Angel Yu, director of HDD firmware at Western Digital, always found strength in diverse communities. As a young child, she explored her Bay Area neighborhood with neighbors and cousins, taking in the diverse city.
“I went to a multicultural high school,” said Yu. “It seemed like anything was possible because I saw all these people from different walks of life achieving and excelling in their own areas.”
Yu always had a natural aptitude for math, but it was a computer science class in high school that captured her attention. Yu’s instructor was a young woman, just out of college, who was half Asian. That representation was powerful; proof that Yu was capable of anything she put her mind to.
“I think it was fate putting me with my teacher. She was the only one teaching computer science at our high school, and she was young and hip, and doing this nerdy stuff,” said Yu. “I remember telling her that I was going to focus on what she does because it seemed so fascinating to me.”
That fascination, and Yu’s strong academic performance, earned her admission to California Polytechnic State University down the coast in San Luis Obispo to study computer engineering.
College was a culture shock for Yu. A self-described city girl, she found the outdoorsy charms a stark contrast to the suburban lifestyle she enjoyed in the Bay. More than the environment, though, Yu noticed the demographics of San Luis Obispo.
The school and city were overwhelmingly white, forcing her to think about identity more than she had previously. Coupled with the slow realization that she had selected a largely male-dominated field, this new environment presented a challenge. To make the transition easier, Yu elected to live in a multicultural dorm, knowing that a diverse community would be her anchor.
“If I step back and reflect, I was thrown into an uncomfortable environment in college. A place that was so homogenous was foreign to me,” Yu said. “Having that multicultural support system in the dorm really helped me settle in. It helped quash the impostor syndrome, that question of ‘Am I good enough?’”
Yu also banded together with the few women in her major to build a grassroots community for women in computing. It was a small organization, but its very presence was a powerful symbol of solidarity for the young cohort.
Yu completed her undergraduate degree with top marks and decided to complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Once again, she found herself in an alienating environment, but she was ready this time.
“When I stayed for my master’s, I was the only woman in my lab. It prompted some observation and analysis,” said Yu. “Did I have the tools I needed to succeed? Would I be OK in that environment?”
Once Yu ensured she had the tools she needed to excel, including a diverse cast of friends and colleagues to support her, she could focus on working hard. Yu quickly became comfortable in the lab. She found that her worries melted away, and what was left was the camaraderie of engineers.
“We were all engineers, we bonded, and we got the work done. I never felt excluded,” she said.
After finding her stride, Yu was ready for a new challenge and decided to step out of academia and into the tech industry. She was practicing her assembly skills and interviewing with companies when she had a chance encounter with a Western Digital recruiter at a career fair. They discussed opportunities at the company, and eventually, Yu accepted an offer to work in applications engineering.
She fell in love with her role and the workplace. She loved the culture, working on real problems for customers, and living in Irvine. But five years into her work, she relocated for personal reasons, and she was forced to leave the company.
“If I could have picked up Western Digital and moved it with me, that would have been perfect,” she said.
Yu took on a job with one of the world’s largest brewing companies. The change was a 180-degree turn for her. The processes were different, the tech was different, and the hours were different. But what stood out most to Yu was the culture and how isolated she felt, particularly as a woman. A year from the date of her hire, Yu quit and moved back for a reunion with Western Digital.
Today, as a director of firmware engineering, Yu leads a team of engineers to ensure Western Digital meets standards and satisfies customers wherever its products are found. Alongside those duties, she advocates for historically marginalized groups in technology as a part of her work with #IamRemarkable, a Google initiative empowering women and other underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond.
During her first #IamRemarkable session, Yu was struck by the scale of the program. Challenges like impostor syndrome were serious and common enough to start a program, and it resonated with women all over the tech world.
“I realized not only are people not sharing their successes, but they also weren’t talking about impostor syndrome, self-promotion, and how that impacts career opportunities for women,” Yu said. “Afterward, I was asked to be a facilitator for the program at Western Digital. Despite being an introvert, I agreed. That’s how important this problem is to me,” she said.
While she was pushed out of her comfort zone to facilitate these sessions on behalf of Western Digital’s Women’s Impact Network, Yu was in her natural element. Her whole life has been about building and supporting diverse communities. From a young age, Yu believed she could do anything because she saw people of all kinds succeed. In her high school and in her dorm, and now at Western Digital.
“We are all individuals, but your individual wins are tied to the community around you,” said Yu. “I recognize that I am very fortunate for the communities I’ve had around me in my life, and that motivates me to give back.
“It’s not just about women, it’s about equity and putting that on everyone’s radar.”