I was born to Mr. Thanh Thien Le and Mrs. Huong Thi Tang on July 17, 1962 in Saigon, Vietnam. I am the seventh child in a family of six daughters and three sons.
Raising daughters in a country where often only sons received higher education, my father dreamed big and told me that l would be an engineer, while my two older sisters would be a doctor and a lawyer. I studied hard and graduated second from my elementary school, Nguyen Binh Khiem, in 1973.
Upon the completion of my elementary school education, the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, bestowed upon me the "Highest Award In Moral Education." With hard work and discipline, I became the first in my family to pass the stringent exam required to enter the famous "Trung Vuong" junior and high school in Saigon.
Vietnam was a war-torn country throughout my childhood. My father decided in early April 1975 to send the family to a land he had only heard of as America. He wanted us to get out quickly since the condition of the country had been deteriorating very fast from January to April of 1975. My father wanted to stay behind so he could try to get some assets to provide the financial means for the entire family to start life over in America.
We left Saigon the morning of April 22, 1975 without my father and my oldest brother and with $100 in our possession. I was 12-years-old at the time. On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam fell into the hands of a Communist regime and with that the beginning of an unprecedented exodus of two million Vietnamese... all in search of freedom!
My mother, with the help of my older sisters, started a new life in America. It was a tough time for all of us, needless to say. My mother was fluent in French, but could not understand a single word of English. My two older sisters did not fare well in the language department either. I was not old enough to work and so I was allowed to go to school. Because of the language barrier, I went back two grades and attended sixth grade at Gordon Elementary School in Houston, Texas. I worked diligently on my studies and to acclimate to a culture that was quite different from that of Vietnam.
I developed a natural skill for baseball and playing it created a sense of belonging with the kids in school for me that first year. I painted a lot (I guess as a mean of filling the loneliness in my heart) and my painting captured the school's attention. The principal decided to adorn her office with many of my paintings and I was in charge of painting the school's Christmas decorations. That was my very first Christmas in America without my father, who was the center of my universe.
One year after arriving in America, I received my first U.S. recognition by being named "Citizen of the Month" by the Kiwanis International Club. Four years after coming to America with nothing except for the sheer determination to honor the country and the father that I left behind, I graduated from Alief Hasting high school at the age of 16 as valedictorian for my class of 335 students. I was also honored in 1979 in "The Society of Distinguished American High School Students."
I began my college education at the University of Texas in Austin (UT) in 1979 and graduated Magna Cum Laude three years later with a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) at the age of 19. I was recognized in "The National Dean's List," fifth edition, in 1982. In May 2003, when I was invited to return to The University of Texas in Austin to deliver the Commencement Address to the College of Engineering, I mused over my low SAT score in 1979 and said to the Dean, Dr. Ben Streetman: "My SAT score would not be good enough to get admitted to the University today! These high school kids entering college now are too smart.Ó The Dean reminded me that I did not need an SAT score of any kind since I was the Valedictorian of my graduating class.
That may be the case, but I owe much to The University of Texas in Austin for giving me a chance at an excellent education and I am humbled by the Young Outstanding Texas Exe Award and Outstanding Young Engineering Graduate Award I received that weekend of May 2003.
In the six months after my college graduation, spanning June to December of 1982, I bought my first car in America with the help of my fiancé; started my first professional job at Texas Instruments (TI) as a Memory (DRAM) Design Engineer in Houston, Texas; bought my mom her first house (a little townhouse) with the help of my older sister; bought my first house in America and got married. My marriage to Mr. Tuan Dao took place on December 18, 1982 and followed a traditional Vietnamese wedding, except we did not follow the tradition of having parents pay for the wedding. My husband, Mr. Tuan N. Dao, graduated from UT the same year I started my education at UT. Tuan is almost seven years older than me and came from a larger family of 11 brothers and sisters, who also arrived in America with empty hands in 1975.
Having done so much in the six months following my college graduation, I decided to hold off having children for 10 years to allow time to build myself up professionally, nurture my marriage and attend graduate school. My husband supported the decision.
From 1985 to 1989, I traveled to and lived extended periods in Japan to help TI build a strong collaboration between the design team in Texas and the product engineering team in Japan. My first trip to Japan was in 1985. Back then, women in Japan in the corporate world either served tea to men or cleaned the restroom. I can only imagine the shock on the faces of the male engineers there when I arrived: did not speak the language, petite, Asian, and an engineer! Yet from that very beginning, many professional relationships of trust and respect were built that have lasted decades later.
While working full time at TI during the day, I attended the University of Houston at night and obtained my MBA degree in May 1989. By this time, my father proudly attended my graduation ceremony after escaping from Vietnam. However, I disappointed my father greatly when I decided not to pursue a doctorate degree. In Asian culture, a doctorate degree is highly valued and titles, especially academic titles, carry a lot of weight because they are deemed as prestigious. For me, that title and prestige really were not that important. My father never forgave me for thinking the way I did.
At work, I was assigned to increasingly difficult tasks, leading to my promotion as design manager seven years later and my election to the first rung of TI's technical ladder eight years after I started at TI.
