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    Trailblazer Ann Mei Chang Reveals Tech’s Compassionate Side

    trailblazerAnn Mei Chang’s remarkable career has taken her from Silicon Valley to the U.S. Department of State. She began as an Engineering Manager for companies such as Apple and SGI before moving on to Intuit, There Corporation and Google, where she served as Senior Engineering Director for 8 years. In 2011, she became Senior Advisor for Women and Technology at the U.S. Department of State. At the end of last year, she accepted the position of Chief Innovation Officer at Mercy Corps, a global aid agency engaged in transitional environments that have experienced some sort of shock due to natural disaster, economic collapse, or conflict. As you can imagine, the organization has its hands full these days!

    Chang recently took time out of her hectic schedule to share her thoughts on everything from the gender gap in tech to ways in which technology itself might help to ease the seemingly ever-growing economic divide.

    SF Bay Times: How did your career path, rooted so heavily in local tech industries, lead you to Mercy Corps?

    Ann Mei Chang: I’ve had a long-time plan and desire to spend the first half of my career in the private sector and the second half in the public or social sector, originally inspired by Elizabeth Birch when she left Apple to lead HRC. As I approached that point a few years ago, I began exploring issues that were important to me and where I could potentially make a contribution, and decided to focus on global poverty as the root of many of our world’s challenges.

    I recognized that the proliferation of mobile technologies, which I led at Google, held the potential to drive more scalable interventions and new innovations, and saw that as a good entry point. My first step was to gain a bigger picture view by joining the U.S. Department of State through the Franklin Fellowship program where I worked as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology. After my fellowship ended, I joined Mercy Corps to get more directly involved in deploying solutions on the ground.

    SF Bay Times: Here in San Francisco, many people have been displaced because of gentrification following the emergence of tech growth and because of other factors. How can “the other 98%” overcome the increasingly daunting tech divide, and what role might technology itself play?

    Ann Mei Chang: My feeling is that it’s not surprising to have such frictions develop with all the changes, both good and bad, that come with any dramatic boom. It is something which will require attention to manage as smoothly as possible to allow for the growth while managing it to be as constructive and broad-based as possible. Certainly the Ellis Act evictions are worth looking at.

    On the broader question of the tech divide…the growth of technology has certainly contributed to the economic divide as professional, and particularly technical, skills become more highly valued, are increasingly scarce, and thus are rewarded disproportionately. At the same time, many less skilled jobs are being replaced through automation. The resulting macro-economic shift will take a while to shake out and will be painful along the way, but it is inevitable. What will be important is to evolve our education system and opportunities to train more people in these highly prized skills to give them better opportunities and to balance the supply and demand of talent so that wages become more equitable again.

    SF Bay Times: Thinking on your earlier work at companies like Google, what advice do you have for young professionals in the LGBT community who are interested in furthering their careers in the high tech field?

    Ann Mei Chang: Most importantly, be yourself. Without authenticity, it is difficult to build strong relationships that are key to both doing your current job more effectively and finding new opportunities in the future. Also, take advantage of being part of the LGBT community to meet others at your company and in your industry. It’s a unique way to build a broader network both for support and camaraderie, as well as to get to know people across a broad swath of the industry.

    SF Bay Times: How are leading tech companies including LGBT matters in the culture of their businesses?

    Ann Mei Chang: Most tech companies these days have LGBT employee groups and same-sex health and other benefits. This has now become standard business practice. As a talent-driven industry, the more progressive companies do more to reach out to the LGBT community, often by sponsoring events or organizations.

    SF Bay Times: Given your former State Department position, do you think that the gender gap is at last starting to close in technology fields?

    Ann Mei Chang: Unfortunately, the gender gap in technology has not been closing on its own, whether it is access to mobile phones and the Internet in developing countries or the percentages of women studying and working in the technology sector in developed countries. In Silicon Valley, the percentage of women in engineering continues to hover between 10–15% at most companies, with no noticeable change since I first started 25 years ago.

    SF Bay Times: What is the mission of Mercy Corp and how can our readers get involved or be of help to the organization in reaching its goals?

    Ann Mei Chang: Mercy Corps’ mission is to save and improve lives in the world’s toughest places. We work in 42 countries to provide humanitarian relief, promote sustainable long-term development and poverty alleviation, and seek innovations that can help create lasting change. As a non-profit, we of course welcome donations to support our work. You can learn more at www.mercycorps.org