Interview with Audrey Pe, the founder of Witech!

Interview by Daania Sharifi

Introduce yourself to our readers!

Hi everyone! I’m Audrey Pe, an incoming freshman at Stanford University and the Founder and Executive Director of WiTech (Women in Technology). I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines, and look forward to heading to the US to study the intersections of STEM and the Humanities. When I’m not sending emails or on calls for WiTech, I can be found reading (78/100 books this year!), working out (love indoor cycling and other cardio workouts), and watching a variety of shows (currently into Brooklyn 99 and Jeopardy).

Talk to us about WiTech! What is it? How did you come up with the idea? What was your inspiration? Tell us all about it!

WiTech is a nonprofit organization that I founded when I was 15, a sophomore in high school. The organization aims to educate, inspire, and empower youth to break gender barriers and use tech to make a difference in society. We hosted the first women in tech conference for and by students in the Philippines back in 2018. Later that year, we launched our women in tech teach program that provides CS and computer literacy curriculum to public schools with little-to-no tech access.

I started WiTech after personally experiencing a lack of support in entering the tech industry and having no women in STEM role models growing up. It’s crazy that the 2016 WiTech blog has now transformed into a nonprofit with 70+ members from the Philippines, US, and UK!

What is WiTech’s mission? What is WiTech’s five year goal?

WiTech’s mission is to help get to a future where all youth--regardless of gender or socioeconomic status--have access to technology and the potential to use it for social good.

In five years, our goal is to bring tech equipment and curriculum to even more students (we’re currently at 100+) and expand our chapter program to more countries around the world (message me @audreyisabelpe or audrey@witech.org for more info on how to set up a chapter).

What do you wish you knew before going into your work?

Before starting WiTech, I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to not have the entire organization mapped out. So much of WiTech’s journey has come from responding to needs in the community and adjusting accordingly. It’s an organic process; one that I should not have stressed so much about early on.

How about you talk to us about being a Speaker @ UN, ASEAN, TEDx, and all the other organizations you were involved in? How was the experience? What is your favorite part about being a speaker at platforms like these?

Being a speaker at UN, ASEAN, and TEDx events have all been crazy experiences that I’m endlessly grateful for! As someone that struggled to initially have her voice heard in the very male-dominated tech industry, it’s surreal to get to speak to audiences as high as 4,000+ about my advocacies and the work I do with WiTech. With each speaking invite comes the responsibility to use my platform wisely and to make sure that others are becoming more aware of the lack of gender equality and tech access that still exists in many countries like the Philippines.

How have you found all these opportunities? Do you have advice for teens wanting to find such opportunities as well?

These opportunities all came from networking! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be proactive in seeking out opportunities; you cannot expect them to fall into your lap. If you want to be able to have your organization heard and speak at similar events, you need to go out and attend events you find online or offline and approach people. Introduce yourself and your work! Don’t be shy and go make the most out of every potential connection. After meeting someone, add them on LinkedIn and keep in touch. You never know what kind of partnerships could happen!

What new skills have you learned and what did you learn about yourself through these experiences?

Through being put in a lot of high-pressure situations like speaking to people twice my age and entering meetings where I’m the youngest person in the room, I’ve learned that I can always adapt to a situation and make the best out of it. By adjusting to those environments where things aren’t always easy, I’ve been able to adapt to tough academic loads and college application interviews. The skills I’ve honed through WiTech (time management specifically) have extended into my life outside of nonprofit work.

What is the big dream? How have you been working towards that dream?

Currently, the big dream is to achieve a future where all youth in developing countries like the Philippines have access to technology, regardless of their gender or socioeconomic standing. In a world where tech is a privilege, I believe it should be a right. With the move to remote learning, kids without access to tech are being left behind. We need to make tech as equitable as possible.

How have you been coping with quarantine? What do you do to pass time? What are some fun things & some productive things you’ve been doing?

Though I was disappointed to have all my in-person talks cancelled, I’ve been keeping busy by conducting webinars online! Lots of the work I do has easily transitioned virtually in the sense that I do calls, send emails, and speak via Zoom to audiences around the world. Recently, I did a networking workshop in partnership with Girl Genius Magazine that was attended by people from 5+ countries! While I was sad to have in-person events cancelled, I am happy that I’ve gotten to connect with lots of people from around the world recently.

When I’m not working, I’m watching Netflix, reading, or working out! Some of my Netflix recommendations include the Patriot Act and Becoming (the Michelle Obama documentary that brought me to tears).

Who is your biggest inspiration right now? What’s so inspiring about them? Also, if you could ask them only ONE question, what would it be and why?

Michelle Obama is someone whose work and life story I endlessly admire! Reading her book ‘Becoming’ made me realise how much hard work she had to put into being where she is today. Her stories of failure and how she got back up afterwards inspire me almost as much as her successes. If I could ask her one question, it would probably be something along the lines of “in the world with so many problems, how do you choose what to focus on helping solve?”

You are still so young and yet so involved! Has there been any point where the stress is unbearable? How have you learned to manage your time? What advice do you have to teens about managing school, work, & their social life?

One moment when the stress really spiked was when I was balancing WiTech with academics and college applications. That was honestly such a crazy time! I got through tough moments like that through being very deliberate about how I plan my schedule. My Google calendar is by-the-hour and I keep a notebook filled with to do lists.

My advice to teens on time management would be to keep a physical or virtual calendar + to do list and have your priorities in check! Know when you need rest and when you need to sit down to just get work done.

Any final thoughts you want to share?

Connect with me via @audreyisabelpe on Instagram and Twitter to keep updated with my work or to ask any questions!

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