Nearly 11 years after getting married, my husband and I became parents for the first time. Our first son was born on Aug. 30, 1993 and named Dan Quy-Le Dao. That same year I was elected to the second rung of the technical ladder, Senior Member of Technical Staff. Our second son, Don Quy-Le Dao, was born on February 22, 1997 and that same year I became the first woman at TI to get elected to the third rung of the technical ladder, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff.
Our sons were not given a separate Vietnamese name and American name. Instead, they were given only one name that shares the same spelling and phonetic sound in both languages. We did this as a symbolic reminder that each of them would be raised both as a Vietnamese and an American in ONE heart and ONE body, a task that would often exhaust us physically, emotionally and mentally for years to come ... but a challenge well worth taking on! To do so, they must learn to combine the core values of their Vietnamese heritage with the goodness of the American culture and be able to feel a true sense of belonging in both worlds, not an easy task to say the least.
While my job, civic activities and speaking engagements often take me away from home on travel, I remain firmly committed to the development and well being of my children and to upholding my core principle that my sons must both be raised as Vietnamese and American. Because of this firm principle, I focus on making sure I have proper work/life balance and ongoing social achievements that will leave a positive and profound impression upon my children as they develop into productive adults who truly understand that 'giving back' is a moral obligation, not a choice. They must lead a life with true purpose: a life where one gives back to society, civilization and mankind many times more than one takes from them.
Juggling family, work and community can be quite overwhelming for men and even more so for women, especially minority women. However, the challenge can be made a little bit easier if we realize that we do not have to do it alone. My husband Tuan, older sister Duy-Hoa, my adopted sister and nanny Rosy, Dr. and Mrs. Bernard and a small group of very close friends are the people who I owe much gratitude for their support and help through the years.
In 1998, after 16 years of having built my career and a network of professional colleagues in six countries, Texas Instruments decided to sell the entire Memory division. I had a major decision to make: go with the company that purchased the division or turn down their offer. For me, the choice was very easy. Taking the first option would mean taking my sons out of Houston and the second one would mean starting my career all over. I did not blink and chose the second route!
Moving the family out of Houston would mean my children would grow up not living and breathing the meaning of extended family and friends, one of the core values of their Vietnamese heritage and something that I never had a chance to experience as a child. I chose to give up title, stock options, a career I had invested 16 years and started all over so my sons could have what I never did as a child. To decide otherwise would be to give up one of my core principles.
With that decision made, the process of looking for another job began. It had been 16 years and so I had to work on a resume and the first interview with COMPAQ took place. Luckily, TI found out I was interviewing with other companies and offered me another position in the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) division. The only problem is I could not even spell DSP, let alone understand it. I mentally gave myself five years to learn the new field, re-establish myself in the new division and re-build my credibility with the technical community there.
On December 30, 1998, I thought I had lost everything from a career perspective. I was at home reflecting on life when I received an email informing me that I was being nominated for the fourth rung on the technical ladder, TI Fellow, which was a very prestigious position and honor within the company. A few months later, I learned the nomination went through unanimously! I was even more pleased when another woman, who was a member of the original team that created DSP at TI, was also elected Fellow that year. For 70 plus years, TI never had a woman at that title and now in one year we had two.
Three years later, I was nominated and elected to the fifth rung of the technical ladder, Senior Fellow. In the technology realm, I became the first Asian, the first woman and one of the youngest individuals in TI's 75-year history to be nominated and elected to the rank of TI Senior Fellow. To this date, I remain the only woman to hold that title in TI's history. This is a very prestigious position (equivalent to Senior Vice President on the management track) granted only to individuals who have extraordinary leadership and technical skills. In 2002, the year I was elected Senior Fellow, the title was held by only four other men representing roughly the top 0.1% of the technical population, or the top .025% of the total TI population.
While 1982 was a year that I did many things at a fast pace, 20 years later in 2002 was a year with many milestones in my life as well. I celebrated my 20-year wedding anniversary; had my 20-year anniversary with TI; became the first female elected Senior Fellow at TI; had a 40th birthday; was recognized as National Technologist of The Year, co-founded Sunflower Mission (more on this later) and became the first woman to get elected to the Board of Directors of National Instruments, a publicly traded company on NASDAQ and an industry's leader on test and instrumentation. When one of my colleagues asked me which of the above milestones was most important that year, I replied, "None! The most important milestone that year was the day I drove my oldest son to school on his first day of his last year in elementary school!"
You see, Dan was only eight at the time and had grown up to be quite a young man. He was speaking, reading and writing both Vietnamese and English and was about to become really good at Spanish! But most important of all, he already knew and practiced what it meant to make a difference by giving back, what it meant to be loved by so many other members of one's extended family and friends and what it meant to carry the responsibility of serving as a role model to his younger brother Don aged five at the time.
