Hao, Software Engineer, Father of 3, WA
Hao is a Software Engineer and lives with his wife in WA. He has three children. Helen, one of his daughters, is on the RE-ENVISIONED team and interviewed him for his thoughts on what he wants for her and her siblings.
I: Take a moment to think about a child that you care about. When you’re ready, tell me about that child.
H: About one child, or three children?
I: Any child works. Just keep one in mind and what he/she is like.
I: Tell me about her.
H: Susan is currently a college student. I picked her because out of the three of you, Susan is in college and has more flexibility in her direction on how to move forward. I have a lot of thoughts on it. You (Helen) already have a direction and some shape with an idea. Julia has some questions but it’s hard to discuss because Julia has more outstanding variables. Susan is a typical college student so I have some expectations of her so that’s why I chose her.
I: What expectations?
H: I look at things from a 1 year, 3 year, 5 year standpoint. I have some lifelong expectations too but it’s too hard to talk about that. More realistic is 1, 3, and 5 years. So in one year, I want to know what she wants to study. In 3 years, she graduates and needs to find a job. At 5 year, she’ll be 25. Probably needs to marry.
I: Marriage at 25?
H: Yeah, 25 can get married. So that’s why I have some major thoughts here. I feel like it’s easier to talk about her.
I: What makes Susan special?
H: She is special for a few reasons. In our family, she is the youngest. Also, I can reference your situations to help guide her. Like our family background – and how it affects her. How can we use what you guys learned to help her move forward. Hopefully, what you sisters are good at, she can learn from or use as a reference. Or where you guys are unprepared, she can learn from that too so she can avoid those problems. Those are my thoughts.
I: Like what problems?
H: For example, the classes that she’s taking are in computer science. When you guys were learning, obviously not the same subject, when we talked about it – it was focused on the 3-year goal of graduating. Marriage is a bit further way. So I’ll talk more about career.
Like I was just discussing with her before, once she’s graduated, what will she do? Beyond school. Like where she’ll work. So what I’m discussing with her now, she’ll hopefully be able to use to plan her next year well and put herself on the right path for graduating in 3 years and at that time, be heading in a good direction.
I: So, what do you hope for this child? What’s a good childhood?
H: Childhood, well, I feel like is about a few aspects. Susan is pretty good in a couple areas. She talks more after college. She used to not talk as much, probably because she grew up more isolated and didn’t interact with people as much. Like in high school, she didn’t have many friends – just go to school, come home and draw by herself. So she was in some activities, but not very engaged. Probably because she was really stressed when she was in that situation of five boys and just her as the one girl. I understand that. It looks like she’s overcome that problem - at Cornell, it seems like she’s on a big team now. She does need to make more progress, but overall, she seems to have a certain level of confidence, so she’s ready to take on a lot of the world.
One thing I’m really happy about is the past few days, when we were driving, she volunteered to drive. This is not just about driving but about a person’s attitude. About their ability, when handling society or teamwork, to have a good attitude. It’s a positive thing. Even if you get a car crash or whatever, it’s okay – at least you had the right attitude. That’s especially important in young people. Very positive part. So I’m glad to see that in Susan.
I: So what do you think is a good childhood?
H: A good childhood is like yours. Like overall… I want to say something to the three of you – you guys already from a young age have grown up and you guys aren’t teenagers anymore. All the things that people said are teenage troubles – you guys are beyond that. We also have these family activities, which is interesting. It makes childhood more fun overall. So that’s why looking back, we can all enjoy these family activities. But in the meantime, I want to mention that you guys have to keep looking forward at the outside world. Because me, your dad, has already gotten old. I don’t really have big goals anymore. I used to want to be manager or something, but now my focus is on staying healthy, enjoying the last few years at the company, and retiring. It’s pretty good, I’m satisfied. I’m not really looking to be a millionaire, or anything like that.
