Most Influential Asians and Pacific Islanders in Computer Science
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Asian and Pacific Islander professionals are well represented in computer science and make significant contributions to the field. Although only about 5.7% of the U.S. population is Asian, they comprise 20% of the computing workforce (or one in five computing workers).
Yet, Asian and Pacific Islander computer scientists, especially women, can still feel like outsiders and experience discrimination. Highlighting famous Asian computer scientists draws attention to their importance in the field and can raise awareness about the need to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to welcome people from all backgrounds.
This page includes a list of some of the most influential Asian and Pacific Islander computer science professionals, along with their most significant contributions to the field.
Asian and Pacific Islander Contributions to Computer Science
Acknowledging diversity in computer science can make the field more welcoming to all people, including underrepresented groups. The Asian and Pacific Islander professionals highlighted below made important contributions to the computer science field.
Recognizing influential Asian and Pacific Islander computer science professionals can inspire students from these backgrounds to pursue computer science majors and careers in STEM. It can also raise awareness about the barriers Asian and Pacific Islander computer scientists must overcome even when they make up a large percentage of the workforce.
Learning about influential Asian computer science professionals can also motivate Asians and Pacific Islanders to pursue more executive and management positions in the field, where they remain underrepresented.
Influential Pacific Islander and Asian Professionals in Computer Science
Explore our list of ten of the most influential Asian and AAPI computer science professionals below. We chose individuals who made innovative discoveries, inspired others, and created a lasting impact on the field. This list is not exhaustive, and many other Asian and AAPI computer scientists have made substantial contributions to computer science.
Andrew Chi-Chih Yao
Chinese American computer scientist Andrew Chi-Chih Yao is one of the most prominent AAPI computer science professionals. Born in Shanghai in 1946, Yao specializes in computational complexity and analysis of algorithms.
In 2000, he received the prestigious A.M. Turner award — the biggest honor in the computer science field — for his work in these areas. Yao earned a computer science doctorate from the University of Illinois (U of I) in 1975. Before that, he received degrees in physics from National Taiwan University and Harvard University.
Yao has served on the Association for Computing Machinery, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He also acted as an editor or worked on the editorial board of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Journal on Computing, and the International Journal of Foundations of Computer Science.
One of the most influential Asian computer science professionals and CEO of Google since 2015, Pichai showed an interest in and aptitude for technology from a young age. Born in 1972 in Madras, India, Pichai earned a degree in metallurgy at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur before winning a scholarship to study in the United States.
Pichai did not formally study computer science. Instead, he received his MS in engineering and materials science from Stanford University in 1995 and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) in 2002.
Pichai started working at Google in 2004 as the head of product management and development. He worked on the Google Toolbar and helped create Chrome, Google's successful proprietary browser. Pichai rose to higher positions within Google, eventually becoming the company's CEO in 2015. In 2019, he also took the role of CEO for Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc.
As co-creator and CEO of Yahoo!, Jerry Yang became one of the most influential AAPI computer scientists. Born in Taiwan, Yang moved with his mother and brother to San Jose, California, after his father died.
He learned English in just three years and worked part time to put himself through college, earning a BS and MS in electrical engineering from Stanford University. While still at Stanford in the 1990s, Yang and a classmate created a hierarchically organized directory of websites that became Yahoo!
This changed the way that people searched for content on the internet, making the process more efficient and logical. Before he could complete a Ph.D., Yang left Stanford to serve as CEO of Yahoo! and became one of the richest people in the U.S.
He moved on from Yahoo in 2012 to focus on AME Cloud Ventures, a venture fund he created to support tech start-ups.
Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code, a well-known nonprofit group dedicated to increasing the number of girls and women in computer science and STEM jobs. With more than 8,500 education programs globally, Girls Who Code also does public policy work and research on closing the gender gap in tech.
She is also a lawyer, activist, politician, and author of three books. Saujani became the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress in 2010. During her race for office, she visited schools and observed the underrepresentation of girls in computer classes.
Saujani's TED talk, "Teach girls, bravery not perfection," received more than seven million views. More recently, she launched the Marshall Plan for Moms initiative to support women in the workplace affected by the pandemic.
Saujani holds degrees from Yale Law School, U of I, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Leon O. Chua
As one of the most influential Pacific Islander computer science professionals, Leon O. Chua has been on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1970. His research interests include computational biology, nonlinear circuits and systems, nonlinear networks, and nonlinear dynamics. He is best known for his work on nonlinear circuit theory and cellular neural networks.
Born in the Philippines, Chua graduated from Mapúa Institute of Technology with a BS in electrical engineering in 1959. He moved to the U.S. and earned an MS in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from U of I.
