“The most transformative class” Diane Tang has ever taken was a course called Interpersonal Dynamics, through Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The course “was about the importance of self-awareness in every interaction,” Diane explains. “You have to understand yourself first, in order to understand what’s going on with other people, [and] what’s going on between you and other people.” For a Google Fellow to identify a course nicknamed “Touchy-feely” as “transformative” is, perhaps, surprising. Nevertheless, Diane insists, “I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I am if I hadn’t learned those skills.”
Diane grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a biochemist and a computer engineer. Her father—the computer engineer—“always had the latest computers,” remembers Diane. “So I definitely had very early exposure [to them]. But I wasn’t pushed, in any way, towards [computer engineering].”
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Diane studied applied math, with a focus on computer science. But computer science beckoned (Diane “always knew” she would study computer science in graduate school). When Diane changed her major to computer science at the end of her junior year, her friends were unsurprised. “To everyone else but me, it was obvious,” Diane laughs.
After graduating from Harvard, Diane pursued a PhD in computer science at Stanford. “Ultimate frisbee was actually why I chose Stanford,” she says. Of course, the California weather notwithstanding, Stanford had one of the best computer science programs in the country.
After finishing her PhD, and a brief post-doctoral stint at Stanford, Diane joined the tech industry. She worked for a biotech start-up for just under a year and, then—with time off for “Touchy-feely”—joined Google. She’s been with Google for fourteen years.
“At a certain level, I’ve always known I was going to do computer science,” says Diane (that is, after she set aside the possibility of becoming a concert pianist). “If you ask me now what an alternate career might be…” Diane trails off. “I would probably do organizational dynamics”—that’s “Touchy-feely”—“or build something physically.”
“The thing about being in computer science and doing what we do,” explains Diane. “What we build is so abstract. You can kind of see it on a screen, but you can’t touch it, right?”
Outside the realm of code, then, Diane deploys her creativity toward more tangible ends. She likes to cook (“I make a really good dumpling,” she says). She also used to make modular origami, until it gave her carpal tunnel (“It’s weird that origami was giving me carpal tunnel, not typing”).
--Thea De Armond