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Communications of the ACM


Duy-Loan Le Keynote at Grace Hopper Conference

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Valerie Barr

Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science, Union College

Duy-Loan Le came to the U.S. from Vietnam at age 12.  Within four years she learned English and managed to graduate (at age16!) as valedictorian of her high school class, then graduated magna cum laude at 19 with a BSEE from UT Austin.  She immediately began working for Texas Instruments as a memory design engineer.  She subsequently received an MBA from the University of Houston, and is currently the World Wide Advanced Technology Ramp Manager at TI, with 23 patents and 7 more patent applications pending.  She is the first and only woman Senior Fellow at TI, elected in 2002.


Le focused her remarks on the challenges that people face at work in research areas, arguing that the key problems are often really about people, not about technology. Boundaries are often not technical in nature.  Her three key points were: 1) you have to overcome personal limitations; 2) your have to collaborate; 3) successful collaboration requires relationship building, which cannot be done solely via technology, but must be done face to face.  While technology has brought people closer together, made the world smaller, we are all still rather far apart. In order to successfully collaborate across boundaries, have to understand things cross culturally.


Le pointed out that there are almost 5 billion mobile connections today.  Mobile technology is not just a tool, it is shaping every aspect of our lives. But what is the impact? Should we worry? Does the younger generation, Generation Y, know how to build interpersonal relationships? Do we need to teach them how to do that? Relationship building requires more than facebook, twitter, and email. Human relationship is the key to successful collaboration, the “old fashioned” way, face to face. One a relationship is established, only then can you support it through the technological means.


Throughout her presentation Le told storied from her own experience.  She said that you protect yourself against discrimination by being excellent.  But you have to be aware that the definition of excellence differs across cultures. Many of the attributes valued in the U.S., for example, may be seen as arrogant and non-collaborative in other cultures. All the technology in the world cannot make up for cultural mis-steps, does not make up for lack of cultural competency.


Her talk was extremely well received and a number of the questions afterward were from young women who are also immigrants to the U.S. and are trying to establish their cultural, as well as technological, footing


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