With her new business, Chou wants to address some of the issues she has encountered firsthand in the tech industry, including the type of online harassment she has been the target of. Here, we check in with Chou, who is based in San Francisco, to learn more about what it takes to make changes in the tech industry and what entrepreneurs like her face..
Tracy Chou, as said to Wudan Yan: During our last conversation, I had just left Pinterest. I’ve always been drawn to small businesses: I joined Pinterest when it had around 10 employees and left when it had around 1,000. It seemed like time to move on and do something. again.
I have worked for so many startups and have come to recognize some of the structural issues around startups and funding and how these factors influence the issues that are resolved. Many founders naturally work on issues that directly affect them – it’s easier to know what’s important or what could be improved by technology.
As I thought about my next steps, I thought about the products I worked on and checked this against questions like: Am I interested in this? Is there something to be done that may be commercially viable? There are a lot of really important issues that won’t be solved naturally by a startup.
I ended up on Block Party, which brings together a few different threads from my background. I have worked as an engineer in various social platform companies, and have worked on monitoring, moderation and improving the quality of content, and determining how product design influences the behavior of the community. Not only did I create moderation tools at Quora that looked at the quality of the content, but I also took punitive action against people who violated site policies.
I had also spent a lot of time examining how the lack of diversity and representation in teams meant products were built asymmetrically. For example, undiversified teams of people who are typically not targeted by abuse and harassment tend not to create protections against this in their apps.
The last part of my experience that led me to Block Party was just to be more targeted with harassment. Over the past year or so, I have certainly had more anti-Asian harassment online. Some of them were really targeted to me by individuals, and other times I would attract trolls just by being online.
If you could be reborn like anyone else in the world tomorrow, how would you see the world today? You wouldn’t want to conceive of a very uneven world, where most people are at the bottom of the ladder, because it could very likely be you if you were born like anyone tomorrow.
I connected very young and at first the internet was a fun way to connect with friends. I was on AOL Instant Messenger, which was a better way to chat with my friends in high school: I didn’t have a cell phone, and I couldn’t monopolize the phone line I shared with my family. I was also on some blogging platforms, like Xanga and LiveJournal. They were good outlets at the time.
Soon enough, however, someone created an anonymous Xanga page dedicated to hating me. I think it was someone from school, because he was referring to things from high school. It hated me a lot because I was doing well in school. It didn’t bother me as much back then as it did with getting older and thinking about it. At the time, I thought this person was just insecure and jealous. I thought it was a little sad and messed up for someone to write full articles dedicated to trying to bring me down.
I did not report it. Who would I have reported it to? It didn’t even occur to me to go to my school and report it. And I didn’t necessarily want my teachers or school administrators to see the page either, as it was pretty hateful content.
My parents didn’t raise me to be outspoken and to challenge the status quo. I was certainly not encouraged to denounce the system in any way. Like many other Asian immigrant children in the United States, I grew up believing that this is not my country, and my parents and I are here trying to find opportunities for ourselves. We didn’t have a safety net. I grew up more with the mentality of doing a good job, working hard and trying to make it happen.
My father, who is an engineer, gave me a philosophical thought experiment when I was quite young: if you could be reborn as anyone in the world tomorrow, how would you view the world today? You wouldn’t want to conceive of a very uneven world, where most people are at the bottom of the ladder, because it could very likely be you if you were born like anyone tomorrow. You would like to design a much more egalitarian world. It made me think that I didn’t like that the world was so unequal and that so many people were much less lucky than me.
This feeling made me take the privilege that I have and give it forward to make the world a little fairer. I went to Stanford; I’ve worked in companies that tech people find credible. So I can try to amplify more voices or different perspectives.