As an eldest sister and daughter to immigrant parents, Software Engineer Yuyu Li knew early on that it was up to her to set the right example by walking a well-worn, safe path to success. But for Yuyu, her biggest victories have come from the risks she’s taken based on her own instincts, culminating in one huge and risky leap. It was this risky leap that landed her right on Posh’s doorstep.
“Something I notice more and more is how much autonomy Posh gives you to pick and choose the things you’re interested in, go after them, and take ownership and accountability. Everyone cares about the end result, not just their stake in it.”
Autonomy is something Yuyu deeply appreciates in work and in life, alike. In fact, it’s something that she’s been quietly rallying for since she first began walking the safer path very early on.
Yuyu grew up in China until her family began again by moving across the world to Illinois. Although she was only eight when the move occurred, Yuyu was old enough to understand how much her parents sacrificed to provide a stable life for her and her siblings in their new home. Because of this, young Yuyu felt compelled to hit the high academic targets that were set for her.
“Because my parents worked so hard to get me here, I felt a strong pressure to perform well to honor the sacrifices they made. Most of the advice to myself and my siblings at that point was: ‘Keep your head down and don’t rock the boat. Do a good job and make sure you’re hitting these benchmarks and goals.’ But I didn’t really think about whose goals they were.”
Even at a young age, however, Yuyu was finding small ways to assert her passions. Early on, Yuyu insisted on pursuing violin over piano, and while this may not sound like the rebellion of the year to you, the satisfaction young Yuyu derived from asserting herself in this small way planted the seeds for future, larger rebellious moves.
Yuyu didn’t take violin on as just a side hobby, though. Ever the achiever, Yuyu auditioned into the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and still enjoys playing violin, the instrument she chose to play, to this day.
Yuyu describes herself as a bit of a nerd in middle and high school, and the more we dig into her school experience, the more evidence we find to support this claim. “The closest I ever got to sports was being captain of the Academic Decathlon team.” True to form, Yuyu was excelling at school and setting a high bar for her younger siblings. Also true to form, Yuyu was carefully and quietly finding ways to assert her boundaries along the way. The most controversial decision Yuyu mentions during high school is, in fact, joining her school’s newly established Academic Decathlon team.
“It was a big rebellious thing for me because I was in the math team before and I wanted to be more well-rounded. It wasn’t rote question-and-answer either — we had to do interviews, essays, and speeches in AcaDec. It just seemed like a more holistic thing to do.”
While the average student might see either of Yuyu’s achievements as aspirational, Yuyu felt rebellion in pursuing the more open-ended option of the two teams. The Math Team had a consistent focus on one subject but young Yuyu was more interested by the opportunity to explore different topics to figure out what she felt most activated by. Against the advice of teachers and parents alike, Yuyu chose Academic Decathlon over Math Team. And Yuyu didn’t simply join “AcaDec,” she became team captain.
Even in choosing where she wanted to study after high school, the elite women’s university Wellesley College, Yuyu was making a statement. She probably could have landed a spot at a number of Ivy League universities, but Yuyu instead sought out a school with a reputation for enabling exploration.
“I chose Wellesley because I thought, ‘This is a community where I’ll be able to make decisions for myself. I’ll be able to find what I have a passion for and know that I chose it for me, and not just because someone said I was good at it.’”
Yuyu arrived at Wellesley intending to study Economics, an interest of hers before college. She soon discovered, though, that even though the Economics program at Wellesley is large and popular, the deeply theoretical nature of the content wasn’t for her. Instead, Yuyu became drawn to an old interest, one she hadn’t had the chance to fully explore before college.
“Computer Science is definitely something I didn’t consider until I got to college. It wasn’t offered in high school and was not super fun for me in middle school because I was one of two girls in the class. It felt as though people like me weren’t doing it, so that interest didn’t have a chance to develop and grow.”
Being able to delve into Computer Science at Wellesley exposed to Yuyu the creative opportunities in coding, which was an exciting aspect of the work that she hadn’t previously considered. “A lot of the work is more creative than one would think. You have to do a lot of thinking in someone else’s shoes.” Unlike her experience in middle and high school, the community around Computer Science was far more welcoming to her. “I don’t think I would’ve done it if I weren’t at a women’s college.”
With an unexpected and fresh new career path that activated Yuyu’s creative drive, she set out to solve unique problems with her freshly acquired coding skills. But what Yuyu, like many of us, found out after leaving college was that not every creative job offers equal opportunities to use your creativity.
Just a short time ago, Yuyu encountered a life-altering problem. She was losing steam for the creative career in Computer Science she thought she’d always love. From her early school years through college and her early career, Yuyu was always driven by her passion for what she was doing. For perhaps the first time, though, that flame was fading fast.
For anyone who can relate, you’ll know that this can be a terrifying, dreadful realization. The realization that you’re not in the right place can be one that crystallizes over time, but can also very suddenly come into focus at key moments. Yuyu knew she needed to make a big change when she was counseling her younger sister.
“She was looking for guidance about where to go to college and I told her that she needed to find a place where she’ll be valued in her community and have an opportunity to grow in the ways that she cared about. That was a big moment. I realized that I wouldn’t want my younger sisters to be in the position I was in.”
It was time for Yuyu to take a leap into something new. For the first time, Yuyu completely abandoned the comfort zone and leapt into a career unknown. Without knowing where she was going next or what her next job would be, Yuyu left her job.
“My next big rebellion was leaving that job without a clear idea of what I wanted to do. If you told my younger self I would do something like that, I would have freaked out. I would’ve thought it was the end of the world.”
So Yuyu took a leap, but where did she land? We’re so glad you asked.
Yuyu’s period of self-examination took her to some deep places. She took a look at what motivates her, what frightens her, and what type of work environment she’d be most excited to be in. Surely the process had its ups and downs, but by the time Yuyu interviewed Posh, she had a clear picture of what she wanted.
“It’s been an exercise in finding out what really makes me passionate. I’ve been on a well-worn path and the further I get from that experience, the more comfortable I am with taking risks to chase something that really makes me happy.”
Yuyu’s happiness at Posh shows in the incredible impact she’s made so far. She quickly has made herself an indispensable member of the team and culture by owning projects, involving herself in company events and discovering leadership opportunities on her team. “I try to foster a sense of camaraderie from being in the trenches together and enjoy having that common basis to work off of when we’re solving problems.”
Culture often impacts how work is done and for Yuyu, this is an important factor in why she chose a smaller company like Posh that boasts a tight-knit group of employees who aren’t afraid to work cross-functionally. At Posh, Yuyu knows that her ideas and work can have a larger impact on the whole company. “There are so many opportunities to give ideas and feedback. It feels super empowering to be vocal in a smaller environment, and to know that people will actually listen.”
Leaping out into the unknown can be terrifying in the moment, but in doing so, Yuyu learned that if you discover where you want to be, you’re likely to land in a place where you feel truly content. Yuyu’s become so comfortable with leaps, in fact, that she’s even become a bit of an adrenaline junkie in her off-time. And not for no reason.
“Growing up, taking risks always felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. But now, I value things that are uncomfortable and scary and new. These days, a lot of my hobbies are things that reflect that, like skiing and improv. That’s something I’ve intentionally built in so I’m not quite as terrified of taking those worthwhile leaps later.”