tion at the National Center for Super-computing Applications, she initiated
and managed the development of the
NCSA Mosaic software project, which
subsequently led to Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer browsers.
At Geomagic, she leads a 110-per-
son company that is applying computer geometry algorithms to a wide range
of applications. Geomagic software is
being used to enable mass customization, speed time to market for consumer and industrial products, make it
possible for NASA to conduct in-flight
inspections on the outside of the space
shuttle, and optimize design for everything from racing cars to blimps.
In the following interview, journalist Bob Cramblitt talks to Fu about her
challenges as a woman, an immigrant,
and CEO of a company at an awkward
stage of growth.
What made you decide to study
computer science after coming to
I decided to study computer science a
year after I arrived in the U.S. I was 25
at the time. I had studied comparative
literature and realized I couldn’t make
a living with that major. I looked for a
field where my literature skills could
be put to good use. Computer science
involves language and seemed like a
lesser evil than other sciences.
I didn’t have the normal background
to study math or science, since I had no
grade school or high school education.
Fortunately in the early 1980s computer science wasn’t a field taught in high
school. It wasn’t like today when everybody knows how to use a computer.
Then, everyone in college had to start
from scratch, so I wasn’t at much of a
disadvantage. I was naive and it was
definitely a nontraditional way of picking a major. But it turned out to be a
What obstacles did you face
as a chinese immigrant
pursuing computer science first
academically, then in business?
The biggest obstacle in my case was
the language barrier. When I came
to the U.S., I only knew a few words of
English. Business is more challenging
for a Chinese immigrant because if
you don’t grow up in the U.S. you don’t
know American culture.
i don’t believe in
because i never think
of home and work as
What did you do to acclimate?
The first thing was to try to understand
the differences between Chinese and
American culture. Business views are
remarkably similar: They are both
large countries, and people from larger
countries tend to think bigger rather
than provincially. Both countries also
The huge difference is in communication. The Chinese language is symbolic and imprecise. I needed to learn
how to communicate in a way people
in the U.S. could understand. I took
classes immigrants don’t normally
take in university—American history,
culture, sociology. I wanted to understand the society in which I’d live and
do business. Lots of immigrants don’t
do that when living in foreign country;
they tend to hold on strongly to their
What obstacles did you face as a
woman in computer science?
I was lucky to grow up in China during a time when men and women were
considered equal. I didn’t grow up
with a view that a woman is inferior to
a man. I also learned later through my
Myers-Briggs profile that my thinking
pattern and personal preferences are
more typical of a man than a woman.
I’m more rational and less emotional.
I realize that women going into a male-dominated field will always have fewer
colleagues, and you have to work harder to be viewed as capable, but I’ve never been too sensitive to those things.
What attributes from your
background in china do you
think helped you succeed in
technology and business?
I grew up in a large country with a long
history, so I had a wired-in ability to
think big and long term. Being able to
live in two different societies for a significant amount of time has also been
an asset. I lived in China for 24 years.
I had the benefit of a cultural background where I learned more people
skills than I probably would have
learned if I’d grown up in the U.S.
I was exposed to a lot of atrocities
growing up in China that I had to overcome. It gave me more tenacity and the
ability to deal with pressure. I developed confidence from bad experiences
that everything will work out—you can
make it work out. That helps a lot in the
What attributes as a woman have
helped you in your career?
In general, women think broader and
are more capable of multitasking. Even
with a [Myers-Briggs] profile similar to
a male, I was still brought up as a woman with different expectations of how
to behave. You can’t escape that.
Being a woman, I think I had more
choices. Women are generally less suc-cess-driven and more opportunity-driv-en than men, who are raised to be successful in their careers, build a family,
and be the breadwinners. Many women
work because they like to, not because
they have to. Being raised as a woman
gave me more opportunity to explore
cutting-edge technology without worrying whether I would be successful. I
just followed what interested me.
In business I think my mothering instinct has been valuable. The mother is
always the fallback; no job is too small
and whatever someone else doesn’t do
is her responsibility. Mothers have a
stronger sense of duty—they won’t allow anything to fall apart. In general,
the mother not only takes care of and
loves her children, but disciplines
them as well. A lot of principles I follow
to raise my child I use in business.
You’re the mother of a teenage
daughter with a lot of interests
outside of work. What do you
think about the philosophy of
balancing life and work?
I don’t believe in life/work balance, because I never think of home and work
as separate things. I’ve always believed
in weaving life and work together. Work
is a component of your life. I see it like
the ying-yang concept, where work