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Texas Exes Asian Alumni Network » Alumni Spotlight » February Alumni Spotlight: Andrew L. Chen

February Alumni Spotlight: Andrew L. Chen

Andrew is a tech entrepreneur and startup founder in the San  Francisco Bay Area, and is passionate about buildings products that  solve fundamental problems. He previously held roles in product  management at Yahoo!, private equity at Huntsman Gay, and strategy  consulting at McKinsey. He holds a J.D. from Harvard, a B.A. in Plan II  and History from UT-Austin where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and  was a J. William Fulbright Scholar to China where he shot a documentary  film about rural education development with the Zigen Fund, a non-profit  organization. A Texas native, Andrew enjoys searching for great BBQ in  his spare time, reading history and biographies, strumming his acoustic  guitar, and sharpening his skills in interaction and product design. He  regularly reads and has been most influenced by  the entrepreneurship writings of Paul Graham, Eric Ries, and Ben  Horowitz.

1. What is your favorite memory, tradition, or thing about your time at UT?
Laying  on the grass and reading on the sunny south mall between classes. Late  night conversations with a couple friends whom I spent (way too much)  time with in the library. Getting late night sandwiches at Jimmy John’s  with my study partners after a long night of studying, and talking about  our future goals and personal lives.

2. How did you get involved with your current position?
I  got the itch a couple years ago to start my own company, and moved to  the San Francisco Bay Area from New York City to get plugged into the  Bay Area tech scene. I worked in private equity investing and technology  product management for the first two years here, while I was learning  about the tech startup ecosystem and meeting people in the industry.  Then, about 6 months ago, I decided to make the leap and start my own  company. (I joined a startup accelerator, which helped smooth the  transition.)

3. What have you learned from UT outside of the classroom?
In  the long run, your life experiences at UT — and the relationships you  develop there — are far more important than getting the best grades. I  spent too much time at UT studying and worrying about grades, and I  think I missed out on a lot of great experiences as a result, and  probably didn’t develop as many strong relationships as I could have and  should have. But most of my good memories about UT are about people I  befriended and experiences I had; I’ve long since forgotten the details  of most of my classes. In this connection, I learned that what you  experience outside the classroom is, in many ways, far more important  than anything you learn in it.

4. What is your vision for the Asian Pacific American community at UT, in Texas, and beyond?
My  hope is that Asian American students and alumni at UT will be ever  more tight-knit and supportive of each other — from initiatives to  increase awareness of the importance of Asian American studies, to  “big-sib” and mentorship programs between upper- / lower-classmen and  alumni / current students, to a voice that is increasingly heard and a  place at the table that is increasingly visible on the important issues  affecting the UT Asian American community.

5. What has been your biggest struggle in your career?

Finding  a way to turn into a career the things I really care about and the  problems I am passionate about solving, rather than simply pursuing jobs  for credentialing, skill investment, or a paycheck. I need to care  deeply about my work in order to stay engaged, and to that end I’ve made  significant transitions to different career fields at least 5 times  over the past decade (attorney –> consultant –>  investor –>  technologist –> entrepreneur). Figuring out how to reinvent myself  that many times (and acquiring the skills needed to make those  transitions credible) has been tremendously challenging — but rewarding  as well.

6. What advice would you give to incoming freshmen or current students at UT?
Spend  time studying the things that fundamentally excite you — in your gut  — and you will be far more likely to do well both in terms of academic  success and personal fulfillment. Try not to (only) take classes that  are “good for you” but leave you bored out of your mind; if you don’t  fundamentally enjoy what you’re studying, you probably won’t become  distinctive at it since there will always be someone just as smart as  you who is actually passionate about it and will therefore work harder,  be more curious, and perform better. Plus, if you’re not passionate  about what you’re doing, you’re unlikely to stick around long enough to  get any real payoff down the road anyway. You might as well pursue  something you enjoy. Most importantly, though, spend as much time as you  can outside the classroom engaged in collaborative team work and  leadership activities with other people. Whether it’s playing a sport,  leading your choir, running for student government, or organizing  conferences — just get diverse meaningful team work and leadership  experience, and get it often. Not only will those experiences be more  memorable and fun when you reminisce years later about your time at UT;  they will actually get you much farther in life than an A in biology  will. It may not feel immediately clear why as a student, especially if  there is the short-term pressure of grades looming directly in front of  you, but my own experience has taught me that once your’e in the real  world those skills are 10 times — no, 100 times — more important than  anything you learned in the classroom.

Written by Mary Vo

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