Jing Jing currently works as the Engagement Team Lead at Wattpad. I knew of her even before I started working at Wattpad – a friend had met her during a startup open house event, and spoke highly of her openness and friendly demeanor. She met and exceeded all expectations I had of her – she is smart yet humble, hard working, thoughtful, and one of the most helpful and welcoming individuals I’ve ever met. I was very excited to hear more about her non-linear journey into the tech world, her experiences and learnings so far, and her thoughts on the importance of diversity and equality.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your journey so far.
My name is Jing Jing, and I lead the Community Engagement team at Wattpad. I was born in the Northern part of China, and lived there until I was 11. I then came to Canada and learned English while completing elementary and high school. I did my undergrad degree in Psychology and Human Biology, and then decided that I really wanted to explore and get out of my comfort zone. So, immediately after, I went to South Korea to teach for two years, where I developed a passion for education and technology. This led to me pursuing a Master’s degree in Education Technology, followed by opportunities at Wattpad where I was able to leverage some of the learnings of combining education and technology through informal channels. I’ve been at Wattpad ever since!
Do you have any people that have influenced you and guided you to where you are today?
In terms of celebrity, I really look up to female leaders such as Marissa Mayer. I know she’s been under a lot of harsh criticism over how she ran Yahoo!, but I think she operated in the best way possible given the circumstances. She was warm, she connected with her employees, and she made a lot of changes that were, at the time, perceived to be controversial, but in the end led to results.
Sheryl Sandberg is another inspirational figure; I’ve read Lean In and I watch her all the time. When she talks, this warmth and charisma radiates from her and that’s why she’s so effective.
Other leaders include Hillary Clinton – which may be a little bit controversial – but I think she’s doing the best she can to be impactful in her role.
Internally, there are a lot of people I look up to as well. I think the women at Wattpad are super results-oriented and supportive of each other, and I love that culture. You ladies are my inspiration!
What is a saying that you live by, or that influences your daily life?
Play with the cards that you’re dealt. At every point in your life, do what you can within the circumstances you’re in. Within every moment, you have certain situational constraints; whatever the situation is, within these constraints, you can always play your cards in the best way possible. So I always try to optimize for the best hand.
What would you say is one of your proudest achievements?
Moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language and knew no one. It was really challenging, but I really wanted to do it. After university, I felt this lack of direction and self-confidence; ever since I moved to Canada, and throughout university, I’d lived at home and stayed close to that comfort zone created by my parents. So I really wanted to put myself in a situation where I felt uncomfortable and prove to myself that I could survive. That’s why I looked into countries where I could teach English but also didn’t know the local language. My last three choices were Japan, Korea, and Laos, and I ended up picking Korea.
In my About section, I spoke about the various barriers I put up for myself. Is that something you relate with? If so, what is the one thing you wish you could stop doing?
I wish I could stop self-censorship; you want to say something, but a seed of doubt is planted… and then it grows and grows, and by the time you want to speak up, you no longer have a voice. For me it’s always hard to find that balance between self-censorship and having enough self-confidence and polish to deliver my message in an efficient and effective way. So it’s something that I’m working on.
Having gone to U of T, I felt a lot of pressure to meet certain expectations set due to the reputation of the university and my program. What was your experience having graduated from two top schools?
I try not to bring up the Harvard name partly because of people’s expectations, and partly because I want my work to speak for itself – not for a name or past experience. I think what Harvard gave me was a very well-rounded education, allowing me to learn about how the education industry and the tech industry intersect. I also got to meet lots of brilliant people – who I still keep in touch with – so it was one of the most comfortable and intellectually thriving environments to be in. So, for me, the biggest reward was not the name, but the network and learning I got while there.
What led you to Wattpad after completing your Master’s in Education Technology?
In Education Technology there is a terminology called Informal Education, which refers to kids learning on their own through self-driven interests and informal channels. Some examples of this would be Khan Academy and, relatedly, Wattpad; we are always hearing stories of people who have used Wattpad as a fun and informal channel to improve their grammar, get into creative writing and storytelling, and even learn Photoshop and HTML so that they can creatively express themselves. So that really drew me to Wattpad when I graduated from Harvard and was looking into informal education channels.
Can you describe what your role entails?
I lead the Community Engagement team, and our main function is to leverage our knowledge of content and community to better Wattpad. We keep in touch with the kinds of stories that are being told on the platform, and build relationships with influencers – up-and-coming storytellers in the community – so as to funnel them and their stories towards other departments, such as monetization, marketing, and product, for various opportunities. We also leverage ambassadors – a group of 300+ volunteers – who help us with various aspects of community management.
Having been female team lead, what advice would you give other women in a similar position or who aspire to be in a similar position?
Communication is key. And that was challenging for me because I’m fairly introverted. In my previous role as Insights Program Manager, I was more so in a bubble doing research. But in a team lead position, you have high visibility; you have to build structures that enable good communication within the team and also with other teams.
Advocacy is also important: advocacy for yourself, your team, and for the community. Self-advocacy is making sure that you are visible in a lot of key decision-making meetings, and if you’re not included, speaking up to make sure that you are, and that your voice is heard. Advocacy for your team entails making sure that people know what your team is working on. Advocacy for the community is being the users’ voice: how are they feeling, what are they saying, and how do we optimize for their experience? So it’s three layers of advocacy, and it doesn’t come naturally to me so I have to find ways to remind myself to take the steps to get the word out there.
Can you speak on how you are able juggle your responsibilities while maintaining your health and sanity?
I’m not very good at that. When it comes to self-care, being an introvert, I tend to take in things and keep them bottled up. Various people around me tell me I take on too much, and it serves as a constant reminder for me to ask for help or not take on things that don’t fall within our goals. I’m still struggling with that a little bit, but I think self-care is very important; it’s good to be self-aware and have people around you that remind you not to take on certain things, or to shift your focus.
