In this feature, the Editor-in-Chief of StartuptoEnterprise, Linda Ashok, talks to Women-in-AI Taiwan Ambassador Linien Yen on career, cancer, and the sweetest bribe she would accept anytime.
Share with us your experiences as a career woman, the organization you worked for, your responsibilities, clients you served!
I worked as an English secretary in Ogilvy, one of the biggest advertising companies, when I returned from Australia, where I studied for my master’s degree. After one year of working in Ogilvy, I found out that being an account executive was much more fun. So, I requested my boss, who was also the company’s managing director, to change to the accounting department. As an account, I needed to take the brief from the client and brainstorm with the creative team to come out with the marketing plan for the clients. It was sweet and sour to be in between the client and the creative team as it took tremendous work to make the communication work. Yet, looking back, those few years in Ogilvy were the best years of my career as I was being challenged and learning every day. And starting from here, I have been working as a marketing person for over a decade now.
After Ogilvy, I went to the client-side – ViewSonic. Jumping from an advertising agency to brands was an interesting change as it provided me with a different perspective on the marketing strategies and plans. In ViewSonic, I worked as a marketing specialist who needs to coordinate with channel marketing, product managers, product engineers, and the sales team. I needed to consider the scope of issues more than marketing strategies, product positioning, and marketing budget for activities. I needed to figure out why the products had bad sales performance in the shops. We reflected if there was something wrong we did in the very beginning of marketing. And then we needed to make a promotion plan to empty the stocks. When manufacturers delayed the whole product line, what we should be done to keep the talking point going. Overall, the scope of job responsibility was a lot larger than Ogilvy, and I also started to expand marketing activities to America, Europe, Asia, and India in ViewSonic.
A few years later, a good friend wanted to start a new business, an Electronic fingerprint lock, and hired me as the marketing manager. I led a team of 10 people including, the sales team, designers, and marketing team. After we successfully introduced the products to the biggest hardware retails channel in Taiwan and built national sales from a deficit to 800,000NT/month on average, exceeding the target of 33%.
Meanwhile, I got married to an Italian man and then moved to Florence, Italy. During the first 2 years of living in Italy, I agonized over landing a job even though I thought my experiences were good enough for the market. But with my poor Italian language ability, I was literally refused every day, by every company I applied to, by every head hunter that I contacted with here. I went to a few interviews and had never nailed any one of them. Until 2017, my previous boss, Stefano, hired me as an AI product manager. I didn’t think I was qualified for this job as my experience was mainly in electronic hardware. Yet, Stefano was looking for a consumer-centric marketing person to work with engineers to make the app and software more user-friendly. So, I took this challenge, and the new start-up, Cynny, opened my eyes to AI technology.
Immersed with software, analytics, digital images, digital data, and AI technology, I was positively influenced, learning google analytics, SEO (in the past, the digital agency would do the job for me), social media, content marketing, and digital ads. Marketing trend also has shifted from Above the line, Below the line, i.e., TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, brick and mortar stores, to digital analytics and social media. There are more and more digital tools to effectively evaluate the success of the marketing events, while it was hard to define in the past. Unfortunately, Our AI app and software didn’t make it to the end, and the next year I had to quit the job because I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cynny, an AI-powered images company, virtually changed my mindset and my life, leading me to AI’s journey.
What kind of leadership do you endorse?
Well, I did make a few mistakes when I was young. Like I had, my assistant did most of the job for me to have more time to do something I prefer. Or I failed to deliver to my team for what I had promised before. Through these years, I’ve learned my lessons. I also reflected on what kind of leaders would have my loyalty and support. That is the leader I want to be! So, below are a few things I always keep in mind when leading a team.
- Open to any suggestion, and look for feedback from the team.
- When things got ugly or the team fails to deliver, anger doesn’t solve the problem.
- Fire quickly if the team member is under-performed.
- Last but not least, be kind, be considerate and be helpful.
What sort of freedom and growth do women professionals enjoy in Taiwan, particularly in the corporate sector?
Well, I don’t really have an answer for this as I do think that we, like women, enjoy all sorts of freedom and growth, as we like in Taiwan. We are allowed to pursue our career and personal growth in our society, put it that way.
You have been in the business for a decade. Do you feel that you have been sufficiently recognized for your contribution and has to do with the general representation of women in technology?
Yes. Even in technology, being a female is an even greater advantage in this male-dominated industry, as a female is a presentation to soften the image. Yet, if I were a programming engineer, maybe that would be another story. However, so far, I’m sufficiently recognized for my contribution as a marketing person.
Tell us about your involvement with Women in AI; how did it happen, and what’s your role in it?
When working as an AI product manager in Cynny, I started to search for communities that support women in the AI field. I was surprised to find out that there was only one female among more than 30 software engineers in the company AI engineer. Such a giant gap of gender imbalance in AI technology in Italy. And that is how I got to know Women in AI. I also went to Milan to join their WAI Milan event in the BCG office. After breast cancer treatment, I moved back to Taiwan in 2020. I wanted to participate in AI events, yet female support was rare to find. So, I contacted Moojan, the founder of WAI in France, and volunteered to take the lead for WAI Taiwan. So, here I am, the ambassador of WAI in Taiwan.
We had our first launch on July 18 this year, which was a great success for us as we had more than 40 people showed up. In the following months, we held a few events with Women in IoT and participated in WAI global summit. Bruce Bateman, my mentor, also joined me for our meeting with Audrey Tang, the digital minister in Taiwan, for her suggestion of community building.
Name two women colleagues you would love to share some love with for their professional excellence and explain their industry contribution.
1) Emma, my working partner of Women-in-AI, Taiwan. A female hero with strong data background. A general manager of the two data companies. Won numerous innovation awards. Emma has been my mentor and my partner, who gives me tremendous support on my ideas and events of Women-in-AI.
2) Angela Kim, the ambassador of WAI Australia. She was awarded IAPA Top 10 Analytics Leaders 2020 and is a founding editorial board of Springer’s AI & Ethics Journal. Microsoft successfully sponsors Angela for AI education programs in Australia. And she has been making efforts to bring WAI APAC all together.
Share a story of your life that had a deep impression on you, leading to many new lessons and wisdom.
It sounds cliché, but it was the breast cancer that enlightened me in so many ways.
I had been very health-conscious, so when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a heart-breaking moment for my husband and my family. I had never thought that death could actually be right in front of my eyes, especially I was only 39 years old. I underwent 2 surgeries, 8 chemotherapists, and 30 times radiotherapists. After almost 1 year of torturing treatment and another year of recovery, I finally started to look like who I was before. Physical shape and look could be restored. But mentally and spiritually would never be the same. Cancer could change your everything but at the same time could change your nothing.
Career and money can bring us a sense of satisfaction, but only love and family are the things that stay with us until the end. The last moment of life, one will never regret like haven’t taken that job opportunity or haven’t earned an amount of money but always wish that he/she should have reconciled with the family or should have given more love to someone. So, never trade your love and family for a career, work, and money.
Respect – is also the word that came to my mind when I thought I was dying in bed. Respect the earth to keep nature intact for our offspring to survive on this planet. Don’t waste. Don’t over-produce. Think before you purchase. Respect love and family so that our lives are meaningful. Respect other people so that we keep our society in peace. Respect yourself so that you won’t be sorry at your last breath.