you become interested in technology?

I became interested in technology as a teenager, with the rise of fast home Internet in the mid-2000s. I started out building tiny websites and playing around with JavaScript. When I was 14, I read about a new hot startup called Google and the types of challenges it was solving, and decided that my goal was to become a software engineer at Google.

I was completely single minded about my path; I would study computer science at the University of Cambridge, then join Google as a software engineer. I was always extremely strong academically, came top of my class in most subjects and was mathematically inclined. Astonishingly I did achieve what I wanted and joined Google aged 21 as a software engineer on the Google Maps team.

How did you end up in your career path?

After 5 years at Google, I decided that although I was a decent coder, I didn’t enjoy it enough to be a software engineer for the rest of my career. It was a struggle for me to let go of the goal I had worked towards for over a decade, and after leaving Google I took a year out to code purely for myself and rediscover my own technology interests.

Luckily around 2016 containers and Kubernetes were rising, which I had already experienced at Google. So I made two career pivots; one into infrastructure, and another into Developer Advocacy, as I enjoyed and wanted to improve my presentation skills. I joined a startup, founded a meetup called Cloud Native London and became involved with the open source community. From those contacts I joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which hosts Kubernetes along with many other open source projects as part of the Linux Foundation.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

None of my family are in technology or software so they didn’t understand what I wanted to do. Luckily they supported me nonetheless, and I made friends in tech fairly easily.

Although I have mentors who have given me opportunities and I admire them personally, I have never seen myself in a role model.

Astonishingly I did achieve what I wanted and joined Google aged 21 as a software engineer on the Google Maps team.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Not individually, but I have had many well-meant remarks (“you’re 25, you should think about family and children) and ignorance (“you’re an engineer? I thought you were in sales”) which caused anxiety and self-doubt.

A day in Cheryl’s life

I am VP, Ecosystem at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (cncf.io), a non-profit that hosts over 70 open source projects including Kubernetes, Prometheus and Envoy. I am responsible for strategic growth, programs and engagement of the CNCF End User Community, which comprises 140+ companies including Adidas, Spotify, Mastercard and Apple.

My organization is 100% remote and I work 11am-7pm to account for my US colleagues. Prior to Covid-19 I spent a third of my time traveling to conferences, meeting new people and public speaking. Nowadays I manage a team, so I spend my time planning goals and keeping us focused on the highest priority work.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud of being in a position where I can give opportunities to others. I get much joy from both formal (hiring and managing) and informal (eg. giving speaking slots at Cloud Native London) and watching people grow in skills and self-confidence.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

Technology is much less meritocratic than believed. People with access to early opportunities (new projects, companies, technologies etc) usually give them to people they trust ie. their friends. And as men mainly know other men, those opportunities continue to go to other men.

I don’t believe that role models and formal Women in Tech groups or initiatives are very important. Instead, I believe that women need greater access to informal networks and early stage opportunities. As someone with a presence in her field, I’m therefore very aware of who I pass opportunities to.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

Obstacles I’ve faced include imposter syndrome, harassment, and assumptions of being junior or non-technical. However I still see the number one obstacle is lack of access to the informal networks where early stage, high impact opportunities get given to and reciprocated among trusted friends.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

The world would absolutely be different if more women worked in STEM. As an example, the original voice assistants (Google Home etc.) were far more accurate on male American and Indian accents, because the engineers who were working on them were primarily American and Indian men. If the engineers were female and British like myself, they would have been tuned for those accents.

As technology shapes people’s lives, more women in STEM would change which problems are seen as important and therefore get solved. Equality of financial rewards would also lead to significant changes in social dynamics.

Finance, media and politics are all still dominated by men, and they are the ones who fund companies and decide what problems get solved.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

In my opinion, debate and discussion only go so far. The real change comes when a mass of people change their behaviour, so I am pessimistic that I will see 50/50 parity in my career.

It’s also important to note that it’s not just about STEM. Finance, media and politics are all still dominated by men, and they are the ones who fund companies and decide what problems get solved.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

Tech is frustrating. You need to try a lot and fail a lot, for years, so find the joy in the process of mastering a skill.

Make many friends. Curate your online presence. Be bold and ask for what you want. Once you have some small success, share it with others.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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