On the prioritization side, its important to be process-oriented. In my role there’s usually a lot of incoming requests, so what I’ve learned is to build structures and communicate with other teams so that they work within your process. Then, carve out time for each task and, only during that time, work on those things.
We’ve previously discussed the process of realizing the need to explore new opportunities. What was that process like for you?
When I was doing Insights, a lot of my work was fairly isolated; research projects would come in, I would fulfill them, send a report, and be done with it. Given that one of my core values is connecting with people, and that I wanted to grow my set of skills in the management side of things, it felt very isolating. That’s probably what drove my decision to move from the isolating side of fulfilling those projects to actually working with a team and helping the team grow – I wanted to grow a different set of skills.
What were the main things you did to facilitate that change, having narrowed down what you were looking for?
First of all, clarity is important – so knowing where you want to grow, and communicating that very clearly to your manager so that they can help you. Second would be building the skill set that you would need to transition into that role; find opportunities to grow and showcase the skill set required for that next step. For a team lead position, for example, there’s a lot of communication involved, so I was lucky because when I was doing insights there were opportunities to communicate results to other teams in the company. The benefit of doing that was that people then knew who I was – they got to know my style, and my strengths and weaknesses. The third thing, I would say, is to get lucky. Because a lot of these opportunities are serendipitous, but when the right time and opportunity comes, you will be prepared to transition.
You’ve been part of a team working towards promoting diversity of content on Wattpad. How has this experience informed your take on diversity in the workplace?
Wow, this question is deep [laughs]! I love it! I use a similar analogy when thinking about content diversity and workplace diversity: what I realized is that momentum is a huge barrier to diversity. On Wattpad, there are certain categories that are very popular – once you’ve hit a certain critical point, it carries on, and on, and on, and any new content that’s being generated outside of these popular categories continues to be stuck. I would say this is the same with workplace diversity. If there’s no conscious effort to grow diversity in the workplace, then the momentum of the recipe that has worked so far continues to be replicated. Before you know it, diversity becomes a huge issue and then you’re working 200-300 percent harder to adjust for lack of diversity. So I would say the commonality there would be just being mindful of diversity issues early on, and advocating for a need for diversity so that momentum doesn’t carry on.
And the reason diversity is important is that it helps with growing ideas, helps with creativity, allows for everybody to be heard, and most of all, from a business sense, it helps with better decisions being made by the company. In business, wrong decisions are costly, so you want to maximize your chances of making the right decisions. Overall, different voices contributing to a decision helps make the final decision stronger.
Are there any challenges you’ve faced in your career so far that pertain your intersectionalities, i.e being a to being a woman, or a minority female?
There have been a couple of challenges. First, as women, we are socialized in a certain way such that we have to be very mindful of the way we frame things, and how we’re perceived, whereas I think men tend to have an easier time with just being direct. For women, when we do speak up about something, we have to find the right tone and the right framing. Second would be speaking up – I would say this may be tied to my race, but more so because I’m an introvert. I remember when I was in elementary school, I had such a hard time raising my hand because I just didn’t feel comfortable expressing myself. To this day, there are times when I want to speak up but I can’t; through self-censorship and situational constraints, I lose my voice. So these are challenges I face on a daily basis, but the good thing is that I try to push myself to do more, and to take steps to overcome these obstacles.
What advice would you give the younger you?
Whatever you’re trying to aim for, you will get there. When I was younger, I tended to be very self-critical and frustrated with where I was with my personal development. Growing older, I realize that the best you can do is make the best choices you can given the constraints. So if you’re not at a certain place where you want to be yet, don’t worry; keep working on it, and you will get there.
What do you want to accomplish with the next phase of your career?
I always try to anchor my career choices to my values. The two values I want to honor with every career decision I make are connecting with people, and having a positive impact while being able to see the results. So whatever I choose to do next, I want to have these values honored.
What is success to you?
Achieving inner peace: being happy with where I’m at, feeling calm and in control, and feeling that everything is working out the way that it should. I think that I struggle with that a little too much. There’s always voices in my head, and often times it’s turmoil; but amidst the storms there are moments of peace, and I want to maximize those moments of peace. To me, that would be success.
What is your definition of a feminist?
For me, feminism is choice without collective stigma. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in making women feel more heard, and giving women more choices, but I still think that there are certain choices we make that are stigmatized. So my definition of feminism and equality would be allowing both genders to make the decisions they want to make without any societal stigma.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female advancement?
Coming back to the issue of diversity, I would say momentum is preventing our advancement. Our society right now is structured in a way where past patterns carry forward. And unless we notice and speak up to bring awareness and change to this imbalance, we cannot move forward.
What has our generation helped solve for the next generation of women?
I think the next generation will struggle less with the awareness piece. With the help of social media, there are more and more women’s voices being heard; we are gathering together collectively in groups to talk about it and bring more awareness, and it’s starting to get the ball rolling. However, we have to continue to work on the action piece – I don’t think that change will happen within our generation alone. It’s a continued process that we have to carry forward.
What advice would you give girls/women looking to pursue a career path similar to yours, which has been a non-linear experience?
Use your values as your North Star. Values are inherent to you, and what I found to be helpful is honoring those values in whatever career choice you make. Because at the end of the day, you have to be honest and true to yourself. So my advice would be to clarify the values that you always want to honor, and then explore career options that fulfill those values.
Do you have any book or blog recommendations that have inspired you as a woman in tech?
I follow a lot of articles about women in tech and women in leadership, so I would say just find a female tech figure that you look up to and follow them. My example would be Tracy Chou; articles about her pop up on my Facebook news feed where she talks about diversity, and how she speaks up and represents female engineering voices in the tech sphere.