Before the Easter break 26 high school students assembled to listen to a guest talk from Elaine Chao. Elaine is a product manager for Adobe, a fourth-dan black belt and martial arts instructor at UC Berkeley, twice-published science fiction author and musician.

She came to talk to current and prospective students on the ITGS and Computer Science courses about agile systems development, as well as more generally about her approach to juggling workload, purpose and productivity.

Systems development is a crucial component of both courses, as students have to construct IT solutions to real-world problems for their internal assessment projects. This is a very valuable process, but as an assessed internal assessment, the project cannot be completed in teams.

Elaine’s talk introduced students to the challenges and opportunities in working in a large team working on a widely-used product, and discussed the impact of issues like security vulnerabilities and responding to external pressures such as competitors releasing a new product.

Student responses to the talk include:

What I found fascinating from the talk that Elaine gave to us was being able to apply my ITGS knowledge to a real life workflow. She taught us how Adobe’s product development life cycle started as the waterfall method, evolving over time to lean or agile development. Being able to clearly see the ideas we learned in ITGS being used in a world-leading company like Adobe was very interesting. She also showed issues she encounters during an app development, such as zero-day exploits, that linked to the security strand of ITGS.

– Rosh Ho, H4

While the talk largely revolved around her career and the software development process in Adobe, what really intrigued me was her attitude to life. Ms. Chao is an incredibly dynamic individual. Her passion shone through in every answer she gave throughout her presentation, in part thanks to her teaching experience. When asked to give life advice, she described how she monitors her attention and energy everyday in order to achieve the incredible productivity. “Life is a marathon”, she explained, ”you cannot sprint and collapse all the time.” She joked that she achieved success by being “a massive nerd”, but in truth her outspoken nature greatly inspired the audience. Despite a PowerPoint malfunction and being on a tight schedule, she gave an invaluable talk which had an incredible impact on us. Huge thanks to Ms. Elaine Chao!

– Kevin Chen, H2

We were very grateful that Elaine took the time out of her trip to Taiwan to come speak to us. To learn more about her, read this blog post from Adobe.