But for you guys, I hope that you guys can succeed more. Like you [Helen], your path is pretty clear. I hope that when you guys enter society, you are independent. And that each of you will achieve a life beyond my current lifestyle. Your house, your income, your education, your family, your happiness should be at least our level. Like our house, for example, is currently 2500 sq feet. Hopefully your future house is bigger than this. Not too big either, but more than this. I think that’s considered reaching the goal. That’s my expectation. SO I’m hoping you guys are on that path – whichever way.
I: What do you think holds us back from reaching this goal?
H: Generally, I think there isn’t anything major that should hold you back. I do think there are a couple things you should consider. First, the momentum of you guys growing up and becoming independent. You have to be aware of how complex society is. In our family, your mother took care of you well, and we generally created a happy childhood. Having your mom drive you to school or cook, or whatever, it generally creates a happy childhood. But the issue is society is not that simple. Society is a competition – a more challenging landscape. There’s good and there’s bad and it’s a more complicated situation. So I hope that as you guys go out into the world, you see the complexity. Not to avoid it, because you guys have energy and are from good schools. You guys should be capable, as long as you have the right motivation and aren’t lazy. If you’re lazy, you’ll get lost. So you have to use your minds, and it shouldn’t be too difficult. Use the resources you have and other resources to pay attention. Be motivated work a little bit hard, not THAT hard, to enjoy life and face society.
I: So, what are you most afraid of? Or what keeps you up at night?
H: Most nights I can sleep pretty well. Sometimes, I hope that you guys are getting better and better. Of course, there are times when you’ll fall down, right, but if I think about it, my expectations are pretty realistic. I myself don’t need that much more. I’m not worrying that much about my job or stuff.
I: I’m talking about your kids. Is there anything that you’re scared of?
H: Related to you guys, I said the same thing as before. Number one is to be healthy. At least based on my personality, I don’t think we want to take big risks. Not to become a billionaire, millionaire and take risks. We aren’t those types of people. And you should recognize it. We aren’t the type of people to become Bill Gates, or millionaires. You don’t have that lifestyle, you don’t have that capability. And it’s okay. People are suited for different lifestyles and it’s hard to change that. Like when you buy stock. Some people can lose all their stock to nothing, and they’ll come back with a new company. Some people have that story. But if you think about really living on the streets as a homeless person thinking about one day becoming a millionaire – that’s not the lifestyle that is our kind of lifestyle. Our lifestyle is much more safe. So I hope you guys recognize that. But within the bounds you can reach, there is a lot of opportunity you should recognize. Including Julia. I think she has a lot of opportunity. That’s why I keep telling her she needs to spend some time just working. Like four hours. Study something. Do something. Looking for a job. Whatever. Instead of playing games. Do something productive. Regardless of the result, if you keep at it, I’m sure that’s better.
That’s to say, “qing fun” versus “la du”. What does that mean? Obviously 90% of qing fun people are successful but not 100%.
I: What’s “qing fun”?
H: “Qing fun” means action oriented. That whatever you have to tackle, you go and get it done. You use your brain, see a problem, and go fix it. Versus “oh, wait til tomorrow, do it later” – that’s “la du”.
“Qing fun” isn’t necessarily about working really, it’s about getting things done and not procrastinating. Procrastinating is called “la du”.
I: So, when we were in school, what role should school play to help us achieve a good life?
H: What I think is, first of all, from a financial standpoint, you guys aren’t worried.
I: What about school?
H: For schools, we chose pretty good schools for you. In Fairport, we were middle-class. In Vancouver, also middle-class. Which is good. If you were surrounded by rich people, you’d probably feel too much pressure. Versus in the middle-class group, you can take advanced courses and you feel like in society, you are a high-class citizen, like a good person, positive, can contribute to society and your community. You can feel that feeling instead of a pressure. So you grew up in a positive environment.
