Fei-Fei: Are you getting excited for Grace Hopper?
Diane: I’m super excited for the conference. We’re bringing together technical women to surface a lot of things that haven’t been talked about as openly in the past.
Fei-Fei: You’ve had a long career in tech. What makes this point in time different from the early days when you entered this field?
Diane: I got a degree in engineering in 1976 (ed note: Fei-Fei jumped in to remind Diane that this was the year she was born!). Computers were so exciting, and I learned to program. When I went to grad school to study computer science in 1985, there was actually a fair number of women at UC Berkeley. I’d say we had at least 30 percent women, which is way better than today.
It was a new, undefined field. And whenever there’s a new industry or technology, it’s wide open for everyone because nothing’s been established. Tech was that way, so it was quite natural for women to work in artificial intelligence and theory, and even in systems, networking, and hardware architecture. I came from mechanical engineering and the oil industry where I was the only woman. Tech was full of women then, but now less than 15 percent of women are in tech.
Fei-Fei: So do you think it’s too late?
Diane: I don’t think it’s too late. Girls in grade school and high school are coding. And certainly in colleges the focus on engineering is really strong, and the numbers are growing again.
Fei-Fei: You’re giving a talk at Grace Hopper—how will you talk to them about what distinguishes your career?
Diane: It’s wonderful that we’re both giving talks! Growing up, I loved building things so it was natural for me to go into engineering. I want to encourage other women to start with what you’re interested in and what makes you excited. If you love building things, focus on that, and the career success will come. I’ve been so unbelievably lucky in my career, but it’s a proof point that you can end up having quite a good career while doing what you’re interested in.