Chua has won various prizes that recognize his contributions to the profession, including the IEEE Gustav Robert Kirchoff award in 2005 and the IEEE Neural Networks Pioneer Award in 2000. He has received honorary doctorates from 17 universities around the world and holds seven patents.
Ajay Bhatt helped create the universal serial bus (USB) while working as a computer architect at the Intel Corporation. USB technology made it possible to easily transfer information from one device to another in the late 1990s. Bhatt worked at Intel for more than 25 years.
As an Indian American computer architect, Bhatt's role in developing USB made him one of the most influential AAPI computer scientists. Bhatt graduated from Maharaja Sayajirao University in 1980 with a bachelor's in engineering. He earned a master's in electrical and electronics engineering from the City University of New York in 1984.
In addition to USB, Bhatt also helped create the Accelerated Graphic Port, Platform Power management architecture, and PCI Express. He holds at least 132 patents in the U.S. and globally. In 2013, Bhatt won the European Inventor Award for his role in creating USB.
Yoky Matsuoka, a Japanese-born computer scientist focused on neuroscience and robotics, uses technology to help people. By following a biological approach rather than the more common engineering approach, she built a robotic hand that became the standard for the industry.
She has held leadership roles at many of the biggest tech companies, including vice president of Google and board director at HP. Matsuoka taught at and worked in labs at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington. In 2007, she received a MacArthur "genius" award.
Matsuoka holds a master's and Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. She was also a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard's Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Matsuoka holds over 250 patents and is the author of more than 200 journal papers.
Most recently, after experiencing being home with four kids during the pandemic, Matsuoka founded Yohana. This tech-enabled personal assistant membership service can help families manage home to-dos, research, and activity planning.
This Chinese American computer scientist specializes in cognitively inspired artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computational neuroscience. Li was born in Beijing in 1976 and immigrated to the U.S. when she was in high school.
She studied undergraduate physics, engineering, and computer science at Princeton. In 2005, she earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.
Li has taught at Stanford since 2009 and co-directs Stanford's Human-Centered AI Institute. She serves on the National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and National Academy of Medicine. She was vice president at Google and chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Google Cloud from 2017-2018.
To promote diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence, Li founded AI4ALL in 2017. The organization offers AI education programs for high school and college students and encourages the use of AI for positive change.
Jeffrey Chuan Chu
A pioneering computer engineer and leader in the field, Jeffrey Chuan Chu was born in Tianjin, China, in 1919. One of the most prominent Asian computer scientists, he attended college at the University of Shanghai. Chu moved to the U.S. to finish his degree after China entered into war with Japan.
While studying electrical engineering at Penn in the 1940s, he worked on the engineering team that helped create the first electronic computer: the Electronic Numerical Integrator. Chu continued to make improved versions of this computer through the 1950s.
In recognition of his contribution to developing the first computer, the IEEE Computer Society gave him the first Computer Pioneer Award in 1981. Chu also advocated for the benefits of cultural exchange between the U.S. and China and worked on modernization efforts in China starting in the 1980s.
Hyunjune Sebastian Seung
As a pioneer in the field of connectomics, Korean American Hyunjune Sebastian Seung uses computer science and biology to understand neural connectivity in the brain. He wrote a book and gave a well-known TED talk discussing the meaning of mapping the connectome, or wiring, of the human brain.
He completed significant research in computer science and neuroscience, including developing widely used algorithms for non-negative matrix factorization. Seung leads a team working on EyeWire, an online citizen science project and game for mapping the 3D structure of neurons in the brain. People can sign up to play for free, which contributes to the research of mapping the human brain.
He sits on the faculty of Princeton as a professor of computer science and neuroscience. Seung earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Harvard in 1990 but later embraced a career in neuroscience. Previously, he worked at Bell Laboratories and was a Sloan Research Fellow, a McKnight Scholar, and a Packard Fellow.
Questions About Asian and Pacific Islander Professionals in Tech
What challenges do Asian and Pacific Islander professionals in computer science face?
Although they are well represented in computer science, Asian and Pacific Islander computer scientists may face racist bias and discrimination. Asian and Pacific Islander women also deal with sexism.
Are Asian and Pacific Islander professionals well represented in computer science leadership?
Unfortunately, no. One in five computing professionals in the U.S. are Asian, but Asian Americans are often less likely than people from other backgrounds to land leadership positions at tech companies.
Why does diversity matter in computer science and tech?
Diversity in computer science and tech allows companies to take advantage of all the talent available to solve new problems and devise different ideas. It also gives people from all backgrounds the chance to land high-paying jobs in a growing field.
Why is there a lack of diversity in computer science and tech?
Hispanic and Black people and women are underrepresented in computer science. It is complicated, but factors that contribute to the lack of diversity in computer science and tech include a discriminatory and unwelcoming culture and a lack of diverse role models.
Featured Image: Sushiman / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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