Including you going to college. Like you going to Duke. I mean, at the time, you thought that your schooling was really tiring. Actually Stanford is a better example. At Stanford, when we ask, you always say returning makes you happy. I think that’s a good sign, and means it’s worth it. Even at Duke, even though you were really tired probably because of your major Biomedical Engineering, you might have felt too much pressure to get a 4.0 or something. Pressure has good and bad things.
I hope that school, I mean, if I was just saying some stuff, I hope that school gives you a reference, a direction. Like Susan is looking for a job or internship. I hope that school will provide those opportunities and a direction. School, and I’m not sure if it already has it, should have some programs. Obviously schools have their own curriculum. But if you put it from a parent’s perspective, schools should think about what a parent’s expectations are and what a school can do to help reach that expectation. Like Susan, I hope that she goes to a good school and the next step is to have a good job. So a school, recognizing that I have that perspective, or if I wanted her to get a Nobel Prize for example, a school should use that angle to encourage its students – take the parents into account. Not just about completion rates or that type of stuff. Instead it should focus on having career fairs, or helping with job interviews. That’s what parents are hoping for. A school, instead of talking about what programs it wants to do, should think about it from another angle – from the parents’ angle. Think about what we are thinking about.
I: Do you think schools are doing that?
H: I don’t really know. I think schools do a bit of it, but I’m not sure if they have that type of program to help address the parents’ perspective. I’m sure they have something like that. But what I usually see from schools is just about what the school wants to do, not what the parents hope. I wish there was a form that parents could fill out about what parents hope for and what a school is doing to address that.
I: What do you think schools are doing for all kids? Are they helping them?
H: I mean, based on your successes, schools are obviously putting in some effort. I’m just thinking of some additional suggestions to make something new. Like what parents are thinking about. For example, if parents are visiting, they should offer mattresses or a parking permit. Like a special certificate for parents to use to park for 24 hours. An honor for parents. The program could be an annual program that permits parents, every year, to have 24 hours to park wherever they want. Make parents feel honored – so they don’t have to drive around looking for parking or paying for it. Give a permit so they can also park. Shows that they honor the parents.
I: As a society, why do we have schools?
H: Education is core! Especially to Chinese people. Education is very important.
H: Because modern society only moves forward because of school, where you learn something. Maybe a bit too much, but overall, I think school, especially in Chinese culture, is key to helping you learn a lot of things. Once you start a job, like at HP, you just learn about something like printers in more and more depth. You wouldn’t get to see a lot of things. Schools give you broader exposure. So hopefully, when a person gets educated, they’re not just looking for a job. A school also broadens that person’s vision. The resources that school provides helps nurture a child and trains them into someone that can contribute to society, and reach a better life. That vision of a better life comes from schooling – where they get exposure to new ideas and new topics. So you hope that school would help nurture the next generation to benefit America or the community.
I: Do you think others would agree with you on what a good life is?
H: I don’t think it’d be exactly alike, but I’m sure that if I discussed it with others, they’d generally agree. The basic view is probably shared.
I: How would it differ?
H: Others might think I’m not realistic or that I’m too idealistic. I’m a bit idealistic. Like when I’m saying schools should make an entire generation have a vision of a better life, that might be too idealistic. Everyone has their own problems that they’re dealing with. If there is someone who doesn’t have a job or doesn’t have food, then that type of vision might be too much.
I: Would others agree with you on the role of schools in helping kids?
H: I think schools probably do have that type of help already. That parking was just a small idea.
I: Well, you mentioned what you think schools should do. Do you think others want the same?
H: I’m not sure – I haven’t really discussed it with other people but I think it’d be similar. I mean, for example, the idea of looking for the next job. Many people probably have that goal, especially after their child goes to a good school. Especially for Chinese people. You go to college to get a good job – that’s for sure. Parents want their kids to be successful – that is a shared concept. The description might vary, but everyone hopes that once their child goes to a good college, there’s more beyond that. Especially for Chinese families – school is a big step but after that, there is more to entering society.
