I fundamentally believe that access to transportation is a human right, and we have an opportunity to make a disproportionate positive impact with self-driving technology. I’m motivated to help by grounding our approach in human-centered methodologies that ensure that we’re thinking about people’s needs, in harmony with what’s technologically feasible and economically viable.
What are you most excited about for 2021 as we continue to integrate into one team?
I’m really excited to partner with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team to build a diverse and world-class team together and to continue creating learning environments for Aurorans to inspire action. The work that team is leading is instrumental in shaping the systemic change I hope to see in the tech industry.
I wholeheartedly believe diversity plays an important role in a company’s success, especially in tech organizations that have aspirational missions to positively impact the lives of people and society. It’s important that a company reflects the diversity that exists in the world that it wants to impact.
March is Women’s History Month. Since we’re all helping to forge a new industry and transform transportation, we’re celebrating the women who have blazed a trail for us. Is there a woman in your life who has paved the way, lit a spark, or inspired you in your career journey?
In my early days as a designer, I was inspired by Adele Goldberg, a computer scientist who developed the programming language Smalltalk-80, a first of its kind, interactive programming environment used to create one of the first graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Goldberg pioneered GUI components like overlapping windows, icons, menus, and arrows, and made it possible for these components to be controlled by a mouse. With Smalltalk-80, Goldberg’s mission was to make computing accessible by allowing people to easily build applications with intuitive graphical user interfaces. Her work inspired the very first Apple computer and has ultimately paved the path for today’s Product Designers and Interaction Designers. My life’s work has been made possible by her technological advancement.
How has being a woman in technology impacted you, professionally and/or personally?
Being a role model for other women of color in tech has affected me in a profound way—it has empowered me with a greater sense of purpose to push past the challenges I have personally faced in order to change the landscape for future women of color designers and leaders. As a Design leader, I have learned first-hand from my teams, mentees, former students, clients, and people in the greater Design community how my career achievements and ambitions are greater than my own. To women of color who identify with me and my background, I represent a real chance for them to serve in a leadership role in a tech organization and make a difference one day.
Last month, Aurora offered a screening of the film Coded Bias, a documentary about MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini’s work related to algorithmic bias in facial analysis technology. Following the film, we hosted a discussion with the filmmaker Shalini Kantayya and you were one of the panelists in that discussion. What do you think Aurora and the self-driving industry at large can do to ensure diversity in thought, perspective, and experience as we build technology that serves people and communities broadly?
Aurora’s value of ‘winning together,’ and our company goal to improve the connectedness, diversity, and inclusiveness at Aurora makes me proud that Aurora is committed to being diverse and working together towards a shared goal—building the Aurora Driver. What goes hand-in-hand with the clearly articulated values of diversity and inclusion is creating mechanisms that ensure these values can be reinforced in how the company and its employees make decisions.
As an industry, we may want to establish an advisory group that consists of people with diverse backgrounds, disciplines, gender identities and expressions, and abilities who ‘consult’ the organization and conduct regular reviews on code and engineering practices, like the data sets and learning environments used to train AI models. This ensures that decisions made on the implementation of code are distributed and collaborative.
Another mechanism could be establishing key projects that call upon diverse experts to help us build a better Aurora Driver. While the problem of realizing self-driving is highly complex and technical, when you ask folks across the organization why they work for Aurora, it’s a very human problem they are looking to solve: a safer world for their son or daughter, a world that enables independence for their grandmother, or a way for caregivers to feel confident that their parents are getting medication reliably delivered to them.
The human outcomes we want to help achieve with the Aurora Driver necessitate that diverse disciplines come together—for example, our UX researchers and engineers work together to represent what matters to riders when they are in our self-driving vehicles by creating principles and numeric rules for the vehicle’s motion and behavior.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
My first experience working in the ‘mobility domain’ was as a part-time valet driver in high school. The valet company I worked for serviced tech executive events in Silicon Valley, so naturally I had an opportunity to valet a lot of coveted sports cars, which definitely kept my job exciting.
What is your hidden talent?
I can read, write, and speak Japanese.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend my spare time nourishing my creativity and staying inspired. Right now, my creative project is renovating the condo my partner and I live in. My partner is a designer too, so we enjoy working together on something creatively fulfilling.
It’s a work-in-progress. While our condo is bound by its concrete structure, we stripped everything else away to start with a blank canvas to make our vision a reality. It’s a dream of mine to build a house from the ground up one day.