I am very passionate about the belief that a person's ultimate legacy is the difference that person makes in other people's lives. In other words, one's success is less about oness own accomplishment and more about how one enables others to accomplish. As a result, I believe strongly in the value of building future leaders with principles, promoting civic leadership and instilling in people a "can do attitude." Through keynote speeches, I explain how a prestigious life can be built from poverty, how an immigrant who did not even speak the language can break through the glass ceiling in corporate America and how civic leadership can be an integral part of one's life no matter how hectic life is.
My favorite examples of giving back to communities locally and globally include the following activities:
I served on the Founding Board of Directors and now as Honorary Director of the Science National Honor Society (SNHS) established in 2000. SNHS is the first honor society at the national level for high school students who are interested in science. SNHS now has 354 chapters in 34 states. I firmly believe that science and math are the building blocks for engineering and technology and a country's economic power and national security rest squarely on the very strength of its engineering and technological competency.
I have served on the Board of Directors for the Mona Foundation since 2000, which supports education and social economic development in a dozen countries around the world. The work of the Mona Foundation is inspired by the example of Mona, a 16-year-old high school girl who was devoted to service to humanity and who was executed in 1983 because she was a Bahá'í. Mona was a beautiful and popular girl in her high school, and her teachers and friends cried when she was expelled from school because she was of a minority Faith during the revolution in Iran. Mona loved children and, in addition to teaching children Sunday classes, she volunteered twice a week in an orphanage from the age of 12 to age 15. Mona's mother relates that the only time she saw Mona cry in prison was when she talked about "her children" at the orphanage. The full story can be read in the book Olya's Story.
I am the co-founder and now advisor of Sunflower Mission. Sunflower Mission seeks to improve the future of the children in Vietnam, one student at a time, and to instill leadership skills to the kids in America, one citizen at a time. We are bringing school facilities, teaching and learning materials, and scholarships to teachers and students in Vietnam. Our students finish primary and secondary education and continue to pursue higher education. We are doing the work to assist and oversee the completion of projects in selected areas, where school facilities or resources are minimal or non-existent. Sunflower Mission's hands-on involvement with these projects ensures that the funds are directed to the intended targets. We improve the lives of the students and communities that we serve. We form strong and trusting bonds with all we help. While our students in Vietnam become successful teachers, engineers, etc., our young volunteers in America learn the skill sets required of effective leaders, including compassion and global perspectives. In the six years of operation, from 2003-2008, Sunflower Mission has built 84 classrooms in the most impoverished parts of Vietnam and given out almost 5,000 scholarships from elementary to college level. "Sunflower" represents hope, direction, endurance and a vibrant future for children in both countries.
I was a member of the Founding Board of Directors for Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), the first of its kind in the nation, serving from 2003-2005. When the school year 2008-2009 is done, APIASF will have granted scholarships to 850 students, totaling more than $1.8 million since the organization was founded in 2003.
I served as one of about 200 leaders internationally on Commission 125 by the request of President Larry Faulkner of the University of Texas in Austin. This commission is formed only once every quarter of a century and was charged with road mapping the University's future for the next quarter century. In the previous two century quarters, it was named Commission 75 and Commission 100, respectively.
In 2004, I became a member of the University of Texas at Austin's College of Engineering Advisory Board (EAB). Here, I work closely with other members and with the College to achieve the goal of transforming it into one of the top engineering colleges in the world.
In 2007, I was invited to join the Executive Board for Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. My passion here is to ensure we produce future business leaders who have the leadership skills and principles needed to lead in a very global world.
In my current position as Advanced Technology Ramp Manager at TI, I lead the ramp of the company's leading-edge DSP products on the most advanced silicon technology nodes. My technical leadership accomplishments include: bringing up TI's multi-billion dollar memory product line on three continents for the first time; enabling TI to introduce the industry's first DSP with 160um bump pitch technology and delivering the world's fastest single core DSP at 1GHZ, which was entered into the "Guinness World Book of Records" in 2004. I currently hold 22 patents and have eight pending patent applications.
I dedicate a great deal of my personal time and energy serving as a leader with the goal of providing opportunities for others. I am a recipient of the "Women On The Move" award, which includes Congressional recognition for outstanding civic leadership. This award reflects my passion for sharing my vision of success with young women across America.
In 2006, I received the VANG's GOLDEN TORCH award, which is given to Vietnamese Americans who have made significant impact on America and who have brought pride and honor to Vietnam. This award typifies not only my effort to contribute to the country that welcomed me with freedom and nurtured me with opportunities, but also exemplifies my determination to pay tribute to the country that greeted me at birth and shaped my core principles for life.
In my closing remarks of the Commencement Address for The Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston in 2007, I said: "Winston Churchill once said 'we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.' And so my ultimate wish for each of you is to go out there and not only live a life of happiness, but also make a life of happiness ... for someone else to live!"
My autobiography serves as a constant reminder for myself to continue to strive to live by my words and in that spirit. I hope it provides a glimpse of hope for those women struggling out there trying to balance work, family and community. We cannot have it all at the same time, but we can certainly have it all over a life time! We never have to do it alone and we should never stop dreaming. Dreaming is the beginning of everything!
• Profile at the time of induction in 2001
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