Alumni Career Stories: Q&A with Doris Tang (BASc '05)

Doris Tang currently resides in San Francisco where she is working as an Entrepreneur in Residence at X (formerly Google X) helping inventors and entrepreneurs transform moonshot ideas — radical solutions to the world’s most complex problems — into breakthrough technologies. Doris played a key role in launching Mineral, X’s computational agriculture project tackling sustainable food production. Read more about how Doris has followed her passions to pursue roles at the intersection of engineering, entrepreneurship, and social impact. 

How has your career differed from a typical engineering graduate?

I’m not sure what typical means these days as the career paths of many people I know are non-linear. If you were to just look at my resume or LinkedIn profile, my career probably looks like it has wandered a lot given the range of industries and roles I’ve been in.

Being successful was important to me, but I always knew I wanted something more than that. Since I never felt the need to follow a particular path, I chose jobs based on how much I could learn and how much impact I could have — to somehow leave the world a better place than how I found it. My time with Engineers without Borders solidified that desire, and it drew me to startups and entrepreneurship, because they have generally been the progenitors of tech disruptions that have enabled some of the biggest shifts in society. 

That line of thinking took me to San Francisco where I spent a year looking at product and operations for a peer-to-peer online marketplace, later joining Google Shopping to launch their same-day delivery service. My first two jobs were focused on business-to-business products, so it was quite the transition to work on consumer products where the user experience took centre stage. Since I was heavily involved on the operational side, I also got to learn and appreciate what it took to deliver that user experience. 

When I was finally ready to focus on projects that had the potential to have a positive impact on the world, I was really fortunate in finding my way to X, whose core mission is to “build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people.” 

What was your first role after graduation? Was it the type of job you expected?

I spent several months volunteering in Guatemala for Engineers without Borders. I probably learned more than I contributed, but it was a grounding experience that I still reflect on often to remind myself of what life is like outside the first-world bubble. When I returned to Canada, my first job was building fuel-cell powered engines for forklifts. I really wanted to spend my time working on things that I felt were going to make the world a better place and saw greentech as my avenue to do that. 

Around this time, I remember witnessing the dramatic impact the iPhone was having on human behaviour and felt that if I ever wanted to create something that had that kind of influence, I needed to learn what it takes to build and deliver a great consumer product. I don’t know that I really knew what to expect from my first "real job", but I remember my mentor telling me that it was important that I spend the first few years after graduation “sticking (my) nose to the grindstone and practicing (my) craft.”

In the early years after graduation, what were some of the key steps you took that you believe really helped to move your career forward?

I tended to optimize for learning and jumped at opportunities that popped up, both in my professional and personal life, that were going to help me gain new experiences. They really allowed me to expand the breadth of my range early on. 

What are the most important skills/qualities you’ve cultivated to help you get to where you are now?

“Just do it” was probably one of the best mantras and pieces of advice I was given by a former manager. Especially as engineers, we can often spend so much time overanalyzing a situation and getting ourselves into analysis paralysis, rather than just being willing to start, reacting to real-world feedback, and being willing to fail. It will feel humbling to fail big, but ultimately the learning cycle is so much faster. This is something we try to ruthlessly practice at X.

Were there any mentors or notable people in your life who helped guide you along the way? How did their influence impact or shape your career?

Iain Verigin became my mentor through a Fizz (Engineering Physics) mentorship program that was set up in my final year at UBC. I never really knew what to ask him in the beginning, so I credit him for being patient and offering guidance anyway! One of the things I really appreciated was how he pointed out what I didn’t immediately recognize as my strengths. That helped me to focus and lean into roles at the intersection of engineering, product development, and the end-user experience. It’s been many years now, and although Iain and I don’t catch up as frequently as we did before, we still keep in touch.

Looking back on your career thus far, is there anything that you wish you had done differently?

I’m pretty happy with where I currently am. I try not to look back with any regrets, since it’s the cumulation of my past that has led me to where I am today.

Were there any lasting lessons learned from your time at UBC that has stuck with you over the years?

I’d have to say it’s the friends and people! Everyone has ended up in such interesting places doing different and interesting things; I value those connections and finding inspiration across the network.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

If I could go back in time, the piece of advice I’d tell myself is, you know that feeling you get when you’re in a room full of people you think are smarter and more experienced than you? It’s called imposter syndrome. It’s okay. A lot of people get that, but try to remember that you’re there because you earned it. 

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