72. Michelle Ma – 2D/3D Artist | Programmer

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“The idea that my voice can shape the culture of our technological era just by expressing myself through my work is quite satisfying.”

Tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like for you.

I juggle several freelance jobs so especially during deadlines I can work from 9am to midnight, but I get to vary my days and I definitely make sure to take enough time for meals, exercise, life chores, and time with my cat.

How do you stay passionate in your career?

Whether I am working for research, clients, the entertainment industry, the arts, or for myself, there is always something that is ultimately unsatisfying. When working for research, I find that the technology, processes, and diverse community are so rich with possibility, but the support and the visual production are often lacking. When working for clients, I may have all the resources and skills to make something great, but my voice is overridden and the end product fades into the background of similar projects. And of course, when I’m in the industry or making personal projects, I’m always short of time and money. Honestly, my passion is fueled by these faults. I want to produce something meaningful, work with diverse and thoughtful people, find a way to not sacrifice myself, and also help others who are just starting out who are also lost. Call me an idealist, but I don’t want to become one of those people whose excuse is “That’s just the way it is.”

Did you have a traditional path into tech (i.e.: CS/IT degree transitioned into tech job)?

I started off in tech with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Fine Art. My CS courses gave me the foundation and skills to communicate across disciplines, but it was the art projects that helped me produce a portfolio that would later get me jobs at Disney Research, Nickelodeon Animation, and Deeplocal.

Are there any apps, software, or tools you cannot live without?

Maya, Creative Cloud, Unity

It’s common knowledge that women and femmes often face obstacles in the tech industry based on their gender. Have you ever had to deal with this type of experience and if so how did you handle it?

Absolutely. Every company I’ve worked in and even the school I went to was overwhelmingly biased towards men. The hard part is, the people that mistreat you are often actually nice people and don’t mean to put you down or restrict you. They don’t understand their own biases. When they say “no” to your ideas, they don’t ask themselves if they are saying “no” because it’s actually not feasible or if it just doesn’t match up with their own ideas or experiences. And when I was just starting out, all the tiniest microaggressions hurt a lot. They still hurt, but now I try to make people aware of what they are doing and really try to stand up for myself because I know more people will respect me for the fight than to just accept the status quo.

What’s your favorite thing about being a woman in tech?

Being a woman in tech is really empowering because you have very different insights on people, products, and processes. For any minority in any industry, that is a superpower. And the idea that my voice can shape the culture of our technological era just by expressing myself through my work is quite satisfying.

If applicable, how have you given back to the WIT community?

I try to push for Diversity and Inclusion everywhere I go now. Just by talking about it. I try to get women to talk about their salaries or moments of slight that get brushed under the rug. I’m hoping more people can stand up for themselves and actively shape the culture into what they want it to be.


What is a piece of advice you would give to others wanting to or currently pursuing a career in tech?

Often times, the culture of tech will make you feel smaller than you actually are, but that is just other people adding toxicity into your life (most of the time unintentionally). Ultimately, you’ll come to times where you are asked to put projects or other people ahead of yourself. And you have to ask yourself, is it worth it? I hope that no matter what you decide, you remember that you are valuable.

Tell us about a time you felt extremely accomplished in the past year. 

This past year I quit my job because it was too toxic for me and now I feel amazing. Project-wise, I don’t have too much to talk about because I worked for clients and signed an NDA, but I feel reborn as a feminist. At my job, I tried my best to push for diversity and inclusion initiatives on top of meeting deadlines, but I eventually came to the conclusion that I need to look out for myself. And that is what makes me feel accomplished nowadays. In fact, the freelance work is more interesting and I’m making more than when I was full-time.

Favorite quote:

I don’t have a favorite quote, but recently when I felt battered by my tech job, my mom told me “I would rather you fight back than to see you so fragile.” This means so much to me because often my parents were the ones that wanted me to not cause trouble and go with the flow. She helped me put myself first again.

“I would rather you fight back than to see you so fragile.”

—My Mom


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