Women in tech: “Feel brave applying for that job you want”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three 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 Gladys Kong, CEO of UberMedia.
A 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?
Three 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 Gladys Kong, CEO, UberMedia.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Gladys Kong, CEO, UberMedia
Gladys Kong is CEO of UberMedia, a location insights company, and an expert in mobile technology and data women solutions. Gladys is dedicated to innovating and developing new ideas within technology startups. Since joining UberMedia as chief technology officer (CTO) in 2012, Gladys has been responsible for transforming the company from a social media app publisher to a leading mobile advertising company. Promoted to CEO in 2015, Gladys transformed the company again, this time recruiting a team of data scientists to expand UberMedia and provide location data and insights to companies across a range of industries, including commercial real estate, retail and tourism.
Gladys’s tenure in technology is extensive: She was CEO and co-founder at GO Interactive, a social gaming firm, from 2007 to 2012. Prior to that, she was vice president of engineering at Snap.com, and vice president of R&D at tech incubator Idealab, where she helped create numerous companies, including Evolution Robotics, Picasa, X1 Technologies, and many more.
Gladys holds a B.S. degree in Engineering and Applied Science from California Institute of Technology and an M.S degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Los Angeles. Gladys participated in UCLA’s CoBase Project, where she conducted research and development on intelligent and cooperative access methods to distribute large-scale database systems.
She is currently on the board of directors for Innovate Pasadena, a nonprofit organization promoting technology innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting collaboration across businesses and education to attract companies, entrepreneurs, innovators and capital to the broader community.
In 2015 and 2016, Gladys was named one of Business Insider’s “30 Most Powerful Women in Mobile Advertising”. In 2016, Mobile Marketer named her one of the 25 “Mobile Women to Watch”. Her expertise and passion for innovation has directly contributed to UberMedia being ranked #16 in The Wall Street Journal’s Top 50 Start-ups and listed as one of Fast Company’s “50 Most Innovative Companies”, one of OnMedia’s Top 100 Private Companies, and one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” by Entrepreneur magazine.
What first got you interested in tech?
I didn’t know I was interested in technology until I immigrated to the United States, from Hong Kong, when I was 14.
English was challenging so I gravitated toward math and science — partially because there was less language involved, but I soon discovered it suited my personality better. I liked the exactness of math and science. There’s an exact answer; it’s just a matter of putting the work in until you arrive at the answer.
It was serendipitous. I don’t know what I’d be doing now if I had stayed in Hong Kong.
How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?
Math and science helped me realize I loved problem-solving. And that led to me studying computer science at Caltech.
The ones and zeroes really spoke to me. Unlike with subjects like English and history, I never felt like I was at a disadvantage when it came to STEM subjects. I interned at a startup one summer, working under the founder of Idealab, Bill Gross. After I graduated, Bill hired me as a computer programming and became a mentor to me.
One of the biggest challenges I overcame was early in my career, when I transitioned from being a computer programmer to being a project manager. I didn’t want to work alone anymore, and programming is a lot of time spent alone, coding. I wanted to work with a team, with people.
But I had trouble communicating with the first team I managed. I’d ask them to update me on their work and they wouldn’t even answer me. I was asking the wrong questions, though. Once I put the time in to learn about their work, I was able to ask more pointed, detailed questions, and they opened to me. Building relationships paid off.
I didn’t want to work alone anymore, and programming is a lot of time spent alone, coding. I wanted to work with a team, with people.
Do you have a role model?
My role models are my mom and my sisters. My mom taught us everything was available to us. I never grew up thinking there were limitations because I was a girl. I was the third of three sisters, and all of us are strong career women.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
No. The only thing that could have stopped me was fear — fear of uncertainty, fear of putting the work in.
A day in Gladys’ life
I’m the CEO of UberMedia, a mobile location data analytics company. We collect data from smartphones and analyze it to help brands of all kinds better market themselves and service their customers.
On a typical day, I drop off my kids at school and am in the office at 8. The first hour or two are quiet — no meetings, not a lot of people around — and I use that time to catch up on emails and my personal to-do list. The rest of the day is usually filled with meetings, about half of which are internal and the other half are with clients and partners. And in between all that, I’m handling any issues that come up, communicating with and managing my team. I’m home by 6 p.m. most days. I have dinner with my family and maybe check my email afterward.
I believe in work-life balance. We don’t spend 15 hours a day at our desks, and that helps us attract employees.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m most proud of how I’ve led this company through some difficult times. We’ve pivoted our business twice, and sometimes it wasn’t always certain we’d be successful. But I was able to keep the business afloat, and now we’re thriving. We achieved profitability in 2019 for the first time in the company’s 10-year history.
Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?
A couple of reasons:
1. Girls get intimidated by STEM early in school, so by the time they get to college, there are few enrolling in STEM programs at college.
2. Tech is predominantly male, so it can be intimidating to women who might want to join.
In general, we have to make the environment less intimidating for women.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
The biggest challenge is women are always the minority at tech companies, so women can feel a little on the outside. My company, UberMedia, is rare because we have two female data scientists and quite a number of female employees at the managerial level. When I hired the second of our two female data scientists, she told me, “I’ve never been at a tech company where I’ve been interviewed by more women than men, and that made me comfortable.” Women feel better at an organization when they see there’s a path for advancement for them.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
The tech world would be more open-minded and experimental. Anytime there is greater diversity in your team, you get a broader perspective. You make decisions based on different viewpoints, and decisions are more thoughtful and less biased.
When I hired the second of our two female data scientists, she told me, “I’ve never been at a tech company where I’ve been interviewed by more women than men, and that made me comfortable.”
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
It’s going to be a long-term process. A lot of companies feel comfortable hiring women but the candidate pool remains limited. And the way we overcome that is by making women more visible and showing young girls there’s a place for them in tech, and that change will take place over the next 10 years.
As women become more comfortable pursuing STEM, we will see the number gradually start to even out. But it might take 20 years to reach the kind of equity we want.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Feel brave applying for that job you want, even if you’re not 100% qualified.
Tech is constantly changing, so experience isn’t as much of an advantage. If you show hiring managers a willingness to always learn, you will quickly become an expert in your field, even if you don’t know everything right away. And that will make you a valuable candidate.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in tech: “Don’t forget that your career will evolve.”
- Women in Tech: “Be the positive inspiration for someone else!”
- Women in Tech: “Women are turned away from STEM before they even get started.”
- Women in Tech: Martina Kraus – “Diversity isn’t just Gender – it’s culture and language too!”
- Women in Tech: Rachel Taylor – “Gender bias is creating massive challenges across social, ethnic, and economic groups.”