In her new company, Zhou hopes to solve some of the problems she has experienced firsthand in the technology industry—including the kind of online harassment she has been a target.Here, we spoke with Chou, who is based in San Francisco, to learn more about what it takes to make changes in the technology sector and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs like her.
Tracy Chou said to Wu Danyan: When we last talked, I just left Pinterest. I have always been attracted to small companies: I joined when Pinterest had about 10 employees and left when I had about 1,000 employees. It feels like it’s time for me to move on and do something new.
I have worked for many start-up companies, and I have begun to recognize some structural issues surrounding start-up companies and funding, and how these factors affect the way they solve problems. Many founders are naturally committed to solving problems that directly affect them: it is easier to know what is important and what can be improved through technology.
When thinking about my next step, I considered the products I had developed and checked for questions such as “Do I care about this?” Is there anything that can be commercially viable? There are many very important problems that cannot be solved naturally by startups.
I ended up participating in the Block Party, which brought together some different clues from my background. I have worked as an engineer in a number of social platform companies, responsible for monitoring, reviewing and improving content quality, and studying how product design affects community behavior. Not only did I build a review tool on Quora to review the quality of content, but I also took punitive measures against those who violated the site’s policies.
I also spent a lot of time researching how the lack of diversity and representativeness in the team means that the way the product is built is biased. For example, non-diversified teams that are not usually targets of abuse and harassment are not inclined to establish protections against these in their applications.
The last part of the background that led me to join the Block Party only became more targeted because of harassment. In the past year, I must have received more anti-Asian harassment online. Some of them are personally directed at me, while other times I will attract trolls through my online presence.
If you could be reincarnated as anyone in the world tomorrow, how would you design the world today? You don’t want to design an extremely unequal world, most people are at the bottom, because if you are born tomorrow, it is likely to be you.
I went online at a very young age. At first, the Internet was a fun way to connect with friends. I’m on AOL Instant Messenger, which is a better way to chat with my high school friends: I don’t have a cell phone, and I can’t take up the phone line shared with my family. I am also on some blogging platforms, such as Xanga and LiveJournal. They were good outlets at the time.
However, someone set up an anonymous Xanga page very early, specifically hating me. I think it is a person in school, because it quotes things from high school. Many people hate me because I do a good job academically. It didn’t bother me as much as when I looked back at it when I grew up. At that time, I felt that this person was insecure and jealous. I think someone will write a complete post to try to disappoint me, which is a bit sad and messed up.
I did not report. Who will I report to? I didn’t even think of going to my school to report. And I don’t necessarily want my teacher or school administrator to see this page because it’s very nasty content.
My parents did not train me to be an outspoken person who challenged the status quo. I am definitely not encouraged to oppose the system in any way. Like many other Asian children who have immigrated to the United States, I have believed that this is not my country since I was a child. My parents and I are here trying to find opportunities for ourselves. We have no safety net. When I grow up, it’s more of a mindset of doing a good job, working hard, and working hard.
My father was an engineer, and he gave me a philosophical thought experiment when I was very young: If you could be reborn as anyone in the world tomorrow, how would you design the world today? You don’t want to design an extremely unequal world, most people are at the bottom, because if you are born tomorrow, it is likely to be you. You will want to design a more equal world. This makes me feel that I don’t like the inequality in this world, so many people are much luckier than me.
That feeling allowed me to obtain the privileges I had and put them into practice to make the world more just. I went to Stanford; I worked for a company that people in the tech world consider credible. So I can try to amplify more sounds or different perspectives.