Jean Wong’s impressive career track runs through Bain, Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs, eBay, Apple, and now Google. But getting on that track took some doing, she says. Wong, who moved from Beijing to Maryland at age 10, began school with limited English skills. Since her parents had no experience with U.S. colleges, she steered herself through the application process after reading every relevant book in her local library.
Before even starting her first class at MIT, Wong had already contacted every professor in Course 6 and secured a job. “I found a booklet with their names, contact information, and research topics and I e-mailed them all to say I would be interested in working for them,” she says. The late EECS professor Ken Stephens, ScD ’52, hired her to assist with his study on voice recognition, a position she held throughout her undergraduate years.
Wong earned degrees in electrical engineering and economics, then began a year-long internship with Polaroid in China that grew into five years working for several companies in Hong Kong. After earning an MBA at Wharton, she worked for Bain, eBay, and then Apple, where she analyzed user data as head of media analytics for iTunes, looking for ways to increase profits.
In December, Wong moved to Google to work on mobile search, a key initiative. “They asked our team to set a really big, ambitious goal for Google app downloads, and then they said to double it. That’s really how they think across the board,” she says. “My work at Google brings together all of my past experiences—using data to drive decisions, having that business sense, and being able to understand customers and how can we meet their needs.”
Wong lives with her husband, Stanley, in Palo Alto with their three children, ages nine, eight, and four. “My kids don’t have the same immigrant experience that I had, which motivated me to always dream for more and never give up,” she says. “So I’m always trying to figure out how to motivate them and instill in them the value of hard work.”
MIT changed her life personally as well as professionally. “I was in crew, I loved to run around the Charles River, and I was in the hiking club,” she says. “Once a week I still hike, and that’s the way I recuperate and replenish my soul.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issues of MIT Technology Review magazine.