Chinese families are heavily involved in their kids’ schooling. Other families might not be, they might care until the kids are 18 and then let them loose. That’s a cultural difference. In Chinese culture, parents try to stay involved, but realistically, as kids get older, parents should slowly step back. Like Elaine Chao – the new Secretary of Transportation. Like what she said about setting up projects for her kids to learn. I think in setting that up, in her mind, she was doing it to help her kids step-by-step be able to succeed in the future. Of course, she’s some president or CEO or has other economic support, but in training her kids, the fundamentals are the same as what your mom and I did. Like doing projects together. Or like when visitors come, teaching the kids to greet each of the visitors. Not just about hiding in your own room or thinking it’s not your business. No, Asian culture teaches that you should be involved, and to be a full person, you’re responsible for greeting each person. That’s what Elaine Chao’s father did.
I: Do you think others would agree?
H: Of course schools are helping kids. It’s not like they’re just doing it for a profit or doing it mindlessly. You guys are all at famous schools – so that question is irrelevant.
I: What about K-12 schools?
H: Well, based on my perspective, the schools that you guys went to are middle-class. They were definitely working on getting better, which definitely meant educating you guys. Including the afterschool programs you had. Though they’ve drawn those back a bit. Those programs are definitely good for training you guys. Or putting you guys in the accelerated programs. Yeah, we were pretty lucky in what schools we put you in. It’s like our neighbor said – since you guys made it into the Ivy Leagues or the top 20 schools, that proves that your K-12 education was a success.
I: Okay, so what about in your own life? What are some of your most empowering educational experiences?
H: I think learning computer science was a big success.
H: My whole career, I always had a job because of computer science. I never, well, not I never lost, but I always has a job. Not like some other people. I was always marketable because of the area and major I had chosen. Even today, it’s still relevant and still hot. At the time, when your grandpa told me to pick this, I’ll always remember it. At the time, your grandpa learned electrical engineering related to motors. In the 60s, that was important so he learned it. But your grandpa told me to learn computer science. At the time, computers weren’t even really a thing, but your grandpa had the right vision. So he told me to pick computer science, so I chose it. Otherwise, I would have done electrical engineering too. The school I went to had that major. That’s what people used to study. It’s called “dian ji”. That was the old vision – that a motor is applied everywhere, so studying motors is extremely important. But your grandpa was right, and I feel lucky for having chosen that major. Even when I moved to the US, an advanced country, computer science is still a hot skill to have.
I: Who was your favorite teacher in school?
H: Even in middle school or high school?
H: I had a lot of favorite teachers. But one of my favorite was my physics teacher. In college, when I studied physics, I had a teacher. He was pretty young, smart, a Fudan University graduate. Definitely a smart guy. He also came to America eventually. When I was in his class, he would tell us about lots of things related to physics, but he’d also talk about things beyond physics theory but rather how to apply it. Like, something I still remember now, when he was talking about motors, he talked about this type of motor where the ball comes down and moves water – like a Turing machine – and about how energy converts and keeps itself moving. But what he said was, you guys should not research Turing machines. Obviously it’s interesting, but you shouldn’t try to make one. You should do something that has more meaning, that is more realistic. So he was a very special teacher. He would tell us about longer-term vision.
I: Do you have any other thoughts related to schools?
H: I think the schools you guys are at are pretty good. I hope that going to school will help… School is school. It’s not a company. For us coming out of a middle class family, I hope that school will help you find a job and will link school and a career together. Not just to teach you something random, but link it to something real. Like RIT – it has a program that requires co-ops. The co-op program is mandatory. The purpose of the co-op is to make you look for a job. Not like a summer internship, you do it during the school year wherever you want. So the school helps you organize it too – it has an office assigned to helping place you in a co-op. The school actually puts human resource efforts towards helping you find a job. This is a good way to benefit RIT students so that once RIT students graduate, they’re more likely to find a job and more prepared. I wish other schools had a program like that. Not necessarily exactly like a co-op, but something similar. Because after school ends, unless you do a PhD, you need to have job placement skills.